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Of Wolves and Lionhearts

Chapter Text

“It’s too early.”  The hearth-mistress whispered to Dashana, lips pursed tight and the branches of her tree like vallaslin pulled tight from stress.  “The child comes too soon, too harshly.  There is a chance that neither mother nor babe will survive if a decision is not made between the two, Keeper.”

Dashana frowned, torn between decisions.  The idea of being forced to choose between the life of one she had known for years and the life of a babe, a precious piece of the future of the elvhen, was difficult.  It was the type of choice that even her many years as Keeper of Clan Lavellan could not make easier.

“My baby.”  Samahl whimpered suddenly from beside them where she was nestled against the pelts and furs on the floor of the healing aravel.  “Keeper, please, my baby, my daughter.”

Dashana stared down at the woman silently, sorrow already beginning to weave its way into her heart.  Samahl was pale, her normally smooth dark hair in disarray and plastered to her sweat soaked face.  Dashana could see death in her eyes, the knowledge of the sacrifice to come, and knew that it was already too late.  The horrible sadness of knowing that she would never see her child grow or laugh or one day take its place among the elvhen was already plain upon Samahl’s face.  But beyond that was a quiet sort of acceptance, a noble sort of pride, the strength that had gotten Samahl through her pregnancy after her bond-mate had been killed by shemlen months before.

“The babe.”  Dashana ordered the hearth-mistress.  “You must save the babe above all else.  It will be a part of the future of the elvhen and we must do all that we can to protect it.”  It was after all, not truly her choice to make.  It was, and had always been, Samahl’s right to choose to sacrifice herself for her unborn child.  As a woman, as the Keeper of the clan, Dashana could do naught but honor that decision.

The hearth-mistress nodded solemnly and turned back towards Samahl’s side.  The woman murmured prayers to Sylaise as she worked, the sound echoing in the aravel as she entreated the goddess for aid in the child’s delivery.

Dashana knew it would not work.  She loved the Creators as much as the next Keeper, kept their stories and their customs as best she could, prayed daily.  Still she had seen enough births in her time to know that not even her healing magic would be able to aid Samahl in surviving.  One could not heal a broken heart and a broken will with spells alone.  Samahl, for all her strength, had lost the spark that pushed her to live when they had planted a tree atop her bond-mate’s grave.  She had long suspected that Samahl would have already joined her beloved if it were not for the pregnancy.  All Dashana would be able to do was ease the woman’s passing and give her the comfort of knowing that her child would be cared for if it survived.

Dashana knelt beside Samahl’s head, reached out, and grabbed the woman’s hand tightly in her own.  “Your child will be loved lethallan.  Your daughter will cared for and protected by the entire clan.  We will tell stories of your love and your sacrifice, of the skill of your bow and the swiftness of your feet.  We will sing songs of you so that as it grows your child will never doubt your love for them.”

Ma serannas Keeper.”  Samahl breathed the words out as tension visibly drained from her face.  “Will you sing for me now?  Give me my rites so I might step from this life into the Beyond?”

“You cannot go yet Samahl.”  Dashana reminded her gently.  “You must help us for as long as possible if you wish the babe to live.”

“She will live.”  Samahl sounded so very certain suddenly.  “My daughter, his daughter, will survive.  She will have her father’s strength and none of her mother’s weakness.”

“You are not weak da’assan.”  Dashana said firmly.  “You cannot be weak.  For her you must have strength enough for this one last task.

“Then sing for me, so that the worry of my passing will not haunt me, so that I might focus my remaining self on her.”  Samahl panted, her features twisted in pain.  “Give me this comfort Keeper, please.”

Dashana could not find it in herself to deny Samahl that bit of comfort even if a birth was no place for a funeral dirge to be sung.  Carefully she laid her staff on the floor of the aravel beside her and wrapped her other hand around Samahl’s.

After a moment’s pause Dashana opened her mouth and sang.

She sang of the Golden Dawn and of the glorious peace their ancestors had once found in the quiet of the uthenera.  She sang to Falon’Din, begged him to guide Samahl into the Beyond safely.

Dashana sang as Samahl screamed in agony, as the hearth-mistress coaxed her forward, pushed her to give more, to be stronger, to push harder.  Dashana sang as the cries of the babe, a daughter just as Samahl had been so determined to believe, rang through the aravel alongside Samahl’s exhausted sobs.

Dashana sang as the aravel slowly grew quiet around her and the hand she clutched in her own grew limp and cold.

Dashana sang until her voice grew hoarse and her throat painful, for there was little else she could do.

One of the harshest truths a Keeper ever faced was the realization that they could lead their clan but they could not always save them.

Chapter Text

Rysgil did not come into her magic as she grew older like so many other mages did.  She, instead, was born into it.  Frost and fire sparked from her fingertips before words ever formed in her mind.  Nature bent around her in ways that made the clan uneasy.  Her sorrow heralded thunder and lightning, her laughter brought playful breezes that danced through the silk sails of the aravels.

