You shouldn’t be here.
The voice was too soft to be angry, too wrought with concern to be comforting. Not enough to expedite the soul’s awakening. Whatever urgency it wants to convey is lost in the blank, sickly green sea that stretches out before the soul. Its tone muffled by the toxicity of the air, seeping into the ground just before the intended target.
Da’len, why do you not listen?
The soul flickers in response, emitting the air of a defiant child turning over in bed. Five more minutes, it only wants five more minutes.
Child, neither of us have the time for this.
Again, there was a flicker, stronger this time. A spark ignites in the shadow between the endless, dark green void, and the voice. As if yawning, the soul sputters and quietly rises on shaky legs. They do not tremble from newness, but from something just as terrifying. With a renewed fire it frantically searches for the source of the voice, bobbing about with an almost laughable panic.
Where am I? Why is it so dark?
There is no time, da’len. I cannot explain. You do not belong here, not yet.
Not yet? What is that supposed to mean?
A chuckle — or rather the feeling of a chuckle— rushes over the soul as the endless sea is briefly disturbed. By the chuckle or something else, it does not know. Anxiety, pain, irritation; they all rise to choke the souls throat and suffocate it. This is highly unusual, it knows this to be true. Whatever the voice is, it is right above all else.
There is no time to explain, you must wake up.
Is that not what I just did?
No, you must wake into the mortal world. If you do not they will come for you, and we cannot have that. I will not have that.
The urgency that the voice could not get across before washes over the soul as it bobs about in the poisonous green waters. If the soul does not wake soon there will be even worse things than not heeding an elder’s words. Wait, how did they discern a voice’s age? Was age a matter for simple souls to worry about?
There was another chuckle, this time heard rather than felt, and the soul squinted into the shadows beyond itself. The shadows part slightly, enough for it to glimpse the dull carapace of armor and a large, rusted Sulevin blade. Confusion spreads through the soul as it takes a step backwards through the ankle deep waters. Strangely, there was a sense of calm as they took a glance at the figure once more.
You must remember in order to wake up.
The weight of your mother's sword. It no longer hangs at your side. You screamed for them to let you keep it.
A flash of despair ignites the soul. The voice was right. It conjured images of a woman harsh and angular. Her accent had been thick and nearly unreadable at first, especially through the haze of pain. The woman's armor glinted in the firelight while she wrenched the blade from the soul’s hand. The hand that hadn’t been burning a grotesque shade of green.
The soul thrashes against the onslaught of memories, buckling their knees and sending them crashing into the water, no longer ankle deep. Horrible chittering sounds echo and bounce in their mind, thousands of eyes in the dark as they reach for a figure made of pure light. Someone holds their ruined fist and uncurls each of their stiff fingers. Another voice makes an attempt to soothe as they slip away into the dark.
Now the water churns above the soul, no more chuckles, no more softness and concern. For a moment they believe they will be consumed by the void, perhaps digested by some unknown beast. Then there is an ache in their brow, and a terrible, all encompassing agony in their left palm as they are thrust back into the mortal plane.
With a shuddering gasp, Calliope wakes, cold and terrified. As their eyes adjust to the light, it becomes obvious ;whatever happened before their lapse in memory got them into trouble. Massive trouble, to be exact. They make a shaky attempt to shift into a better position and only manage to rest on aching knees. Everything throbs in response, but nothing more than their left hand. Faint green light filters through the dirty bandages. A shock of panic runs through them and straight into their bones, but it isn’t as strong as the chilling breeze that brushes past. The floor beneath their leather shin guards is cold enough to seep through the hide and settle on the inside. Haven hadn’t been this freezing when they walked around just the other day. But perhaps they had lost time.
With another shudder, Calliope squints into the shadows and finds the tell tale edge of a blade leveled too close for comfort. An annoyed sigh escapes them as they move farther back, only to feel the point of another weapon press into their spine. Someone — possibly one of the guards— clears their throat and mumbles something in Common. The dull ache in Calliope’s head prevents them from putting the words together. Instead, they bow their head and focus their attention on the sharper pain in their left palm. It pulsates with their heartbeat, shining brighter with each thump inside their chest. What in the Creators name had they gotten themself into? Keeper had said they might get themself killed on this excursion, but nothing had prepared them for capture by shemlens. Much less for acquiring some...wound with light emitting from it.
A horrendous shriek of metal against stone shocks them out of their thoughts. Metaphorical daggers drive into Calliope’s skull at the sound, but they cannot begin to cover their ears, manacles keep their hands firmly in place. A guard chews out another in the dark for leaving a pair of shackles behind the door, no doubt in case the aforementioned ones fail to hold Calliope. They grit their teeth against the agony pounding in their temples and quickly turn their head to the side as the door just beyond them opens unimpeded. Two figures slowly enter, deliberately blocking the view to the outside. Women, from what Calliope ascertains. Their stances carry considerable weight--not from their armor, but something else. Something truly terrible must have happened, and it seemingly was Calliope’s fault.
