Chapter 1: Prologue: The Witch of the Waking Sea
9:64 Dragon - Drakonis (The 3rd Month) 20th Day
Coastline of the Rialto Bay, Antiva
Sabina's thoughts belonged to the storm blowing in from the sea as she stood on the cliff she found herself on. She folded her arms tightly around her narrow torso and watched eagerly as the clouds moved slowly across the horizon. A storm would suit her perfectly, especially one that lashed her long hair to her skin and left her breathless at the savage beauty of it while lightning pierced the sky and thunder rolled.
Beside her, discarded because it was doing little to calm her mind, was a knife and a piece of smooth driftwood half-carved. She hadn't known what she was carving at first, her father always said sometimes the wood told you what it was supposed to be and you just had to listen.
Sound advice until she looked down at her hands and realized she was carving a wolf with six eyes, three of them staring up at her already from the bleached wood.
May the dread wolf never hear your footsteps. May he never catch your scent.
Was that what had gone wrong? Had she somehow landed downwind from Fen'harel? Was that why her mind felt like an anthill? Was that the reason for the whispers haunting her?
It started at the beginning of the fall, two months after Maria Cadash and her team set off, but one month before anyone began to grow seriously concerned. Sabina’s dreams conjured up an Eluvian, the tallest one she’d ever seen, flanked on one side by a wolf and the other by a dragon. She approached it, cautiously, and listened to the whispers coming through the surface. She thought it nothing more than spirits plying their tricks of the fade and promptly left to find something more interesting than gloomy mirrors.
The fade had been full of wonderful, fascinating things then. She could fall asleep on the open seas and dream of fantastic creatures that churned beneath the waves, things that the sailors spoke of in hushed tones. Things that probably didn’t exist anymore, if they ever had. In quiet villages, she slept and dreamt of epic romances, thrilling adventure, all the wonders of the world and mortal hearts.
Now, she feared sleep, crept forward without it until she could go no further. Every time she slept, she found herself back in front of that mirror, the whispers more insistent, louder, curling around her like grasping fingers, pulling her closer, beckoning her… Slowly, they became words she could understand. Her name, pleas to come to them, to be with them, reassurances that it was time, this was her moment, that she must…
It was a bad thing, an evil thing. It could be nothing but demons and as much as she ran from that mirror in the fade, every corner she turned always seemed to bring her back to it. It did not matter how quickly or carefully she slipped through the fade, it did not matter if she conjured the seas of the Rialto Bay, the familiar streets of Kirkwall, the stairs leading up to the palace in Starkhaven, she’d open a door or look over her shoulder, and there it was.
It was haunting her, she was certain of it. She just didn’t know why .
Then the whispers started to come in the daylight, when she was awake, and her blood ran cold. Was she possessed? How could she be possessed? She hadn’t done anything wrong! Yes, she saw spirits in the fade, she couldn’t help it, and sometimes she spoke to them but she was always so careful to never take anything, to never make promises, to never…
To never become the thing her mother feared. She had been so very careful and it wasn’t fair.
She reached up to brush the burning tears out of her eyes impatiently as the harsh wind blew past her. There wasn’t any use crying over it. She was either possessed or she wasn’t, there was no in between, and if she was possessed…
Well. Best not to think about that until she knew for sure.
You know what happens to abominations, girl. A voice whispered inside her head, mocking, sounding like a hundred people all at once, young, old, male, and female.
She ignored it and turned from her beloved sea. There was only one way to test if she was an abomination, and it was better to get it over with. After all, the roads were dangerous for an elf roaming alone.
Thank the Maker for that.
“Well, aren’t ya a looker.” The man grinned, his yellow teeth shimmering dully in the firelight. “For a knife ear, yer not bad.”
Sabina regretted this plan already. If her mother and father ever found out how foolish she was about to be… but she had to really be in danger. It wasn’t like she could just stab herself, the demon wouldn’t see her as a threat to it. If she wanted to know if she was possessed, she had to be hurt. She had to get someone to hurt her.
If they have magebane, girl, you’re done for. The voice whispered.
What would your mama say, Sabina? Another answered.
The only way we’ll stop is if you do as you’re destined. A final one promised.
“I’m just passing through, messere.” Sabina dropped her eyes to the ground, listening to the rustling of the bandits behind this one. She could see her own hands clasped in front of her, the beaten gold bangles decorating skinny wrists, her elegant long fingers.
She’d twisted her mass of curls up to show off her long neck and pointed ears, to let them know what she was, to let them think she was vulnerable. That she wouldn’t be missed. They wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at her that there was mana singing in her veins, electricity in her blood. They would think her small, delicate, helpless.
She was determined to act like she was as well, to lure the demon out if it existed, and to do that…
“Oh, by all means…” The man smelled like sour ale and his big fist closed around her upper arm like a vice. “Stay awhile, gorgeous.”
“Knife-eared slut.” Someone muttered. “Dressing like that to torment us.”
She almost asked, startled into indignant rage by the absurd comment, what was wrong with her clothes. She couldn’t find anything suggestive about the long skirt she wore, slashed up the sides to a brightly colored sash around her waist, but with a pair of modest leggings underneath. She even had her blighted shirt laced up the whole way.
But if she got mouthy now, they might reconsider how defenseless she actually was. Instead, she took a deep, calming breath. “Please, I just need to…”
The slap actually did startle her. A flash of pain made her eyes water and she scoured her mind to try to remember if anyone had ever slapped her like that, an open palm straight across her face. Twenty-five years had passed for her and she was pretty sure nobody had ever dared. Her mother and father would never have allowed it when she was a girl. There may have been some people who considered it, when she was just starting out on the Siren’s Revenge, away from home for the first time, free and fierce. But she’d quickly gained a reputation among the pirates and merchant ships, enough to make anyone pause.
They called her the Witch of the Waking Sea, an awed whisper that followed her from ship to ship.
She waited, breathless, but no demon lunged forward to wreak vengeance. Nothing happened at all, but it was only a slap. She wasn’t really hurt. The whispers in her mind continued to churn, unintelligible, but ever present.
“Maybe cut all these rings out of your ears.” The man was eyeing the tiny golden loops covetously. “Must be a small fortune, girly. Whorin’ yourself out?”
He probably expected her to beg, but she couldn’t lower herself enough to do it. Instead she tensed, wary, waiting…
She didn’t have to wait long. He pulled her into the camp to the cheerful, pleased catcalls of the other five men. That was her cue to begin struggling, not with her full strength, but enough to make him haul her forward more roughly. Then he shoved her onto the hard ground, her fist pulling at the scrubby grass as she pressed herself up to her knees. Before she could move much further, there was a dull blade at her throat. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The man growled, his foul breath sickly hot against her ear.
She waited. Still no demon, but could someone slit her throat with a dull knife? She didn’t know. Her father would never have let any blade in their house get that blunt, he’d have a stroke first.
How long will it take you to see the truth, girl? The voice whispered. Sabina steeled herself and wrenched away from the blade at her throat, aiming her foot back to kick her assailant. He swore, she’d missed anything particularly painful, but he didn’t sound happy.
“The ones with fight are always the best!” Someone cheered.
She was going to burn this camp down, demon or no. Before she could examine that thought, make sure it was actually hers, a man’s fist was pulling her hair, arching her head back and tearing a muffled shout from her mouth. There was nothing gentle in the action, nothing teasing or seductive. It was all brute strength and dominance and it hurt .
The blunt knife didn’t slice into her throat, but he drove it into her shoulder and Sabina cried out in shock, followed by the rush of pain.
Nothing. Nothing happened and something happened. For the first time, the very first time in ages, the ever present whispering had ceased. It was just her, her thrumming heartbeat, her panting breath.
For the first time in months, she felt completely and wholly herself, as if the pain had driven out the whispers in her head, as if the danger banished them back to the fade. If she was an abomination, surely the demon would have leapt to its defense, but instead…
Instead, the Witch of the Waking Sea grinned into the star-dotted sky above her and flames wreathed her fist.
She left their bodies charred, the rest of their camp untouched, and returned to the sea. She had her things stashed in a cave on the coast, but she didn’t make to retrieve them right away. The storm was finally blowing into shore, big fat drops of rain hitting her face, her cheekbones, sticking in her lashes, but her mind was still blissfully quiet and she was exhausted. She slipped to the quiet coast line and ripped off her ruined bloodstained shirt, her skirt, her leggings. She’d already patched up the wound on her shoulder and felt safe to dive into the sea naked as the day she was born. The choppy waves broke against her and she slipped under the water, let it push and pull her. It was so cold it hurt, but it was the good kind of hurt, the kind of hurt that felt like coming clean at long last.
She could taste the salt on her lips and it tasted like tears.
She didn’t bother dressing the whole way, simply pulling on a tunic as she settled into the cave and lit a fire, laying her head on her pack and drifting off into oblivion with some measure of peace.
She opened her eyes in the fade, staring at the Eluvian. A sense of dread clawed at her throat and she shook her head in disbelief as the whispers began again, louder, more insistent.
Come to us, girl.
It’s your time.
You know the way.
You know the path.
The magpie flies free.
The hawk sharpens his talons.
The princess waits for the call.
The herald is sleeping.
The dread wolf has lost his teeth.
The veil is falling.
Sabina shook her head in despair, buried her face in her hands and fought the urge to cry. She wasn’t falling. She was drowning, just like she told Eli. And she couldn’t go home, she couldn’t… because that’s where it wanted her to go. Back to Kirkwall, pulling her like a magnet, stronger every day. It would be so damn easy to go.
And if she got there, what would it make her do? She despaired as she turned away from the Eluvian, stumbling blindly through the fade.
One day, she wouldn’t be able to resist any longer. Sabina feared that day was coming quickly.
Chapter 2: Misery Loves Company
Mags and Eli find Sabina.
Audrey finds out her father's secret.
9:64 Dragon - Drakonis (The 3rd Month) 22nd Day
Coastline of the Rialto Bay, Antiva
Eli sat next to Mags at hundreds of boring, stuffy dinners, but he had never seen her look so miserable. The rain lashed them mercilessly and her cloak was nothing more than a thick, soggy mess of fabric that did little to keep the chill out. She had her shoulders hunched forward, her curls plastered to both her face and the wet fabric. The sigh she let out said a hundred words, none of them pleasant.
At least she wasn’t actually complaining, although Eli could tell he was running out of time before she did. It rained every day since they’d left the city of Rialto with only the briefest respite between showers. Mags was quickly reaching the end of her tolerance for him, the weather, the coastline, her sopping cloak, the cold, the smell of charred bodies, and many, many other things. All of which, he assumed, he’d be hearing about in less than an hour. Give or take.
The easiest way to fix it would be to ensconce her in the nearest tavern and tell her she was pretty while plying her with ale and sweets until she warmed up. The nearest tavern was at least a days hard ride away and if he even dared try to tell her how pretty she was when she looked like a drowned cat, she’d gut him like a fish.
“I think we still have some of those cinnamon cakes in my bag.” He offered cheerfully, going for the one thing he knew he could provide that might stave off the inevitable. She shot him a withering glare from under her hood.
“Yes. Nothing stirs the appetite like burnt corpses in the morning. The smell is delectable.” She muttered darkly. Eli grinned at her boldly and shrugged to say it was her loss, turning back to the massacre they’d stumbled onto.
"I wonder if anyone's going to miss these fine upstanding citizens?" He asked. She ignored him, rooted to the same spot stubbornly as he explored. He hadn't bothered with a hood and his dark hair was slicked wet and cold when he pushed it impatiently away from his face, leaning in to get a better look.
He didn’t quite catch the words Mags finally grumbled because she was busy fussing with her crimson scarf, pulling it up over her nose before she began to trail reluctantly behind him. The carnage was obviously caused by a mage, a strong one. The poor sods scattered around them clearly had no idea who they’d been messing with. Eli would almost say it looked like a demon’s work, but there was a controlled elegance to the path of destruction. Each bandit was seared like a well-done steak, but the items around them were largely untouched. Even a mule lingered nearby, chomping placidly on the rough grass while it’s cart sat pristine near the empty road. A demon would have killed the mule and ignited the whole camp indiscriminately.
“It was Sabina.” Mags repeatedly loudly through her scarf, coming through only a little muffled but still managing to sound annoyed. “Can we go find her now?”
“Or it was some other mage we’d do best to avoid.” Eli responded. Mags sighed as if he’d be the death of her, but said nothing more. Eli waited the space of one heartbeat. Two.
“I know it was Sabina.” Mags declared imperiously. She never could resist getting the last word in. “But if you want to waste time mucking around in this Maker-forsaken rain then you just…”
“How do you know it was Bina?” Eli interrupted before she could build up steam. Mags couldn’t hide the triumphant flash in her gray eyes.
“Staff marks.” She answered quickly. “Or, rather, the lack of them.”
Eli examined the ground around them closely, but Mags simply kept talking. “I haven’t met a mage that can resist poking holes in the ground with their staff while they’re leaning on it. This mage didn’t leave staff marks in the bleedin’ mud, which means no staff.”
She said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world, the same way she explained repeatedly how he’d been cheated out of his coin at Wicked Grace or why she didn’t need to go to a meeting to know what was going on in Kirkwall.
He couldn’t decide if he wanted to push her in the mud or kiss her, it was always a toss up with Mags. He settled on laughing instead. “You’re the most insufferable person I know.”
“I know at least three people worse than I am.” She snapped. “Can we go now?”
Go where? That was the question. Eli stood, uneasily eyeing the scrubby area around them. This whole thing made no sense, just like his life recently. It was like in nine months, his entire network of friends and family had decided to all lose their collective minds. First, his godmother’s abrupt disappearance without any word except for the last note. It had been dashed off hastily to Varric saying that she’d be home later than she anticipated, but that everything would be fine, which was a hell of a lot less convincing when she never wrote again or showed up.
Mags absconding from Kirkwall wasn’t a shock after that, really. He honestly doubted his parents or her father were surprised either. Mags believed she could hide what she thought and felt, but if you knew her as well as they did, everything was broadcast in those stunning eyes of hers. She’d been halfway out the door days before her birthday, they all knew it. The only person that could have stopped her was Maria Cadash, and when she didn’t show up…
Not that Eli wasn’t still a bit irritated. The least Mags could have done was tell him she was going, trust that he wouldn’t sell her out. He’d have gone with her then, in a heartbeat, without a second glance.
He wasn’t sure how he could have gone back to Starkhaven anyway and watch as Audrey…
He clamped down on that thought immediately before he let it get away from him. He couldn’t think about Audrey now, he had to concentrate on the problem he actually could deal with.
Sabina’s disappearance hadn’t been as complete as Maria Cadash’s, there were signs of her in Rialto. A man Mags found remembered her getting off a ship, someone else said Bina had paid them in a gold bracelet for provisions, then she’d slipped down the coastline. They’d been able to trace her through some small fishing villages, up until they’d come to this desolate, barren stretch of land.
Of course, tracking Sabina brought more questions than answers. Sabina loved the ocean, loved her ships. Why in sweet Andraste would she abandon all of that to go for a lonely hike down the coastline?
Then, finally, there was this battlefield in front of them. Sabina was too careful to accidentally run into bandits and he couldn’t imagine what in Thedas would have provoked her to confront them then utterly destroy them. It wasn’t like his cousin at all. It was like a… wounded animal lashing out indiscriminately. So if he was Sabina, if he was hurt and miserable, where would he go after this?
The answer came to him immediately and he turned back towards the coastline. She'd go the same place he always found her when they were young. The place she was drawn to more than any other. "C'mon Mags. We need to search the beach."
" We need dry boots and a pint." Mags muttered under her breath.
"Such a city girl." He teased, resting his elbow on the top of her head just because he knew it would irritate her. She shook it off and shoved him as hard as she could, but he’d been prepared. All she succeeded in doing was nearly slipping in the mud herself.
"Keep talking, Hawke." She snarled, stomping off towards the coast. "When we get back to the city, you can buy your own damn dinner."
By the time they stumbled into the third cave, Eli felt nearly as done as Mags looked. The giant spiders in the second cave had pushed her very nearly to the limit, so Eli planned on taking a break regardless to stuff her full of sugar and let her dry out.
Unfortunately, they stumbled right into a ward. His ears popped before the glyphs on the ground lit up. Mags had just enough time to curse before the barrier sprung to life around them, trapping them in a delicate green bubble.
“I hate you.” Mags declared, tossing her bow on the ground in abject frustration. “I’m going to die in spider infested caves, soaked to my damn skin, in the middle of bleeding nowhere and it’s all your fault.”
They weren’t going to die. He recognized the magic like an old, familiar lullaby. He knew the spiraling, shimmering green lines the way he knew the weight of his blade or the shade of his own eyes. It felt like home, like his mother’s laughter, like the twins talking over each other, his aunt humming as she sewed, his father’s sword striking a training dummy.
It was Sabina’s ward, Sabina’s magic, and he shouted her name without a thought, waited breathlessly for the answer, his sword dipping while he squinted into the darkness. “Sabina!” He called out again, louder.
She melted out of the shadows into the pale green light like a wraith and Eli choked on relief, a laugh escaping him instead. Sabina’s smile seemed unsure but she stepped forward closer, her hand reaching out to lightly brush the shell holding them, his name falling like a question. “Eli?”
The last time Sabina found him in his dreams, she looked so haunted. He could see the marks of that worry on her real form, shadows under her eyes, hair frazzled. In his dream, she confessed tearfully that she thought she was drowning before she vanished as suddenly as she entered. Still, she looked whole, her magic felt whole. “Here to save the day.” He offered with a grin.
The barrier shattered and fell away, dissolving into magic that drifted into the air like ash. Before he could say anything else, move forward, crack a joke, point out that if they didn’t want to listen to Mags continue to whine about nature they needed to sit her next to a fire with all due haste… but before he could do anything at all, Sabina threw herself into his arms. She felt cold, thin, but solid. Her hair smelled like smoke and the sea. “I am glad to see you, Eli.” She whispered, twisting her arms around his neck. “I’m glad you are here.”
Mags coughed, irritated, and Sabina pulled away just long enough to glare down at the dwarf. “You, I am less pleased to see. You know it is not a good idea for you to leave Kirkwall unaccompanied. Particularly with your mother missing.”
Mags wilted and he knew it had nothing to do with Sabina’s maternal scolding. Mags held out hope that Sabina found Maria Cadash, some sign or trace of her. Eli hated to see the disappointment settle over Mags’s features and he felt Sabina soften when she caught sight of it as well. No matter what, Mags would always be the youngest of their little quartet and Sabina would always be the oldest.
“You’re soaked.” Sabina smiled kindly. “And miserable, I’m sure. I’ll start a fire.”
“Nothing? You didn’t find anything?” Mags asked forlornly. Sabina’s face darkened.
“Perhaps not nothing.” She said cryptically. “Come.”
Sabina was many things, but fearful was not one of them. Perhaps it was because she remembered, vaguely, the perilous flight from Tevinter when she was a child and Eli little more than an idea dreamt up between his parents. She had also been alive when the breach threatened to swallow the world. Once you saw those things, Eli guessed, there wasn’t much left that frightened you. Sabina instead grew up to be the bravest person he knew, setting out for adventure after adventure, carefree and confident.
Seeing her sitting, knees to her chest, staring into her fire and recounting how terrified she felt… Eli wasn’t prepared for that. He felt cast adrift without her easy fearlessness and more uneasy than he’d like to admit.
He hadn’t known what to expect when he found his cousin, but it wasn’t this. “Sabina, you need to go home.” He began brusquely. “Between your mom and mine, they’ll figure it out.”
“I do not think it is so simple.” Sabina admitted quietly. “The compulsion to go find… whatever calls to me is stronger every day. The whispers are clearer the closer to home I go and the longer I wait. I do not… I do not know if I would still be me when I arrived home.”
“We’ll get you home.” Eli promised. “Right, Mags?”
He expected a quick answer, was disappointed when it didn’t come. Mags was twirling one golden curl around her fingers in a vain attempt to make it dry faster, sitting as close to the fire as she could while she stared at Sabina. She looked at Eli apologetically and shrugged. “Um… maybe it’s a bit dangerous for Kirkwall?”
She winced when he glared. “I know. I know.” Mags rushed to explain. “But… I’m kinda responsible for the city and I’m going to be the one Aveline yells at if something explodes.”
“Let it never be said said that you shirked your duty unless it was convenient.” Eli muttered under his breath. Mags frowned more.
“But what if it’s drawing you somewhere outside the city?” Mags asked while she slung her bag from her shoulder, rifling through it with deft fingers. “You just know it’s pulling you towards home, but maybe not to home, right?”
“This is why you should not have brought her, Eli.” Sabina sighed, wrapping her arms firmly around her knees and settling her chin on them. “You’re too young for this, still, and if it is the Dread Wolf…”
“I’m not afraid of him.” Those eyes of hers flashed steely with determination as she ripped a leather bound book from inside the bag, one tied shut with a worn leather cord. She untied it and opened it, bits of paper scattering from where she’d shoved them. A feather from a large bird, probably used as a bookmark, fluttered alarmingly close to the fire and Eli scooped it up before it could ignite. “And I’m not too young.” Mags stated fiercely, grabbing the feather from his hand.
“Perhaps you should be frightened.” Sabina advised. “He is your mother’s greatest enemy. In all likelihood, he is behind her disappearance. Do you honestly believe he would not use you against her if he could?”
“He’d have to catch me first.” Mags muttered while she flipped through the pages of her journal. It was not nearly as neat as the ones Varric kept, but somehow Mags always found what she was looking for, withdrawing a folded square from between the pages and smoothing it out on the cave floor.
It was a map of the Free Marches sketched out roughly by someone who’d probably copied it from an atlas. In the center, Kirkwall loomed large, Starkhaven at the northernmost point, Ostwick to the east and Cumberland to the west. Mags tapped the mountains behind Kirkwall pointedly. “If it is the Dread Wolf, maybe he’s trying to lure you to Sundermount? It’s got tons of ancient Elven lore attached to it. And there are other places in the Vinmarks, lots of them.”
“Marguerite…” Sabina sighed, rubbing her forehead. Mags ignored her.
“It would almost make a weird kind of sense, strategically.” Mags continued to muse, smoothing the paper down carefully. “It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a trickster, right? Putting something in our own backyard. Mom may not have bothered looking there.”
“No.” Sabina declared loudly. “We are not doing this, Marguerite. It is dangerous and I am…”
“Frightened?” Mags challenged boldly. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
“You are being reckless!” Sabina protested. “And if I turn against you? What will you do?”
“You won’t!” Mags cried out, slamming her hand down on the paper and pausing, eyes blown wide with emotion. Her voice shook as she spoke. “Please, Bina. Please . All I want to do is find my mother. Wouldn’t you do the same thing?”
Sabina looked away immediately, but Eli knew Mags had hit the nail right on the head. There wasn’t much Sabina wouldn’t do for her mother. Mags waited, breathless, but Sabina stayed stubbornly silent until Mags recoiled and glared at Eli. “I’ll go myself then.” She threatened.
Eli winced and turned to Sabina’s proud profile. “We’ve got you, Bina.” He promised. “If it gets to be too bad, I’ll hit you over the head and slog you back into Kirkwall.”
Sabina sighed, defeated.
9:64 Dragon - Drakonis (The 3rd Month) 27th Day
City of Starkhaven, The Free Marches
Audrey couldn’t decide if she was feeling so dizzy because her corset was laced too tightly, severely impeding her ability to breathe, or because the Orlesian nobleman in front of her was wearing the strongest violet scented perfume she’d ever had the misfortune to breathe. There was a good possibility both things were equally responsible.
Fainting, she thought wildly. Fainting was certainly not out of the question.
“So you see, my dear lady, the process of breeding Druffalo is not for the faint of heart.” The man concluded with a pleased smile. Audrey returned it with as much grace as she could muster.
“Thank you, my lord. This has been quite informative.” She searched the crowd behind him, looking for any excuse to leave what had to be among the top twenty worst conversations she’d ever been forced into.
“Ah! Dear child!” The man beamed in delight. “Wait until I tell you of our attempts to cross-breed…”
Two more minutes, she thought grimly. If he didn’t finish in two more minutes, she was going to collapse.
“My lady Vael.” A quiet, sweet voice whispered from behind her. “Your father wishes to speak to you.”
Oh thank the Maker for her da. She was able to beam at the Orlesian nobleman who looked absolutely crushed. “I’m sorry, my lord. Excuse me…”
She turned and met Nessrin Hawke’s brilliant blue eyes. “Thank ye, Nessie.” Audrey whispered as they trailed away from the distraught man, the crowd parting around her. “Where’s da?”
Nessrin fidgeted, tucked a loose strand of black hair behind the delicate shell of her ear and smiled apologetically. “He doesn’t need you.” Nessrin confessed. “But Kestrel said you needed a break.”
Nessrin inclined her head towards the desert table where her twin sister stood with two champagne glasses and a wickedly satisfied smile, green eyes flashing with good humor. Just like her brother’s.
And, as always, that brought a pang to Audrey’s heart. If she’d have known Eli leaving for that damned party in Kirkwall would turn into such a disaster, she’d have fished the invitation she received right out of the trash and stomped off after him, to hell with what Marguerite Cadash-Tethras had to say about it.
“Please tell me he didn’t just waste forty-five minutes of your life talking to you about Druffalo?” Kestrel asked, handing her one champagne flute and downing the other one. Her eyes sparkled vibrantly as she looked around, both utterly fascinated and completely joyful. At least, Audrey thought, the two sisters were having some amount of fun.
“It’s important to make connections with our guests.” Audrey repeated as if by rote, sipping on her own glass. Kestrel snorted, unladylike, and yet utterly charming in a way Audrey suspected only Kestrel could be.
“Right, that’s the good girl answer.” Kestrel teased. “What do you really think, Audrey?”
Audrey smiled and shook her head, too well trained to dare answer. Not with so many people listening. Kestrel could afford to be eccentric and a little rude, after all. Audrey couldn’t risk it.
“He seemed kind.” Nessrin defended quietly. “And… I suppose everyone must have a hobby?”
Kestrel laughed loudly, tipping her head back in uncontrollable mirth. Nessrin giggled softly, unable to help herself, peering through thick dark lashes at Audrey’s twitching lips. “He was very funny, wasn’t he?”
Eli would have spent the rest of the night trying to work druffalos into every single conversation they had with anyone . He’d have done it until Audrey’s face hurt from trying not to laugh. That thought, the sheer void where his presence should have been, made her ache with loneliness.
If she ever saw Mags again, Audrey would wring her neck. It was just like her to take off without a care for her responsibilities, her city, her own damn family left behind to worry themselves sick.
Eli dragged into danger chasing after her.
It was unfair, Audrey thought darkly as she looked out at the sea of people. And it was more unfair that she got away with it.
She was still stewing hours later while she ran her brush through her auburn hair, corset blessedly discarded and replaced with a warm dressing robe. The knock at the door caused her to stop, look into the mirror with narrowed eyes. “Still up, lass?” A warm male voice called and Audrey smiled.
“I’m up!” She replied cheerfully, putting the brush down with a clatter and standing from her dressing table. Her father opened and closed the door quickly, slipping into the room with a proud smile.
“Ye were the talk of the ball again, sweetheart. The Orlesian ambassador was singin’ your praises. Said you were wise and elegant beyond your years.” Sebastian Vael held out his arms and Audrey slipped into them, pressed her cheek against the cool satin of her father’s doublet.
“Did he tell you ‘bout the druffalo?” She asked with a sneaky grin. Her father laughed, shook his head in delight.
“He did not talk about it with ya near an hour? Truly?” Sebastian’s eyes sparkled. “I do not know if I could have born it, lass. You’re twice the prince I could ever hope to be. Starkhaven does not know the jewel she has in you.”
“I think they’ll agree to forgo the tax on our salted fish.” Audrey grinned. “I’ll be th’ patron saint of fishermen throughout Starkhaven.”
Sebastian chuckled and ruffled her carefully brushed hair cheerfully before dropping a pleased kiss on her forehead. “More than fishermen, I think. But… I simply wanted to let you know...”
Her father looked far away, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear as he stared down into her matching eyes. Sometimes, she thought, her father looked so sad he may have well been a statue of one of Andraste’s martyrs.
“Da?” She prodded.
“I’m proud of ye.” Sebastian said finally, smiling down at her. “My wee lass all grown up. I’m simply proud of ye, sweetheart.”
She didn’t think it was what he meant to say, but she knew better than to pry. Usually when he had that look, he was thinking of her dead mother.
Sneaking out of Starkhaven’s palace when she was supposed to be in bed was as easy as breathing. Vanishing into the city, her city, as natural as smiling. She loved the streets of Starkhaven, prosperous, bustling, even on nights like tonight. It was late, but she still passed many taverns filled with songs and laughter, the echoes of it bleeding out into the street with the smell of spilled ale. She could smell food from the carts serving late night snacks, see romantic couples strolling by the river.