She was sweet tempered and quiet but her power, the ebb and flow of the Beyond that twined itself around her so powerfully that even those without magic in their veins could feel its pull, unsettled many.  There were after all already two mages in the clan, Keeper Dashana and her First Fiwyn.  While a third was not overly burdensome and would normally be accepted as the Keeper’s Second, there were whispers of discontent about her presence that only grew as she grew in both age and power.

Keeper Dashana kept her close for the first few years, sang songs of a woman named Samahl that Rysgil did not remember but loved anyways in an absent and hungry sort of way.  She learned at the Keeper’s knee, learned the stories and the songs of the clan, learned about the Creators and their ways, learned about magic and the Beyond.

She took to the lessons quickly, like the other children in the clan took to games and childish fun.  She stared at them often from a distance, the fingers of one hand tangled in the ends of the thick black curls that fell in a riot around her small face, unable to curb the curious sense of longing that weaved its way through her heart.

When she asked the Keeper why she could not play like the others, why she was kept separate, Dashana told her that it was because she must learn.  Dashana told her that her power, her magic, was strong, that it had come early, too early, in a way that magic did not come to the elvhen anymore.  She impressed upon Rysgil that she must learn to control herself, that she must learn to harness her abilities and to resist the pull of the demons that would seek her out as she slumbered.

Despite her special sort of isolation Rysgil heard the whispers in the camp.  She saw the way the rest of the clan cut their eyes in her direction at every meal and muttered behind upheld hands that perhaps, just perhaps, demons had already come for her.  That maybe her eyes, red as the blood her mother had spilled to give her life, were a sign of what she truly was, a creature from the Beyond that had stolen the skin of a babe of the elvhen.

Rysgil learned early on that she was dangerous and that the Dalish, for all they cherished tradition and fought to preserve their culture, feared anything they found they could not understand or control.

She pushed herself into the studies the Keeper assigned her in the hopes that if she sang perfectly, if she learned the stories and the rites and the history perfectly, they would come to accept her.  She hoped desperately that her place as the Keeper’s Second would earn her the love of her clan in time.

She grew quickly, grew taller though still small, still petite, and her powers grew with her.  They were a swirling mass of energy that begged to be used, that howled and whimpered within her if she went too long without casting a spell or performing a ritual.  She learned to control it slowly, learned to call fire and frost and sparks of lightning as easily as breathing.

Keeper Dashana’s songs, the stories of Samahl and her bravery, stopped eventually but Rysgil forced herself not to ask for them, not to miss them.  Instead Rysgil kept to herself and her studies, she kept to the outskirts of the camp and the Keeper’s aravel.  She learned herb lore and read constantly from the few tomes the Keeper kept close at hand as she tried desperately to keep the swell of magic within her under control.

She learned to ignore the creeping sort of sadness that overtook her every time the Keeper or some other clan member frowned in her direction.  She learned to blend with the shadows, to creep along the corner of the camps at night so she could listen to the storyteller weave his tales at the fire side.  It was a lonely existence but Rysgil learned to deal with it as she had learned to deal with everything else.

She had seen eleven winters pass when everything changed.

Howls came in the night, a rolling symphony of noise in the trees around the camp that snapped Rysgil out of a dead sleep.  Her heart pounded heavy and hard and for a moment there was silence but then all Rysgil could hear was the horrible way the halla screamed.  She leapt from her pallet as few seconds behind Keeper Dashana as the woman tore open the door to her aravel, staff in hand.

Wolves had come.  Great terrible beasts with thick fur and sharp fangs.  Monstrous things with bright eyes that reflected the light of the camp fires like embers in the dark of the forest.  Keeper Dashana’s magic flowed out into the air alongside her Second’s, melded with the knives and swords and arrows of the warriors of the clan as they fought to protect the precious halla who screamed in fear and cried out in pain as their ghostly pelts turned red with blood.

While the camp scrambled to kill the wolves Rysgil found herself frozen, body turned to stone and eyes riveted in a helpless sort of fascination as she watched the battle.  Her attention was capture not by the protectors of her clan or the magic of the Keeper, but by the wolves themselves.  She found them beautiful in a terrible sort of way, muzzles stained dark with blood and eyes bright with the same sort of wildness that had long twisted its way through her breast as they snapped and snarled.

They were vicious creatures, strong and free in all of the ways that mattered.  They were everything that she had ever really wished to be deep in the heart of her.

When it was over, when the wolves were dead or gone and the clan had begun to settle in to care for the wounded, three of the halla lay slaughtered in the pen.  Another two were grievously injured and unlikely to survive without diligent care.