One of them walks with a familiar gait, angry and defiant. It’s the short, dark hair, and the thick accent that’s most telling. Yet Calliope cannot parse the words still. There are short taps against the hardened floor as she strides across the room and grabs their left hand. Fear slaps them across the face; a surge of energy crashes over Calliope as they attempt to struggle backwards. Again, there is a blade pressing into their spine, harder this time, more deliberate.
“I’ll ask you again: why shouldn’t I kill you now?”
It seems the terror was enough to get Calliope’s processing problem ended. They shake in the woman’s gloved hands, breath shallow.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Please, let go of me”
Their voice sounds so small in the darkness of the room; the mix of Orlesian and Dalish accents were hollow, fake almost. The woman did not let go. Instead, she increases her hold and a pain shoots throughCalliopes wrist. It hits them hard enough to steal the breath from their lungs. They pitch forward with an angry sob, desperately wanting to curl in on themself.
“You mean to tell me you haven’t a clue what this is?”
“No! I have no idea what that is, or how that got there!”
With inhuman force, the woman shoves Calliope back and lets go of them. Pain erupts along their left side as they suck in a deep breath, willing themself not to shed tears. Not here in front of these shemlen. If they learned anything, it was that humans were an angry lot, angrier than the Keeper on a bad day.
Another set of boots make their way across the room towards Calliope. They flinch in anticipation, only to hear a soothing ‘hush’. They cautiously glance upwards into the face of a hooded woman — the second figure — her expression unhappy but not towards Calliope. She is close enough they can see the spray of freckles across her pale cheeks, the worry lines etched into her forehead.
“May I help you sit back up? I promise I won’t hurt you”
An Orlesian accent, but with something more, a close copy of Calliope’s. They simply nod and let the other woman guide them to a marginally more comfortable kneeling position. All the while, they keep their eyes locked onto the first woman; her angular jaw twitches with something akin to rage. For a second, Calliope lets their expression change, betraying their seemingly vulnerable stance. Their anger wells as deep as their pain. The feeling is mutual.
“You know as well as I do that we need them, Cassandra”, the softer woman mumbles, taking a step back.
There is nothing but a grunt in reply, just as unrecognizable as her accent. It bothers Calliope deeply to not be able to place it, makes it harder to know exactly what’s going on. Always know your enemy.
“Do you remember anything? How this all began?” the other woman — not Cassandra— asks. “It would do us good if you did”
For a moment, Calliope shuts their eyes, attempting to conjure any memory at all. There are flashes, the vague sound of insects trilling, perhaps...a woman? Everything else is smeared and thinned out. They shake their head and sigh wearily, breath fogging in the cool air.
“There was...a woman? She might have reached out to me but, after that there’s nothing. I’m truly sorry”
“A woman?” Not-Cassandra glances towards the real Cassandra, “There was no one with you for at least half a mile”
There is a scoff in the half-light as Cassandra rises from her spot against the wall, “Because everyone who attended the Conclave is dead. Except for them”
Shock freezes Calliope in place. Dead? There were hundreds of people attending that event — the Conclave, Cassandra called it. How could they be the only survivor? All the faces Calliope saw before entering the Chantry flicker before their eyes. The two qunari who were so kindly; they were able to spot twins from a mile away. It was a comfort to see a pair like them at such an event. They thought of their own twin brother, Elessar, and how much they missed him and wished for his presence beside them. Now they were sick to their stomach imagining how horrible it would have been to lose him in what surely had been a massacre. Ever so softly they manage to whisper.
“All those people? Dead? That’s...impossible”
Cassandra, now only feet away, shakes her head, “Sadly for us, it is not. You are the only survivor”
“I- I would never think of such a thing, I promise you. I’m a scout from a Dalish clan, we don’t have any intention of killing your people, let alone with such a heavy Chantry presence. You have to believe me”
As Calliope shakes from the tips of their ears down to the heels of their boots, there is nothing but silence. The two women consider each other for a moment, heightening Calliope’s panic to a tipping point. If they are to keep quiet any longer, Calliope fears sickness is in their future. Creators, they really stepped in steaming halla shit this time.
Thankfully, Cassandra is the first to relent and steps towards Calliope for a second time. There is no aggression, no anger, as the woman bends down to unchain their shackles from the wall. She speaks aloud, but not for the benefit of Calliope.
“I will take them to the rift. Perhaps it would be better to show them”
There’s no protest from the other woman, who simply bows her head in response. Thin, red strands of hair fall out of her hood and Calliope watches as she hastily tucks them back with a smirk. The very move has an air of manipulation about it, as if she wants Calliope to see her do it. Cassandra moves into their vision as the other woman leaves and they wonder what that ploy was. To make her seem more intimidating? Or to say that she knows Calliope is guilty?Shemlen confuse them, especially when they think they’re right.