Dressing simply, in nothing but cotton pants and a blouse with her bow thrown jauntily over her shoulder, was enough to let her mingle with crowds that usually only saw her from a distance. It wouldn’t be proper for them to think their future princess took midnight strolls through the market, after all. Or that she stopped in one tavern to check for letters that she’d rather her father didn’t see.
“Ay, Jenny!” The bartender called as soon as he caught sight of Audrey slipping into the tavern. “Got letters for ye.”
“Brin’ em over. An’ a pint!” She called out after the man’s back, settling herself at the corner. Within seconds, she had both her pint and a stack of letters. Most of them sealed with tell-tell red wax. The second to last one though…
She would recognize Eli’s handwriting anywhere, the scrawled ‘Jenny’ above the tavern name distinctive. She grinned when she opened it, but she wasn’t smiling after reading just the first few lines.
Sweet Andraste, what did Sabina step in? She darted a furtive glance to make sure nobody was reading over her shoulder, suddenly frightened the conservative folks of Starkhaven would get the wrong idea about the Elven girl Audrey loved like an older sister.
Eli didn’t think Sabina was possessed, he thought she was being lured by the Dread Wolf, the one she’d been hearing rumors about since she was a child. Audrey knew, theoretically, that it was the same man who helped Maria Cadash seal the breach, knew he cleaned to be an ancient Elven god.
She knew Maria Cadash believed it, but her father didn’t. Sebastian Vael simply thought it was one more power-mad mage in a world that hosted entirely too many of them. If her father knew what Sabina was hearing, what she was seeing… he’d think her possessed too.
Audrey Vael didn’t much care either way about the truth of the Dread Wolf. The thought of Sabina in trouble, however, was like a bucket of icy water over her. Audrey reread Eli’s letter again, dated four days earlier, sent from Antiva via the fastest raven he could find.
She could meet them. They had a headstart, but she was closer to the Vinmarks and she was much better at tromping through the wilderness than Mags thanks to all the hunting expeditions she’d been on.
She could meet them, but her father would never let her. Really, he’d be right to. It was foolish, dangerous and Audrey was the only heir Starkhaven had to keep it from descending into civil war, again. Still, that didn’t mean she was any less irritated when she broke open one of the red sealed letters addressed, simply, to ‘a friend in Starkhaven.’
She was pleased with the first two, both from local farmers, one whose tenancy had been caught up in a land dispute that had been peacefully resolved when one of the lords, the aggressor, had been de-pantsed at a soiree involving a famously conservative Orlesian dowager. Suddenly needing allies, he’d been more than willing to capitulate the land dispute.
Audrey was rather proud of that one. It had taken a lot of effort to sneak through the man’s country house and undo those seams just enough that they still held, but only long enough to make his entrance.
The other farmer asked how in the Maker’s name a ‘friend’ had managed to get his inheritance tax revoked on account of him needing to pay his late mother’s medical debts. Well, that had been easier. For her, at least. Any other ‘friend’ may have ran into substantial problems. Both farmers had pledged a small sum to the chantry as she asked.
The third letter made her feel like she swallowed lead. Her eyes landed dead center in the middle paragraph, read that sentence three times before it actually made sense. Her heart seemed to decide to give out, going still until her fingertips ran cold.
Thought you’d be interested to know her ladybits the heir is to be married off to that ponce, Lord Perth. Heard they grew up together, so could be worse. Marriage contract signed and sealed last week, but the girl doesn’t know.
They’d been talking about marrying her off to Perth for a year, but her father promised she’d make the final decision. Audrey knew Ruslan Perth, had known him her entire life. His father died in the civil war that put her father on the throne and he’d been a ward of Sebastian Vael’s prior to his eighteenth birthday.
Her father’s prime minister, a wizened old Elven man named Zephaniah, had come up with the match. He said it was the perfect way to heal the scars from the war. He wasn’t wrong , per se. The match would be a spectacular one for Starkhaven. Still, Audrey couldn’t decide if it was the best thing for Starkhaven, and there were so many other options… She needed to marry someday, but she was barely twenty-one. Surely, there wasn’t a rush. The rumor mill her friends operated on had to have misfired, that was the only option.
Her father wouldn’t do this to her. Not his little lass, the jewel of Starkhaven. Audrey knew he wouldn’t.
It didn’t prevent her from returning to the palace in a panic, didn’t stop her from ransacking her father’s study. She couldn’t decide if she was relieved she had or if she wished she’d never read that damn letter.
There it was, in black and white. Her father’s signature next to the Dowager Lady Perth’s and her son’s, Zephaniah (beloved old grandfather figure, the one who taught her history and math while balancing Starkhaven in one hand) signed underneath them all.
She’d marry Lord Ruslan Perth. It was final, the ink dry on the parchment as she rolled it out on her father’s desk.
How could he? How could they both do this to her as if she was nothing more than a cow to be auctioned to the highest bidder? How did they know that this was best for Starkhaven? Did it not matter that she wasn’t sure?
His wee lass all grown up, she thought darkly, staring at his bald faced lie. She tidied up all the pages of the contract, stacked them neatly on her father’s desk. She didn’t bother to close or relock the drawer she’d broken into.
She felt eerily calm when she climbed onto his chair to get a better angle and slung her bow from her shoulder, pulling an arrow from the quiver. She didn’t even think when the arrow flew the short distance, embedded itself through all the papers and into the thick wooden desk.
It felt like it was just the same as the arrow piercing her heart.
If he did not need her permission, she did not need his. She would not need much to make it to the Vinmarks, after all.
And now we have met our four main characters <3 Most of this story will be from their point of view, although we will also be switching to a few side characters as needed.
Chapter 3: Bartrand's Folly
Audrey finds Sabina, Mags, and Eli.
Eli leads them into the Deep Roads.
Mags confronts a ghost made of red lyrium.
Sabina finds an Eluvian.
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach (The 4th Month) 7th Day
Vinmark Mountains, the Free Marches
Mags started to reconsider the wisdom of their plans the fourth time Sabina pleaded with them to stop, holding her head in her hands. For some reason, the vague threat of Sabina getting worse hadn’t been enough to make her consider what the reality of that would look like. Now, staring at Sabina’s shaking hands, Mags realized there was a chance they were over their heads.
They were also close to Kirkwall, so close she could feel it in her bones. She fought a trembling wish to dive back into the comforting warrens and alleys of her city. She could go home, let Eli’s mom fuss over all of them, patiently endure Aveline’s scolding, and…
She wanted to say her father would smile, both indulgent and proud, that he’d sit her in his study, in the chair reserved only for her, and that he’d tell her stories while he worked until she drifted off to sleep in front of a fireplace that crackled warmly.
The reality would be different. Her father’s smile would be no less loving, but it’d be so brittle she could shatter it with nothing more than her mother’s eyes in her face. Mags’s chair would still be there, untouched by anyone except her, but her father wouldn’t tell her stories. He hadn’t told any for months. She definitely wouldn’t wake up underneath her mother’s cloak, the smell of her perfume lingering in the air. The thought made Mags stiffen her resolve.
No, Mags couldn’t go back to Kirkwall, but Eli and Sabina could. Maybe they should. Mags could comb the area herself, see if she could find whatever was driving Bina bonkers. Once she found it, she could decide whether to investigate on her own or wait for Aveline inevitably showing up and trying to drag her back to Kirkwall as soon as Eli told them where he’d left her.
Sabina dug her fingertips into her temples and cursed under her breath in that rolling foreign tongue her mother and Fenris also used from time to time. Eli watched her with a quiet air of studied concern, his green eyes focused on the uneven rise and fall of her chest as she gulped in air like she couldn’t get enough.
“I cannot hear myself think!” Sabina exclaimed.
“It’s alright, Bina. We’re here.” Eli dropped into a crouch beside where Sabina sat, rested one hand on her slim shoulders, but his intense green eyes were on hers, demanding and questioning all at once.
It was her idea, it was always her mad, impossible ideas. That time they stole the silver trays and crashed down the stairs in the keep riding them or stealing wine from his father’s cellar. Eli always followed along with his kicked puppy eyes and cheerful grin. This time, she wasn’t sure she could make it right by hiding from Aveline or sweet talking Fenris. This time, she may have fucked up.
“Maybe you should take her to Kirkwall.” Mags dropped down in a crouch too, her voice lowered so Sabina couldn’t hear it over the voices begging for her attention. Sabina didn’t look up from the ground.
“We should take her to Kirkwall.” Eli hissed. “I’m not sure I can get her back on my own.”
“Carry her?” She offered helpfully. “C’mon muscles, I believe in you.”
“ Marguerite .”
She ignored her full name, particularly when he said it in that tone of voice, both pleading and exasperated, the same exact way Aveline always managed to say it when she’d pushed the guard captain to the end of her rope.
“Look. Just stay here for a second and let me look around.” She directed, slinging her bow into her hand. “Try not to let her lose her mind while I’m gone.”
“I can hear you.” Sabina growled in irritation.
“Good!” Mags chirped. “All in all, an optimistic sign.”
Eli looked at her like she’d gone completely bonkers so she ruffled his thick dark hair playfully when she stood and stepped past him, eyes focused on the mountainous terrain surrounding them. The sun was setting, painting the Vinmarks into rosy hues of gold and red. She thought she could spot a ram climbing up the steep slopes above them. Behind her back, Eli spoke in quiet, hushed tones to Sabina. Mags reached forward and grabbed a scraggly tree trunk, intending to use it to haul herself up part of the slope.
She heard the whistle of the arrow, but not in enough time to do anything about it except watch with a sort of cool detachment as it slammed into the trunk near her arm, pinned the loose sleeve of her blouse to the bark. At first, she thought it barely avoided her skin. Then she saw the thin red line of red bloom around the arrowhead and she swore.
“Mags!” Eli’s cry reverberated against the mountains, but she didn’t wait for his help before she wrenched the arrow from the bark and whirled, furious, in the direction the arrow came from. Eli’s blade scraped as he withdrew it from the scabbard, but he needn’t have bothered.
Mags knew that fucking arrow from the tip of the arrowhead to the red and white feathers on the shaft.
Audrey Vael stood on a ledge looking excessively pleased with herself, her loose auburn hair turning as fiery as Mags own in the sunset, cerulean eyes blazing with righteous fury. Mags maintained eye contact as she took the arrow and broke it in half before tossing both parts over her shoulder.
Starkhaven appeared to be missing its most annoying resident. “What in the Maker’s hairy ballsack, Vael?” Mags yelled up, annoyed.
“Charmin’ as always.” Audrey muttered. “I coulda used ‘at arrow back.”
Over Mags dead body, but before she could say so Eli rushed past her, laughing and grinning boyishly. “Audrey!”
Audrey beamed down at Eli as he stopped under the ledge, arms open exuberantly. She jumped lightly as a cat and Eli snatched her easily, whirled her around exuberantly before setting the human on the ground. “What are you doing here?” Eli asked, unable to contain his joy.
She’d have found it endearing if Audrey wasn’t fucking involved.
“I got yer letter!”
“You shot me!” Mags sputtered indignantly.
Audrey ignored her, smiling into Eli’s face. “I wanted to help. With Bina.”
“But Starkhaven…” Eli protested.
“It’ll keep.” Audrey promised.
“HAWKE!” Mags held up her bleeding arm. “She shot me!”
This got Eli’s attention at the very least. His green eyes swept over her bloodstained arm and then back to Audrey in disapproval. Audrey shrugged rather unapologetically. “Accidents happen.”
“She shot me on purpose!” Mags rolled up her ripped sleeve, took in the blood falling down her pale skin. Situated on her forearm was a rather prominent red line where the edge of the arrow slashed into her.
“I dinnae mean to…”
“Shoot me?” Mags asked with a pointed glare. “Cause you certainly did.”
“It’s a scratch ye wee…” Audrey drew herself up, eyes blazing.
“Ladies.” Eli sighed wearily, crossing back to Mags and taking the arm she offered, meeting her wounded and irritated expression with a small smile. “I think you’ll live, Mags.”
Not if she had to deal with Audrey, she wouldn’t. She turned away in a huff, eyes seeking Sabina behind them, fully intending to cajole their one mage friend to pretty-please heal the evidence of being caught off guard by Audrey-fucking-Vael.
Her blood ran cold immediately. Sabina wasn’t on the rocky ground where they’d left her. “Hawke…”
He followed her gaze, his eyes shifting from exuberant puppy to cold-blooded soldier in a moment. He shouted Sabina’s name, listened to it echo against the mountains.
“Eli?” Audrey asked.
She didn’t stay to listen to Eli explain what had happened to the cause of it happening. If Audrey hadn’t decided the best way to get her attention was fucking shooting her, if she could just announce herself like a normal person…
If Mags hadn’t dragged Sabina here in the first place…
The good news seemed to be that Sabina hadn’t thought, possibly couldn’t even conceive of, trying to cover her steps. The boot prints in the dirt were clear, distinct from the prints that brought them to the spot were they’d rested.
The bad news was where they led.
Mags stumbled in her rush to stop, staring up at the hewn entrance into the mountain. Rubble surrounded it, clearly where someone broke a barrier that had boarded this dank, dark hole up. Mags could smell rot from inside and something sickly sweet, something she didn’t have a name for.
The hair on the back of her neck stood up and Eli slid to a stop beside her, Audrey on his heels, both of them staring at what once had been an impressive door. Mags didn’t know enough about any of the marks surrounding it to translate it, but she knew they were dwarven.
“A Deep Roads entrance?” Audrey asked. “I dinnae think there was one so close to Kirkwall.”
Mags didn’t know if she was going to be sick or if she was going to descend into hysterical laughter. “Just one.”
Just one entrance, one her father wiped off every map, expunged from every record. One he paid a solid price to board up, to hide, to forget. “Mags, it can’t be.” Eli looked down at her, begging her to tell him that his instincts were wrong.
He wasn’t. It was the carved door from her father’s stories, exactly the way he described it except, somehow, a bit smaller than she’d always pictured it. But Varric couldn’t help exaggerating sometimes. Still, Sabina hadn’t destroyed the barricades, she hadn’t uncovered the ruin. Not that she wasn’t capable, but this would have caused noise they couldn’t help but notice.
No, someone else dredged up this ghost from their parents’ past. Someone else lured Sabina to it.
“Maybe we should have gone back to Kirkwall.” Mags admitted quietly.
“Bit late for that?” Audrey muttered, but it was Eli who pushed past, more brave than she was, his face set with fierce determination. He didn’t look back to see if either archer was following him. Audrey didn’t hesitate, readying an arrow and diving into the yawning cavern behind Eli.
Her father was never going to forgive her if he found out. She glanced helplessly over her shoulder, towards the west, towards Kirkwall. If they walked five miles, they’d be able to see the walls. By tomorrow evening, they could be home and her father could send people to scour the Deep Roads for Sabina.
By then, it could be too late.
She swallowed her fear and plunged into the darkness behind Eli and Audrey.
If either of them noticed her delay in joining them, neither said anything. Mags adjusted the scarf she wore, covered her mouth and nose with it, breathed in the lingering scent of campfire smoke on the scarf rather than risk breathing in the tainted air she felt sure existed in this space.
“Sabina!” Eli shouted.
Mags made a sharp noise of protest immediately. When he glared back at her, she only needed to whisper one word as explanation. “Darkspawn.”
It was enough to shut Eli up, at least. There was a dim red light coming from the walls around them, but it was barely enough to reveal the shadows on their faces, let alone trace Sabina’s path among the rubble. Still, there was only one path, at least.
She thought she heard scratching from within the walls, footsteps echoing at once above and below them. She imagined she could feel the entire weight of the world over them and the molten core of it burning underneath them. She mopped cold sweat off her forehead.
Once, when she was young, she accidentally locked herself in the wine cellar under the keep. She’d been too short to reach the latch, the items inside the room too heavy for a little dwarven girl to move on her own. Her fanciful imagination conjured scenarios of the entire keep falling on her head, burying her under stones and rubble where no one would ever find her.
When she’d finally been discovered missing by a rather neglectful nanny (what was her name? Judy?), her father and Aveline scoured the entire keep until they found her. She’d been told over and over again that she’d only been in the wine cellar for two hours, tops, but it felt like ages. It had been whats-her-names last day, so Mags couldn’t verify, but it was unlike Aveline to lie at any rate.
If she got stuck down here, nobody would even know where to look.
“It’s alright, Mags.”
It was not alright, but she just looked up at Eli. “We’re in the deep roads our parents nearly died in and Sabina is missing. Your definition of ‘alright’ needs adjusted.”
“You can go back outside.” Eli offered warmly. “I can search with Audrey.”
Audrey wouldn’t have his back like she would. “And leave all this exciting real estate unexplored? My dwarven pride is wounded, along with my dwarven arm, which I haven’t forgotten by any means.”
“How many times would ye like me to apologize?” Audrey asked.
“Once would be nice.”
Audrey didn’t apologize and Mags wasn’t surprised. She’d just have to shoot the annoying woman herself in revenge. Later. After they escaped the creepy cave full of spiders and darkspawn and…
They turned the corner and came face to face with spiraling pillars of red lyrium, burning with enough heat to instantly flush Mags skin. Mags realized at the same time that the scratching sound wasn’t coming from the walls. It was coming from inside her head, clarifying into dark whispers.
It shouldn’t be like this, not according to her dad’s stories. The red lyrium was farther in, it should take them a week’s worth of exploration to find it, but this was everywhere. It covered the walls, ceilings, floor, every available surface except one. There was a path carved through the middle of the poisoned jungle a shattered path of red lyrium shards where something or someone had dived through it, a reckless drive urging them forward.
This time, both her and Eli were stunned into stillness. It was Audrey who moved forward, the red stuff crunching under her boots. She examined it curiously, the red glow casting her in sickly colors, one hand lifting up to touch…
“Don’t!” Eli snapped, moving into action immediately, gripping Audrey’s wrist firmly. “Absolutely do not touch it.”
“I can hear it.” Audrey swallowed hard, eyes tracing the red growth. “Maker have mercy, but I can hear it.”
Was this what had been calling Sabina? This scratching, whispering, haunting voices scrambling Mags head? She closed her eyes, tried to breathe through the thumping beat of her heart in her chest.
“Hey Mags?” Eli asked.
“Yeah Hawke?” She hated that her voice came out more a squeak than anything else.
“Do me a solid favor and warn me if you get the urge to abandon us down here to die.”
She actually laughed, the tension breaking when she opened her eyes, fixed them on Eli looking both brave and serious against the red framing him. “Only for you and only cause you asked so nicely.” She promised.
He smiled at her, a roguish mischievous grin before he pressed Audrey gently behind him, readying his blade as he stepped forward. His smile was enough to make her believe they’d be alright, but it didn’t stop her from glaring up at Audrey. “This is your fault.”
“I doubt it.” Audrey snapped, picking her way forward after Hawke. Mags swore she could still hear her mumbling under her breath.
We’ll make our fortune, brother.
The words came from behind her, the voice a whisper in the inky blackness. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she whipped back around to stare at the dark tunnel behind her. Nothing moved in the shadows, but she swore someone watched her with malevolent intent, biding its time until…
Audrey said she could hear it too. She wasn’t going nuts, it was the red lyrium. It did things to you. She hunched her shoulders and followed Eli.
Welcome home, Marguerite.
Just the red lyrium. It was just the red lyrium.
“Alright there?” Audrey asked suspiciously.
“No.” She muttered, shoving past the human. “Let’s get Sabina and go.”
They descended further into the cavern until they came to a gaping chasm pierced through with red lyrium forming what could nearly be called a spiral staircase, as elegant as the one she remembered in Starkhaven’s ballroom. It would be beautiful if it didn’t also make her head throb, if the eerie music drifting up from underneath them would just stop .
Looky there. A shortcut just for you, girl. Don’t say I never got you nothin’.
“Maybe Bina didn’t go down.” Mags voice echoed in the space, louder than it needed to be, loud enough to drown out the red lyrium delusions piercing her thoughts. It made sense, she argued to herself. Of course she’d conjure up the uncle she never met, the one that succumbed to this poison, to narrate its effects on her.
It made sense. It definitely wasn’t Bartrand’s ghost waiting to off his niece in revenge. That would be completely and utterly insane.
Audrey shook her head, pointed down into the center of the spiral. “I dinnae think darkspawn usually come extra crispy.”
She was right. There was a charred corpse at the bottom, still smoking. She thought it could have been like the pictures of Hurlocks she’d seen, but it was hard to tell.
“You gotta go first Mags.” Eli glared down the spiraling red lyrium.
“Walk down it?” She asked, eying the red lyrium distrustfully. “I don’t…”
“You’re almost as light as Sabina is. We weigh more and we need to know if it’ll hold you before we go down. First you, then Audrey.”
She hoped the look she sent him adequately expressed her complete opposition, because she didn’t even have the words. “Hawke…”
“Listen, you’ve got your gloves on. You’ve got boots. Just don’t fucking touch it, okay?” Eli ordered, spinning her around. “We’re right here, Mags.”
Taking this staircase down would cut a week off their parents journey, land them right in the middle of Bartrand’s Folly, the poetically named thaig of doom where the red lyrium was discovered. She could hear someone laughing, but she knew it wasn’t them.
She needed to get a hold of herself. Bartrand didn’t lurk in the shadows below, waiting to shove a blade in her back. He was dead, he’d been dead years before she was born. “Right.” She whispered as she looked down. “I’m going.”
She wanted to flee down the steps, but they were too brittle, too uneven for speed. Instead, she clambered as carefully as she could, looking over her shoulder and up above her head every few steps to ensure Eli’s green eyes were still fixed on her, that he was watching over her like he’d been since she’d been old enough to walk.
“Audrey, go ahead.” He directed loudly, his voice reverberating down the walls, through the red stuff under her boots. “She’s far enough down I think. She can roll out of the way if it collapses, you just need to watch yourself.”
She prayed to the Maker to make sure it didn’t collapse. Nothing would be worse than being stuck in the thaig with Audrey.
Almost there, girl. Do you feel it?
She did. It was like everything was holding its breath. Her foot touched solid cavern floor and she nearly sagged in relief, eyes lifting to stare up at Eli. He looked so far away, barely visible through the jagged spikes of lyrium. “I’m down!”
“Stay put, Mags.” Eli directed and, sweet Andraste, she had no intention of pressing into the dark alone. A wrong footfall from Audrey caused more shards to land on the ground and Mags took a step back, a little further into the shadows than she’d like.
A little too far, it turned out.
Got you now.
Something wrenched her arm behind her, her bow falling to the ground from shocked fingertips as the creature gripped her tightly, began to drag her back. She screamed, the piercing sound echoing in the cavern, reaching for the knife on her belt even as she got a good look at the thing clutching her.
A thing made of red lyrium with a dwarf’s face etched into the surface, a creature with a mad, greedy grin and…
She heard her name shouted from above her, then an arrow pierced the thing right in between the monstrous eyes. Mags fell backwards as it released her, the red lyrium cracking and shattering from the impact of the fletched arrow. Behind her, something else began to crack and crash…
Audrey pulled her to her feet, shoved her to the side as the whole staircase of red lyrium came crashing down, Eli hanging from one jutting piece before he too dropped, rolling as he hit the ground.
Mags was shaking, she knew she was shaking, her hands not steady enough to aim the bow she retrieved. Eli’s name fell from her trembling lips and he was up, sword ready instinctively, eyes scanning the darkness. “Mags, what…”
She couldn’t help herself, she flung her body into his torso, wrapped both arms around his abdomen and buried her face in his ribcage until she couldn’t smell anything but sword polish and leather, until she could feel his chainmail bruising her nose. “It was Bartrand!”
“It was!” She protested vehemently, continued to hide her face so that Audrey wouldn’t see the tears threatening to spill. Slowly, one of Eli’s gauntlets came to rest on her curls.
“Mags, he’s dead.” He soothed. “He’s not...waiting down here to kill you. Audrey did you see…”
“It was something.” She could hear Audrey shrugging. “Somethin’ red.”
“It was him.” Mags whispered. “I know it was.”
“Its dead now.” Audrey confirmed, she heard something shatter, she peered out just in time to see her kicking a shard of red lyrium. “Gone the same way our stairs are.”
“We’ll find a way out.” Eli promised, musing her hair gently. “C’mon Mags, keep it together.”
Easier said than then, but she relaxed her grip just enough to look over her shoulder at the red lyrium studded darkness ahead of them, the thaig looming mere paces away and an odd, flickering light coming from the next doorway.
An odd, familiar light she knew. “An Eluvian.” Mags whispered, a note of hope in her voice. Yes, she knew the way an Eluvian’s light played over the stones. An Eluvian shining that way was active, and that meant the Crossroads, that meant out of the Deep Roads and away to…
“Sabina.” Eli whispered. “Mags, Sabina…”
Without another word, Audrey raced forward towards the light, the two of them on her heels.
The two stone doors were propped open, the light bleeding and flickering over the glowing red lyrium as they ran into the open room. Audrey beat them to it, skidding to a stop with a muttered prayer to Andraste. Eli and Mags both stopped behind her, staring agog at the sight ahead. Sabina stood, outlined against the glowing rainbow light, one hand reaching for the flickering surface. The mirror itself was massive, the largest Eluvian Mags ever saw, flanked on one side by an enormous stone dragon, the other side by a howling wolf.
“Bina.” Audrey called, taking a trembling step forward. “Bina what in the Maker’s…”
Sabina turned, the swirling light reflected in her eyes, looking at Audrey as if seeing her for the very first time. “Could you hear it too?” Sabina asked faintly.
Eli and Mags shared a concerned look as Audrey approached Sabina slowly, carefully, one hand extended. “C’mon love.” Audrey crooned. “Get away from that thing.”
They’d have to go through that thing to get out. Mags wished she’d been able to grab the spotty maps of the Crossroads when she left Kirkwall, but they’d been guarded too well in the Gallows. Still, she could find her mom’s people somewhere in the Crossroads.
She could also find Qunari or the Dread Wolf. It was a toss up, but it was better than staying down here in this red lyrium nightmare.
“Marguerite, is it?”
Eli flinched and that’s how she knew she was in trouble. That voice didn’t come from inside her head, it reverberated in the room, made Audrey look over her shoulder too. Mags turned slowly, afraid to face what waited for her in the inky darkness outside the doors.
“Bah. That’s no name for a dwarf.” The voice continued, haunting and echoing and wrong . “Shoulda known to expect some flowery bullshit from Varric, though.”
Something rumbled in the darkness, something massive. It sounded like all the red lyrium was growing, condensing, becoming…
The creature stepped into the light, a mound of red lyrium bigger than a golem, wearing the face of a greedy, bitter man, staring at her with black holes full of contempt. Eli stepped in front of her immediately, shifting low to swing...
“Or was it your whore mother who picked the name?”
Her temper ignited, drove the fear out in a gust of rage. She became just an observer of her own body. She watched her arm raise easily, fluidly, watched the green fletched arrow fly perfectly and imbed in between the creatures eyes. It let out a furious scream of pain and then Eli’s arm pulled hers, yanked her back. “The mirror!” He barked as the creature stumbled forward, bits of red lyrium shredding off its back and arms as it pushed through the narrow door.
It swiped one red fist, sending the ceiling crumbling within the building they stood in. Eli picked her up, shouting a furious order to go as he hauled her up like a sack of potatoes. She just made sense of two other figures flying through the mirror before both her and Eli fell through its shimmering surface.
Chapter 4: Prophecies
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach (The 4th Month) 7th Day
The Unexplored Crossroads
Sabina, for a moment, did not know if she was awake or asleep. The last thing she remembered clearly was listening to the soft lilt of Mags’s voice merging in the air with Eli’s hushed, concerned whispers while struggling to manage the voices in her head. Then…
Then someone had screamed. Yes. She remembered a scream, she remembered a creature lunging at her, one she incinerated without thought. She remembered something crashing, she remembered…
She remembered the mirror.
That was the last thing she remembered before she felt the hard ground under her palms, scraping against her bare fingers. It was cold here, wherever here was, and empty. She raised her eyes to look at an endless void of platforms floating, connected by the thinnest and most delicate bridges she had ever seen. Trees towered from some of them, their leaves blossoming peach colored in a sun that didn’t seem quite real.
Sabina blinked, stunned. It felt like the waking world, but it looked like the Fade. The whispering ceased, but if she couldn’t tell the difference between wake and sleep anymore maybe it had gone because she truly could not tell the difference between what was real and what was not.
Then she heard a solid sounding thump from behind her, the unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh. “I fucking told you it was Bartrand! I told you!”
Mags’s indignant voice echoed in the void around them and it made Sabina smile despite herself. If Mags was here, perhaps it was more real than not. And if it was more real than unreal… Well, she could hardly allow herself to hope that the voices finally went silent, she’d been disappointed before. She pushed herself off her hands and stood, turning to take in the sight behind her.