“It is her fault.”  Senros, the clan’s battle-master, snarled as he threw up a hand in Rysgil’s direction.  “The child is a curse.  Even now she draws Fen’Harel’s minions to us, brings wolves into our camp as we sleep to slaughter the halla and cripple our aravels.  You should have left her in the woods as a babe Keeper.  Then perhaps misfortune would not haunt us so.”

Silence.”  Keeper Dashana snarled.  There was an anger in her face and voice that Rysgil had never seen before but there was also a creeping sort of resignation behind it all that made her stomach clench in fear.  “We are not shemlen who cower from our children at the first sign of magic or see demons behind every corner.  I would no more abandon an innocent child to the forest than you would have left one of your sons to the elements Senros.”

“She is not innocent Dashana.”  Senros sneered and Rysgil could not contain her flinch at the hatred in his gaze when it turned towards her.  “She is a portent, an omen of ill will sent by the Trickster himself.  We would be well free of her.”

“That is not our way.”  Dashana protested again.  “With so few mages in this clan she has value as Second.  I will not abandon her or her skills to the forest, not when she could aid the clan in years to come.”

Arlathvhen.”  Fiwyn, Dashana’s First, spoke up suddenly.  Blonde and beautiful in a way that never failed to catch the eye Fiwyn had never liked Rysgil, had always sneered and snapped at her without fail.  “It comes soon, the meeting of the clans, only a few months away.  We could present her there, see if there is another clan who is willing to take her freely or to make an exchange.”

There was a general murmur of agreement from the others who had gathered around the argument and Rysgil felt hurt twist deep in the pit of her stomach.  They wanted to get rid of her, wanted to foist her off on another clan to be free of her.

“I swore to Samahl that I would care for her, that the girl would be loved and protected.  Already I have broken this promise, in spirit if not in deed, and you would ask me to cast it away for good.”  Dashana sounded sad almost but Rysgil was not fooled.  The resignation was strong in the Keeper’s eyes, in the set of her shoulders.  Keeper Dashana’s protests were more a formality than anything else.  If all went well then Rysgil would leave after the Arlathvhen, would be sent to a clan filled with strangers who would undoubtedly hate her as much as her own clan did.

Unable to bear hearing the conversation that would follow Rysgil turned and dashed away.  She hit the tree line without anyone the wiser, without anyone caring enough to wonder where she had gone.  She didn’t know how long she ran, branches tore at her hair and her skin but she didn’t care.  Her feet were swift, her steps silent, and her sobs little more than quick shuddering breaths.

She ran until she could barely breathe, until her legs screamed and her bones ached, until the sadness of knowing that the Keeper, the closest thing she’d ever had to blood kin, would send her away was little more than a hollow ache in her chest.  Face tear stained and hair a mess of leaves and tangles Rysgil finally collapsed at the mouth of a small cave, the stone scrapping her palms raw.

She laid there in a daze, eyes wide open and unseeing as her chest shuddered.  Everything hurt, her hands, her feet, her heart.  All of it hurt, all of it radiated pain that twisted back in on itself in some giant circling knot of fear and agony that left her shaken and shattered.

Maybe, she could not help but think, the Keeper should have given her to the forest after all.

A whimper and the press of a cold nose against her cheek finally snapped her out of the stupor she’d fallen into.  Slowly Rysgil forced her eyes to focus, forced the haze in her mind to clear.  In front of her, tiny eyes a bright gold and fur a soft looking black, was a wolf pup.  It stared down at her curiously, small nose wiggling as it took in her scent.

Unable to help herself Rysgil lifted a hand up and gently reached out towards the creature.  It startled, tumbled backwards a step and tipped over, its paws flailing in the air in a way that made an unexpected giggle came tumbling from Rysgil’s mouth.  The pup huffed at her once it had straightened itself out, tiny ears perked forward in interest before it yipped and slowly crawled towards her.

Distracted from the sorrow that threatened to choke her Rysgil carefully sat up and looked around as she wiggled her fingertips at the pup.  It crept closer to her slowly as she took in her surroundings only to let out a sad breath at what she saw.  There, just past the mouth of the cave she’d collapsed in front of, was the body of a larger wolf, thick grey fur covered in blood with a familiar feathered arrow sticking out of its shoulder.  Even from a distance she could tell that it was dead.

There was no sign of any other pups in the small cave and for a brief second Rysgil considered leaving the cub that was currently chewing happily on her fingertips behind.  Her clan, and she used the term loosely, would not be pleased with her bringing a wolf into the camp, not after the attack on the halla.  Not with the way they felt about Fen’Harel and anything associated with the Trickster.  Not with the way they felt about her.

Rysgil looked down at the cub and felt something within her harden.  She would not leave it to die in the forest as Senros had wanted to leave her.  She would take the cub with her and dare any of the clan to harm the pup.  Her magic was strong enough to defend herself and the cub if she had to, she knew it was.  Plus they would seek to be rid of her soon anyways with the Arlathvhen fast approaching.