Cassandra yanks them to their feet. Her gauntlets only dig into their flesh deep enough for them to be uncomfortable. It only worsens as they step outside into the chill morning air. Shivering, they brace themself against the bright light of day, but it could never prepare them for what sits, churning in the sky.
A putrid green crack disrupts the clouds and rains down dubris from its glowing center. Around them, guards, civilians, and even a few children stop to glance upwards into the shattered heavens. Calliope’s stomach turns into knots as they stare, completely in awe. Not days before, they were a scout on their way to a meeting that could have determined the destinies of thousands. Now, it seems they had done the human Divine’s job for her, rather spectacularly in fact.
“It’s a rift into the world of demons that grows with each passing hour. It appeared when the Conclave was destroyed. That is what you stepped out of,” Cassandra says, her face creasing with anger as she turns to face Calliope.
“I...have no words. All I can tell you is that I have no idea how I could have thought of that, let alone done anything to make it real. My clan sent--”
Above the crowd, there is a flash of sickly light, and a shooting pain takes hold of Calliope’s left hand. It forces them to their knees, stealing the very breath from their lungs. Snow soaks into their boots as they struggle to right themself. Their vision blurs slightly as the pain reaches its peak. It takes everything in Calliope not to heave all over Cassandra as she kneels close and steadies them with a strong arm. Her voice is a thick sludge running into Calliope’s ears, yet somehow they manage to follow it.
“The mark is killing you. I wasn’t sure how I could tell you that without showing you first. There isn’t much time, but you are the key to stopping this”
Through the haze, Calliope nods, swallowing painfully as they attempt to clear their vision.
“There’s nothing I want more than to fix this. Whoever -- or whatever-- did this threatens everyone”
Calliope inhales sharply and steels themself to look up at Cassandra, her dark eyes searching them for weakness. Hopefully, she isn’t a templar--Creators, they hope she isn’t.
“I will do whatever it takes to fix this. You have my word”
That seems to be all Cassandra needs. She offers Calliope a hand, and they gratefully take it, noting the odd symbol etched into her plate. An eye against what looks like a sunburst. Their fears of her being a templar morph, into a fear of some unknown Chantry entity. Who else cares this deeply about the humans’ Divine? Is it possible she was leading them to their death, whether or not they agreed to help? For now, those concerns sit in the pit of Calliopes stomach and curdle.
Cassandra pushes them to walk in front of her, a firm hand around their forearm. If it’s for Calliope, or to show the civilians that she has this under control, is anyone's guess. Hundreds of hungry, vengeful eyes lock onto them both as they trudge forward through the snow. Calliope remembers the same look in a pack of wolves almost fifteen years prior. They were starved and nearly frozen to death. At the time, Calliope had urged them on, called for them to attack. Now, seeing that animalistic rage, they avert their gaze. Goading the enemy in this situation will get them torn to shreds; Cassandra wouldn’t be able to stop the horde.
“They demand my death with their eyes. You can’t mistake that for anything else,” they say, just loud enough to elicit a scoff from a nearby woman. Calliope simply keeps moving.
“Divine Justinia was the head of the Chantry. The Conclave was meant to broker peace between mages and templars. To them, you’ve taken away their hope for a better future, regardless of which side they were on” Cassandra replies, a heaviness in her voice.
“I’m aware. Your people aren’t the only ones who walk Thedas, you know. The Dalish would have been just as affected by her decision”
Cassandra sighs as she walks Calliope through the first set of gates, reaching for something on her belt. At first, Calliope panics internally, seeing the woman go for a dagger hanging at her hip. The next moments flash before their eyes and they are sure pain will follow, but it does not. Instead, she selects a large key ring and unlocks the cuffs around their wrists. They fall away with a clatter and Cassandra turns away, walking towards the short path to a stone bridge.
Annoyance fills Calliope’s chest as they continue after her. Not even a word from her at their comment? Are all shemlen this short with people, or just her?
“Did you not hear me? Or are you choosing to ignore what I said?”
“I didn’t see the point in giving you a response. You know why you’re here”
Now the annoyance rewrites itself with rage, neither of them notice the Breach light up once more.
“Is it not enough that I have no memory of what happened in that Chantry? You really think I would willingly give myself something that’s slowly killing me?”
Cassandra turns on her heel with a withering glare. In the background a guard shouts, both fail to notice even that.
“Not intentionally. An assassin can make mistakes, in fact they often do”
“How dare you! I had no intention of killing your priestess, or whatever she is! What can I do to show you that?!”
There’s a beat of silence before the demon makes contact with the bridge. Time seems to slow down as Calliope finally takes note of the flaming ball of debris hurtling at them. Beneath their feet, the stones shatter and crumble, rendering the two airborne. Once again, Calliope thinks to themself that the Creators must really be angry with them.
And perhaps they are, considering how hard they slam into the frozen ground below.