The mirror from her dreams loomed over Mags, Eli, and Audrey Vael , of all people. Mags and Eli were both still on the ground, scraped but none the worse for wear. As Sabina watched, Mags landed another solid hit on Eli’s shoulder before she pushed herself up off the ground, glaring up at the mirror they must have came through.
And if they had come through that mirror, that meant they were in the Crossroads. Sabina felt the first prickes of dread at the back of her neck. Since she turned eighteen, her mother asked her to avoid only two places. Tevinter and this cursed, ancient ground in-between space.
"Audrey?" Sabina couldn't trust her eyes, but the woman turned with a half smile at her name, eyes sharp and clear.
"Ye with us now, love?" Audrey asked while Mags dusted herself off and Eli pushed himself from the ground. "Ye were actin' a bit…"
"Insane?" Mags supplied unhelpfully.
"Off." Audrey stated rather more diplomatically, kind eyes searching Sabina's. "I dinnae think you even knew who I was."
How could she have not known Audrey? When Eli begged and pleaded to be allowed to go to Starkhaven, to train with real knights as a young man, his parents both hesitated. Eli had been twelve then, and Sabina a willowy seventeen year old yearning for adventure. She made a promise that she'd not set out for sea until she turned twenty, her father insisted on it, so she'd been faced with three more years staring wistfully out at the ocean or accompanying her cousin to Starkhaven.
The choice seemed obvious at the time, made even sweeter by Prince Vael's promise to pay her if she took some time to educate Audrey about magic, Sabina was a more palatable alternative to him despite her youth than an unknown mage, particularly after what happened to Audrey's mother. And yes, Sabina's own mother would probably have rather had Sabina at sea than at a human court surrounded by human men with more power than sense, but Sabina enjoyed her years there. She'd been a privileged part of Audrey's household, and Audrey loved her lessons learning the power of mages.
By the time Sabina left, Audrey had grown into the cusp of womanhood, a little sister of Sabina's choosing, as much her family as Eli, Nessrin, Kestrel, and Mags. Forgetting Audrey made no sense. She could never forget Audrey.
Her eyes flicked from Audrey back to Eli and Mags. They watched her with the same wary concern. Sabina swallowed and stared into her wan reflection in the closed Eluvian behind them. Her voice cracked when she spoke. "Can we return through it?"
She brought them here. Her voices brought them here. She must take them back out before…
"No." Eli cut in.
"Inadvisable." Mags spoke next.
"I dinnae think so." Audrey's voice was the final one, kind but firm.
She stared forlornly at all of them then turned and looked over her shoulder at the floating islands stretching into the distance. There would be no leaving the way they came in, and even if they could find another, there would be no telling if they could open it. The only person who could reliably open them, except perhaps Fen'Harel himself, remained missing.
"So, hate to ask, but how are the voices in your head doing?" Eli grimaced as he spoke, the words sour in his mouth.
She feared they had gotten what they wanted. She could not believe they had gone silent forever, she knew they could return with a vengeance at any time. For now, in their place…
Her thoughts were her own, but there was a pull in her gut, something like the way the moon pulling the tides. She felt like a fish caught on a hook, powerlessly being reeled inward. There was nowhere to go but forward into the unknown, the three of them helpless in her wake.
"I am sorry." It wasn't nearly adequate enough to explain how she felt. Instantly the three faces in front of her softened.
“Honestly, it’s probably good to know the red lyrium outside of Kirkwall is growing like fungus.” Mags offered, eyes drifting down to examine her arm. She pulled the loose sleeve away from her skin and examined a distinctive crimson splotch critically. Sabina’s heart dropped into her stomach.
“You’re hurt.” She stepped forward, mind churning. Red lyrium? If Mags had been hit with it, if she was infected…
Audrey followed Sabina’s gaze and winced. Eli sighed and rolled his eyes. Mags lifted her gaze from her sleeve looking both triumphant and vindicated. “This is, surprisingly, not from our little disaster.”
“I was a bit careless. With my aim.” Audrey mumbled. “I’m sorry, alrecht?”
“Now, see, that is an apology.” Mags sniffed disdainfully and jerked her chin forward. “Onward?”
Sabina swallowed and nodded tersely. Onward it was. Eli pushed forward, blade ready, winking at her as he fell in beside her. “Let the girls cover us?”
She nodded in the uneasy silence while they put the mirror behind them, their footfalls echoing in the queer, empty space. They hadn’t taken more than four steps, hadn’t even made it to the first bridge, before Audrey asked a question.
“Do ye know where we are?”
“The Crossroads.” Mags supplied. The unuttered, but clear ‘obviously’ hung in the silence, an unspoken taunt.
“Yes, but where?” Audrey asked impatiently. “Isn’t this yer area of expertise?”
“Starkhaven, does it look like anyone has been here for a thousand years?” Mags asked. “I left my ability to see into the past at home, along with my patience for dealing with spoiled…”
“Spoiled?” Audrey sputtered. “I dinnae think you have any right to call anyone…”
“I forgot what it was like.” Sabina whispered to Eli as the girls behind them descended into bickering, much the same as they always did. Sabina, oddly, found it soothing. Eli looked over at her and raised an eyebrow, his expression torn between irritation and amusement.
“How much fun it is to take the two of them anywhere together?” Eli asked, jerking his head behind them.
Sabina couldn’t help the flicker of a smile, but she shook her head. Audrey and Mags were more alike than different, but neither of them could see it and Maker help the person who tried to point it out. “No.” She admitted. “I forgot what it was like to be frightened of my own magic.”
She’d been taught not to be. Yes, Sabina’s mother could be called a strict teacher, but Varania was not without a sense of fun or adventure. She could barely recall the lessons with other children in Skyhold, but she remembered all the ones in Kirkwall. Her mother taught her to light flames and send lanterns high into the air above them, to knit together paper-cuts and scrapes, to summon storm clouds with her fingertips. Varania treated magic as any tool, one wielded properly was no more dangerous than a blade or scissors. Even when the demons came, full of temptation and whispered promises, she’d only been frightened until she realized that they craved her power, not the other way around, as Reyna Hawke said.
You need no circle if you carry it with you.
“You didn’t hurt anyone, Bina.” Eli’s face looked so earnest. “You tried to warn us this was dangerous. As usual, Mags and I took that as a challenge instead of a deterrent.”
“They’re not talking. Not any longer.” The voices in her head were holding their breath, waiting with tangible anticipation. She knew it. “But they want us to go forward. They want me here.”
Perhaps, they wanted all of them here. Eli nodded, scowled into the dim twilight. “Well, I’ve got a plan. Find whatever is tormenting you, stab it and shoot it full of arrows, let you light it on fire, then find a way home.”
He made it sound easy, a reckless confidence infusing his voice. It lightened her heart in spite of herself. Eli grinned at the expression on her face. “So,” he began, “Who’s going to be more angry about this? Your mom or my dad?”
An old question, an old game, one that made her laugh softly. How often had Eli asked that, boyish grin apologetic, as they waited to learn the consequences of their misbehavior? “I think they will be in agreement about this.”
There was a song in Sabina’s head, a beautiful lilting melody. She did not know if she had ever heard it before, but it was as familiar as an old lullaby. It was, she supposed, preferable to the voices. She could also see light on one of the platforms, the one they seemed to be climbing towards. Their group was silent, Eli wary, the two archers sullen and suspicious of both the Crossroads and each other.
The light felt like home. She swore it was the same light she saw flickering in the upper windows of her mother’s shop late at night when she breezed into Kirkwall to visit.
But, there was someone between it and them. The figure didn’t move while they approached and Sabina, honestly, hadn’t even been certain it was a person. A person could not be so still, as if they did not breathe or…
The answer struck her immediately. It was no person, but a spirit dressed as a person. It would not be possible outside the fade, theoretically, but the Crossroads was closer. A strong enough spirit could claim a person’s face here, perhaps, and…
The spirit drew one hand up to the hood hanging over its face. The movement revealed the right side of the figure, the cloak fluttering away from an empty space where a second arm should have been.
Mags made a small sound, one that was both hopeful and frightened. Sabina thrust her arm out to stop the dwarf from moving forward, looking down to try and catch Mags’s gaze. Mags didn’t look up, kept her eyes fixed with hopeless longing on the face revealed by the cloak, pale with a smattering of freckles over the bridge of her nose, bright red hair falling in wisps around her face from a braid coming undone.
Eyes that sparked with green energy, crackled with magic and force unlike anything Sabina had ever seen. “It is not her, Mags.”
Mags swallowed and nodded, but she couldn’t stop her eyes from darting over every inch of the figure as if a starving woman finally shown a full buffet. “I know.” Mags voice cracked when she spoke, but the dwarf nodded. “I know.”
“Welcome.” The spirit called, standing fluidly. “I have waited.”
Maker, it was Maria Cadash’s voice. Light, teasing, but lined with the iron of command underneath it. But the words were not Maria’s words, Maria wouldn’t greet them so formally, she would rush down the steps. She would scold and fuss and laugh, gray eyes glimmering.
And yet still, she could feel Mags nearly vibrating behind her. Audrey must have felt it too, because she felt more than saw Mags step away from Audrey’s fingers with a muttered warning to not touch her. Sabina took a deep breath. “We just wish to pass.”
She didn’t want to fight a spirit like this unless they needed to. The creature wearing the former Inquisitor’s features did not blink, looked at them steadily. “I know. It is your time.”
“Where is my mother?” Mags demanded, pushing underneath Sabina’s arm. Eli quickly snatched the back of her shirt with his free arm. The spirit turned her head to the side, sparking green eyes lingering on Mags.
“Beyond your reach for now, Nala’Llomyn.” The spirit stepped forward, steps completely silent. “I am the Oracle, one of the last of my kind. I have come to fulfill a promise made long ago to the ones who brought you into this world.”
The Oracle. Sabina felt a chill down her spine and shot a panicked look at Eli. There was a story here, one she could hardly remember, one that dealt with how Eli had been born. Before Sabina could question it, Mags tried to repeat what the spirit said. “Nalalomein?” She questioned.
The spirit smiled Maria Cadash’s cheerful grin and shook her head. “No.” The Oracle muttered. “You are not yet the thief in the shadows, but you will be. Soon. And the Dread Wolf will call you Nala’Llomyn, will accuse you of plundering what does not belong to you, but it is more yours than his now. You will know.”
With that, the Oracle turned, shimmering and lengthening, taking on an appearance that made Sabina’s heart ache. Her mother’s orange hair, streaked with white, her elegant hands, her soft voice when she looked down and called gently. “Bina.”
She fought the urge to cry, to throw herself into the arms of the spirit and wail that she was sorry, like she had as a child who’d broken a plate or a toy. Her mother’s smile, soft and always a little unsure, didn’t look out of place on the spirits face. “I promised a boon to your parents. And you shall have it.”
“What boon?” Eli demanded. The Oracle held herself straighter in Varania’s body, eyes crackling, the air around it sparking.
“Elias Hawke, warrior.” The spirit tipped her head to the side, considering Eli as she spoke. “Your mother’s fire in your veins. Your father’s armor beneath your skin. Their legend is your curse and your salvation, Elias. Someday, you will stand in your father’s place, in your mother’s, and you will fly. You will save what you love the most, but you cannot save yourself.”
Sabina watched Eli’s skin pale, saw his eyes grow cold with both fury and fear. “Eli, ignore it.” Sabina whispered, choking on her own fear. Spirits could not be trusted, they could not…
“Sabina Rainier, blessed with magic immortal, but your blood is cursed with the sound of metal clashing. You have been chosen, but it is your choices that will shake the world. You will be loved, but the only arms you can count on to hold you are your own.”
The words sounded more true than anything Sabina had ever heard. She was speechless as the Oracle turned her attention to the dwarf between her and Eli. “Marguerite.” The Oracle whispered.
Mags flinched, but the Oracle continued on sadly. “You have so many names, but the world will call you heroine. They will say your grin was made for war, your eyes flecked with ash. You will find what you seek, or you will not, but the knowledge it brings will sit bitter in your stomach. The next time you go home, your hands will drip blood, your heart will be shattered at your feet, and it will be the same, but you will not be.”
They all stared in silence until Audrey broke it indignantly. “Right bucket of cheer ye are!” She muttered.
The Oracle laughed, the laughter sounding both like her mother, but also like Reyna Hawke and Maria Cadash and her father, her uncle, Varric, all of them. Sabina fought the urge to be sick as the Oracle’s sparking eyes landed on Audrey.
“I owe you nothing, proud daughter of a righteous man.” The Oracle shook her head. “But I will give you this for no price: you have been betrayed even more than you know.”
Audrey looked like someone punched her and she staggered backwards, Eli pulling his blade and stepping forward. “Move or I’m going to move you.” Eli threatened.
"You must face your breaking to usher in the next age." The Oracle advised. "If you do not chase your pain, you will be dragged under with it. All children born in such times must emerge with scars."
The Oracle took another step up onto the tallest platform, turned her mother’s face away from Sabina and her friends. She didn’t look back, even as she began to fade away, Varania’s stolen form grew dimmer as they watched. “You are striding into the arms of death, children. May fate be with you.”
Then she was gone, her voice echoing in the air. Sabina couldn't help stepping forward, almost against her will. Perhaps she was chasing her mother's ghost, perhaps it was the pull of gravity inside her seeking what lay above in that glittering warm light. A part of her rejoiced, insistent that this was right, this was where she belonged.
On the last platform, another mirror stood, this one framed only by dragon wings made of a material that looked hard as stone, but gleamed like pearl. They were so lifelike, Sabina would not have been surprised if they folded in on themselves and a dragon reared up, nostrils smoking, scales rippling in the light. In front of the mirror a ball of golden light hovered in mid air, the surface rippling with waves of yellow and red, orange and silver.
It was so beautiful she could have wept. Yes, something inside her cheered, yes, this was it. This was what she had been searching for on the waves and in the sea all her life and she had never even known, could not have fathomed how glorious it would be to behold. The music in her head swelled, the rhythm matching her thundering heart.
She stepped forward, reached out to grab it. Someone's arm tightened around her narrow waist, someone tried to stop her, to prevent her from taking what was hers.
She summoned a small amount of energy and it came easily, burst out of her and knocked away the obstacle trying to keep her back. Then she watched, detached, as her slender tan fingers reached out and touched the light.
Then, there was nothing. Blissful, bright, empty nothing .
The Unexplored Crossroads
Eli had a list of things he didn’t expect to be doing that day. He couldn’t really believe he dived into the red lyrium thaig that nearly killed both his parents and his uncle. It definitely seemed like a bad idea, even in the moment, but it surely would have been worse to let Sabina wander around down there out of her damn mind. He also would have stabbed himself with his own sword before he would have guessed that he’d be visiting the Crossroads for the first time.
And he certainly hadn’t been prepared to see Audrey, her eyes sparkling with mirth and cheeks flushed with a certain pleased pride that sat as well on her as anything else she tried her hand at. Although it was at least both comforting and familiar to be stuck between her and Mags sniping at each other.
Oh, and he wasn’t even going to touch the spirit spouting gloom and doom, the one that wore his godmother’s face, then tried on his aunt’s like it was no big deal.
But he’d have laughed anyone out of the room if they ever told him that he’d need to worry about Sabina blasting him into the yawning abyss below. Sabina never used magic against him and honestly, he hadn’t expected it. He saw her eyes lose focus, staring hungrily at whatever magic spun in an orb in front of them, and knew he needed to stop her.
He hadn’t been able to. The second he touched her, the magic from within her knocked him nearly off the platform, would have if it hadn’t knocked him right back into Mags and Audrey, the three of them collapsed in a flurry of limbs and curses. Audrey’s knee was dangeorusly close to somewhere he’d rather not get kneed and Mags elbow jabbed into his throat, but it didn’t matter. Eli was powerless to do anything but watch Sabina reach out and touch the thing floating in the air and then…
He heard something roar , like the ocean during the storm, like a dragon landing. Light, sound, color all rushed past until he could make out nothing in front of him except Sabina’s dark silhouette and the great wings behind the Eluvian. He thought he could hear music, bells, people whispering, laughing, singing. His ears popped and he yelled, but he couldn’t hear his own voice over the cacophony.
Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. His ears rang and he felt Audrey’s slim fingers grip his shoulder tightly, but he only had eyes for Sabina as the light condensed into a halo around her, sunk into her skin and fingertips. She swayed, staggered one step forward before she collapsed.
All he could remember in that moment was the day she set out on the Siren’s Revenge for the first time, eager and shining brilliantly in the sunlight, dark hair piled on top of her head and grinning jauntily, nearly bouncing with excitement as her father checked her pack one last time. Eli was so lost in the happier memory he didn’t even know how he made it to her side in the present, turning her over so he could stare into her face. Her pulse fluttered, uneven, in her neck and she didn’t stir even as he shook her and called her name.
“Eli, is she…?” Audrey’s voice trembled, but he looked up and met her eyes steadily, shook his head.
“She’s breathing.” He confirmed and Audrey relaxed only slightly, looking around in despair. Mags met Eli’s eyes with her own, wide and gray and frightened .
He never thought he’d see Mags looking so frightened, and that was sobering too. “It’s alright, Mags.”
Mags shook her head mutely in disbelief, sharing the same despairing look Audrey had. Eli took a deep breath, jerked his chin back towards the mirror while holding Mags gaze. “We need to get her back to Kirkwall.”
“How?” Audrey exclaimed, tears choking her voice. “Nobody can open these damn magic mirrors except the Qunari, the Dread Wolf an’ the Viscountess… an’ she is gone!”
That wasn’t quite true, but Eli didn’t know how many people actually knew that. Maria Cadash, certainly, and that meant Varric knew as well. If Eli’s parents knew, they gave no hint, although they were used to keeping secrets. Maria could have shared it with her people, but somehow, Eli didn’t think she had.
In fact, Mags hadn’t been supposed to tell him, but she had anyway. As he stared at her she pressed her lips into a thin line and nodded once, determined. She brushed the dirt off her breeches as she walked past Sabina and Eli, past Audrey. She approached the wing flanked mirror as Eli scooped Sabina’s thin form into his arms and stood, cradling her head against his shoulder. Audrey reached out to tenderly brush the mused curls back from Bina’s forehead before looking up at him. “Eli, how can we…”
He didn’t need to answer. He heard Mags take a shaky breath, saw her tug her glove off and press her palm against the silver surface of the mirror. Beneath her fingers, the glass came to life, bursting into a swirling riot of colors.
The light reflecting in her eyes reminded him, eerily, of the spirit wearing her mother’s face, the green light crackling beneath gray orbs. She turned to look over her shoulder and shrugged helplessly in Audrey’s direction.
“I’ve got more than mom’s good looks.” She joked weakly, pulling her hand from the glass before she could sink through. She looked small with the mirror towering over her, something he funnily usually didn’t think about when he thought of Mags. She had a Maker-given talent for taking up space despite her stature. But here, with her eyes fearful and Sabina limp in his arms, Audrey pale in the odd twilight…
Yes. Mags looked small and Eli felt small. It wasn’t shameful to admit it.
“You’ll have to go first, Audrey.” The words tasted sour on his lips because he should lead the way, his chainmail was thicker than their leathers, his sword sharper and studier than their bows, but he had Sabina and they couldn’t hope to carry her. “Mags will have to shut this behind us.”
“You knew.” Audrey accused flatly, eyes suddenly livid. “Ye know Mags could do this and ye didn’t…”
“It wasn’t my secret to tell, Audrey.” Eli pleaded. “Can we fight about this after we escape?”
“Or never.” Mags narrowed her eyes and pierced Audrey with them. “Since it wasn’t any of your business.”
“Fine.” Audrey snapped, nocking an arrow in her bow and stomping past Mags, shouldering through the mirror without the slightest hesitation. Say what you will, Eli thought, but Audrey always had been fearless.
“We could leave her.” Mags offered.
Eli didn’t dignify that with a response, shifting Sabina’s limp form and soldiering through the mirror behind Audrey.
Chapter 5: Cursed
There's a curse in Marguerite's blood.
Three years earlier...
9:61 Dragon - Justinian (6th Month) 23rd Day
The Gallows, City of Kirkwall
Mags leaned back on her palms and felt the sun warmed stone under the leather gloves she wore. Easily twenty steps away was a target pinned haphazardly with arrows, all fletched with green feathers. Mags tapped the heel of her boot against the stones impatiently and looked up at the imposing white walls rising up around her.
They still called it the Gallows, but the name seemed like a joke to her. This, to her at least, had to be the most interesting place in Kirkwall. People came and went by ship and by mirror, Dagna tinkered away endlessly on things both amusing and dangerous, and secrets spilled out of every mouth and letter.
"What did that poor target do to deserve all that?"
Maria's voice curled in the air like smoke and Mags looked behind her just in time to see her mother leaning back against the stone wall, lip caught between her lips to stifle amusement.
"It's art." Mags protested, gesturing to it grandly. "I'm going to put it in the dining hall as an installation piece."
"Ah. I guess I missed the mark."
Mags groaned at the awful joke and allowed herself to flop gently onto the stones so she stared up at the morning sun streaming into the courtyard. Maria laughed warmly as she crossed the space, thrust her arm into Mags field of vision.
"I guess if you're content to lie around here all day we can just go without you." Maria teased.
Mags didn't even dignify that with a response, taking her mother's proffered hand and hauling herself up.
She was fifteen and her parents promised she could accompany them through the Eluvians for a routine jaunt to Skyhold. It wasn't anything special, really. She doubted her father even planned to go until Mags begged, cajoled, and negotiated her way into accompanying her mother.
It wasn't special but it was probably the most exciting thing she'd done in ages.
"You'd miss me." Mags grinned into her mother's face and Maria's smile softened.
"Remember the rules?" Maria asked, eyes stern while she waited for Mags to recite them back.
"Listen to you and dad." Mags supplied by rote. "Whatever you say. Even if you say run away, I do it. No arguing, no complaints."
"No dashing heroics." Maria prodded.
"Absolutely none." Mags promised before turning her smile into a plea. "Can we go now? I'm bored."
"Get your arrows, Magpie." Maria directed fondly. "I'd rather you have them even if you don't need them."
Her father's crossbow looked right slung across his back, made him look every inch the rogue merchant prince who trailed after the legendary Inquisitor. He winked at her when she walked in at her mother's side, the eluvian already sparkling behind him. "Ready Sunshine?"
"Born ready!" She beamed, rising up on the toes of her boots to peer around him into the beautiful rainbow colors.
“Breathless. Brilliant. Brand new.” She hadn’t realized Cole was there until he appeared out of the shadows at her elbow, smiling down at her fondly from under his hat. “Ready.”
“You’re coming too?” Without thinking about it, she flung her arms around Cole’s torso and hugged him tight.
“Yes.” Cole confirmed. “All of us, the way you like it best.”
"Harding, anything I should know?" Her mother fixed her gaze on the other dwarf lounging nearby. Harding looked up with a grin and shook her head.
"Just walked it myself, Herald. Perfectly quiet in the best way, and Rylen's waiting at the other end. If you want, though, we can spare some people to go with you."
Harding smile looked like a cat who'd gotten into the cream. Maria huffed in exasperation. "Any reason I need extra people or are you just humoring my paranoia?"
"We never get to see you this anxious. Usually it's us here worrying about you." Harding teased. "I think we've earned the right to enjoy this just a little bit."
Mags wished her mother had something to be nervous about. She wished she could actually go exploring in the Crossroads beside Harding, she wanted to see every inch of Thedas, fight alongside her fierce mother, defeat the Dread Wolf and embark on her own adventure. Someday, she thought forlornly. Not now, but this was a start.
She didn't realize how covetously she stared into the mirror until she felt the light, sure touch on her wrist. It grounded her, made things more real. Her father's warm honey eyes bore into hers as if he could read her mind. She thought he looked amused. And a little sad.
"Just like your mom." The words were so fond they made her heart swell. Varric tucked her hand into his elbow with a gentle squeeze. "What am I going to do with the two of you?"
Before she could answer, her mother strode purposefully to the mirror and took a deep breath, tipping her smile over her shoulder. She held her crossbow at the ready, but her posture seemed deliberately relaxed. "Ready or not, I suppose."
She could have been talking to any of them, or maybe even herself, but before she could clarify she slipped through the surface of the mirror, the light rippling around her like water as she vanished. Mags took an eager step forward, but found herself caught by her father's heavy bulk. "Let your mother take a look first, Sunshine."
Cole mumbled an apology as he followed like her mother’s shadow, vanishing into the colors without her. Mags didn't want to wait. She fought the urge to stomp her own foot in a temper, caught only by the conflicting desire to prove that she was indeed mature enough to handle this dive into the Crossroads.
Harding giggled but schooled her face carefully into a mask of boredom by the time Mags pinned her with a furious glare.
"Y'know kid…" Harding began playfully. "Get your hair a bit redder and you'd be her spitting image."
Mags tossed her head to the side artfully, one loose gold curl bouncing over her shoulder as she sniffed disdainfully. "I like my hair."
"That's my girl." Varric murmured, eyes fixed on the swirling surface of the mirror. Then the surface parted and one hand reached through, fingers achingly familiar and extended. Varric smiled and looked down at Mags. "Go ahead."
Almost dizzy with excitement, she slipped from his loosened grip and to the mirror, twining her leather covered fingers with the bare ones reaching back for her. A soft tug pulled her through the sparkling surface without preamble.
She blinked owlishly in the odd twilight, one hand braced on her mother’s shoulder, the other still intertwined in Maria’s. She gawked at the ancient crumbling structures, the skeletal trees, the scrubby grass. It was new, frightening, and strangely beautiful.
“Alright, Magpie?” Maria asked gently.
“Yes.” She sounded confident, emboldened by the warm, rich chuckle of her father behind her while he slid through the Eluvian and slipped his arm around Maria’s waist. Yes, she was fine. More than fine. The longer she looked at the Crossroads, the more beautiful it seemed.
“Come on then.” Maria grinned and inclined her head in invitation. “After you.”
Despite the fact that the trip turned into little more than a dull trek through the Crossroads, Mags felt electric with curiosity. She couldn’t help herself and nobody stopped her from criss-crossing the paths, darting from one object of fascination to another. Cole stayed at her side, eyes warm and kind. Her parents looked more cautious, but just as indulgent.
At each mirror, her mother placed her palm flat against the surface until it swirled, slipping through first with Cole before returning momentarily for both Mags and Varric. “Why don’t you go with her?” Mags asked finally, skipping to her father’s side, inspecting a handful of luminescent rocks.
“I don’t know if you realized yet, Sunshine, but this is your mom’s cup of tea. She knows this place backwards and forwards.”
She looked up and pierced him with her serious gaze. “You’d go if I wasn’t here. Together.”
“Probably.” Varric admitted honestly. “But you’re a bit young to be rushing into danger.”
“I can shoot.” She whined. Varric laughed.
“You’re not going to believe this, but I’m aware of how the arrows keep ending up in our ceilings.”
She smiled apologetically, but before she could say another word, the shimmering light from the mirror faded quickly, revealed her shocked expression and a rather more dismayed and distraught expression on her father’s.
“Shit.” Varric muttered, swinging the crossbow over his shoulder in one fluid movement that spoke of years of practice and familiarity. He thrust one arm back roughly and pushed Mags away from the mirror. Not that it really mattered because the mirror had slammed shut with them on the wrong side.
“What happened?” She asked immediately. He didn’t answer so she balled her fist in the back of his coat and tugged. “Dad?”
“Best case scenario is that your mom is just investigating something and decided to be overly cautious.” Varric’s eyes narrowed at the mirror.
“And in the worst case…?” She asked with a tiny tremor of fear.
“I’ve learned to stop asking that.” Varric mumbled. “But it’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Mags tried to believe him. He sounded sure, if nervous, but her imagination conjured images of frantic battle, catastrophe. Her pulse thudded in her neck and she tried to breathe through the rising tension.
She wanted the mirror to open. She wanted to see her mother’s elegant hand reaching back, crooking her fingers for them to follow. She wanted to see Cole’s hat and his kind eyes. She wanted…
She reached around her father’s elbow and pressed her palm against the cool glass. She could see her own eyes reflected back, wide with worry.
She thought the word like it was a prayer rather than a command.
Nobody was more surprised than her when it did. Varric grabbed her wrist and pulled it back immediately, pointing his crossbow toward the glass and hauling Mags away from the sparkling surface. Her thoughts stuttered in shock but before she saw the mirror ripple and a form began to emerge. Varric cocked Bianca, but didn’t shoot.
Thank the Maker he didn’t, because her mother pushed through, her own crossbow leveled and her eyes fierce. Varric sagged backward as Cole slipped through, daggers out. “Varric, what the hell?”
“Please tell me you opened it.” Varric begged, now that the threat appeared passed her father removed one arm from the crossbow to wrap it around Mags’s shoulders and pull her flush to his side. She could feel his fingers curling firmly into her upper arm.