They would deny her a proper clan, would deny her friendship and joy, would deny her life if Keeper Dashana would but agree with them.  They would not deny her this.  They would not deny her a companion any longer.  If they would not give her care, would not welcome her into their hearts, then she would find care elsewhere.

Rysgil reached out, grabbed the pup around the middle carefully, and pulled it close to her chest despite the way it wiggled and nipped at her hands.  The cub would come with her.  If they believed her a portent of Fen’Harel, a part of the Trickster’s vengeance, then a wolf she would be.

The cub would be her partner, her friend and her family.

After all real wolves had packs and she would be no different.

Chapter Text

In a fit of spiteful rebellion she named the pup Harel, for if they would consider her as one of Fen’Harel’s minions then it was only fair her pack carried the name as well.  The fight that ensued once her new companion was discovered was brutal and loud.  It filled the entire camp with noise, shouts of outrage and anger loud enough that they unsettled the remaining halla.

“She mocks us Keeper.”  Senros snarled and Rysgil could see agreement on many of the faces in the crowd.  “She flaunts her devotion to him and expects us to welcome her trickery with open arms.”

Arlathvhen.”  Rysgil spoke up for the first time, unwilling to be timid and biddable in the face of their anger and scorn any longer.  Being meek had gotten her nothing so far and she was done trying to form herself to their desires.  “Fiwyn said it last night.  Arlathvhen comes soon and then you will be well rid of me and him both.”

“I will not allow you to force the clan to harbor your mongrel.”  Senros took a step forward then as his hand reached behind him for his bow.  “You will not be allowed to keep the beast for any length of time.”

Rysgil focused, let lightning well up at her fingertips, careful not to shock Harel who was tucked in the crook of her arm, muzzle nestled underneath her chin for safety.  She held her hand up in front of her, let the lightning arch from fingertip to fingertip in sharp warning.  Senros stopped, indecision on his face.  She was young yes, but the strength of her mage craft was already well known within the clan, was the source of much of their discomfort with her.

“The first one of you who tries to touch him or me will not live to do it a second time.”  Rysgil kept her shoulders set in a straight line and her arm steady out in front of her.  She was terrified, scared beyond reason deep down inside, but her hurt and her anger, her determination to protect Harel, allowed her to keep it hidden.  She would stand strong in this, would stand and protect Harel as Samahl had once stood strong in order to give her life.

Atisha Senros.”  Atlen, a quiet and lonesome seeming hunter who kept to himself more often than not, spoke up unexpectedly.  “Let the da’len keep her pet.  It is no more than a pup and she will likely be gone from us before it grows large enough to bring trouble.”

“Be silent Atlen.”  Senros whirled to face the other hunter.  “You would let your affection for the harellan’s mother cloud your judgment.”

“And you would let your grief cloud yours.”  Atlen responded calmly and Rysgil found her attention drawn to him as it had been drawn to the wolves.  She could see the tension in his deceptively loose shoulders, could see it in the way he kept his fingers spread and his hands at the ready.  Suddenly she knew that while Senros might be the clan’s battle-master Atlen was a hunter to truly be feared.

“You have no right.”  Senros snarled, the thick lines of his vallaslin twisted harshly with the expression.  “You speak of something you know nothing about and I will not tolerate such disrespect.”

“And yet you defy the Keeper’s wishes for the girl at every turn.”  Atlen smiled then, slow, steady and unexpectedly threatening.  “Tell me Senros, which act of disrespect is greater?”

Senros started at Atlen silently and Rysgil watched the exchange between the two with baited breath.  There was something between the two men, a sort of tension that Rysgil could feel even if she did not understand its source.

“Fine.”  Senros finally spit as he turned back in her direction.  “Let the len'alas lath'din keep her monster until the Arlathvhen and pray to the Creators that we do not regret it.”

Rysgil stayed tense, kept her lightning close to the surface of her skin as Senros stalked off and the rest of the clan slowly drifted back to their chores and tasks.  Keeper Dashana took a step forward and reached a hand out in her direction but Rysgil flinched back and away from her.

The older woman stared at her with a slightly stricken look before she sighed, lowered her hand and tightened her grip on her staff.

“Your cub will be welcome in my aravel Rysgil though I warn you now to keep him close at hand.  For his safety and your own.”  Dashana left after that.  She left Rysgil standing on the edge of the clearing in the center of the camp, Harel tucked close to her chest and magic rolling beneath her skin.

It felt almost like a betrayal, like an abandonment, that the Keeper did not try harder to comfort her but Rysgil shook it off as best she could.  The Keeper would send her away at the Arlathvhen anyways, being abandoned a bit early was no surprise.

“You should mind her words da’len.”  Atlen was the only one who had stayed and he stared at her from across the space between them, dark green eyes narrow and watchful.  His whisker like vallaslin was a dark green as well and stood out perfectly against his tanned skin and dark hair.  “Senros has retreated for the moment but if your pup is caught in the camp I cannot guarantee it will survive.”