“No!” Maria exclaimed. “No, I didn’t bleedin’…”
“Open.” Cole whispered. “She wanted to make sure you were safe, so she asked it to open. It listens, like it does for you.”
The crossbow Maria held dipped, emotions flitted across her face too quickly for Mags to capture or comprehend them. She watched as her parents indulged in one of their unspoken conversations before her mother’s eyes turned to hers.
As wide and fearful as the ones she’d seen reflected in the Eluvian before she asked it to open.
“I’m sorry.” She pressed closer to her father’s side, to the smell of old leather, ink, parchment. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
She felt her own heart spike and her eyes careened up to her father’s, pleading for him to understand. He slung Bianca over his shoulder with his free arm. He didn’t let go of her.
“You’re okay, Magpie.” Her mother mastered her expression, soothed it away into something calm and serene. “It’s alright. You didn’t do anything wrong. Come here.”
She didn’t want to leave the comforting weight of the arm over her shoulder, but she’d do it for her mom. She stepped forward and Maria sat her crossbow down so she could gently guide Mags’s hand to the Eluvian. She pressed it against the frame and took her own away, eyes steady on Mags. “Tell it to close.”
It was as easy as breathing. She simply wished it and the light dimmed under her fingertips. She snatched her fingers away and clutched them to her chest. Her mother’s soft fingers smoothed back an errant curl and Mags felt the press of lips to her cheek.
She didn’t know what she even wanted to ask. She looked over, helpless, as her mother continued to stroke her hair softly. Maria’s eyes weren’t on her, but were fixed sadly on Varric. He shrugged artlessly and sighed.
That sigh was worth a thousand words. “She’s your daughter, Princess.”
Mags dreamed. Mags could find her mother when no one else could. Mags could, apparently, waltz through the Eluvians with ease if she wanted to.
A small part of her, a part that wasn’t stunned and frightened and confused, definitely wanted to.
“I know.” Maria whispered softly. “I know.”
"My curse." Cole muttered, his eyes on Maria's face both tender and sad. "The one he gave you. It’s in her blood.”
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
As soon as Eli and Sabina slipped through the Eluvian, she followed, unwilling to linger alone in the haunting space. She couldn’t exactly bowl over Eli in her haste, he was far too tall and lanky for that, but she ran into his back regardless, peaking around his form to take in more of the inexplicable crossroads and Audrey’s gaze darting around apprehensively. Satisfied that they weren’t under immediate attack, Mags pressed her palm back against the mirror and thought one simple command.
The light surrounding them in a halo dimmed and faded as the Eluvian’s power ceased, shutting the door. Good practice, her mother taught her, just in case anything thought to follow you. If they didn’t have the key, you were golden, and if they did have a key… well, there was something to be said for slowing down a pursuer.
“Mags, anything look familiar?” Eli asked from above her.
No. Nothing. “If we’re relying on my rather sketchy knowledge of this network, Eli, we’re ten different kinds of fucked.”
She only knew her mother’s sections, the ones with purple flags marking the path. It connected to Skyhold, Val Royeaux, Ostwick, Ferelden, Antiva… and honestly, probably even more places. She’d only been taken into the safest parts, the ones full of familiar, friendly faces passing back and forth. Her mother would never risk taking her to a contested section, one where she may be in danger. Much to her daughter’s aggrieved dismay and her husband’s general relief.
“How long have ye been keepin’ this a secret?” Audrey asked, waving to the mirror behind Mags. “The whole o’ Thedas thinks these cannae be opened.”
“The whole of Thedas cannot open them.” She suppressed the childish childish urge to make fun of Audrey’s accent, nothing brought the woman’s color up as quickly as her mocking the Starkhaven lilt. She’d been listening to Rylen since she was a baby, she could mimic it perfectly. “I can.”
“And how long have you known this?” Audrey’s color was rising anyway.
“So when I was three years old I was chasing a cat…” Mags began to lie.
“One of those big old rat catchers, y’know? I’m sure you do, lots of rats in Starkhaven. Anyway…”
Audrey actually stomped her foot, but Mags hardly noticed. She was thinking of the Crossroads, the first time she’d ever been in them. She was remembering how her parents made her promise to never breathe a word of what she could do. She demanded to know why it had to be a secret and her mother’s eyes were icy steel when she answered.
I can’t risk him coming after you.
Audrey wouldn’t recognize the murals lining the wall they faced, but Mags knew the graceful lines. The images were different, but the style was hauntingly familiar. She placed them immediately.
The rotunda off the main hall in Skyhold. Her father held her hand while she traced childish fingers over the shapes and he told her the stories behind them. Later, her mother told her who painted them.
Apparently, Maria Cadash didn’t need to worry about the Dread Wolf coming after her daughter, not when it seemed like Mags stumbled right into his den.
“I know who painted those.”
Eli huffed out a breath. “Well, you can tell them their use of color is a bit underwhelming in my opinion.”
Her giggle sounded out of place, echoing in the strange, forgotten area. Even Audrey smiled, just a bit.
“I’m going to get the three of you out of here, promise. We’re all going home. All of us.” Eli stated with a straight face. “You’re going to unlock these doors until we get out of the crossroads or we find your mom’s section. We’ve got this.”
He sounded so sure that she believed him, his easy confidence reassuring as it always was. Still…
“What if my mom’s here?” She asked quietly. Audrey made an impatient noise but Eli shushed her.
“Do you think she’s here, Mags?” Eli asked, shifting Sabina’s weight in his arms. Mags took a deep breath, thought about it for a second.
No, she didn’t think so. She wished she was, but she didn’t feel that pull, the one that she knew she could follow to find her. She shook her head and Eli nodded. “Let me know if that changes, until then…”
“But the spirit. Demon. Thing ." Mags protested helplessly. "It said she was beyond me, it said…"
It said horrible, awful things that she didn't understand, things that made her stomach roll. It said she wouldn't go home without bloody hands and a ruined heart. Mags finally felt properly cursed.
"Spirits and demons lie." Eli repeated stubbornly.
Mags didn't bother to confront Eli further, she turned her stormy eyes to Audrey instead. The woman flinched when the Oracle spoke to her. "It said you were betrayed more than you know. Have you? Been betrayed?"
Audrey tried to lie, but Audrey was a horrible liar. Before her mouth even formed the words, Mags knew they were false by the way her eyes twitched helplessly towards Eli like he would rescue her. "I dinnae know…"
"Yes you do." Mags guessed shrewdly, her temper igniting. "You're not here for Bina or Eli. You're here because you're running from something."
"I am here for Sabina!" Audrey protested, drawing herself up to her full height. "More than I can say for you, ye wee pain in the…"
"I dropped everything to help…"
"Everything?" Audrey echoed. "What, playin' cards, wastin' yer life in a pitcher, and makin' eyes at anything that moves like a two-bit slattern?"
Mags allowed herself a twisted smirk. "Jealous, chantry mouse?"
"Oh good." Eli murmured. "Name-calling. I was wondering when we were going to get back to acting like we're twelve. Please, continue. Don't let the immense amount of danger we're in stop either of you. I'll just carry Bina through this maze alone and wait for someone to murder us."
"She's not being honest with us." Mags protested viscously.
"You're hardly the person to talk about being honest."
It would have been easier to stomach, but Audrey crossed her arms over her chest triumphantly and assumed an expression of righteous superiority that frankly made Mags want to shove her into the abyss below.
"I'm honest with you." Mags reached out and gently touched Eli's arm with her most charming smile, the one she used to talk him round when he'd finally gotten sick of her shenanigans. She then moved her hand to Sabina's forehead and frowned.
"Most of the time, at any rate." Eli returned her smile with a crooked, strained one of his own. "Audrey?"
"I'm here for you." Audrey blurted, the color up in her cheeks and a look torn between pleading and indignant. "Eli, ye know…"
"I know." Eli grinned, the tension easing. Audrey's shoulders relaxed and Mags found it both sickening and irritating.
"Forward?" Mags asked, interrupting any further confessions from either of the pair.
The silence seemed to be agreement, so Mags stepped forward onto the path, the only one they had.
She didn’t see the shadow following them as they turned the corner. None of them did.
Father of the year: Varric Tethras (Mags has issues, but they're definitely not daddy issues)
Chapter 6: The Sentinel
Audrey, Mags, and Eli meet the last Sentinel.
Sabina finds her father.
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm, I shall endure. What you have created, no one can tear asunder.
The words tumbled in her head repetitively, a mantra pulled from years of kneeling on hard stone floors listening to priests sing and speak the chant. The very thought of those beautiful words conjured the smell of incense, the flickering light of candles, the gentle smile of a cleric above her, and her father’s rich brogue over her shoulder telling her she’d done well and he was so proud of her.
She shouldn’t find it comforting still, not after what had happened, but she did.
“I can feel ye starin’ at me, Eli.” She muttered as they trailed after Mags into the labyrinth of crumbling ruins.
“You’ve got dirt on your nose.” Eli grinned, charmingly lighthearted despite Sabina’s too still form in his arms. “It suits you.”
She scoffed and rubbed her nose with her sleeve without a second thought. Eli laughed, the sound low and warm like fine whiskey. In front of them, Mags paused and peered around a corner, leaning forward precariously before she nodded and ducked around. Audrey followed next, peering up at the vaulted ceilings of the area they’d stepped into. Their footsteps echoed in the silent space.
Audrey felt as if she’d stepped into a chantry, but not a familiar one dedicated to the Maker and Andraste. Instead, this holy space housed something primal and ancient. Above her, the ceiling was covered in stone shaped like the scales of dragons. Before them, an altar stood still and silent as if breathlessly awaiting a sacrifice.
Mags strolled up to it nonchalantly and let her eyes flick over it dismissively. It was exactly the right size, Audrey thought, for Mags to lie on top of and take a nap. There were runes carved around the edges and a suspicious stain on top. Outside the graceful, arching windows Audrey saw the light fading into darkness.
She really didn’t want to get stuck in this place after dark. A part of her conjured phantoms and monsters that would rise up through those beautiful windows to cast them down off the floating platforms. Mags sighed in front of them and looked around with a frown. “I really hoped there’d be a mirror here.”
Audrey truly hoped Mags would come up with a plan, no matter how insane it was, beyond ‘wander uselessly through the Crossroads’, but it appeared she was expecting too much. Before she could open her mouth, she heard the quiet murmur of voices drifting in from their left. She froze then jumped into action, turning to Eli and quietly jerking her head to the columns lining the temple.
Eli knew what she wanted without any further prompting. Without a word, he raced to the shadows and flattened himself behind one of the stately thick columns, encompassing him and Sabina in the darkness as best he could.
Of course she didn’t move. Mags looked up from her study of the altar and began to question, eyes settling on Eli, but remained stubbornly rooted to the spot like she was carved from the same stone that crafted this place.
“Move!” Audrey ordered in a harsh whisper and impatiently reached out to pull Mags away from the altar. When Mags opened her mouth as if to protest, Audrey slammed her hand over her lips tightly and tugged her into the shadows of a column near where Eli and Sabina hid. They settled in the nick of time because the voices became distinct right before they entered the room from another entrance.
Audrey spied two elves, their heads close together as they spoke. The words were fluid and musical, Audrey wasn’t certain she understood any of them, but she couldn’t tell if it was Elvhen or not. Mags reached up and ripped Audrey’s hand from her mouth irritably, but she didn’t make a sound, pressing close to the column beside her.
Audrey looked to her right and met Eli’s eyes. He cradled Sabina’s form to his chest still, but his green eyes looked deadly serious, the way he looked right before he took an opponent down while he sparred with the soldiers.
Two elves against the three of them? She would bet money that Eli himself could take two elves without breaking a sweat if needed, but they might raise the alarm by attacking and with Bina helpless…
A sharp voice, commanding and male, broke across the room from the direction they’d come from. Beside her, Mags tensed. The words were certainly Elvish and beyond the meager bits she’d picked up from her lessons with Zephaniah. The other elves stuttered into silence as if they’d been caught off guard by his tone. The other man switched to common, impatient. “Must I use this tongue so you understand?”
“Ir abelas!” One of the elves protested. “As you say, it will be done.”
The other footsteps scurried away, two sets of footsteps slipping through another door to the right. Audrey held her breath and waited for the other man, the one she couldn’t see, to make a move. The seconds stretched into each other, Audrey aware of nothing but the unholy silence, the press of the dwarf next to her, Eli’s eyes boring into hers.
“How did you open the Eluvian?”
Eli shut his eyes for a second and Audrey knew he’d descended into cursing inside his head in that beautiful language his father favored. Beside her, Mags’s breath caught in her throat and she held it there. The man’s voice reverberated in the space and Maker, Audrey didn’t think she’d miss the silence, but she did.
Caught. They were already caught.
She didn’t think, she moved. Her bow raised up like it was a part of her and she spun from Mags into the empty space between the columns, leveling an arrow smoothly at the chest of the man staring into the shadows. His pointed features were noble, proud, and he looked down a birdlike nose at her. The hood he wore didn’t hide his face or the strange tattoos over his cheeks, the ones she associated with the Dalish.
“How did ye know I was here?” She asked pointedly, arrow steady and level with his chest. On either side of her, Eli and Mags froze breathlessly, still hidden.
“You are not who I seek.” The man stated dismissively, unbothered by the arrow ready to embed itself in his gold armor.
“I’m the only one here, mate.” Audrey lied. “And I’ll be goin’ home, thank ye very much. Outta the way.”
“Ma harel, da’len.” The man spoke softly, quietly. “I’ll ask one more time, how did you open the Eluvian? Did she do it?”
“Who?” Audrey demanded, mind reeling. She could see Mags moving from the corner of her eye, slowly, creeping around the other side of the column with her own bow ready, and arrow strung.
“The chosen one. Mythal’enaste, the one who answered the call.” The man’s eyes flashed dangerously and he took a step forward. Audrey took one back without a second thought and the man made a noise of frustration low in his throat. “You are wasting time, child! The longer you are here, the more danger you are in!”
Audrey’s brow wrinkled but she didn’t look away from the man. In several quick, certain steps, Mags circled the column completely and stepped into view behind the elf’s back, her arrow trained on his hooded skull. The elf looked over his shoulder impatiently, frowning when he saw the dwarf circling him. “You’re not going to believe this,” Mags began. “But this isn’t exactly how we planned to spend our evening.”
“You think I am your mother’s enemy, da’len. I serve the will of Mythal above all others, and the will of Mythal demands I help you.” The man snarled, whirling back to Audrey and dismissing Mags at his back. “You should have waited for me in safety, but instead you are here.”
“Mythal is gone.” Mags snapped impatiently. “Everyone says…”
“Nothing is ever gone from this world completely.” The man’s eyes seemed to glow with power. “Everything returns, nothing is lost. You will learn.”
The pronouncement made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Suddenly, the man whipped around, hood falling to reveal his sharp jawline and pointed ears. He focused intently on the door behind Mags, reaching for a blade. As soon as he did, a lone figure emerged from that doorway, a woman with long brown hair and big doe eyes. She carried a tome in her elegant, tapered fingers and looked up, startled, as she entered the room.
Before she could say a word, before she could call for help or utter a sound, the strange elf threw the blade over Mags head and into the woman’s windpipe. She clutched at it, clawing at the handle in her throat before she pitched forward, unmoving, blood spilling in a puddle around her prone form. Pages fell from the book she’d been holding, quickly becoming saturated with crimson.
“She wasn’t even armed!” Mags protested, but the elf reached out and grabbed her shoulder harshly as she stared wide eyed at the woman dying behind them. “Answer my question.” The elf demanded, another blade pulled level with Mags throat before Mags could raise the bow she held or recover from her shock.
Audrey loosed her own arrow, but with a snap of his fingers it caught fire and burned to cinders in the space between them. Audrey swore and reached for another but Eli stepped from behind the column, Sabina in his arms. “Stop.” Eli called swiftly, green eyes piercing in their clarity.
With that, the elf turned and let his eyes caress Sabina’s form in Eli’s arms. Something covetous flashed in his orbs and Audrey moved closer to the two others while Mags wrenched herself from the elf’s grip.
“Andaran atish’an.” The elf muttered, dropping to one knee. Audrey and Mags shared a mute glance over his shoulder, and for once, Audrey felt like they were in perfect agreement.
“Right, we need to get going so if you’d be kind enough to point us to the exit before stabbing anyone else…” Mags began.
“She opened the Eluvian before she collapsed?” The elf asked from where he knelt.
“Yeah she did.” Eli lied smoothly. “And, just a heads up, we’re not leaving her with you.”
“No.” The man straightened smoothly, frowning as he did so. “No, I must stay here and you must leave with her. It is the only way.”
“Alright.” Mags’s temper flared. “Who in the sodding hell are you?”
The man did not smile, but there was a flicker of emotion in his eyes. “They called me Abelas when your mother knew me. Perhaps that is the name you can call me as well.”
If emotion flickered in his eyes, it flashed painfully bright and clear in Mags’s own. She chanced a glance over her shoulder at the dead girl, back at the elf in front of her, then over to Audrey and Eli before she repeated the name. “Abelas. I know about you.”
“Your mother trusted me once.” The elf challenged. “Will you?”
Mags didn’t look certain, and that made Audrey intervene. “And why ought we?” She whispered harshly. “Aren’t ye with the madman tryin’ to burn the world to bits?”
“I do not work for him, although he believes I do. Or perhaps, he does not believe it. I am not fully trusted, I know too much of what he plans to do, things the others cannot imagine or foresee.”
“He says he doesn’t work for him.” Eli grumbled. “But he’s standing in his Crossroads waiting for us.”
“Perhaps.” Abelas agreed. “But this was not always his Crossroads, and the section you emerged from has been the bane of his existence. Such as he tried, he could not enter it. It was sealed, and the power inside waited.”
“Waited for what?” Audrey asked, although she suspected she knew the answer even though Abelas frowned instead of replying. It had been waiting for Sabina, for the call inside her head, for the force that drove her mindlessly through the cursed Thaig, into the mirror set there like bait in a trap.
“Is that what he’s been looking for? What he and mom have been looking for all these years?” Mags demanded.
“No and yes.” Abelas responded cryptically. “If he could not have what was his, he would take what belonged to another. But it was locked away from him and your mother, locked and waiting for the one who would usher in the next age. And I have waited, standing guard as her servant.”
“Mags… you’re the one with the stories. Are we good with him?” Eli muttered, crading Sabina in his arms. Mags said nothing, torn between conflicting urges. The urge to bow to an old ally of her mother, versus a rather more sensible desire not to deal with a man who’d kill a girl in cold blood.
And yet… they were lost. Lost, alone, with no magic and no hope but to stumble blindly with Mags unlocking Eluvians. At least this Abelas would know where they were going.
“Lead the way, then.” Audrey decreed, moving out of the man’s road. “But I’ll be at your back if ye so much as twitch the wrong way.”
“A decision from a born leader.” Abela inclined his head gracefully. “Ma serranas, da’len.”
Perhaps, Audrey thought. But she felt this situation required the reckless hand of a Red Jenny instead of the careful diplomacy of Lady Vael.
The lush green plains of the Dales surrounded her, peaceful farmland as far as the eye could see. Bird chirped high above her, the sound bright and cheerful. The warmth from the sun brought a flush to her skin.
It was not real, but she didn’t remember falling asleep. She felt uneasy, doubly so when she recognized the countryside around her, the spiraling path cutting through the gentle, rolling hills. There were no whispers, no songs, nothing dark or sinister at all. Nothing except the sound of a coach traveling down the rutted road, the gentle clomp of horses while they walked alongside it.
It was not her dream, but she knew who it belonged to. She knew what would happen next like a well-rehearsed play.
Mother and father always told her to stay out of their dreams, but as a girl, she hadn’t always been able to help it. As a young woman, it was easier. When she wished to speak to them, she brought their consciousness into her own dreams, the endlessly pleasant ones she spun for herself.
But now she was here, and she knew what she’d do. She did not even need to think twice about it.
The coach came around a bend in the road, revealed the merry traveling party of fine Orlesian warriors with their ornate masks, silk clad horses, silk banners fluttering in the breeze. She could hear children singing, boisterous and loud.
Mockingbird, mockingbird, quiet and still, what do you see from the top of that hill?
She learned the song as a child herself, sung it once aloud in the yard behind her mother’s shop while she watched Eli. She would never forget the expression on her father’s face when she turned and spotted him in the door, a mask of horror and regret. She didn’t know then, didn’t know for years, but she never sang that song again after that moment.
The men charged from their hiding spot atop the bluff, their armor glittering in the afternoon sunlight. From her spot she heard her father trying to get them to stop, begging them to listen to him, confessing his lies and his sins.
He always tried to get them to stop. They never did. Sometimes, the coach held the children that had been murdered that beautiful day. Sometimes, when the door opened it was Sabina herself, forever a child, clasped in a younger Varania’s arms. She’d seen all of them inside that coach at one point in time or another, Eli, Nessie and Kestrel, Mags…
She did not care to see who was in the coach today. Instead, she held out her hand and let the magic flow, forced the fade to bend to her will. The men stumbled to a stop as if responding to the desperate cries of the man behind them. The coach continued forward, unimpeded.
Can you see up? Can you see down? Can you see the dead things all about town?
He chased his troops down the bluff, nearly ran into their backs. Younger, always younger in his dreams, as if he was forever stuck in this tragic, youthful crime. He paused, disoriented, and Sabina snapped her slim fingers.
The coach, the soldiers, the horses and banners and the children singing that macabre song… all gone. Instead, it was only her father the way she knew him, his hair more grey than black, wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, beard carefully trimmed just the way her mother liked it.
Thom Rainier stood on the bluff and spun as if he could feel Sabina’s magic, the way it shifted the fade to her wishes. His dark eyes hooked on her desperately and he ran.
Tears stung her eyes before he even pulled her into the broad warmth of his solid chest. Small, she always felt so small in his arms, engulfed in his embrace like she was a little girl again. He lifted her clear off her feet, and it wasn’t real because it was only the fade, but the love and joy shining from his dark eyes was real, and she knew it.
“Papa.” She blurted out and wrapped her arms around his neck, buried her face in his sturdy shoulder. “I’m sorry, papa. I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s alright, love.” His large hand rested on the back of her head, smashed the wild curls while he pressed a kiss to her temple. “It’s alright, Bina. Tell me where you are, I’ll come get you. I’m in Ferelden, your mama’s in Kirkwall still. We’ll get to you, love, I promise.”
“I don’t know where we are.” She didn’t know how he’d get to her. He tightened his grip on her and made a soft, shushing noise into her hair.
“Mags. Eli. Audrey.” Sabina confessed. “The voices took me to the thaig. The one hidden outside Kirkwall, but it was a trap. It was a trap and we’re in the Crossroads, but I don’t know how I’m asleep. I don’t know…”
Something happened to her. Something terrible, something that made this place even more crisp, as if she could see the magic of the fade curling and weaving into each blade of grass beneath their feet. Something strong thrummed in her blood like the finest whiskey.
Like drinking three bottles of lyrium and pulling down fire. Something reckless, terrible, wonderful
“The thaig?” Thom echoed incredulously. “And the crossroads? Maker’s balls, how…”
“The mirror.” Sabina needed to tell him. She’d been too frightened, but now…
The man who raised her as if she were his own, loved her as his own, without regard to her pointed ears had his arms wrapped tightly around her. For the first time in months, Sabina could allow herself to admit everything. “The mirror was calling me. I saw it in my dreams, I couldn’t get away from it. It started when Amita Maria vanished… And I can’t find her, I thought I was going mad, I thought…”
She was probably still going mad. She was going mad and she’d led her family into danger. Her throat swelled and burned with unshed tears. “Tell mama I’m sorry.”
“Hush.” Thom ordered. “You’ll tell her yourself, and she’ll forgive you. We’ll sort this out.”
For a shining second she believed him. She pulled back from his shoulder to stare up into his kind brown eyes and she could think this was all simply a broken toy or a difficult lesson, he could fix it or explain it better and everything would be fine. Everything would go back to the way it was.
Except it couldn’t. She knew when she caught sight of the shape rising from the ground behind Thom. A great beast of a thing rising from the gentle hills, the grass forming into sleek green scales, the rock into claws into teeth, powerful wings forming from the very wind around them.
The dragon beat its wings, the force blowing Sabina’s hair away from her face. Thom turned and scowled over his shoulder. Sabina fumbled with the strings of the fade, trying to untie them, cut them, banish the beast…
But she couldn’t. She couldn’t find the right knots to tug. The correct things to shift to make it vanish into the ether. Thom expected her to get rid of it the same way she got rid of his nightmare, but this was hers. She couldn’t make it go away.
“You have to wake up.” She shoved her fist against his broad chest. “Wake up.”
“You can banish it.” Thom stated calmly, evenly, with all the confidence of a man who watched his daughter grow up bending magic daily.
But she couldn’t. “I’m sorry.” She whispered, shutting her eyes. Underneath her fingertips, she felt her father fade. She couldn’t banish the dragon to the furthest reaches of the fade, but she could send Thom Rainier away to safety.
Perhaps the shock would wake him. Perhaps the shock of being eaten by her own nightmare would wake her.
“Bi…” Thom didn’t get her whole name out before he slipped away into an echo in the wind. She heard the mountainous footfalls of the dragon approach and squeezed her eyes shut, holding out one palm in a shield to protect herself. The barrier didn’t spring to life around her fingers despite her insistent call for it to. Instead, she felt the breath of the dragon on her bare skin and, startled, opened her eyes.
The head of the dragon stood level with her own, the long graceful neck dipping so it could eye her speculatively. She could see herself reflected in it’s glassy green orbs, the same color as her own eyes, and gleaming with a wicked sense of reptilian humor.
“What are you?” Sabina demanded, braver than she felt. “ A demon?”
The cackling laughter made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. She took a step back and searched for the source. She saw no one, no one but her and the great dragon above her.
“My girl!” A voice boomed, disembodied and cheerful. “You have kept us waiting.”
Sabina and Thom are all the feels.
Chapter 7: A Trace
Sabina brings something back from the fade.
Mags finds a trace of her mother.
Guys, I am *so* sorry. I didn't abandon this or any of my other works. I actually got ridiculously ill and ended up with pneumonia and some complications. I'm back up and about, but ridiculously behind on everything in both work and personal life. I will try to update lots, but I need to get some other projects done too. Sorry!
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
Sabina’s mother owned a comb carved like a dragon, and for a woman who took little time to adorn herself in the beautiful cloth she worked with everyday, Varania was vain about that lovely comb in her bright hair. Sometimes, Varania allowed a younger Sabina to borrow it, but with plentiful entreaties to be careful with it because it was a gift, the first one Thom ever gave her. Thom often laughed and said he faced dragons in battle less fierce that Varania. Sabina agreed, her mother was as magnificent as any dragon. Varania simply smiled and rolled her eyes, but she cherished that comb like she cherished few other possessions.
Perhaps that was why, in Sabina’s fear, she conjured the beloved ornament. A sword, a shield, a staff, even a bow would undoubtedly have been more helpful. But, unconsciously, she crafted the fade into the beautiful comb and hadn’t even realized it until she looked down from the dragon looming above her to see the elegant carved wood gripped tightly in her fingers.
“What a pretty trinket, girl. And so neatly conjured!” A husky voice behind her laughed, delighted. “A dragon for our dragon, hm?”
Sabina kept one hand held out to the dragon but turned to look over her shoulder. A young woman, human, lounged comfortably in the grass behind her. She had flashing yellow eyes and the longest, darkest hair Sabina had ever seen, shining around her form like spilled ink. Sabina didn’t recognize the stranger, but something tickled the edge of her memory. Something old, perhaps, something long forgotten from many years ago.
“May I?” The woman asked, holding out one hand while the other brushed the fall of dark hair over her shoulder. Sabina tightened her grip thoughtlessly on the comb and the pert little mouth fell into a pout. “Honestly, girl, I’ve shared with you!”
“Begone.” Sabina’s voice didn’t shake. “You’re not welcome here.”
“Well, then this is going to be rather awkward.” The woman muttered, fingers tugging at her hair while she struggled to arrange it. “I’m afraid, child, I’m not going anywhere.”
If the woman was a demon or a spirit, she was the strangest one Sabina had ever met. She seemed endearingly human while she engaged in a familiar battle with untameable hair, one Sabina knew well. Still, that could very well be a ploy, and it would be best not to let her guard down. Nothing in the fade could be trusted but her own magic.
“Why are you here?” She demanded instead.
"I came with the gift. The song that called you here. You were chosen, my girl, much as I once was. We knew my time must end, that her time must end, but the power we held…"
The woman had a faraway, calculating look in her eyes while she focused on the horizon. "That power could not be destroyed, but we could not allow it to fall into the wrong hands. So it was hidden until it was needed, and when it was needed… well, we started calling for you."
Her beautiful face fell into an unhappy scowl and she shot a disgruntled look up at Sabina. "You took your sweet time, girl."
She nearly laughed at the absurdity of it, but she remembered something glowing, something beckoning, something so bright and beautiful and she wanted it more than she wanted anything before. Something that curled in her blood now, something terrible and pure. Something that didn't belong to her.
Something she wanted to cling to greedily as a child hiding one last sweet.
"There are three powers such as ours in this world." The woman on the ground stood, her long dark hair trailing through the grass as she pushed past Sabina and stroked the muzzle of the dragon like it was a long-lost lover. "Three that are awake, at any rate. We hid two and thought the third scattered to the winds in the explosion that thrust the Maker’s Herald into our game. Now, it is time for what is hidden to reappear."
"Why now?" Sabina didn't believe any of this, but if it were true…
The woman laughed, tipping her head back as if she'd never been more amused and fixing Sabina with an ironic smile.
"Dear girl, we were all mistaken." The woman confessed. "Fen'Harel sought to capture his dispersed power, but never could, so he sought the ones we had hidden. And now, his goal is nearly in his grasp. One soul stands in his way."
One soul. Sabina swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. If one person stood against the Dread Wolf, she knew who the burden fell to. The one Sabina couldn’t find no matter how she searched.
"Where is Maria Cadash?"
"That isn't the question to ask." The woman advised, yellow eyes burning with malice. She tipped her head up the side and held her free hand up to the air. Snow began to fall, Sabina watched the first flakes land in the woman's dark hair. "The question to ask is why she has vanished in the first place."
Sabina twisted her palm to catch the snow in her own hand, but she wished she hadn't. The second she felt it, she knew it wasn't snow at all, but ash as fine as silk on her fingers. "And how far will you go to stop the Dread Wolf's rise? How far will all of you go?" The woman finished.
Something behind her was burning, she could smell smoke, but Sabina was too frightened to look. The woman, a demon she must be a demon, cackled while the dragon raised its head and let out a mighty screech that raised all the hair on the back of Sabina's neck. When the woman turned back to Sabina, her eyes reflected the flames that must have been just behind her. Sabina could feel their heat on her back. "Perhaps the next age is the one of the wolf, but this! This, my dear, is the age of dragons and you…"
The woman's arm reached out like lightning, clutched Sabina's arm with nails digging into her skin like talons, a mad grin stretching her features. "You are one of the dragons, child. It is time. It is your time."
She awoke choking on her own breath, her face pressed painfully against unyielding chainmail and her head throbbing, a sense of hurried movement jostling her senses. She groaned and twisted her face away, cheek scratching on the metal.
Everything stopped at this small movement and arms, ones she suddenly realized were cradling her form, tensed. She heard Audrey whisper Eli’s name harshly, heard Mags shush the other woman, but Eli didn’t answer either. Instead he said Sabina’s name quietly, a question and a plea.
She wanted to ask what happened, but her tongue seemed incapable of moving to make the sounds she needed. Instead she nodded, curling one hand into the leather grips holding Eli’s shoulder braces on, the other hand…
Her other hand clutched something both familiar and impossible, she felt like she’d swallowed a solid block of ice. She forced her eyes open, ignoring Eli’s concerned green orbs to focus on the smooth wooden comb in her fingers, the one she’d summoned in the fade.
The one that shouldn’t have come with her, couldn’t have come with her.
“We need to stop.” Eli called to someone ahead of them, kneeling to gently place Sabina on the hard stone, one hand rising to her chin to point her eyes away from her own hand to his eyes. He smiled with his typical unending cheerfulness. “Hope you’ve had a nice nap, Bina. Hell of a time for one.”
“Eli…” She murmured, curling her fingers around the comb in her hand, heart thrumming in her throat. “Eli something…”
Something was wrong, something was very wrong because she could taste the mana in her mouth, feel it dancing on her fingertips. It was like the night she’d drank three bottles of lyrium in a row on a dare. She felt as if she could blink and start an inferno.
She brought something from the fade, but that was impossible. The comb, the real one, was at her mother’s house in Kirkwall. This… this thing in her hand couldn’t be the real one, but it couldn’t be from the fade either because…
“You ask to stop in the middle of Fen’Harel’s domain? Are you mad?” A strange voice hissed. Then, Sabina heard an intake of breath. Before she knew what had happened, she heard a clatter from the left, someone falling to armored knees, her hand plucked deftly from Eli’s shoulder and clasped in elegant gauntlets.
“My lady.” The man whispered with the utmost devotion. “I pledge myself to your service, Mythal'enaste. I have waited so long to do so.”
The elf wore vallaslin that reminded Sabina of the gentle, graceful fall of willow branches into the water and his eyes were the brightest gold she could remember seeing. Behind him, Sabina could see the amused face of Mags and the rather less amused Audrey.
“I’m not… I don’t know what is happening.” Sabina pulled her hand from the man’s grasp, but he didn’t seem to mind. His eyes burned with fierce determination, but at the words from her lips Sabina saw both Audrey and Mags grow still and wary.
“You will.” He promised, standing. He turned to both women behind him with a steely glare meant, she thought, more for Mags than Audrey. “Stay here, I will scout the path ahead. Do not leave this place.”
He stormed past, leaving them to stare after them. Mags mumbled under her breath. “Right, ser tight breeches, whatever you say.”
“Elvish.” Audrey muttered, raising an eyebrow in query.
“What about Elvish?” Sabina’s temple throbbed. She closed her eyes, opened them to find everyone staring at her as if she had two heads.
“You answered him in Elvish, Bina.” Eli explained slowly, patiently. “He said… something in Elvish. You answered him.”
“It sounded like a declaration of love, and as someone who knows both your parents well, let me tell you neither would be pleased with him.” Mags shrugged nonchalantly, but the flippant air she adopted didn’t hide the way Mags examined Sabina critically from the corner of her stormy gray eyes.
“You could do better.” Eli agreed with a soft smile that did its damnedest to hide his worry. “How are you feeling? Beyond elfier, I suppose.”
She didn’t know much Elven, hardly any, just bits she’d picked up from the elves in Kirkwall or the ones she’d met on her travels. She’d never run with the Dalish, had no reason to do so, and didn’t much like the idea of someone calling her a flat-ear…
“What happened?” She asked instead.
“Ye went for a wee bit of a stroll through a dangerous thaig, straight into th’ Crossroads, then touched somethin’ that glowed like the spirit o’ holy Andraste herself.” Audrey summarized neatly. “Then we carried ye through a mirror and ran into that strange elf…”
“Who’s almost certainly going to betray us.” Mags chimed in.
“Most likely.” Audrey agreed dourly.
“And now we’re following him through the Dread Wolf’s crossroads hoping we can find a way out.” Eli finished with a shrug.
Somehow, they weren’t panicking. Perhaps, Sabina thought wryly, they’d gotten their chance to panic while she’d been asleep. Sabina touched her forehead with one hand and brought the comb up in the other to stare at it, bewildered.
“Hey, that looks familiar.” Eli grinned and plucked the comb (solid, in spite of itself) from her hand, turning the wood over in his fingers with pleased recognition. “I can’t believe she let you borrow it and head out to sea.”
She didn’t borrow it and she opened her mouth to confess, but quick, darting movement from the corner of her eye stopped her tongue. Mags moved with sure, hurried steps to the doors lining the hallway they found themselves in, pushing one quietly. “Mags!” Sabina hissed.
The door opened silently under Mags palm while she looked over her shoulder. The faux innocent expression on her face didn’t make Sabina feel any more secure. She blinked those wide gray eyes once, twice, then shrugged apologetically. “I’m just looking!” Mags protested before slipping into the narrow opening while something like bile rose up in Sabina’s throat.
“Audrey, you should go with her. She’s going to get herself killed.” Sabina pleaded. Audrey managed to look spectacularly unimpressed.
“Aye, I’d love to watch her get her ass kicked.” Audrey muttered.
“I’ll get her.” Eli promised, handing the comb back to Sabina. “Stay put. Try to keep the random Elvish blathering to a minimum.”
“Eli, be careful.” Audrey pressed, lifting one hand to rest on his shoulder as he stood. “I’ll keep watch here, we’ll be fine.”
“I know it.” Eli’s crooked grin softened and he tapped the back of Audrey’s hand once before pulling away, drawing his sword from his scabbard with a nearly silent rasp. Sabina swore she heard him whistling softly under his breath.
“Here, I’ll put yer hair up if ye like.” Audrey knelt down on the ancient stones while Sabina kept her eyes fixed on Eli nudging the door open just a little more so he could slip after Mags. Then he too vanished from view and Sabina found her thick curls being twisted into something manageable by Audrey’s clever hands.
“There were monsters in the thaig.” Audrey murmured softly, eyes focused on her own fingers. “I’d never seen somethin’... anything like that.”
Sheltered, sweet Audrey. Sabina swallowed and placed the comb in Audrey’s upturned palm and let her fingers hesitate, a blurred memory dancing on the edge of her tongue. “Audrey… are you alright?”
Something about betrayal. Something…
“O’ course I am.” Audrey stated firmly, slipping the comb into the neat bun like a period at the end of a sentence. “I always am.”
Sabina knew better, but she also knew not to press at the shadowed anger lurking in those cerulean eyes. “Are you alright?” Audrey asked, narrowing her eyes. “Ye seem the same. Except for the elvish.”
“I’m not.” The words tasted bitter in Sabina’s mouth. “I’m not the same.” The comb in her hair proved it, the mana pulsing and churning beneath her skin like a storm proved it.
“Then we’ll take care of ye.” Audrey promised simply, twining her fingers with Sabina’s own. “We’ll find a way out and fix what happened.”
“And if it isn’t that simple?” Sabina dared to ask, squeezing the leather clad fingers tightly in her own.
“I have faith.” Audrey shrugged almost apologetically with a shy smile. “Yer a good person and a dear friend. The Maker won’t abandon ye.”
Sabina didn’t want to point out that they were far from the influence of the chantry, stumbling through an old God’s lair with an untrustworthy guide. Instead, she reached her hand up to trace the comb in her hair with a sense of perplexed wonder beginning to overcome her initial terror.
What she had done wasn’t possible. And yet, she had managed it. If so…
What else could she do?
The tall, graceful arched windows threw dim light onto the murals. The bright colors depicted a nearly nude Qunari woman with a leash in her hand, the chain leading to a collar around another Qunari’s neck. The chain had been sundered by one well placed arrow. The next scene was dark, shadowy, it gave the impression of a set of caves. Dark lines representing, she assumed, water raced through the portrait. She could see boxes and debris being swept away along with horned figures. It gave her goosebumps.
But it was the next scene she reached out to touch, leather fingers brushing over the pigments on the stone. A wolf loomed in front of an eluvian in profile, three red eyes burning indignantly. On the opposing side, a phoenix burned in flames made of green fire, a familiar looking dagger clutched furiously in its beak.
“Mags, you’re perilously close to getting tossed over my shoulder and hauled out of here.”
Only Eli could make a threat sound so jovial. She flashed a grin over her shoulder into his merry green eyes. “I’d like to see you try.” She dared.
She was little, but she was feisty, and she knew where Eli’s chainmail didn’t quite cover. He could probably manage it if she was being honest, but she wouldn’t make it easy and he knew it. Instead of pushing the point, he sighed in resignation. “What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know.” She confessed, turning from the eerie, poignant paintings and letting her eyes roam the room again. It was some sort of study, but nothing like the ones back home. The books here were ancient, she thought if she touched them they’d crumble to dust beneath her fingers. There were delicate, bizarre looking tools and instruments on many surfaces. A basin in the corner hummed softly, orbs of light flickered on many of the shelves, and unfamiliar plants flourished untamed. “But I’m the only one of mom’s people who have ever been this far into the Dread Wolf’s crossroads. Even if I can’t find a trace of her, maybe… maybe there’s something here worth having.”
“But you don’t know what any of these things are or if they’re dangerous.” Eli confirmed.
“If I were you, I’d assume it’s all dangerous.” Mags answered serenely. “Just help me look around for five minutes, then we’ll go.”
He folded willingly enough, his own eyes alight with curiosity. “Five minutes.” He replied, trying to imitate his father’s stern demeanor and failing miserably. She smiled sweetly in return. Eli sighed again and turned to one of the desks carefully. Mags walked from the murals to a set of shelves, examining the glowing lights. Behind her, she heard the rustle of paper as Eli tackled the ancient looking things on the desk.
One of the lights seemed to brighten as she approached, green lights shimmering through swirling, intricate silverwork cheerfully. It was about the size of the largest marbles they’d played with as children, perhaps a bit larger. For something so small, it had pride of place on the shelf, all the other orbs off to one side or the other.
She needed to stand on tiptoe to reach up towards the shelf, stretching and bracing herself on the stone wall. As her fingers danced closer, the green light pulsed brightly. She paused, not quite touching it, withdrew her fingers and watched the light begin to fade.
“What would your parents say if they knew you were about to grab an orb of unknown origin?” Eli asked. Mags turned to see him peering at her suspiciously. Mags moved her hand closer and watched the orb glow brightly again. “Look, I’m doing that.”
“No you’re not.” Eli argued. “They’ve all been flickering since we walked in here.”
“Spoiled sport.” Mags muttered.
Before Eli could get the rest of the sentence out, Mags let her fingers close over the orb and she pulled it off the shelf.
“Kaffas.” Eli swore. Mags giggled, unfolding her fingers to stare down in the glowing light. It felt warm and certain in her hand, the gentle heat unfurling in her palm. She held it up between her pinched fingers for Eli to examine from where he stood. He glared at it, then at her. “If I’d have died for that, you would never have heard the end of it for the rest of our afterlives.”
“Noted.” Mags ran her gloved thumb over the metal, formulated like something she’d never seen. “It’s pretty.”
“Please don’t steal the unknown magical artifact.” Eli begged, moving another stack of papers. Mags ignored him, staring into the churning green light. It didn’t flicker anymore in her hand and the longer she looked at it…
She tore her eyes away and to the mural, the phoenix burning in green. It was nearly the same shade. Just like the dagger was nearly…
The answer came to her in a flash. The dagger the phoenix clutched in its beak was nearly the one her mother kept strapped to her left hip. These murals were nearly identical in style to those in Skyhold’s rotunda.
“Maggie, we need to go.”
She hadn’t realized that the shuffling sound of Eli going through papers had ceased. It was too quiet and when she looked at him, he was too still. He clutched something in his gauntleted fist, a piece of paper and something shiny. She could just make out the hint of gold.
“It hasn’t been five minutes.” She protested. Eli’s face was grave, the mask of seriousness making him every inch his father’s son. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. She couldn’t tell if it was the expression on his face or the gentle whisper of her name. Not Mags, but Maggie .
Mags was his partner in crime. Maggie was the girl he thought of as a third little sister, the one he protected as ferociously as he protected the twins.
“Hawke, what is it?” She asked, dropping the orb she carried into her pocket thoughtlessly. Eli didn’t answer, storming around the desk instead. “Hawke?”
The golden glimmer in his hand was a chain, like that from a necklace, but it was broken. She could see the clasp was still done but the two ends dangled from Eli’s fist. The paper crinkled beneath his fingers, the writing on it barely visible.
She knew what it was. And she didn’t want to know. A part of her mind fought the idea, rebelled against it.
“Give it to me.” Her voice trembled and she held out her empty hand. Eli didn’t, he reached for her shoulder instead but she took one quick step backward. “Eli.” She pleaded.
Her voice broke on his name and that was what made his fist unclench enough for her to pull the chain into her own grasping palm. She saw the glint of sapphires and opals before her mind made sense of anything else.
A pendant hung from the broken chain, a golden oval emblazoned with Orlesian marguerites in precious stones. It was as familiar as her own face in the mirror, along with the letters she could feel engraved in the back, her fingers tracing down the angles of a V and a T, the curves of an M and a C.
She felt like someone sucker punched her in the gut, her breath expelled harshly while she stared at the broken, beautiful necklace. Her vision blurred with tears and she swore she could nearly smell just the hint of her mother’s spicy perfume on the air, almost hear her laughter like she was just outside the door. “Eli…”
Mags didn’t even know what she was going to say, so she had no idea how Eli could. He held out the wrinkled paper, a letter barely even started, the familiar beloved handwriting only beginning to spill across the page. She could hardly read it through the tears pricking her eyes.
I think the war must finally end. I know you’d want to be here with me and you should be, really. I feel like this is as much your story as it is mine.
Whatever you do, don’t let Magpie leave Kirkwall. Not until this is over. I’ll explain
“Explain what?” Her voice sounded unnaturally high, the pitch off, choked with tears. “What… why…”
The end? Over? In disbelief, Mags flipped the sheet over, hoping against hope for something beyond the blankness that greeted her. This was her mother’s last unsent letter, the one she must have been writing right before she vanished into the ether, the one her father never received.
Don’t let Magpie leave Kirkwall. I’ll explain.
What were these things doing here? In a study that could only belong…
“Maggie, c’mon.” Eli was tugging at her shoulder now, ignoring her sputtering protests.
“He has her. Eli he has her.” They’d suspected, but they didn’t know . But if the Dread Wolf had these things, a letter to her father and the cherished necklace Maria Cadash never took off…
Now they knew. And she couldn’t un-know it.
“And he’s not getting you.” Hawke growled, shoving her out the door and almost into Audrey. One look at Eli’s face and both of the other women were on their feet. “Sabina, can you walk?”
“Yes.” She answered firmly, eyes flicking over both of them. “What in…”
“No, we can’t leave.” Mags tugged against Eli’s restraining hand. “We need to look for her, we have to…”
“We’ll go home, we’ll get your mother’s people, and we’ll come back.” Eli promised. “We can’t take on an army with three people, Mags.”
“Abelas…” Audrey offered tentatively.
“Do you think he knew?” Mags questioned furiously, the tears tracking down her cheeks in spite of herself. “He knows?”
“Yes.” Eli answered grimly. “And we’re not waiting for him to betray us. Let’s go.”
Chapter 8: Lost in the Mirror
Elias Hawke knows better than to trust Mags won't vanish on him.
Sabina Rainier finds a surprising face in the Crossroads
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
Elias Hawke knew several things would always be true. Until the end of time, he could always count on them like the sun coming over the horizon.
First, if Isabela was in Kirkwall she’d be in the cells underneath the keep for some sort of disorderly conduct within forty-eight hours. When their father was angry, the only person who could cajole him out of his mood was his youngest daughter, the sweet-to-a-fault Nessrin. If something was broken, Kenna did it. If it was on fire, it was probably his mother’s fault. If it was too odd to believe, it meant aunt Merrill was in town.
And if Marguerite Cadash-Tethras wanted to vanish badly enough, she almost certainly would. That was just a fact.
Eli knew if he loosened his gauntleted grip on Mags’s slim shoulder, she’d take off like the clever, quick birds she took her favorite nickname from. So even though she tried to pull away from his viselike hold on her, Eli stubbornly refused to let go.
She still clutched her mother’s last letter and the broken, beloved necklace tightly in one fist. She scrubbed briskly at the tracks of tears on her face with the other one, but it didn’t hide the gleam of her eyes in the gathering darkness. In front of them, Audrey peered out another graceful door and waved them forward out of the ancient temple and into another elegant pavilion with a mirror standing proud in the center.
Sabina froze, turning her gaze to Eli and pursing her mouth into a perfect o-shape. Her tone was perfectly dry and matter-of-fact. “Eli, I have discovered a problem. I don’t know how to open this.”
“Ye would think that’s a problem.” Audrey muttered. Eli ignored her complaining and dragged Mags forward. He let go of her shoulder just long enough to grab her free hand as gently as he could. When she twisted against him he sighed wearily and stared down at her wide, reddened eyes.
“You’re manhandling me!” She accused, pausing just long enough in her indignant struggles to cast a steely glare up at him.
“Yes.” Eli agreed while he pressed her palm against the mirror. He waited a second. One more. Nothing happened and he turned his irritated scowl downwards with a warning growl. “Mags…”
“I don’t particularly care for it.” She snapped, pale skin flushing. Her temper didn’t quite hide the way her hand shook underneath his.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to.” He pressed her palm down more insistently, curled his gauntleted fingers around her much smaller ones. “Mags, I promise we’re coming back and we’ll find your mom. Please just let us go get help.”
“Swear it.” She challenged, curling her spread fingers into a fist beneath his palm, unable to pull free. “Swear on your mother’s life. On the twins’ lives.”
“I swear.” He spat the words between gritted teeth. “Now open it.”
“What in…” Eli heard Sabina start at the same time he felt something tingle under his gauntleted hands, a feeling like ice prickling over his skin. Then the colors burst to life under Mags’s spread fingers and he nearly collapsed in relief. He didn’t even care that he’d had to beg to get her to do it.
“You can let go of me now.” Mags muttered as Eli pulled her hand away before both of them could slip through. Eli dropped her hand but immediately fisted the fabric of her cloak with a wry smile.
“How many times have I watched you use that line on Aveline before slipping through her fingers?” Eli asked, ignoring the strained, but contrite, grin on her face. “I’m more than a pretty face after all, Mags.”
“You’d think she’d stop falling for it.” Mags didn’t quite have any heart in the words while she let her fingers trail sadly across the glass, rippling where they touched. The colors played over their skin, even behind them to where Audrey glared and Sabina stood, frozen in shock. She muttered something under her breath in their parents’ mother tongue, Eli didn’t quite catch all of it. Something about the grace of the Maker.
“We’ve got a ticket out of here.” Eli conjured up a grin, gesturing behind him. “I suggest taking it. Immediately.”
From the corner of his eye he watched Mags stare down at the golden chain clenched in her fist and his heart ached. He released his hold on the back of her cloak to swing his arm around her shoulders.
“I promise, Maggie.” He whispered into her curls, angling his head as they twisted around. “I promise, it’ll be okay. We’ll find her.”
“Of course we will.” Mags voice, to her credit, only shook a little. “We’ll go home, get dad, and come back.”
Eli knew it wasn’t going to be that easy, but he didn’t think finding their way out was going to be quite as hard as it turned out to be. A dozen winding paths and four mirrors later, all Eli could think about was Darktown. This place smelled better, true, but it was as much an unnavigable warren as the alleys and deadends of the undercity. Except, unfortunately, this time his mother wasn’t beside him humming under her breath as she sought out the man who sold rare, dubiously legal, potion ingredients. There certainly wasn’t a chance of turning the corner and running into Aveline, arms crossed over her breastplate, staring down at his tiny mother, fond amusement masked with disapproval.
Also, it could be just him, but he had a suspicion they were definitely entering the less-than-pleasant area of the Crossroads. He could see evidence of battle, scorch marks from mage fire, marks on the crumbling stone fixtures that reminded him of the way blades left scars. Broken spears and abandoned arrows littered the cobblestone paths.
“This was a bloodbath.” Sabina stepped cautiously over a rust red stain, picking up the skirt she wore so it wouldn’t trail across the debris.
Audrey paused, half a broken spear in her hand. She examined it closely, shaking her head. “Qunari?” She suggested.
“I don’t recognize this either.” Mags kicked a piece of someone’s bracer, wondering just slightly outside of Eli’s comfort zone. He was mostly certain, as certain as anyone could be at any time really, that Mags wasn’t about to take off. Still, he watched her closely while she shoved her hands in both pockets and hunched her shoulders against an imagined chill.
“There are others who can open the mirrors.” Sabina glared at the scorches on the wall, placing her palm there as if she could heal it as simply as she healed burns and scrapes. “They’re locked, but some people have the key to open one or more. Knowledge. Power.”
“And what do you have, then?” Audrey challenged, piercing Mags with her cerulean eyes. Mags looked over her shoulder and arched one eyebrow, twisted her features into a hard, mocking smile to hide the pain just beneath it.
“Curiosity. Never could resist a good secret or a locked door.”
“It cannae be that easy.” Audrey huffed, throwing the broken spear as hard as she could and loping off to examine another crumbling structure.
“You left Kirkwall to listen to that all day.” Mags muttered reprovingly, folding her arms tightly around her torso. “Always follow the rules, do what she’s told, perfect, prissy …”
The last thing anyone needed was to listen to this rant from Mags, an old favorite since they’d all been children. He saw this thought reflected in the anxious glance Sabina shared with him. Eli, unfortunately, didn’t know exactly how to redirect her this time.
Thankfully, he was saved by the sound of something exploding relatively close to their location. A sound that made all four of their heads turn to the east, warily watching past the crumbling structure where Audrey stood. Eli could smell ozone and charred flesh, a sickeningly sweet smell that he wouldn’t be able to forget anytime soon.
Then something, more accurately someone, bowled straight around the crumbling structure and into Audrey. Both she and the other figure went down in a flurry of limbs, tanned skin against pale, Audrey’s accent thickening as she cursed and the other figure speaking as well in a language Eli didn’t understand. A pack rolled free, one he assumed had been carried by the stranger...
Then he saw the glint of steel and his blood turned cold.
Before he could lunge forward, an arrow shot past him and narrowly missed the curve of Audrey’s shoulder to embed itself solidly into the figure grappling with her. It was just the distraction Audrey needed to flip the other figure, a man, onto his back before straddling his narrow chest, an unfamiliar dagger in her elegant hand poised at the stranger’s throat.
“Now that.” Mags sounded utterly satisfied with herself. “Is why I’m the better archer.”
Well, at least she’d been interrupted mid-rant.
Eli didn’t bother responding. Instead he rushed forward, kicking the other discarded dagger towards Sabina before resting one hand on Audrey’s slender shoulder. “Audrey…”
“I’m fine.” Audrey darted her tongue out to wet her bottom lip, a portion of which was already starting to swell. Eli pushed back the urge to run his thumb across it, keenly aware of how fragile the boundaries between the two of them were.
Keenly aware of how impermeable they needed to stay, no matter what, until Audrey was safely back in Starkhaven where she belonged.
“I think.” The man sounded muffled, probably because he was nursing a bloody nose. “We have gotten off to a bad start. Allow me to introduce myself…”
“Introduce yourself?” Audrey echoed in disbelief. Eli snorted in disbelief.
“I assure you I meant no harm.” The man smiled, charmingly, the expression marred only slightly by the blood staining his teeth pink. Eli finally noted the sharply pointed ears hidden beneath his not quite brown, not quite blonde hair. “I simply wished to get away from my friend before he blew up the angry qunari chasing us.”
“Angry Qunari?” Sabina echoed.
“Your friend made that noise?” Eli asked, flicking his eyes up to the smoke drifting lazily up into the sky some distance away.
“He punched me in th’ gob!” Audrey sputtered indignantly, eyes flashing with barely concealed temper.
“You say that like it’s a point against him.” Mags sounded like she was choking on her own laughter and it was a welcome sound, in spite of everything. Eli allowed himself a moment to look back at her, bow clutched loosely in one hand, smile watery but present. “But personally, he’s my new favorite person.”
The voice echoed from the direction of the explosion and Audrey quickly shoved her hand over the man’s mouth. “Is that the mad friend blowin’ things up ye was talking about?” She asked, voice pitched low and dangerous.
The man nodded and muttered something, muffled by Audrey’s hand. He sounded both eerily calm and cheerful. Eli honestly couldn’t tell if he was impressed by the man’s flippant attitude or if he found it annoying.
“Are you with the Dread Wolf?” Sabina asked in a low hiss. The man shook his head under Audrey’s palm, utterly relaxed, eyes sparkling with mirth. Her jerked his head to the side, towards the arrow embedded in his flesh.
“He is an elf.” Audrey glared. “Are we seriously going to trust…”
“Bit racist of you considering we’ve got one and a half elves with us.” Mags commented, unhelpfully. She pushed under Eli’s elbow impatiently and knelt next to the elf on the ground. “Do you want the arrow out?”
The man mumbled something which sounded like pleased agreement. Mags reached forward and gripped the shaft of the arrow tightly.
“If he continues shouting at the top of his lungs, we are going to have to handle any remaining qunari and anyone else drawn by the noise.” Sabina murmured, concerned. Eli agreed, but he certainly didn’t know what to do about it.
“Sorry about this.” Mags stated apologetically, wrenching her arm back and withdrawing the arrowhead as violently as it had gone in. The man threw Audrey’s hand off his mouth and his pained shout rang in the silence.
“You are certainly not gentle.” He rasped. “Although if I were to sign up for being manhandled, I could not ask for two more lovely…”
“Who is the person following you?” Sabina demanded, ignoring the rather delighted smile dawning on Mags’s face and the crimson flush spreading up Audrey’s neck. Eli drew his blade threateningly, glaring down at the man.
The man was looking at Mags with keen, eagle-eyed interest. There wasn’t any malice in that dark gaze, not yet anyway, but Eli could hear the gears turning. Dark eyes slid over Mags cheekbones, where kohl she used to line her eyes smudged with tears. They still looked puffy, red, although no less striking for any of that.
Then, the man smiled, a sweet, boyish thing that made him look younger. Like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “Whoever has made you cry, mi bonita, should be shoved off one of these platforms.”