“Why did you help me?”  Rysgil couldn’t help but blurt out the question.  No one in the clan ever came to her defense like that, most considered her to be exactly what Senros had called her, either a traitor to their clan or a dirty child that no one loved.  Even the Keeper crouched her arguments in the idea that Rysgil might one day be useful.  Above all else Rysgil was sure that the last thing she’d ever want to be now was useful to anyone but herself and Harel.

“There is much of your father in you.”  Atlen’s unexpected words caused Rysgil to snap her mouth shut.  “You have his curls, his nose.  His stubborn pride.”  Atlen smiled then, wistful and almost gentle.  “But I see much of Samahl in you as well, in the curve of your eyes, in the quiet of your steps.  Your mother was as glorious on the hunt as she was beautiful and you will grow to be her match in both ways I am sure.”

Rysgil could not find her words.  The lightning at her fingertips died down as she stared at Atlen in shock.  Only the Keeper had ever talked about her parents but even those conversations, the songs and the stories she had so cherished, had stopped.  Atlen turned from her then before Rysgil could gather her thoughts.

“Oh.”  Atlen paused a few feet away and turned to look back at her over his shoulder.  “Did you know that there are some Dalish who find kin amongst the beasts of the forest?  Who use wolves and bears and other creatures to aid them in their hunts and their battles?”

Eyes wide in both shock and interest Rysgil could only shake her head at him.

“Oh yes.”  Atlen nodded, that same gentle smile from before on his face.  “Clan Lavellan has not produced a Ranger for many years but I think that perhaps,” Atlen’s eyes flickered down to where Harel was curled against her chest, “that might change sometime in the future.”

Rysgil could only stare at his back in amazement as Atlen walked away, her mind a whirlwind of thoughts.  A Ranger.  Someone who worked with beasts, who lived and fought with a companion just as she wished to live and fight with Harel.

Determination roared through Rysgil then.  Arlathvhen or no Arlathvhen, clan or no clan, mage or no mage, she would be a Ranger one day.  She would hone herself and Harel into a team, would make them one unit so that no matter what battles she might face she would not face them alone.

~~~

Months passed and Harel grew quickly.  Intelligent and sharp witted the wolf pup kept close to Rysgil’s side as if he could sense the animosity of the rest of the clan.  He watched the clan closely, bright golden eyes narrow and watchful despite his young age.  For her part Rysgil withdrew from the clan even further.  She stopped sleeping in the Keeper’s aravel, stopped attempting to interact with the clan or watch the other children at their lessons or their games.  Instead she devoted her time to her studies, her magic and, most of all, to Harel.

She spent her days as far from the camp as she dared to go, tramping through the forest with Harel ever faithful at her side.  Her nights she spent curled up around Harel on the outskirts of the camp, bedded down between the roots of one of the great trees that populated the forest.  Always she watched Atlen when he was nearby, fascinated by him and the way he moved, the way his daggers flashed in the firelight as he practiced on the edge of camp at night.

By the time the clan set off in the direction of the Arlathvhen Rysgil was determined to be a Ranger, determined to keep Harel by her side, to forge her own way ahead.  No matter what clan took her she would not forget her chosen path just as she would not forget Atlen and the kindness he had shown her.

She would allow no other to steer her future again, would allow no clan to force her down a path she did not wish to take.

She and Harel both would be free.

~~~~

Rysgil stood tall and proud, her wild curls braided back from her face and left to tumble down her back, with Harel at her side as the Arlathvhen judged her and found her wanting.

Rage seethed deep and harsh in her breast and was echoed in Harel’s low, vicious growl where he pressed himself against her knee.  She sank her fingers into his thick black fur, used his warm and familiar presence as an anchor to keep from lashing out with her magic.  They stood before her, these Keepers, and looked at her like she was a halla or one of the shem’s horses.  Some beast of burden to be judged and bought for a price.

Rysgil bit back her sneer.  They would not even have to buy her.  Keeper Dashana would give her away, free and clear, but still they did not want her.  A member of Clan Lavellan she would remain, for better or worse, or until such a time where Keeper Dashana gave her a pack and turned her away into the forest.

Or until she and Harel left on their own.

One or the other was bound to happen eventually, Rysgil knew.  She would just have to be prepared.

~~~

Whatever goodwill the clan had shown her before was gone after the Keeper’s attempts to be rid of her at the Arlathvhen were unsuccessful.  Rysgil saw her twelfth winter pass and the bitter cold it brought was no match for the disdain she faced each day from those who should have loved and protected her.

Harel and Atlen were her only comforts.  Harel grew larger by the day and Atlen spoke with her on occasion, told her stories of her mother and showed her tricks with his knives.  He even gave her a present for her name-day, bits of precious stones and metals tied with leather cords that he asked her permission to braid into the riot of her curls.

Spellbound and heart hammering she let him.

“Dawnstone for health, lazurite and stormheart for strength, pyrophite and bloodstone to bless you with a strong constitution.”  Atlen named the stones as he braided the leather cords into her hair.  “I’ve traveled far in my time da’len and precious stone are a hobby of mine.  Useless in many ways yes as I’ve no real skill as a craftsman but helpful in this.”

When he was finished Atlen carefully placed his hands on her shoulder and turned her around.  He stared down at her, green eyes crinkled in a smile but face still serious.  “Promise me that you will wear them da’len.  Humor an old man and promise to keep them.”

“O-Of course.”  Rysgil already knew that she would never be rid of them.  She would only take them out to bathe and then would braid them right back into her hair.  The weight of the jagged bits of stone in her hair were already a comfort.

“That is good.”  Atlen patted her once on the head and took a step back.  Rysgil surprised both herself and Harel as well as Atlen when she threw herself forward suddenly and hugged him tightly around the waist.

“Thank you.”  Her voice was muffled against the front of his tunic.

“You are welcome da’mi.”  Atlen hugged her back carefully before he released her.  Rysgil scrubbed furiously at her face with the sleeve of her tunic as she stepped back and buried her fingers in Harel’s fur to steady herself.

She watched Atlen walk away as she turned his words over in her head.  Da’mi, he had called her, little blade.  No one had ever called her that before, had ever called her anything so sweet and loving.

She wanted to hear him say it again.

~~~~

Spring came eventually and Rysgil flittered back out into the forest the first opportunity she had in order to gather herbs and escape the scorn of her clan.  As always Harel was eager at her heels and bigger than ever.  Sometimes she wondered fondly if he would ever stop growing.

Still she loved to watch him play, to watch him run through the trees in chase of a fennec or random birds.  In the forest he was wild and playful in a way he was not able to be in the camp, closer to his true nature than anywhere else.  Rysgil loved being able to give him the freedom to roam from her side for a while.

Kneeling down on the edge of the riverbank Rysgil was so intent on gathering bundles of blood lotus that she didn’t hear the footsteps approaching until they were directly behind her.

“What do we have here?”  A thick, raspy voice cut through the quiet of the forest.

Rysgil gasped, dropped the bundle of blood lotus she’d been busy binding, and whirled around, frost glistening at her fingertips.

The man was tall, thin but still obviously strong, built heavier than any of the elvhen Rysgil had ever seen and clad in thick, bright armor.  A shemlen she realized with a sort of fascinated horror as her eyes darted towards his rounded ears and his lack of vallaslin.  She had never seen one of them before although she’d always been enraptured by the Keeper’s stories.

“A knife-ear and a mage are you?”  The shem sneered at her and Rysgil took a stumbling step back and into the water of the river, suddenly and unexpectedly terrified by the dark glint in his eyes.

“What do you want?”  Rysgil hated the way her voice trembled, the way her magic flared in her panic.  She was strong yes, but she was so very frightened.

“Oh,” The man grinned at her then as his hands slowly moved to unclip first his belt and then his breast plate.  Rysgil could only watch in confused horror as they both hit the ground.  “You’ll find out soon enough girl.”

He lunged for her then and Rygil stumbled further back into the river as frost erupted from her hands.  It did no good, the man powered straight through her spell, her magic rolled off of his skin harmlessly.  His hands were wrapped tightly around her throat in the next second and though her hands came up to claw at his gauntleted wrists he held her tightly.

“I would smite you little mage but I’ve always liked it when they struggle a bit.  Plus you’re so tiny, a smite might end the game too early.”  He tilted his head and stared at her for a moment, an almost pleasant look on his face.  “Although there are other ways to calm you down.”

She was under the water in the next second, slammed down into the cold of the stream, the man’s hands wrapped around her throat as the water rushed in around her.  Rysgil fought.  She thrashed and struggled, called for her magic, called for frost or fire or lightning, anything.  It welled up within her, spilled out across her fingertips and off of her skin but the man seemed unaffected.

Terrified she felt her struggles begin to taper off, felt her strength begin to fade.  She called out for the Creators in her mind, even begged for Fen’Harel to save her, to aid her.  Just as her vision began to darken at the edges the hands were gone and she was free.

Rysgil broke the surface of the water with a choked gasp, the sound of curses and snarling heavy in her ears.

She took deep, shuddering breathes, gagged and chocked on the water that filled her throat as she wiped at her streaming eyes and nose as she tried to focus on what was happening.  Rysgil gave a surprised, chocked off cry at what she saw.

Harel, eyes bright and black fur bristled in fury, was on the shem, teeth glinting in the light as he snapped and snarled at the man who barely managed to hold him away from his throat.  The man cursed, sharp and harsh, and Rysgil saw his hand flail down towards his side and the small dagger that was still strapped to his thigh.