Her brief smile dropped and her eyes flicked in concern up to Eli and Sabina before back down to the elf. “Who are you?” She questioned.
“Perhaps we should be asking you that.” A voice spoke from above them, one rather more insidious, one edged with hard fury. “I’d advise letting him go.”
The Contested Crossroads
Sabina wasn’t watching the top of the crumbling structure, she’d been focused on the path from whence the boy, Kai, had come. Obviously, she’d made a serious error in judgement assuming nobody would attempt to climb the ancient stone fixtures that looked so unsteady one breath could topple them.
Rookie mistake. She watched Eli, Audrey, and Mags grow up, didn’t she? There was nowhere a bold enough person wouldn’t tread.
The man perched on the ruins didn’t look out of place at all, his dark eyes as piercing as any she’d ever seen, his chestnut hair and beard trimmed neatly. Sabina would hazard a guess that the beard made him look older than he truly was and that it was a deliberate choice.
He was around her age, then, but human. And powerful . He held a staff with deceptive casualness, but every tense line of his body spoke of wariness. She could feel the mana crackling around him like lightning before the storm. And when he spoke, he wasn’t looking at Audrey, Mags, or Eli, he was staring at her. Like he could feel her own magic boiling under her skin.
He looked like he belonged to this ancient, wild, magic place in a way very little else did, but he felt… he felt like a half forgotten song, a lullaby from childhood on the tip of her tongue. She tipped her head to the side, confused and concerned and…
His staff drooped and his wary eyes lost their guardedness for a brief, poignant moment. He leaned in eagerly, his lips forming one hopeful word. “Sabina?”
Sabina blinked and the eyes of her companions instantly swung back towards her in astonishment. The voice wasn’t familiar, but the magic…
“It is you.” He breathed, a glimmer of delight dancing around the corners of the lips hidden under his beard. “Maker’s breath, I never thought…”
“See! We are all friends here.” The boy beneath Audrey claimed. “Although, if you would like to become more than friends I am more than happy to continue to be straddled by…”
Sabina never saw Eli wrench someone up from the ground faster, one arm curling protectively around Audrey’s waist and his body angled between the two. Mags rolled her eyes skyward immediately. “Introduce us to your friend, Bina.” Eli growled.
The name was on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t bring it into enough focus to speak it. There was a feeling , instead. The vague impression of a garden, her mother sewing tiny little shirts, soldiers on ancient, sturdy wall, little wooden toys, Thom’s booming laugh while she sat astride his shoulders, and a boy’s hand holding hers underneath a gazebo dripping with ivy.
“You were at Skyhold.” Sabina took an anxious, unconscious step forward. She placed her hand on the stone of the wall he stood upon and stared upwards. “Before we left and came to Kirkwall.”
Skyhold as it had been, a beacon of hope in a world where all the rules had been broken. A place where a Carta criminal became a merciful queen, standing tall and brave against the horrors inflicted by a delusional madman. Skyhold as nobody but her remembered it, a fairy tale palace after the squalor and poverty of the Minrathous slums, filled with kind smiles and an overabundance of sweets, where she was watched over by her uncle and soldiers that knew her name. Skyhold before Eli was born, before Marguerite was even dreamed up.
The boy had been older than her and he left after Rose died, before they released the lantern for her up into the sky. Before they too got on another ship, all of her little family together to start a new life in the city her aunt and uncle called home. Before all of that, there had been a boy…
The boy who ran into the Eluvian.
“Kieran.” He said softly. “My name is Kieran.”
She could hear the whispers echoing across time. Two children, hidden in the corner of Skyhold’s garden. The sunlight of early spring hidden beyond the high towers and spiraling stairs.
“Come with me.” Kieran’s dark eyes shimmered in the spring sunlight that broke through the ivy falling from the gazebo roof. Sabina could see her mother, legs tucked under her while she rested in the grass. She held a needle up and squinted to thread it, smiling down at the tiny scraps of fabric in her lap when she dropped her gaze back to her task. Her fine, clever fingers tucked a piece of orange hair behind a pointed ear the same way she often brushed stray curls from Sabina’s face.
Sabina clutched one of her wooden toy soldiers in her fist and looked up at the boy extending his hand to where she knelt on the smooth, old wood. Sabina tipped her head to the side and smiled. “Where?”
“Come on.” Kieran implored and Sabina stood, abandoning the toy with all her other ones. Wooden druffalo, dragons, mages, templars, and wardens. A never ending parade of pretty carved things given to her by mama’s friend, the one with the kind eyes and funny beard. Kieran took her hand and tugged her out of the gazebo towards the covered walkways. She could hear angry voices drifting from one door that was propped open. She snuck a peak in, saw a tall man standing before the Inquisitor’s iron throne, his back to them. The small dwarven woman in the throne should have been overshadowed by the seat she perched on, but she reclined in it so easily that it looked as if she could command an army as easily as Sabina commanded her toys. As it was, the other figures orbited around her as if she was the sun.
The woman looked away from the man pacing, her eyes lighting on the small figure peering through the door. Sabina couldn’t be sure, but she thought she caught a quick, playful wink. She smiled and flushed, pleased at the attention. All the children loved the Inquisitor, she was quick to indulge them in a game or sneak them sweets after all, but Sabina was the only one allowed to call her amita, auntie. Sabina waved back with a small smile.
“Bina!” Kieran tugged her other hand impatiently. She allowed him to tug her further down the hall, away from the open door and the angry man. Sabina threw a look over her shoulder, saw her mother still kneeling in the sunlight, glowing with peace and happiness. Kieran quietly pushed one door open and turned a shy smile to her, squeezing her hand and pulling her into the darkened room after him.
At first, she thought the room empty beyond old, battered benches and furniture covered in cloth like white shrouds. A window let the sun shine in and dust motes circled in the air above their heads.
Then she noticed the mirror.
Taller than either of them, taller than mama or her uncle or even Ser Thom. Sabina craned her neck to stare at the top of the gilt frame, the one that seemed to nearly touch the ceiling. She let out a little gasp and stepped forward, walking towards her reflection.
“It’s my mother’s.” Kieran explained, following her as she approached. “It’s old. From a whole other age.”
It was magic. Sabina could feel it the same way she felt power when she trailed her fingers down amita Reyna’s staff. The same way the world seemed to snap and crackle around the inquisitor. But this was more, this was so much more.
“Do you hear it too?” Kieran asked, his wide dark eyes peering over her shoulder to meet hers in the mirror, both hopeful and…
She could. She could hear something, a melody, a lullaby, a song she knew all the words to but she couldn’t recall them. She reached out, her fingers just a hairsbreadth from the silver surface. It was calling to her, to them.
“You can come with me.” Kieran whispered, his eyes darkly intense. “We can go. Together.”
She couldn’t go. Ser Rainier was teaching her to ride a pony, amita Reyna was teaching her to read. Patruus promised to keep her safe and that the bad men wouldn’t come, because if they did he could fight them and he would win. Amita said he always won. She had lessons in the tower and her mama…
Mama smiled more than she ever had. She even hummed, a note or two, under her breath sometimes. She couldn’t leave mama. “I can’t. Mama…”
“She doesn’t understand. She won’t ever understand.” Kieran reached his hand out past hers, his fingers just brushing their wavering reflections over her shoulder.
It burst into rainbows, but the colors only served to wash Kieran's pale features out when she turned, frightened heart beating like a trapped bird in her throat.
"They'll never understand." He repeated quietly.
Kieran ran into the mirror, but she ran to her mama. Sabina remembered. Sabina remembered it like it was yesterday.
Except this time, she had followed him. She found him.
“Kieran.” She echoed.
Kieran got lost in the mirror. And this time, so had she.
WE ALL KNEW HE WAS GOING TO SHOW UP RIGHT?
Chapter 9: The Ferelden Contingent
The Hero of Ferelden's son was taught to believe in destiny.
The Witch of the Wild's son never learned how to talk to women. It's a recurring problem that Kai deals with.
9:56 Dragon - Kingsway 23rd Day
The Royal Palace in the City of Denerim, Ferelden
The leaves in the kennel yard blazed orange and red in the afternoon sun, still clinging stubbornly to the trees above them. Kai expected they would fall in the next heavy rain, the one that would turn the countryside to nothing but mud and muck for months before it finally froze cold enough to turn all uncovered digits and fun dangling bits black and useless.
Ah, the joys of Ferelden. Even as he thought it, Kai couldn’t summon up any real venom. For all the muck and shitty weather, Ferelden certainly had its charms. The wriggling bundle of fur pressing its wet snout into his warm neck was one, certainly. The milk-and-cream pale and prettily pink flushed girl holding a pup of her own, her long blonde hair in braided buns over her ears and her apron endearingly askew, was another.
“Papa says it’s a fine litter.” The girl was all of seventeen to his sixteen, the royal kennel master’s middle daughter. Also, quite frankly, his loveliest. If only, Kai thought warmly, because she never seemed to stare at his pointed ears. “They’ll be ready to begin training in a few months.”
The puppy’s fur was soft and fine under his fingertips, the creature warm and playful. The girl wrinkled her nose in delight as her own pup licked her chin eagerly while she looked at Kai with her moon-sized blue eyes. “Perhaps you’ll be back when we’re bonding them? And you can take one for your own?”
That, Kai desired very much, although his mother always said it was a matter of destiny as to when a Mabari bonded with you. He beamed at the girl regardless and watched her blush under her freckled cheeks. “A hound raised by your hand? You spoil me.”
The girl’s face deepened to a crimson and she looked down at her dusty boots, tugging her dress and apron straight impatiently. Kai smiled winningly and opened his mouth to suggest, perhaps, taking a walk to one of the more abandoned and remote outbuildings.
He never had the chance. Before he could say anything else, the door at the opposite end of the yard flew open with a bang loud enough to send the mabaris barking and growling. The young man that stalked out of them into the sunlight looked surly enough to sour milk and the girl whipped around, nearly tripping over herself to drop into a curtsy, the puppy in her arm whining in alarm at the sudden movement. The man didn’t even look as he stalked past. Kai rolled his eyes, gently setting his pup into the dirt.
The girl rose from her awkward curtsy, forehead wrinkled in distress while she stared after the retreating figure. She looked at Kai with a wordless question, a simple lift of her eyebrows. Kai shrugged gamely. “It appears as if though someone should spend more time out here playing with the mabari, doesn’t it?”
“He is awfully grumpy for a prince.” The girl admitted in a quiet whisper.
“I suspect he spends too little time around the finer company of the palace.” Kai winked, took a step back, and bowed to the maid with a flourish. “If you’ll excuse me, it looks like I should go cheer him up.”
Kai turned on his heel easily, his own boots tapping against the hard packed dirt as he walked. He heard the giggle that followed him and noted it, satisfied that if he should come back, he’d be easily able to convince her to take a stroll.
He followed Kieran while he tore away, as far from the royal palace as he could go without leaving the grounds. Kai couldn’t quite make out what his dark-haired almost-brother was saying to himself, but he gathered from the tone it wasn’t positive. In fact, it rather sounded like Kieran was finishing the end of an argument. An argument he’d clearly lost as he lost so very, very many.
When they reached the end of the orchard, Kai leaned against one of the apple trees, heavy with red fruit above them. Kieran stopped at the tall wall surrounded the orchard and pressed his open palm against the stones, leaned his forehead against the rough, sunwarmed brick.
“It’s a lovely day for a stroll, isn’t it?” Kai asked, crossing his arms loosely over his own chest. He watched Kieran’s shoulders rise an inch defensively before they suddenly slumped in defeat and he turned around to face Kai. Kieran scratched at the patchy beard on his face, his latest attempt to look older and wiser than his twenty-three years, and sighed.
“She never listens. She won’t be happy until I’m twice the mage she is and a king so great that they strike Calenhad’s name from the records to make more room for my praises.” Kieran smiled ruefully. “She thinks if I’m grand enough, she can erase the slurs of mage spawn and bastard.”
A hopeless cause. Kieran would never escape the whispers and they all knew it. The only thing stopping open discussion was the fear that the Witch of the Wilds would turn her piercing yellow gazen on them or they’d find themselves on the wrong side of the king’s sword. Or, worse, they’d wake to an Antivan drawl and a dagger at their throat.
“Being as grand as Calenhad is overrated. Does anyone really need a body of water named after them?” Kai asked. The humor made Kieran’s smile perk up a bit.
“And what would you prefer to have named after you?” Kieran asked, relaxing and leaning his back against the orchard wall. Kai paused, tipped his head to the side thoughtfully.
“A mountain? No, not a mountain. I’d rather have a pub, to be honest.”
“A brothel?” Kieran taunted mercilessly.
Kai beamed instead of rising to the bait. “My name forever associated with endless pleasure in the hearts and minds of the country? A much better legacy than a lake, my friend.”
This made Kieran laugh, his head tipped back and eyes on the endless blue sky above them. His smile faltered when he caught sight of a hawk, wings spread wide, circling lazily without a care. Free, easy.
“You’re leaving today?” Kieran asked wistfully.
“Just in time to muck it across the countryside, I’m afraid.” Kai began melodramatically. He didn’t want Kieran to feel as if he was missing out. “If we’re lucky, we’ll make it Highever in time for the worst storms, you know how Shale likes to complain about boats and sea voyages. Then we’ll be stuck in Wycome, of all places, until father meets us. After that, we’ll trudge up the Minanter river until we get to Hunter Fell and all the dreary Nevarrans that inhabit it.”
“You won’t see Ferelden again for months.” Kieran frowned and tore his eyes from the sky, staring at his clenched fist instead. Slowly, carefully, he unfolded his fingers with a long, deep breath.
That exhale said everything. It carried every burden, every frustration. It spoke of worry and fear and the deep, intense feeling that Kieran carried with him every day. The one that whispered that the boy they knew had grown into a man who was not where he was supposed to be.
“I’ve never seen Wycome.” Kieran admitted. “Not much of the Free Marches at all, in fact. My fate is simply to languish in Ferelden. Forever.”
“You’re hardly missing anything.” Kai lied fluently. He wouldn’t be the one to tell Kieran of the Vinmarks rising on the horizon wreathed in fog, ruins dotting them like abandoned skeletons. The way the ocean smashed against the cliffs outside Markham. “Marchers are an odd lot, although they are better than Orlesians.”
Kieran lapsed into thoughtful silence and Kai frowned, turning words over in his head. Trying, and failing, to find something that would ease a heavy heart. He was saved in his scramble by the sound of a stick cracking beneath a boot behind him, and a soft voice. “Why do you both look so glum?”
Kai looked over his shoulder and took in his mother, her small form overshadowed by the trees and their branches. Chantal Amell-Arainai’s dark hair, streaked with white, was twisted back into a neat, braided bun except for some loose tendrils she used to hide the jagged scar across her right cheek. She was dressed for traveling already, from her boots to the dark cloak trailing the grass behind her as she moved.
“Are you leaving? Already?” Kieran pushed away from the wall, standing head and shoulders over the tiny woman when he straightened. “Mother is unbearable when you’re gone.”
“Kieran.” Chantal chided softly, but the fondness underlying it was too obvious to miss. Kai’s mother stopped beside him and tipped her head as she too observed Kieran, her dark eyes both unbearably heavy and deeply gentle.
Kai knew what it was like to be measured in those dark pools, as if his mother saw deep into a person’s soul, to all the things you tried to hide. Fear, secrets, nightmares. Chantal blinked slowly and Kai saw, from the corner of his eye, a barely perceptible nod. As if she had seen something that confirmed what she thought she’d find.
Kieran folded into himself rather than face that gaze. He dropped his eyes to his boots and shrugged helplessly. Kieran tried, and failed, to keep his tone jocular. “Try and write more this time? It gets boring here.”
“Perhaps this time you should come with us.”
Kai certainly hadn’t expected to hear that, his face turning abruptly to observe his mother’s profile. She was withdrawing a pair of leather gloves from her belt calmly, eyes on her task. Kai wrenched his gaze away to meet Kieran’s face, which had also momentarily frozen in shock.
“Come with you?” Kieran repeated, astonished.
“You told your mother your bags were packed, or so your father said.” Chantal pulled on her gloves carefully, a small, pleased smile curling her lips. “If you intend to leave, I am sure we would certainly not mind the company, si Kai?”
Fate, sometimes, intervened. And when it did, it very often took Chantal’s form.
“Of course we wouldn’t.” Kai could feel his own smile growing, pleased and proud. “Although I have told him that Shale is a less than ideal travelling companion. And that we’ll be gone for months.”
Chantal laughed, her eyes meeting his, dancing wickedly in amusement. “Shale has come a long way, believe it or not, as to being a pleasant traveler.”
“My father…” Kieran began, shocked disbelief beginning to war with delight.
“Has said if you intend to venture out of Ferelden, he prefer you do so with me.” With that, Chantal pulled on her remaining glove and raised her eyes to Kieran, a sweet smile on her lips. “Kai hasn’t lied that we do not always travel in luxury, and we’ll be gone for months, Kieran. But if you’d like to go…”
Chantal trailed off, her voice lilting into a question. Kieran rushed forward immediately, his arms swinging around Chantal’s form and squeezing her with a breathless whisper. “Thank you, Aunt Chantal.”
“Don’t thank me until you’ve spent your first night on the rocky ground of the Vinmarks.” Chantal pressed her lips to Kieran’s cheek and squeezed his upper arm. “Go get your things.” She directed warmly.
Kieran didn’t need to be told twice. He took off immediately, nearly sprinting out of the orchard. Both Kai and his mother twisted to watch him go.
“And make sure you tell your mother goodbye!” Chantal yelled after him, shaking her head in gentle exasperation before looking back to Kai. “Do you think he’ll still be pleased with me in a few days?”
He doubted anyone or anything had ever made Kieran happier. His friend, his brother of choice and circumstance, spent twelve years locked in Ferelden while Kai and his family happily circled Thedas from end to end. And, yes, Kai himself sometimes envied the constant comfort of a warm bed and good food.
But he couldn’t imagine how it must feel to be trapped. “If he complains, I vote we leave him in Highever.”
“Deal.” His mother reached up and gently brushed Kai’s shaggy hair away from his forehead. “I know it’s not a mabari, but I thought you’d enjoy the company.”
“How did you convince Uncle Ali and Aunt Mori?” That was the real wonder. Chantal simply smiled and shook her head again.
“They need a break from each other. They all know it, so I’m afraid I didn’t have to try very hard.” She admitted, slyly elbowing Kai. “But I’m quite content to continue to take the credit, so don’t give me away.”
“I don’t believe I would ever need a break from my mother. Father on the other hand...” Kai admitted with a broad grin, despite the fact that it caused her to roll her eyes and swat him lightly on the shoulder.
“Someday you’ll be sick of me too, Malakai. Then you’ll go off on your own adventure and forget all about your old mum.” Her voice was light, but there was something dark and fearful in her eyes. Kai caught her gloved hand, squeezed it and brought it chivalrously to his lips.
“I would stay with you always.” He promised. “Your faithful second-in-command.”
The game they had played when he was a child, him ordering around their little band as his mother smiled, gentle and indulgent, from far away. He loved her, could think of no one he loved more, and would do anything for her.
“Shhh…” She pressed her palm against one of his cheeks and stood on tiptoe to kiss the other. “Don’t make promises you cannot keep, Kai. Someday, you’ll go off on your own and I’ll survive it. Do you know how I know?”
“How?” He asked as she slipped her arm through his and they turned to walk back through the orchard. His mother smiled up at him.
“I think the road will always bring us back together again when you need me. And I will always be with you.”
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
The Contested Crossroads
If Kai had known, back as a boy swearing starry eyed fealty like some sort of knight to the prince of Ferelden who played the role of his elder brother, that doing so would lead him to this twisted ancient place he may have reconsidered. As it was, his favorite shirt was certainly ruined and he now needed to patch his armor. Again.
The slip of a girl who pulled the arrow from his shoulder shook the blood from it and slipped it carefully back into her quiver. Those stunning silver eyes didn’t quite look like they knew where to land, on Kieran above them, the willowy wild-haired elf beside her, or at Kai on the ground.
“How?” The girl Kieran called Sabina demanded, “How are you here?”
Oh wasn’t that a story he couldn’t wait to tell their parents. He hoped Kieran could see his irritated expression from where he was. And yet, the rest of the small group they’d run into seemed to be thawing, relaxing. Taking their lead from the elf speaking to Kieran.
Suddenly, Kai was surprised by a small hand thrust down to him. He followed the arm back up to the little dwarf and she cracked a small, weak smile. Sweet Andraste, she had to be young. Dwarves, of course, were always small and thus, hard to guess at times, but he’d be shocked if she was all of eighteen.
Of course, a dwarf stalking the Crossroads should, by all rights, be only one woman. But this one didn’t have the correct hair, the requisite lines of age, she boasted one more arm than could be expected. Still, those eyes… didn’t they always say the Viscountess of Kirkwall had eyes like a stormcloud? He swore there was a bard in Ostwick that...
“Have you never seen a dwarf up close?” The girl asked wryly as she grew tired of waiting for him to take her hand.
The answer came immediately, playful and swift, a wolfish grin stretching his lips. “Not one as lovely as you.”
The smile on her face grew a bit stronger, nearly eclipsed the smudged kohl around her eyes and tears that had slicked her eyelashes to points. “Good answer.”
“Oh for the love of Andraste.” The man behind her bit out, elbowing the dwarven girl out of the way and reaching down to haul Kai up by his leather armor far more easily than he, by rights, should have. The glare on his tanned face turned his green eyes stern, a clear warning if he ever saw one.
“Hawke, you’re an ass.” The dwarven girl tipped her chin up imperiously, but Kai’s heart thudded to an abrupt stop.
“I apologize, did you just say Hawke?” He turned his face downwards to the, clearly most reasonable despite her age, member of this little group. The dwarf girl opened her mouth, but it was the man who answered.
“And if she did?” His voice was carefully neutral, almost playful. It didn’t fool Kai for a second, his mother used the same lighthearted tone right before she kicked ass too. And now that he looked again, the resemblance was faint, but there. The dark hair with the faintest wave, the strong set of his jaw. He had always been told the Amell blood was strong.
Kai beamed and opened his arms wide as if eager to embrace the other man. “Cousin!”
He had a feeling that it was hard to stun both man and dwarf into silence, but his pronouncement accomplished it. The human girl behind the man was the one to break in with her soft, Starkhaven burr. “Wait, what?”
Fate. His mother had such faith in it, in some greater destiny, but Kai had never seen the proof of a plan before. Not until now. Not until this. As if, he thought with an ironic sense of humor, their ill-fated venture into this place had been foretold.
Beyond them, back in the direction from which Kai fled, he heard a mighty shout, one that reminded him more of a dragon than a man. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and he shot a disgruntled look over his shoulder.
“That is less than ideal.” He muttered.
“Damnit.” Kieran jumped from the wall, giving orders as soon as he hit the ground. “We need to leave, this way…”
Kieran began to walk in one direction, but was met only by a scoff from the Starkhaven girl. “An’ we should listen to ye because…?”
“Because you have no hope of knowing what you’ve stumbled into?” Kieran shot back.
And that, Kai reflected ruefully, was why Kieran should not do the talking. He watched all three womens’ spines stiffen, saw the amused tilt of his cousin Hawke’s lips as he folded his arms over his chest and settled in to watch.
“Aye.” Starkhaven drew herself up and turned on booted heel away from Kieran, towards the third path. “Maker watch over ye, then, ya thick-headed...”
“Have a nice life.” The dwarf tossed her curls over her shoulder and sauntered after the human girl. “Allow us to just continue to stumble hopelessly over here while you who know so very much continue on your merry way.”
“That is a poor direction in which to travel.” It was the tall, elegant elf, her posture mirroring Hawke’s, who confronted Kieran’s form. Kieran turned to look at her, then let his dark eyes rest on Kai.
Kai fought the urge to roll his own and slap his face with his own hand. He gestured, impotently, to the two figures ambling away. “Perhaps, my friend…” Kai began pointedly. “The pretty dwarf with a bow, who is traveling with my dear cousin from Kirkwall, may have some knowledge of these pathways.”
He could smack Kieran sometimes, he really could. The man frowned and followed Kai’s hands to the backs of the other two figures, although Kai could tell that Kieran missed the stiffening of the smaller one’s shoulders. Kieran then shot Kai a beleaguered, disbelieving look. One that very clearly said, even if she was who Kai was implying she was, that she was merely a child and beneath their consideration.
“Right.” His cousin blew out his breath and looked past Kai to Sabina, shaking his head. “I’m following the girls. You handle this.”
“Eli!” Sabina snapped reprovingly, her fingers curling into tight fists, the bangles around her wrists shaking and clinking in the silence.
“I don’t know these people.” Elias Hawke, Kai remembered the name now. He shrugged and turned to amble after the two young women. “And I’ve got more than enough trouble already.”
He missed the way Sabina drew herself up higher, her eyes blazing with temper, her voice lashing out into the silence. “You three will stop this instant or Maker help you.”
Kai would not want to be on the wrong end of that tone, and it was apparently enough to make the rest of her group pause and reconsider. They all looked back at Sabina with varying degrees of dismay.
“Ye cannae be serious.” Starkhaven deadpanned, pointedly glaring between both Kai and Kieran.
“Bina, we don’t have time for this right now.” Eli pleaded helplessly, gesturing impotently at the Crossroads around them.
“I’ll take the elf, but if I have to deal with tall, dark, and arrogant I’ll scream.” The dwarf crossed her arms over her chest stubbornly and very nearly stamped her foot in a manner very, very close to being adorable.
Behind his head, Kai heard another roar. Alarmingly closer. Kieran heard it too and narrowed his eyes at Sabina. “Why is this a poor direction to travel?”
Kieran’s back was to the figure that darted around the corner behind him, a thin elf who saw them and opened his mouth to raise the alarm while raising his own bow to take aim at Kieran’s unguarded back. In that second, Sabina raised her hand.
He felt the prickle of electricity, knew it for what it was the second the fine hair covering his arms stood on end. The flash exploded before his eyes, lanced through the pathetic Elven figure before he could scream. The rumble came after, but Sabina had already dropped her arm to her side and turned to the three who had armed themselves immediately upon feeling the draw of mana and seeing the flash of light.
“That.” Sabina twitched her skirt out of her way as she sailed past Kai, his nose catching the hint of open ocean and meadowgrass as she walked, “Is the direction from which we are fleeing.”
Kieran and Kai shared a dazzled and impressed look before he jerked his chin after the four figures. “Right, you do what you want, I’m following them.”
Kai slipped in behind the group and felt, rather than saw, Kieran join him. “Yes.” Kieran muttered darkly and quietly. “You would find a reason to follow them.”
“Not getting killed by elves and qunari is an awfully good one.” Kai reminded him.
And if following both the cousin he’d been so curious about all his life, plus three charming ladies, happened to coincide with that? Well, sometimes fate intervened.
Audrey doesn't like to be talked down to, Mags is a horrid flirt, Eli would prefer she not pick up random strangers, Kieran is a bit of an ass, Kai is a sweetheart, and Sabina is a BAMF.
Chapter 10: Down One Archer
The Ferelden contingent makes Audrey nervous.
The Qunari and the Elves find our heroes.
Mags's stole something rather more powerful than she thought she did.
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
The Contested Crossroads
Audrey trusted Sabina, she always trusted Sabina. After all, Sabina had never let her down, never failed to live up to a promise, always shared what she knew easily and freely. There wasn’t any reason not to trust Sabina.
Still, she felt uneasy inviting these strangers into their group and she knew Eli felt the same. Even Mags, who certainly couldn’t be trusted with anything remotely important, looked wary of at least one half of the pair, although, as always, she thawed quickly towards any passing face she took a fancy to.
“I thought my mother made it very clear that her cousin wasn’t to come near Kirkwall.” Eli finally seethed into the frosty silence. “Something about poor choices in company.”
“Truly?” Kai managed to arrange his features into mock alarm. “Well, I know my mother has always been known for her eccentric company, but I’d heard Kirkwall hosted a rather eclectic sort as well.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely false. Honestly, her father had always been slightly scandalized by the more-disreputable-than-not company flitting in and out of Kirkwall. Carta queens, pirates, mad alchemists, mages of unknown origin, Tevinter nationals, mercenaries, the whole lot a mad, boiling cauldron of trouble waiting to explode at any moment. Her father said, more than once, that nobody else could manage it except for Varric Tethras. Audrey shuddered to think what kind of chaos would erupt if Mags took the reins.
“Besides.” Kai shrugged elegantly. “We entered this place from Orlais, although we’ve certainly been wandering so long I’m not sure where we’ve quite ended up.”
Kai paused and shot a wicked, handsome grin down at the top of Mags’ curly head. She was still mostly silent, her hands still shoved deep within her pockets, head bowed down. It made her look smaller, made a part of Audrey feel sorry for her regardless.
“If I had known the young Mistress of Kirkwall was so lovely, however, I may have found myself tempted to visit despite any prohibitions.”
Kai’s pronouncement instantly caused Eli to scowl, and Audrey couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw of flicker of amusement cross Mags’ face. Suddenly, she felt a whole lot less charitable.
“I’ve heard the Viscount of Kirkwall’s daughter was still a child.” Kieran, dark haired and arrogant enough to make Orlais proud, observed the back of Mags’ blonde head. Eli moved to block his view with a scowl. “Wouldn’t that mean she’s a bit young to be traipsing through forbidden crossroads?”
“She’s certainly old enough to not ask stupid questions.” Mags retorted rather soundly. And honestly, if Mags ire was going to be directed at anyone, Audrey couldn’t have picked a better target. It reminded her a bit of Mags’s sixteenth birthday party. Eli had been supposed to be chapperoning her, but Audrey convinced him to dance with her instead. Mags, of course, took the opportunity to slip off and do Maker knew what…
And, well, Audrey wasn’t exactly certain what had happened. She’d received no less than six different versions of the story through Eli, who had probably gotten twice as many from Mags. There’d been an Orlesian lordling, handsome enough Audrey supposed, although she remembered some dark rumors attached to his behavior. He’d been handsy during a dance with her, certainly. It was enough, perhaps, to justify the fork that ended up jabbed in his thigh at the end of the night. It’d been hard not to laugh at his shrill protests that he’d never walk again. Audrey would never admit how amusing she’d found the whole thing.
It hadn’t stopped suitors from throwing themselves at Kirkwall, of course. Like it or not, Mags was heir to two guild seats, an untold network of business operations, at least one substantial fortune, a fortress perched in the Frostbacks, several legal and many more illegal lyrium mines, and a city-state itself. Some people with more sons than sense were willing to risk their progeny’s limbs for the sake of greed.
But Mags wouldn’t marry unless she wanted to, that had been made abundantly clear by the Viscount and Viscountess in the snatches of gossip Audrey heard throughout the years from insulted Merchant’s Guild members complaining of Carta manners, indulgent fathers, and spoiled daughters.
There was a line between duty and desire, though, wasn’t there? Mags wouldn’t know it if she danced naked across it, but sometimes you did things you didn’t want to do for the sake of the people that depend on you. And it wasn’t like Audrey could join a group of brigands, travel the roads of Thedas on nothing but her wits, and take whoever she wanted for a lover.
Even though, in the back of her head, she’d already started a roster of the type of criminals she’d need in her roving gang.
“I remember your name now.” Kai snapped his fingers, self-indulgent pleasure settling across his face like he’d solved a difficult puzzle. “Marguerite, yes? Like the flower. A beautiful name for a…”
“She prefers Mags.” Eli interrupted tersely.
“I don’t know.” Mags had a gift for infusing her voice with just the right amount of playful heat. “I could be talked round.”
Sabina sighed while Eli glared sourly down at the dwarf. Audrey, briefly, imagined flinging her off one of the platforms and into the abyss below.
“What’s your name then?” Kieran directed his burning gaze away from Mags and Eli and let it linger on Audrey instead. Something prickled on the back of Audrey’s neck, a clear warning, and she fought the urge to plead with Sabina, again, to just leave these two where they’d found them.
“Chantry mouse.” Mags mumbled quietly. And, yes, chucking her off a platform would be satisfying. How long, she wondered, would Eli and Sabina truly hold a grudge?
“Jenny.” Audrey snapped. Mags scoffed and Audrey felt slightly mollified when Eli’s hand lightly cuffed the back of her head.
“Oh.” Sabina’s soft exclamation carried back to them and she stopped, frozen in wonder, staring ahead. The path before them split, crafting a circle around a tree that rose through the center. Audrey snuck a glance down, couldn’t see where the tree’s trunk could possibly have sprung from. All she saw was misty clouds and an abyss, the giant oak tree disappearing into it, although she supposed there had to be a bottom. Somewhere.
From the tree, dazzling lights floated dripped, sparkling like candles that burned without flame. Even Audrey had to admit, for all the heathenism of it, that they were lovely. Sabina stepped forward, entranced.
“There are runes.” Kieran too stepped forward eagerly, nodding and pointing at the tree. “In the bark, see…”
“Maybe ye should follow your friend.” Audrey jerked her chin at Kai. Instead of arguing, as she half expected him to, the man simply shrugged carelessly.
“I always do. But if you three need a moment…” He winked in Audrey’s direction before sauntering away with a cheerful whistle under his breath. She watched him go, following Bina and Kieran under the giant branches of the tree before piercing Eli with her gaze.
“I dinnae think this is our best moment.”
“Well it certainly isn’t my idea.” Eli hissed. “I don’t know them and mom was pretty adamant I shouldn’t get to know her cousin. Probably because the guy who tried to kill us when I was a baby is probably still roaming around with her.”
“Dad’s still pretty pissed about the whole ‘blowing up Kirkwall’ thing too.” Mags elbowed Eli lightly and gestured to Audrey. “And don't think we’re not talking about how we’re hiding her identity but I may as well hand out introduction cards.”
“Do they come with warnin’ labels?” Audrey asked. “Cause if they do, I fully support it.”
“Get less distinctive and then we can make up an alias for you.” Eli instructed hotly. “Mags, I don’t trust these people.”
“The elf is fine.” Mags shrugged simply. “The human could use a kick in the arse but…”
“Kieran…” Audrey pondered, tapping her lips with her leather gloved finger lightly. “Why is that so familiar? It’s on th’ tip o’ my tongue I swear…”
“You just like him cause he’s flirting with you.”
“He’s trying to. As usual, you’re getting in the way!”
“Oh for fucks sake, Mags.” Eli threw his hands in the air, at once expressing his exasperation and distaste. Mags wasn’t looking at him though, her eyes were latched past both of them onto the proud line of Sabina’s back, straight and tall while she reached for the low hanging leaves of the majestic tree.
“Are… are we certain we’re alright trusting Bina’s judgement?” Mags asked quietly. Audrey hid her own startled guilt under a skeptical gaze. She didn’t know if she was grateful that Mags was also questioning Sabina, or if it made her feel worse. Either way, Mags rushed forward, looking uncharacteristically nervous. “I mean… there’s the voices. Then the glowing thing. The elven bladdering to Abelas. Do you really think she’s making good decisions now? I mean, maybe she doesn’t even really know this guy and just thinks she does because her mind is all… wonky.”
“But the elf is fine.” Eli deadpanned. Mags shrugged helplessly.
“I don’t know!” She shoved her hand back into her pocket, Audrey watched her fingers curl around the necklace she knew Mags shoved there. “I don’t think your cousin would stab us in the back, I guess?”
“If he’s really yer cousin.” Audrey inserted her opinion into the conversation. “Which we also dinnae know.”
“Do you know anything about a kid named Kieran at Skyhold?” Eli prodded Mags desperately. “A story? Anything?”
“I don’t remember a Kieran from dad’s stories.” Mags hesitated, flicked her eyes up at Audrey. “But the name reminds me of something too.”
“You’re both insanely helpful.” Eli looked between the two of them, shaking his head.
“Find out where he’s from.” Mags prodded. “If I’ve got a place to go with the name, I can probably give you something.”
“Beyond a migraine?” Audrey asked skeptically.
It wasn’t often anyone got the last word with Mags. In fact, Audrey probably wouldn’t have, but the whistling noise in the air drew their attention from each other back to the path they’d come from. Any retort in Mags mouth died at the sight of the vicious looking Qunari inhabiting it, the one who’d just thrown a rather deadly looking spear straight at them.
Thank the Maker for Eli. He moved like water, the two-handed sword back in his hand immediately. She had just enough time to admire the way he shifted, the sharp line of his stance, the way his muscles tensed as he raised the blade defensively.
The spear shattered against it, his blow sending it harmlessly off the platform in shattered splinters of wood and metal. The Qunari shouted something over its shoulder, a harsh command of some kind. Audrey’s blood ran cold.
“You know, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea long-term to have your dad teach us some Qunlat.”
Mags flippant response to being attacked aside, Audrey didn’t need to know Qunlat to know what had just been said. She heard a responding roar and saw something barrel around the corner, roaring, a Qunari astride it shouting in their rough language.
“Sweet Andraste.” Audrey choked on a sudden surge of fear. “Is that a…”
Before she could get the word out, Sabina’s lightning struck. A peal of it lanced through the creature, but it shook it off as if it was no more than a fly stinging it’s massive, scaly tale.
“I think...” Mags’s voice was very small. “That’s a wyvern.”
Followed by a small army of Qunari soldiers, all running up behind it. Eli held his sword straight, but one arm went for Audrey, grabbing her shoulder and hauling her back. Mags recovered from her shock a bit better, turning on one heel and scrambling after them as another roar shook the Crossroads.
“Go!” Sabina yelled as they sprinted past. Her eyes crackled with mana and she’d pulled a sword handle from her belt. As they ran, Audrey saw a blade spring to life, blazing with heat and magic.
Kieran slammed his staff onto the cobblestones, summoning a fireball as impressive as anything she’d ever seen Eli’s mother pull out of thin air. It went flying over their heads as they all ducked right around the tree. The hanging branches snagged in Audrey’s hair, pulled out a solid clump of it.
Something else bellowed behind them, and it wasn’t the wyvern. Audrey spared a glance over her shoulder, nearly stumbled with shock.
She’d been told how the Qunari treated their mages, of course. Everyone knew what they did to them, how different it was, how barbaric. Still, nothing prepared her for actually seeing it. The creature in chains looked more like an animal than a person, it’s horns sheared off, eyes covered with a metal visor with nothing but slits for it to see out of. And there were threads, dark black against gray skin, sewing pale lips together so it could never speak.
All it could do was howl like a beast.
If they survived this, she’d have nightmares for ages of Sabina’s mouth sewn shut, the Hawke twins in chains.
She turned her gaze forward just as they cleared the widest part of the curve, revealing what lay ahead. Past the tree, she could see where other path, the left one, curled around as well. They met behind the tree, both leading to only one place. A circular platform up a short flight of steps, with no other paths leading from it, and a tall, elegant mirror standing above all of them.
A large, broken mirror. Shards of glass littered the ground around it, cracks spread over the surface.
Mags swore at her elbow, pushing past anyway, tripping up the stairs to the broken mirror. Audrey watched her place her bare palm against it. When nothing happened, she pressed even more insistently. Sabina stopped beside Audrey, breathless and covered in sticky red blood. “Can you open it?” Sabina demanded.
“No!” Mags shouted, turning on her heel, bow in hand and shooting one arrow over their heads. She heard someone curse in that strange language, heard a dull thud.
They’d ran right into a dead end. Trapped as efficiently as mice in a rat catcher’s box.
“Take the high ground.” Eli shoved Audrey forward, towards the stairs, towards Mags, and turned again. The wyvern was coming from one side, the rest of the Qunari from the other, their group pressed back against the steps. Sabina’s barrier sprung to life, shattered a spear that tried to pierce it. Audrey dashed up the steps, turned just in time to fire another arrow towards a Qunari bringing a blade down towards Kai.
But even as it fell, Kai vanished, only to reappear at the back of another, slamming twin daggers into it’s back. If Eli moved like water, Audrey thought, Kai moved like smoke.
The wyvern reared back and spewed something that looked like poison towards them. Sabina’s barrier sprung to life again, but it couldn’t quite shield all of them. Audrey watched Eli roll, but she saw the smoke as the bit that had touched him began to eat through his armor.
They’d been so distracted, they forgot about the mage.
It was Kai who sounded the alarm, but it was still barely enough time. In fact, Audrey had been so focused on watching Eli charge towards the wyvern, she wouldn’t have moved at all. Mags knocked her to the cobblestones, Audrey’s head cracking hard against them as the fireball sailed past. She smelt hair burning, heard Mags swear as she dropped her bow, the wood on fire beneath her hand.
Well, one archer down then.
Something else had rolled out of Mags’s pocket, something silver and small as one of the larger marbles they played with as children. Audrey swore for a moment, it flickered green in the eerie light of the Crossroads.
Oh, well, that was just what they needed, wasn’t it?
Mags tore herself up from the ground, lurching to pick up the marble she’d dropped and spinning to watch arrows erupt from the throats of some of the Qunari. Elves, most of them waving bows and swords, shouted out battle cries as they lunged into the fray.
The good news was that it was a distraction. The bad news was, it was only temporary. Audrey knew they weren’t exactly high on the list of preferred visitors for the Dread Wolf’s people either. Audrey pushed herself up from the ground, grabbing her own bow and stringing an arrow, sending it back at the Wyvern even as she heard Sabina yell for them to retreat.
Retreat where ?
One elf was calling out the orders. She had twin blades in her hands, just like Kai, her blonde hair pulled up in a high ponytail that brought out the sharp, terrible beauty of her features. She emerged from the Qunari like a demon, covered in their blood and grinning up the stairs.
Audrey aimed and shot one arrow towards her, but the girl dodged it effortlessly, moving like a dancer as she twisted out of the way. Audrey pulled a second arrow, but even as she did so, the Elven girl reached into her belt, retrieved a throwing blade, shimmering brightly. Her lips twisted into a tight smirk as she shifted, bringing the blade up to her shoulder before tossing it effortlessly. It spun, deadly and true, straight towards them.
No, not them. The blade hadn’t been meant for Audrey, but for someone else. Someone who stood lower, someone far more distinctive. Someone the elves had great reason to want dead, if only because of her mother.
Beside her, Mags had just enough time to raise her left hand in front of her face, her fingers curled around the marble. Audrey felt Mags’s name leave her lips, a warning and a plea, and she didn’t know what she could do to stop this, to stop…
Green light erupted from between Mags’s clenched fingers with a force like an explosion of lyrium charges, the ones they used to mine coal in Starkhaven. It sent the knife flying towards her face back down the stairs. And yet, the force seemed to curve around Audrey, around Sabina and Eli, Kai and Kieran. It gathered speed as it spread, knocking back the army of elves and Qunari threatening them. Some fell into the abyss below, others into each other. Even the wyvern stumbled back, it’s rider thrown free.
But, perhaps, the most amazing thing was the mirror. From the corner of her eye, Audrey saw the shattered pieces of it vibrate. The mirror itself didn’t glow, but something was in front of it, spinning, a vortex, a portal, the light within it the same rainbows they found inside the eluvians. Pieces of broken glass spun around it, whipping in the air like crystals.
Mags sagged forward, but Audrey captured her easily with one arm while they both turned to look, in disbelief, at the lights behind them.
“What did ye do?” Audrey asked, stunned into wonder.
“I didn’t…” Mags protested weakly.
“It’s a door!” Kieran yelled, bounding up the stairs and pausing in front of it before sending a shocked, dismayed look down at the dwarf hanging onto to Audrey. “Where does it go?” He demanded.
“Anywhere is better than here, yes?” Kai yelled from the bottom of the steps, gesturing wildly to the gaggle of qunari and elves.
Audrey didn’t disagree, but she could feel Mags sagging against her. Whatever she’d done, whatever she was currently doing to hold that door open… “Go! Now!”
She thought Kieran would argue with her, but with one look at Kai he turned and stepped into the swirling portal. Audrey tried to swing Mags’s towards it, but found that despite not weighing much, most of it was becoming rather difficult to manage dead weight. She tried not to be too grateful when Kai emerged, sheathing his blades, and taking stock of the situation in one pointed glance.
“Allow me.” He offered gallantly, sweeping Mags right out from under Audrey’s arm and into a rather efficient bridal hold.
“Audrey…” Mags murmured, tongue thick with what sounded like either drink or a sleeping potion. Audrey honestly couldn’t even remember the last time Mags had called her by name. The portal shimmered, seeming to shrink as the seconds ticked past.
“Take her.” Audrey snapped, shoving Kai towards the portal and not looking back to ensure he followed his instructions.
Sabina and Eli were the last two up the platform, both looking wild and disheveled, spattered in blood. Audrey watched the armies begin to stand behind them and shot an arrow at one who raised a spear to throw it at Sabina’s unprotected back. Eli swore and shoved Bina, hard towards the portal.
Audrey watched Sabina slide into it, but Eli didn’t go, even as it shrunk. Instead, he turned to her, yelling her name as the wyvern roared once more. Audrey broke into a run, grasping his extended arm as she felt the great beast draw breath behind them.
She crashed into Eli, his free arm wrapping around her securely, and they both fell backwards into the vanishing door. They crashed into a dirty, dusty stone floor. Eli winced as he hit his back, hard. The light above them shimmered less and less, but she could still hear the Qunari, the elves, the wyvern.
“Marguerite!” Sabina snapped, kneeling beside the slumped blonde figure on the floor. “What are you…”
“Left hand.” Audrey couldn’t make her hands unfist from Eli’s tunic, but she pierced Mags and Sabina with her gaze. “She’s got something…”
Sabina didn’t need any further information. Instantly, Sabina’s fingers pried Mags apart. The marble dropped on the stone between them and as suddenly as it had happened, the portal above them closed. Audrey looked over her shoulder and saw nothing but a cracked, dirty mirror looming over them, a mate to the one that they had just left behind them.
Safe. They were safe and out of the bloody Crossroads. Audrey allowed herself to melt against Eli, to bury her face in his shoulder to hide the sheer relief and lingering terror. Slowly, gently, his gauntleted hand came up to curl around the back of her head, to twist into her hair softly. “It’s alright, Audrey.” He whispered. “I’ve got you.”
Of course it was. She didn’t need to be clinging onto Eli like a wee girl. She made her fists relax, looked up to find everyone staring at the two of them except Sabina and Mags. Bina’s hand was on Mags forehead and Mags leaned against the stone wall, eyes closed, looking shades too pale.
Eli followed her gaze and he lurched up from underneath her, nearly spilling Audrey onto the ground. “Bina…”
“She’s fine.” Bina frowned and shook her head, glaring at the marble on the ground between them. “Although it seems as if something that does not belong to her has made its way into her pocket. Again.”
You are not yet the thief in the shadows, but you will be. Soon.
Audrey remembered the Oracle’s words, and they sent a shiver down her spine. What, she thought irritably, had Mags gotten them into now?
“So.” Kai broke in cheerfully, eying Audrey with a broad grin. “So, is it chantry mouse, Jenny, or Audrey? For future reference.”
Audrey simply groaned.
KAI YOU SWEET CINNAMON ROLL YOU.
Chapter 11: Our Mothers' Burdens
Our heroes emerge into the unknown after escaping the crossroads.
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
The Abandoned Mansion, Unknown City
Eli pried himself out from underneath Audrey, not quite trusting the quiet, achingly small form crumbled on the floor beside Sabina truly emerged unharmed. Sabina plucked at the strings holding Mags’s cloak around her shoulders, leaning over her collapsed form as gingerly as she could. Eli ripped one gauntlet from his hand to gently cup Mags’s cheek, warm under his bare skin. Her lashes fluttered softly against her cheekbones and he caught the barest sliver of her pale eyes when she peered out from beneath them. Her voice, when it came, sounded hoarse and sleepy. “Eli.”
“Hey Maggie.” He whispered gently as Sabina slipped the wool from her shoulders. He swallowed past the relief, pushing a loose curl behind her ear and conjuring a bright, beaming smile to his lips. “Excellent escape plan. Bonus points for creativity. Execution and timing could use some work.”
“It was by far one of my top ten most dramatic escapes.” Kai interjected with a measured clap of his hands and sparkling mirth in his warm eyes. "Nicely done."
"Wasn't me." Mags croaked. She leaned into his palm, her breath warm on his wrist. Her eyes drifted closed again and Eli frowned. Sabina folded the cloak in deft, neat little movements until it formed a tidy square.
She inclined her head toward Eli as she laid it on the ground. "Here, settle her down."
"She certainly doesn't seem fine." Audrey's shadow shifted until he could tell she'd stood, even without looking back at her. "Ye sure she's…"
"I do not believe anything is wrong that sleep can't fix." Sabina advised while Eli gently laid Mags's head on the makeshift pillow. She didn't protest and Eli suspected she'd already fallen asleep by the time Sabina stripped her own thin jacket from her form and threw it over Mags's small frame.
"We've got stamina draughts in her bag." Eli hovered, uncertain, one hand resting over Mags's shoulder while the other reached for the pack still at her hip.
"Can you say for certain we may not need them later?" Sabina questioned, looking around pointedly. "We appear to have landed in a rather charming, but completely unknown, basement. Where are we?"
"It cannae be the Free Marches.” Audrey nudged a chest with the toe of her boot, lifting the lid to glance within.
“You’re an expert on the geography of basements?” Kieran asked sarcastically. Audrey let the lid of the chest thump close and glared disdainfully towards Kieran.
“Some o’ this is clearly valuable.” She sniffed, tossing her auburn hair over one shoulder with an elegant little flip “Any Marcher worth ‘is weight woulda sold it rather than stashin’ it in th’ cellar.”
Eli laughed in spite of himself and Sabina’s lips quirked up in a tight, tense smile. Mags herself would have been hard pressed to deliver a better observation.
“Well that is a point that seems hard to argue with.” Kai grinned boldly, indicating the opposite length of the basement. “I spy a proper staircase, which certainly means this isn’t a hovel either. I vote we explore.”
“Perhaps we should discuss how we got here first.” Kieran’s form appeared in the corner of his vision, leaning over the abandoned marble on the paving stones, fingers curving forwards covetously.
Oh hell no. Over Eli’s dead body would he give up something that powerful to a stranger.
Eli slapped his bare palm down over the tiny stone quickly and turned his sunny grin up at the mage. “Mags stole that fair and square.”
In the study. He’d seen her pick it up, teased her for playing with orbs of unknown origin, asked what her parents would think. She’d been examining it when he’d turned back to the desk and shuffled some ancient looking manuscripts off to the side, revealing the bright glare of sapphires fashioned into marguerites, Maria’s favorite flower. Mags’s namesake. His stomach dropped to his boots even when he reached for it, desperately praying it wasn’t what he thought it was, even as his fingers confirmed it.
Maria Cadash never took that necklace off. The same way she never forgot to write home and she never missed Mags’s birthdays. Finding that piece of jewelry frightened him so much, he’d forgotten all about what Mags had in her hand. He never saw her put it back. Because, of course, she hadn’t. When could Mags walk away from something forbidden and shiny?
But Eli had been too focused on that necklace, too concerned by the fragment of a letter, to think clearly.
Whatever you do, don’t let Magpie leave Kirkwall.
Bit late for that, Aunt Maria, Eli thought glumly. They certainly weren’t in Kirkwall anymore. Kieran leveled his eyes at Eli’s in steely challenge, refusing to back down. “Are you in expert in arcane magic?”
“More of a dabbler.” Eli stated breezily with a casual roll of his shoulders. “But I’m well aware of the rules when it comes to casual thievery.”
He knew he was risking his own neck, but he curled his fingers against the warm metal surface and plucked it from the ground. He waited for something, anything, to happen. It felt heavier than perhaps it should have, but no eerie light show appeared and no portals sprung up around his head.
“May I?” Sabina asked, holding her own hand out. With an arched brow, refusing to look away from Kieran’s disgruntled gaze, Eli dropped the marble into Sabina’s palm. She held it up and peered into the swirling metal, intricately curled into graceful filigree for something so small. Sabina frowned at it.
“I don’t…” She murmured, tossing it lightly in her palm, brow creasing. “It does seem heavy, doesn’t it?”
“Perhaps it is a key of some kind.” Kieran dropped his hand and wrenched his glare from Eli to watch as Sabina examined the marble.
“It almost seems…” Sabina tipped her head to the side, introspective. Then she shook it, briskly, to clear whatever she’d thought of. “I do not sense anything in it now. Perhaps whatever power existed was depleted?”
Eli turned over his shoulder to pin Audrey with his gaze. She was leaning against a great stack of crates, arms crossed under her chest. Her face was soot stained, her hair frazzled, but her elegant fingers tapped lightly on her arm as she thought. “It fell from her pocket, an’ she picked it up. Th’ knife…”
Audrey dropped her eyes to her boots, shrugged her slim shoulders. “It was close.”
She wasn’t wrong. Eli could still feel the heat of the Qunari mage’s flames, the smell of the wyvern’s poison. Audrey’s arrows bounced uselessly off the hide of the great beast and the terrible cry of the elves rang out as they rushed forward. He was covered in blood, none of it his, but that of the Qunari warriors.
Kai shouted something that could have been watch out, but Eli barely heard him over the slamming of steel against steel. The Qunari warrior brought his blade down with so much force, Eli felt his arms shaking with the effort of holding it back.
If your opponent is stronger and larger, remember you are faster. His father’s words echoed throughout all his lessons and Eli used the force of the next blow against the warrior striking it, the momentum allowed him to spin fluidly and bring his own blade to a weak point in the man’s armor. The warm spurt of blood hit his neck and Eli had a moment to bring his eyes up to the rest of the battle.
The mage. He’d forgotten the mage, but the mage hadn’t forgotten them. It held fistfuls of flames and it’s full attention fixed on the higher platform. Eli brought his blade down, but he didn’t have time to do anything useful. Audrey’s gaze was pointed away, towards Sabina, Kieran, and the wyvern. But he caught Mags’s gaze for a fraction of a second, her gray eyes fiercely determined.
The mage’s fireball exploded out of it’s hands. Mags was just a second faster, a small ball of reckless bravery knocking both her and Audrey to the ground at the very last second.
His fingers curled in Mags shoulder tightly. He could still smell the smoke, still taste the panic on his tongue. There’d been a moment, a heartbeat, where he’d lost sight of both of them in the flames and thought…
“She is fine.” Sabina soothed, reading his thoughts in his eyes. “We will all be fine, but we must figure out where we are.”
“Aye.” Audrey’s voice sounded flat, toneless. “I’ll pop up and take a wee look.”
“Allow me to join you!” Before Audrey could even spin on her booted heel properly, Kai was beside her with his own joyous grin. “Perhaps we will find some locks that need picked or some jewels nobody will miss.”
Eli made a small sound of dismay, but if Audrey heard it, she didn’t react. She simply shrugged as both rogues made for the nearly hidden staircase in the shadows. Sabina sighed wearily and the sound pulled Eli’s gaze away from Audrey’s back and to the rather pointed glare he was receiving.
“Have I ever mentioned how utterly childish the three of you are?” She asked.
“Once. Maybe twice.” He conceded, although how that was relevant right now was beyond him. Sabina rolled her eyes to the vaulted ceiling above them and muttered something in their parent’s mother tongue. He couldn’t be sure, she was always much more fluent than he was, but it sounded suspiciously like ‘Maker save me from the whims of fools.’
“Go after them then.” Sabina directed, placing her own free hand fondly over top of Mags’s frazzled curls. “I’ll keep an eye on this one.”
“Taking the easy job?” Eli joked weakly
Sabina huffed and grinned weakly. “Only until she wakes, yes?”
Eli couldn’t argue with that, so he didn’t. He stood, willing to leave Mags in Sabina’s capable hands, but came face to face with Kieran’s obnoxious beard and hard eyes. Eli lifted an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “You know, keep frowning like that and your face is gonna get stuck that ugly.”
“Eli.” Sabina sighed. Kieran looked down his nose.
“Right.” He muttered. “Wouldn’t want to infringe on what makes you so unique.”
Instead of responding to that, Eli tossed a baleful look over his shoulder down at Sabina. One that he hoped clearly expressed his reservation about leaving her alone with…
“Noli esse stultus.” Sabina snapped impatiently, green eyes sparking with a temper he’d rather not be on the wrong side of. “Do you think I cannot take care of myself? Go.” Sabina jerked her pointed chin toward the stairs in a clear, concise order.
Well, in that case, Eli could hardly argue. He still sent a scorching glare at the other mage as he shoved past, grabbing his blade from where it laid and sliding it back in its scabbard. He paused at the bottom of the stairs, turned just in time to see Kieran kneel beside Sabina.
Frowning, he dove upwards into the darkness.
He emerged at the top of the circling staircase into what seemed to be another cellar. This one stuffed full of food, great wheels of hard cheese, smoked meat hanging from the rafters, great casks of wine. He smelled thick spices and felt a pang of something in his chest. He placed it with his next breath. Homesickness.
Audrey looked up from a sack of potatoes, quirking an eyebrow and raising her hand to indicate the broad room. “Aye, fancy this. Two cellars, one for junk an’ the other for food.”
“Properly fancy.” Eli agreed, sidestepping a hanging braid of onions and another of garlic. This whole room, from the great stone walls to the food piled up haphazardly reminded him of the kitchens under the Viscount Keep. “Remember that time in Kirkwall when we all snuck down to the kitchen to finish off the cake after Mags eleventh birthday party?”
“O’ course I do.” Audrey smiled. “It was her idea, o’ course, but ye were the one who stole th’ wine from the cellar.”