Before Rysgil could call out a warning to Harel there was a glint of light and Harel screamed, high and sharp, a yelp of pain that reminded Rysgil of the night she’d found him.  Harel staggered back and off of the man.  Even from the distance between them Rysgil could see how the thick, dark fur of his chest was soaked with blood.

Still Harel kept his feet and snarled louder.  From across the distance their eyes met, his golden gaze locked with her own crimson, and for a moment time stopped for Rysgil.

It was a goodbye Rysgil knew somehow.  Her wolf, her companion, her Harel, intended to die, intended to give his life to save her from a shem whose skin shed her magic like water.  She would lose him because she was not strong enough, was not skilled enough to kill this man.

Rage ripped through Rysgil then, a hot vibrant anger that she had never felt before.

“No.”  She whispered the word as her magic flared to life beneath her skin suddenly, brighter and more vicious than ever before.  She turned her eyes from Harel and locked them on the shem.  “You will not have him.  You will not have either of us.”

Rysgil raised her hand in the man’s direction, reached deep down within her for the well of her magic and pushed all of the horror and rage, all of the fear and anguish she could muster out towards the shem.

For a long moment there was silence, a heavy and terrible kind of quiet, and then there were screams.  The man flailed about on the ground, eyes wide with horror, mouth twisted grotesquely.  Rysgil watched dispassionately as he writhed, could bring herself to do nothing but push more of her magic into him, on him, even as blood welled up in his eyes.

It seemed to take forever before he finally stopped screaming, before he was limp and pale and unmoving.  Rysgil stared down at him silently, at the man who would have taken everything from her.

A whimper drew her out of her rage induced focus and she whirled around to where Harel was laying on the grass, chest bloody and bright eyes slowly growing dim.

No.”  Rysgil crashed down onto her knees beside him, buried her finger deep into his thick fur.  “Harel no.  You can’t die.  You can’t leave me too.”  Rysgil sobbed, uncaring of the blood that dripped from her nose or the way her throat burned from the bruises she knew would already be darkening her skin.

Harel whined softly and then licked weakly at the crook of her elbow when she moved forward to lay his head across her lap.

“I won’t lose you.”  Rysgil vowed as she scrubbed a hand wet with Harel’s blood across her face.  “I can’t lose you.”

Rysgil clamped both of her hands down across the wound on Harel’s chest and ignored the pained whine he gave in response as she closed her eyes.  She would not lose him, she could not lose him.  She was a mage, a powerful one for her age, and she would bend the earth itself to her will if it let her keep him.  Determination welled up within her alongside the endless love she felt for Harel.

Like it had moments before to save them both from the shem magic flowed from her fingertips.  But, instead of the burst of horror and pain that she’d unleashed upon the man, her magic twisted itself into something smoother, something warm and gentle and good.  She pushed that warmth into Harel, into the wound that bleed sluggishly on his chest.

Triumph roared through her when she felt it begin to stitch itself closed, when she felt the flesh sew itself back together and life slowly begin to creep back into Harel’s form.  Still she didn’t stop, instead she pushed deeper, pushed her way further into Harel until she found the core of him, the bright pulse of light at his center, and then she wrapped herself around it.  She twined her magic through the very heart of him, wrapped her magic around it as tightly as she could until he was as much a part of her as she was of him.

There on the forest floor, blood stained with a dead shemlen on the ground behind her, Rysgil bound Harel to her and she to him.  She knew somehow that they would never be parted, that not even the pull of the Beyond would be able to separate them now.

When she finally pulled back, finally let her magic settle down so she could look down at him Harel’s eyes were no longer golden.

Instead they were as vibrant and red as her own.

They stayed there for a while, his head on her lap as she stroked his fur and ignored the weight of what she had done.  There was no real regret inside of her for the shem she had killed, but there was fear.  Fear of what the clan would say, of what would happen.  There was fear of herself too, for she had killed not with one of the elements but with terror and horror shaped into a weapon by her will alone.

Still Rysgil was calm when she stroked her hand across the white starburst of fur that decorated Harel’s chest where the stab wound had been.