“Mags got stuck in that room when she was small. She never cared for it much after that.” Eli had been in charge of nicking all the wine as they grew up from either his parents or the keep. He smirked across the room at Audrey, meandering through the space as casually as he could. “You were the one who helped me steal the wine from the cellar.”
Audrey’s cheeks colored and she sniffed, tipping her nose up even when she couldn’t hide her smile. “Ye wouldn’t have known which wine was good to steal.”
He hooked his arm around her shoulders, felt her relax against him immediately. “Then we made ourselves sick on it and the cake. Mags’s nanny…”
“Ugh. Which one? I could never keep track…” Audrey shook her head in exasperation.
“Norah had signed on by then, she was the last one.” Eli couldn’t really keep the parade of nannies straight before Norah either. The crotchety old Ferelden was the only one, beyond Varric and Maria, smart enough to give Mags enough latitude to do what she pleased while also reeling her back in firmly when she overstepped. “Norah made us all drink that awful Ferelden tonic to settle our stomachs and sent us back to bed.”
“That woman deserved a bloody estate when she retired.”
“I think she got a knighthood.”
“Kirkwall doesn’t ‘ave knights and ye know it.” Audrey challenged, slapping his chest as they strolled.
“You’ve got me.” He admitted guilelessly. “She’s got her own tavern in Lowtown that has a spot at the bar with Mags’s name on it. Literally, Mags carved it into the chair one night on a dare and Norah ran her out.”
The chair was still there though, and Eli had pulled Mags out of it on more than one occasion the last few years under Norah’s indulgent and patient gaze while the woman chuckled. But Audrey was looking around again, her brow creasing. “Ah… it does look a bit like the basement in the keep, doesn’t it?”
“The good news!” Kai reappeared, dangling from a drop ladder in the corner with a beaming, sunny grin. “It appears to be very much deserted.”
“An’ the bad news?” Audrey asked dourly.
“I’m sure it’s probably haunted.” Kai claimed with the same bright optimism. “I have not found any demons yet, however! Come along dear cousin and fairest lady of many names.”
Without another word, Kai hauled himself back up the ladder. Eli couldn’t be sure, but he thought the elf was humming a little tune under his breath. He turned to Audrey under his arm, to make a snappy comment, but her cerulean eyes had softened as she watched Kai vanish. She turned a helpless shrug in Eli’s direction. “He… he does remind me of ye. A wee bit.”
“You can’t be serious.” Eli tried to will away the slack-jawed horror.
Audrey’s grin was a bit triumphant as she slipped free, catching the ladder herself elegantly. “I’m always serious.”
Eli shuddered in mock horror. How had he ended up in an abandoned, possibly haunted mansion, with nothing but the most unmanageable women in his life, a blade, a long-lost cousin, and a strange mage?
He rubbed his temple and followed Audrey, as he always did. He was, after all, a knight of Starkhaven.
When Kieran knelt down, Sabina dropped her eyes back to the small head resting near her knees. Mags, still and quiet, didn’t stir even as Sabina gently stroked her hand over the silken golden curls spilling down onto the old stone. She couldn’t say why, in particular, she felt as if Kieran could see through her. She wasn’t sure she cared for it.
“Did you feel it too?” Kieran asked softly. “When the power hit us, did you feel…”
She’d felt a surge unlike anything she’d ever felt before. A jolt of pure magic, a pulse of mana like the wind of a storm. It hit her like a wall, but she also tasted it, smelled it. Wildflowers that dotted the mountains of Thedas in blues and pinks, thick, sweet honey as golden as the sun. The warmth of grass after a long summer day, the spray of the ocean’s saltwater.
It reminded her of home. Of Kirkwall standing sure and tall, her mother’s little herb garden, the bustling docks and the thick, sweet cakes bought at the lowtown bakeries, the gardens sprawling beyond the Viscount’s palace. It felt so real, if her eyes had closed, she would have been convinced she’d returned somehow.
“Yes.” Sabina admitted, rolling the marble between her fingers. It felt cool, the metal spirals smooth under her fingers.
“It didn’t come from that.”
Sabina lifted her chin from Mags’s head and tipped it up imperiously. Kieran’s eyes held hers, his jaw tense. “That… whatever that is.” Kieran waved at it dismissively. “It was a sieve, it drew something else through. Like a…”
Like a mage’s staff. It had been her first thought upon holding it, that it seemed like her aunt’s staff, her mother’s blade and her own. A conduit for magic, a tool, a focus. It had some magic of it’s own, of course, but not enough…
Not enough to open an Eluvian’s portal out of thin air.
“Magic lingers in the crossroads and it is ancient.” Sabina argued, the hand on Mags’s curls stilling protectively over her head. “Who knows what built up in it? What triggered the spell to unleash it? It could have been nothing more than a fortunate accident.”
“May I?” Kieran asked, holding out his palm. Sabina hesitated for a moment, peering into his brown eyes. They were focused, clear, sharp. But also, underneath all of it, a bit sad. Sabina could feel that sorrow in her own bones.
“How did you end up in the mirror?” She asked instead. Kieran sighed and reached up to scratch his beard, looking a bit abashed.
“I’ve been searching for something. I thought if it existed, I would find it in the Crossroads. I am, to be completely honest, unsure whether or not it was a fool’s errand that nearly got both Kai and myself killed.” His brown eyes slipped back to hers, held them intently. “The last time I went into a mirror, you ran away.”
“I was a girl.” Sabina’s fingers curled tightly around the marble. “A little girl who fled her country with nothing but the clothes on her back. Of course I ran away.”
“You were right to.” Kieran sighed, almost wistful. “So what made you run into the Eluvian this time? What were you searching for?” He asked gently.
She had not been searching for anything. She had been called. But she couldn’t find the words to tell him, to confess she’d been as helpless as a grown woman as he’d been as a young boy. “You left Skyhold without saying goodbye. I didn’t understand why.”
“It’s not important.” Kieran shrugged. “We’re here now.”
They were. And Sabina couldn’t say why, but she tipped the marble into his offered palm easily. It felt like a weight leaving her shoulders and she slumped back into the concrete wall. “If she does not get it back, she will be insufferable.” She advised.
“I didn’t mean to come here.” Sabina confessed while she watched Kieran stare at the orb in his hand.
“Who means to go anywhere, really?” Kieran asked, rolling the marble. It glimmered, silver metal and hollow center with too much weight. His eyes latched onto Sabina’s as he tested it, before he gently shifted his hand, from the space between the two of them to Mags’s sleeping head.
As soon as he within a handbreadth of her still form, the center of the little orb flickered to life, a dull green glow. Nothing like the shattering brilliant light that had erupted before, but clear nonetheless. A firefly trapped in a jar. Kieran moved his hand away and it dimmed. Pushed it closer and it grew brighter. His eyes flew to hers, both victorious and questioning.
Sabina felt the weight shift to her stomach.
“They said the former Inquisitor had magic. Has it still.” Kieran whispered softly. “They’ve never said anything about the daughter, the one they keep so close.”
The one who flew out of Kirkwall, free as a bird, in spite of the danger. Reckless, foolhardy, brave, beloved .
“I inherited my magic from my mother.” Her mother’s magic, her mother’s quick, elegant fingers, her mother’s gift for music. “As you inherited yours.”
She remembered Kieran’s mother, barely. A dark, shadowy woman with piercing yellow eyes. Kieran pulled his hand away from Mags’s head and frowned into Sabina’s face.
“We all inherit our mother’s burdens.” He muttered cryptically.
*noli esse stultus: don’t be stupid
Norah was a last ditch attempt for a nanny, nobody expected it to work but Mags ran off soooooo many.
Chapter 12: Into the Fire
Audrey, Eli, and Kai realize where they've landed.
Mags finds her mother, but not where she expected to.
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
The Abandoned Mansion, Unknown City
They followed Kai up the ladder into a positively cavernous kitchen. The hearth stood cold and empty, but it was easily large enough for Eli to stand straight within and as broad as the three of them standing a comfortable distance apart. Clearly, it had been built for roasting great spits of meat to feed hundreds of people.
But the only foodstuffs in the cellar below were those that would keep for some time and Audrey saw nothing to contradict Kai's assertion that they'd fallen into a completely deserted home. Thank the Maker for small favors, she felt oddly certain it would have been up to her to soothe any ruffled feathers and she wasn't quite certain where she'd even begin. All her careful training in diplomacy and tact hadn't trained her to explain why they’d appeared in someone’s basement.
But the resemblance to the Viscount’s Keep in Kirkwall didn’t truly set in until they followed a winding, servant’s staircase into an echoing, drafty dining hall. Audrey paused, momentarily disoriented by it. She’d been to many a state dinner in Kirkwall at her father’s elbow, they were after all Starkhaven’s dearest trading partner and the Viscount an old family friend. She felt intimately familiar with the architecture of the keep, and the resemblance was uncanny.
It was, Audrey decided after a moment, the walls. They rose above her in an expanse of white marble draped with odd heraldry and flags Audrey didn’t recognize. The tapestries and paintings in the Viscount’s keep, at least, had softened the imposing facades. The drapings in this dining room only accentuated them. The dining room table stretched nearly the length of the room, black as ebony, gold designs etched into it.
“Those… look like runes.” Eli eyed them suspiciously as they walked past, as if expecting them to catch fire, but they simply glimmered in the setting sun outside. Audrey walked to one of the doors and pressed down on the elaborate gold handle, shaped like a dragon’s skull, peeking out into…
Into the most opulent garden she’d ever seen. The air felt heady with the scent of blossoms. The sun shone, just shy of oppressive, overhead. In the full heat of noon, it would be unbearable, but as it was, she could have spent hours wandering the elegant green stone paths underneath the trees dripping with flowers. From deep within the garden, she thought she heard water trickling from a stream.
“I’ve been in plenty o’ gardens.” She looked over her shoulder and pierced Eli with a beaming smile. “But I’ve ne’er seen anythin’ like this.”
“We’re certainly not in the Free Marches anymore.” Eli agreed, joining her side immediately. The golden light cut a swathe across his tanned face, made his eyes sparkle with golden light deep within the green. He took in the garden before them curiously before looking down his straight, narrow nose at her face. His lips quirked up in a hopeless, self-conscious smile. “What?”
She’d missed him so much these last months she felt weak with relief to have him beside her again. “You’ve got blood on yer beak.” She said, reaching up to tap the bloody smear over his skin.
“Does it bring out my eyes?” He asked gamely, grin broadening, snatching her hand in his. For a split second, they stood like that. Her hand in his, the sun falling through the foliage to frame them in the garden.
Then Audrey had to go and ruin it.
“Ye said ye’d come back.” She sounded like a whining child, even to herself. “Ye left to go to Kirkwall and ye never came back. I waited.”
She should have gone with him. It’d been selfish not to. She’d paid for it in sleepless nights, reading his letters, trying to spin her own cleverly enough to entice him back, then despairing as he set off after Mags.
Eli’s smile dropped and he released her hand. He looked away from her, scratching at the smear on his nose with a frown. “I thought my letters were entertaining. And you had the twins to keep you company, at least. Don’t tell me Kestrel hasn’t been causing mayhem, I know better.”
“They can’t replace ye.” Audrey murmured.
“Don’t tell them that.” Eli teased lightly, turning from the garden back to the opulent dining room. Eli followed the sound of someone rustling and muttering in the other room. She thought it was Kai, or at least hoped it was. Better that than a demon or a ghost. Audrey sighed and trailed after him, but before she’d even crossed the room, Eli whipped back around.
“Audrey…” He sighed her name, suddenly serious. “The thing, in the fade. With the spirit…”
“Don’t pay it any mind.” Audrey fought to maintain an impassive, aloof mask over her features. “Spirits lie.”
“You left Starkhaven.”
“Am I not allowed then?” Audrey asked bitterly. “Everyone else and their mum can up and take off on a whim to lark about but I cannae…”
“Audrey.” Eli interrupted, frowning even more severely. “Everyone else slacks off, you don’t. And there’s no way your father allowed…”
“I’m a grown woman, aren’t I?” Audrey drew herself up and lifted her chin. “Da doesn’t get to…”
She knew Eli would see through her. Eli always saw through her and probably always would. His brow creased and his frown tightened, concern emanating from his features. “What happened?” He asked gently, quietly.
The truth nearly came to her lips. Eli would be as furious as she was, surely, that she’d been traded like a prize cow without anyone consulting her. He’d understand, he’d help her figure out what to do next, at the very least he’d hold her hand while she cried and railed against the unfairness of the world.
But she couldn’t. She couldn’t confide this to Eli, couldn’t bear this dark, terrible thing and risk…
Risk what, exactly?
“Am I interrupting?” Kai asked, eyes flicking between them when he reappeared in the grand archway behind Eli’s shoulder holding a rather gaudy shield, covered in gold leaf, with the same unfamiliar crest as the tapestries. “I have not found much, sadly. I also think there are, perhaps, people patrolling outside this fine estate. Which, I suppose, does make sense. How often does one break in from the inside?”
“Where?” Eli snapped. “What do they look like?”
Kai shrugged. “You can see them from the windows in the study. You can even hear them, but I confess I do not understand a word of what they are saying. If you are both finished with whatever this is I’d be more than happy…”
“Go.” Eli directed. Kai cheerfully tossed the useless shield to the side where it landed with a hollow thunk, whistling as he strolled back out of the room. As soon as he left, Eli looked back at her, but Audrey dropped her eyes rather than meet his intense emerald gaze.
“We should follow him.” Audrey pushed past Eli’s form. A part of her almost wished he would stop her, force her to say something, but he allowed her to glide past with only a small tightening of his frown.
Kai showed them into a rather airy library, the windows overlooking more gardens. With a cheerful wink, Kai unlatched one of them and opened it just a fraction of an inch, beckoning them closer. The three of them crowded silently around the window, embellished with gold trim and ruby red stained glass like a chantry.
She saw the guards on the far wall, sitting on overturned buckets. One of the men laughed, loudly, while a woman nearby rolled a pair of dice onto the ground. They wore plain, cheap armor, but it was emblazoned with the same heraldry in gold.
A third man cheered as the woman’s dice landed, jumping from his bucket and turning his palm to the other player. Strange, foreign words dropped from his mouth and Kai was right, she didn’t understand them.
But she knew them. And when Eli stiffened beside her, she knew he did too. She reached for his arm, allowed her nails to dig into his chainmail while they listened in stunned silence. The cadence of the speech, the rhythm of the words, the way the vowels and consonants rounded and fell into the silence…
It was Eli’s father’s language. Sabina’s mother’s.
“Do you understand them?” Audrey asked numbly.
“Some.” Eli answered tightly.
“You recognize it?” Kai asked quietly, eyes sparkling. “Wonderful! Where are we?”
Audrey looked up into Eli’s face and swore she’d never seen him look so lost, so frightened. She tightened her grip on his arm reflexively.
“It appears…” Eli tried for light and joking, but it fell flat. “That we’re in Tevinter. My parents will be thrilled.”
9:64 Dragon - Cloudreach 7th Day
Mags held out a leather-gloved hand and looked up at the gray sky, letting her hood fall from her hair. The fragile, soft flakes falling from above dusted her cheeks, stuck in her eyelashes, melted in the warm breath she exhaled. She could feel them turn to water against her flushed skin like tears. The silence around her felt deafening, everything muffled, far away. Still, there was a certain beauty to the pine trees laden with freshly fallen snow, the hard packed path leading through the stone gates dusted by what blew from drifts nearly as tall as she stood.
Peaceful, but sad. The same way the Wounded Coast felt at night, with nothing but the waves in the distance crashing far away. How had she gotten here? Where was she?
She heard a thud. Another. Something sharp piercing wood. It echoed, too loudly, in the tomb-like silence. Mags allowed herself to examine the rustic old gate closely. Her heart clenched painfully while she examined the hewn stones and the wooden frame houses tucked inside, the smoke from what she assumed was a small fire just out of her sight rising into the air lazily. She held her breath before she stepped forward, letting her fingers trail across the stones.
She knew this place. She knew it somehow even if she didn’t know how or when she arrived. It felt as familiar as her father’s library, her mother’s study, her own bedroom, but she couldn’t place it even as she flicked through her memories desperately like trying to find the answers in a thick book. She kept her hand on the rough stones while she ducked under the gates, walking up a set of stone stairs.
The dull thud sounded even louder at the top of the first steps, more familiar. Arrows and bolts hitting a target, a sound familiar like childhood lullabies, somewhere up above her if she followed the next staircase. She stood in the center of the square she emerged in, took in the neat, tidy campfire, benches, and sturdy canvas tents calling it home. She approached the fire, head tipped consideringly. Something lay abandoned on one of the benches. A…
A leather journal. His leather journal.
She darted to it instinctively, footfalls muffled in the fresh snow. Her greedy fingers grabbed it and she ran her thumb over the initials embossed on the lower right corner, a V and a T. All of his journals boasted the same initials, even if the covers varied in differing rich hues of leather. Mags could always count on those initials on the front cover, knew the way they felt, knew what they meant.
She flicked the clasp expertly and flipped to the center. The only thing that confronted her was clean, blank paper, white as the snow falling from the sky. Mags shook her head, disbelief warring with shock as she flipped through the pages.
All of them, completely blank. Not a word to be found.
None of Varric Tethras’s journals were completely blank for long, Dad couldn’t bare blank pages. Said they were accusatory . These ones should be covered with his elegant, small handwriting. Careful and deft, he never made the rushed mistakes that littered her own journals, never folded notes, drawings, maps, and flowers in between the pages like she did. He could fill them up just with stories. Hundreds of them.
Something ached in her bones when she closed the book back up and sat it, gently, where she’d found it. Something inside her insisted she’d waltzed into a trap, walked right into danger, because something about the blank journal was wrong, so very wrong.
She just didn’t know what .
Mags swallowed her dread and turned away from the cheerful camp fire. She heard the thud again, arrow splitting wood. She even thought she could make out the hum of a bowstring in the air, the sound echoing like Harding’s, like her own.
She crept cautiously towards the second set of stairs, unable to resist trailing questing fingers over the wooden beams of the house she passed. This was all achingly familiar, a name on the tip of her tongue, and if she could just remember this place…
More canvas tents greeted her, but over top of them she could see a bell tower reaching towards the sky. She followed it’s lines up to the clouds and paused, disoriented.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The clouds circled, gray, but they shouldn’t, there should have been… Something. Something else belonged there, but she didn’t know what it was. The thought made her lightheaded and she ripped her eyes away, alarmed. She could taste something like electricity in her lips, felt a tingle at her fingertips. She clenched and unclenched her gloved fingers to ease the strange feeling, stepping forward as another thud sounded in the silence louder, more like an axe against wood than an arrow. She turned the corner and came to a screeching sudden halt.
A woman. A dwarven woman with snowflakes caught in her vibrant red hair, the crimson locks twisted in a neat bun at the nape of her neck, an arrow dangling from the fingertips of her left hand. She wore chainmail and leathers with a quiver slung across her back, her head tipped to the side while she considered the target in front of her.
She lifted her bow with her right hand, skin bare despite the cold, and green light crackled within her palm. She drew the arrow back while Mags watched, breathless and uncertain, dizzy with confusion. When the woman loosed it, the arrow hit the center of the target with a solid, meaningful thud. She dropped the bow back to her side in one practiced, elegant movement and reached to tuck a wisp of red hair back behind her ear with her left hand.
“Mom?” Mags’s voice came out strangled, high-pitched, almost unrecognizable. Tears burned the back of her throat, gathered in her eyes. It couldn’t be, but a part of her knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. “Mom, is… is it really you?”
The woman in front of her flinched, but didn’t turn around. Mags saw the woman’s shoulders tense, but she reached for another arrow without looking back. She strung it and let it fly thoughtlessly, hitting just beside the one in the center perfectly.
Mags swallowed that feeling of wrongness, of uncertainty, of fear, and took another step before she called out again, reduced to nothing more than a child trapped in a nightmare. “Mom, it’s me.”
This caused a reaction, but it wasn’t one Mags hoped for, not one she could have expected. Fast as a snake, the woman had another arrow in her hand, strung in the bow, and instead of facing the target, Mags was staring down the pointed end of the arrowhead and the haunted, furious gray eyes beyond it.
“You’ve got her down.” Her mother snarled like a wounded beast, green sparks flying into the air from her right hand, the one that she shouldn’t even have because it was wrong her mother didn’t have a right hand, not anymore. Mags raised her palms into the air on instinct more than anything else. Even as the anger etched itself onto her mother’s fine, delicate features Mags saw the way she swept an almost hungry gaze over her form. “It’s not going to work.” Maria snapped furiously.
Yes, this was her mother, Mags never felt more certain of anything. She knew it in her bones, but it wasn’t her mother the way Mags knew her. This woman didn’t have the lines around Maria’s eyes or the ones where her lips quirked up in a smile. Her mother looked young, as young as the day she’d become Inquisitor, no more than thirty, with the anchor that nearly killed her embedded in her flesh and a normal bow in her hand.
This was the version of her mother who shook the world. The one that ensnared her father, the one who stepped out of the breach in…
Haven . The name came to her like a well worn prayer and Mags nearly sighed in relief. Haven, this was Haven and her mother…
Her mother. Mags stepped forward, hands still out in appeasement, tried to bring a hesitant smile to her lips. “Mom…”
Her mother’s voice cut through the silence like a blade and she drew the bowstring back tauter, eyes fierce and wild. Mags froze, eyes locked on the deadly sharp point of the arrow, the shaking hands holding the bow, the eyes that shone brightly with a fine mist of tears. “Mom, it’s me.” Mags pleaded, turning her offered palm upside down into a beckoning gesture despite her own shaking fingers. “It’s just me. I’ve been looking… I’ve…”
A tear slid down her cheek and Mags raised her left hand to brush it off impatiently. She’d been looking for so long, searching, waiting, worrying, and now… “Please… please tell me you know who I am.”
“Is this a game to you?” Maria Cadash demanded, a matching tear to Mags’s own falling down her cheek. She didn’t bother to brush it away. “Some twisted sort of amusement? This how you’re getting your jollies now?”
“Stop it.” Mags pleaded, voice choked. “It’s me, I just… I just want you to come home. Please. Please come home.”
The arrow dipped and her mother’s expression froze into something agonized before she let out a primal, furious yell of frustration. The sound rang off the trees and Maria tossed her bow against the stone walls of the Chantry behind them. It fell with a clatter that made Mags flinch while Maria turned on her booted heel, wiping her face briskly with her hand. “You win!” Maria called back while she stomped away. “I’m twice as miserable as I was! I’d prefer to sit here and bleeding rot in silence than see you steal …”
“Wait!” Mags stumbled after her retreating figure. “Wait, where are you going?”
Maria ignored her, and that in and of itself shot a spike of dread through her heart. Mom never ignored her, never walked away from her, never…
Was this feral, angry thing really her mother?
But the way the woman walked, the way she tore her hand through her hair in frustration, everything in Mags screamed that this was real, that this was right, and she needed to do something, anything, to break whatever delusion Maria Cadash was stuck in.
She scrambled past the arrow studded target, squeezed in between two houses to find herself in another little square as Maria stormed towards the stairs. Mags paused, taking in the facade on one of the wooden houses, the carved marks in the wood.
Tally marks. Hundreds of them. Mags stared at them, agog, trying to count them, multiplying in her head, mind spinning. The last letters they received from her mother came in Kingsway, then nothing. That had been seven months ago and…
Was this a way of tracking time? Hundreds of days passed here in Haven while Mags and her father waited… Something didn’t jive. Another thought that felt muddled, unreal, a flash of something important that Mags couldn’t hold in her hands, water trickling through her fingertips.
This was real. It felt so real, it had to be real, and yet…
And yet, for some reason, part of her mind screamed it wasn’t. It couldn’t be.
She tore herself from the stacked marks, fled down the stairs after her mother’s red hair, caught sight of it vanishing just around the corner. “Mom!”
Maria flinched again, but she resolutely strode forward, head up. Mags chased after her, quickening her footsteps until she finally was close enough to grab the back of her mother’s leather armor, her fingers digging into the smooth material.
Maria wrenched violently away, spinning on her heel to confront Mags again, Mags’s arm hovered in the abyss between them. Maria’s eyes filled with tears and she didn’t bother to try and hide them. She took a step backwards and Mags let her arm fall, empty, to her side.
“This is cruel.” Maria whispered through her tears. “Even for you.”
Mags could barely see through the water clouding her own vision. She blinked it away and tried not to let her voice shake when she spoke. “Why are you acting like this?”
Maria looked away, a tear tracking down one flushed cheek. Anger, bitter and violent, surged through Mags. She wanted her mother, she wanted Maria to see her, to reach out and hold her, to whisper that it was alright, it was all going to be okay, and this… this was the furthest thing from that. Mags’s voice broke into a half sob when she asked the next question. “Don’t you miss me?”
Even through her clouded vision, Mags recognized the agony that broke over Maria’s face like a storm. Maria’s eyes squeezed tightly closed and she pressed the hand leaking green light to her lips, muffling the words only slightly. “I miss her. Maker, do I miss her. I miss them both.”
Mags could scream. “I’m right here!” She reached out again, catching Maria’s right arm, the arm that she’d never touched, never saw, the hand she never held. She ripped it away from her mother’s mouth and twisted her fingers together, squeezing them tight.
“I’m right here.” She whispered, broken. “Please, just look at me. Please, Mommy...”
Maria Cadash’s infamous grey eyes opened, swirling with a storm of emotions. They swept, still ravenous, across Mags’s features, down her shoulder, to the hand clasping hers, the green light seeping through their fingers. Maria shook her head, but even as she did, she fumbled forward, left arm swinging around Mags’s shoulders, pulling her closer until she was pressed against her torso, face in her mother’s neck. She could smell the sweet, spicy scent of Maria’s perfume. Leather. Iron. Some sort of metallic tang she couldn’t place, the only unfamiliar scent when everything else screamed home and safety.
Her mother shook while she embraced her and Mags felt her own tears burn salty across leather, felt warm and wet water splash against her curls and guessed they were Maria’s tears. Then, her mother pressed a searing kiss to Mags’s cheek and pulled away, leaving Mags bereft and adrift.
“This isn’t real.” Maria whispered, wrapping her arms around her torso like she was holding in a mortal wound. Mags watched her lurch silently away, bewildered and frightened. They’d traveled full circle, back to the neat campfire and the empty journal, a silent accusation.
“Dad hasn’t written since you vanished.” She hurled the words at the retreating back, watched them cause a shudder, a suppressed sob. “Not a word, not a single damn word.”
Maria continued to walk unsteadily forward, Mags trailing after, unable to stop talking now that she had started.
“Aveline doesn’t even yell at me anymore. Eli came home, finally, but it didn’t help. Harding looked for you so long she collapsed in the Crossroads, too many stamina potions and not enough sleep, Rylen carried her back and…”
Maria descended the steps to the gates of Haven like a wraith. Mags paused on the top of the stairs, choking on the words, but they spilled out anyway. “I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep without dreaming that I’m chasing you through the Eluvians but I can’t find you and I keep looking, I keep…”
Mags brought her gloved fist to her lips, but she couldn’t stifle the plea. “Come home. Please come home.”
Her mother reached out a hand that trembled visibly, fingers seeking nothing but empty air in the open gate. But the moment her hand traveled far enough into that space, it erupted in sparks of light, spirals like ornate metal bars, shimmering brightly for only a second before vanishing, but clear as day.
“I can’t go home.” Maria dropped her hand and stared back up the stairs, despondent. “I can’t go home because I can’t give you what I don’t have.”
“No! That’s...” Mags just walked through that gate. She tore down the steps and shoved past her mother, through the gate, reaching back for her and tugging Maria forward. But as soon as Maria’s hand hit that barrier the force that erupted between the two of them made Mags yelp and step back.
Inside the gate, Maria shook her head and closed her eyes, swallowing hard. “Just like her. This is… just like her…”
“It is me!” Mags cried.
“You’re watching her. Of course you’re watching her, but she doesn’t have anything to do with this, Solas, please don’t drag her into this.” Maria brought her own hand to her lips. “Please.”
Solas . Her mother thought… her mother believed she was an illusion, a trick, something sent by Fen’Harel to torment her while she languished in this…
This place. Haven.
Except, with a feeling like being punched in the gut, Mags realized what she’d forgotten. A piece of information she could only miss if she was dreaming.
Haven was destroyed. It didn’t exist.
“Where are we?” Mags asked, both desperate to know and desperate to never know.
“You tell me!” Maria exploded, lashing out with a fist to hit the air above her head. It shimmered as she thudded against it, solid but only for her, not for Mags. “Is this my tomb? How long are you planning to leave me here!”
Mags opened her mouth, desperate to try again, to keep trying until her mother realized it was her, it wasn’t a trap, until they…
Mags didn’t get time. A gust of wind at her back blew her curls in front of her face, kicked up the snow into a storm around her, a wall of white so thick she couldn’t even see her mother’s face before her.
“Mom!” Mags screamed, lurching forward.