She knew what she would do.

~~~

Hahren, I need your help.”  Rysgil practically whispered as her eyes darted around the camp.  She had crept back under the cover of darkness to better hide herself from prying eyes.

Atlen stared down at her in horror, his hands immediately on her face as he gently tipped her head back to check the bruises on her throat by the firelight.  Rysgil was once again grateful that Atlen chose to exist on the fringes of the clan and there was no one nearby to see the state she was in.  As it was Harel waited in the trees just behind her in an effort to hide his eyes and the starburst on his chest until this was taken care of.  Still she could feel him as if he were by her side, a warm, pulsing presence at the very heart of her.

“Who did this to you da’mi?”  There was a harshness to Atlen’s voice that caused something deep inside of Rysgil to warm.  He cared for her, it was more obvious than ever.  There was no other reason for him to be so upset about her injuries.  “Where is Harel?  What has happened?”

“Harel’s fine.”  Rysgil interrupted his barrage of questions with a calm that surprised even her.  “He’s in the forest behind us.”

“And the one who hurt you?”  Atlen was calmer then, as if he saw something in her face that let him know the immediate threat was gone.

“Dead.”  Rysgil told him flatly.  “A shemlen.  In the forest.  He was … strange Atlen.”

“Strange how?”  Atlen was on his feet, his daggers firmly strapped in place on his belt as he placed a hand on her shoulder.

“My magic,”  Rysgil furrowed her brow as she tried to explain to him what had happened.  “My magic did not touch him, not at first.”

Atlen went pale and stilled abruptly before he seemed to shake himself out of it.  “You must show me.”

So Rysgil did.  Harel paced at her side as she led Atlen back through the woods and to the riverbank where the shem’s body still laid.

“By the Creators.”  Atlen whispered, voice shaky and face horrified as he saw the man’s body and the armor that laid abandoned not too far away.  “A Templar.  You killed a Templar.”

“He hurt Harel.”  Rysgil felt the need to defend her actions for the first time and she tried to choke back the sharp sting of tears that abruptly rose with it.  The calm that she had wrapped so tightly around herself shattered with an almost audible sound.  She collapsed down on her knees and covered her face with her hands.  “He … he held me under the water, said he liked it when they fight.  Harel saved me and he stabbed him.  Harel was hurt so badly and I just, I wanted it to stop, I wanted the shem dead and Harel safe and I made it happen with my magic.  Atlen … I don’t know what to do.”

“Shh da’len.”  Atlen was immediately at her side, crouched down in front of her with a large hand cupped around her shoulder.  “You did nothing wrong, I was just surprised.”

Harel was at her side then, pressed up against her with his red eyes trained closely on Atlen.  Rysgil turned on her knees and buried her face in the ruff of Harel’s neck and clung to him tightly.

“Harel’s eyes, his fur.”  Atlen’s quiet whisper got her attention and Rysgil cautiously peeked over at the hunter.

“I healed him.”  She admitted quietly.  “I healed his wound but I did something else too.  He’s mine now and I’m his.  We’re connected.”

“I see.”  Atlen was quiet for a moment and then he pushed himself up and waked over to the shem’s body.  He crouched down beside the man and quickly began to strip him.  “I will take care of this mess da’mi but you must promise me that you will tell no one.  You cannot whisper this secret to anyone in the clan no matter what.”

“I won’t.”

“You must swear it to me Rysgil.”  Atlen suddenly sounded more serious than she had ever hear him sound before.  “You must swear to keep this secret.  Swear on the Creators, on Fen’Harel’s wrath, on your Harel’s life.  Swear it to me.”

“I swear.”  Rysgil was confused but she realized Atlen would not ask so much from her if it was not important.  “I will tell no one.”

“Good.”  Atlen grunted softly as he finished pulling the shem’s armored leggings off.  “Clean yourself up in the water, wash away the blood.  Then go back to the camp and wait for me, keep Harel out of sight for a while if you can.  I’ll find you when I’m done here.”

Unable to do anything but what he asked of her Rysgil nodded slowly and with one last look at Atlen turned and headed back towards camp.

She waited for him for hours, curled up against Harel’s side in the roots of a great tree, until exhaustion finally caught up to her.  She slept deeply but roughly, the Beyond filled with nightmares and the fear.

A gentle nudge at her foot woke her a few hours later.  She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and stared up at Atlen who smiled down at her despite the tiredness on his face.

“This is for your Harel.”  Atlen spoke up suddenly as he dropped a large, heavy bundle of fur and metal at her feet.  Rysgil stared at the Templar’s breastplate, now padded and fur covered, in confusion.  “It’s too large now but something tells me he will grow into it.  Besides it’s best if he get used to the weight of it now, learns to move with it.”

“For Harel?”  She stared up into his face, stunned and more than a bit confused.

“Yes, for protection.”  Atlen shifted his gaze to Harel for a brief second and something strange and complicated flickered across his expression.  “If you are to be a Ranger and Harel your partner you cannot let him be unprotected.  Feydis, the craftsman, owes me both favor and coin aplenty.  He will do what needs to be done to change its shape to best suit your wolf and he will hold the task in silence.”

Before she could say anything, before she could thank him or express her wonder, Atlen flicked his wrist and two thin but wicked looking daggers embedded themselves in the ground at her feet.

“Those are for you da’mi.  I’ll not see you caught unawares again.  Not while I breathe.”  Atlen took a step back then and folded his arms across his chest.  “I will teach you dagger lore, will teach you the ways of the rogue.  If you listen and learn, if you take what I teach you and use it wisely, you will make a fine Ranger someday.”

“Truly?”  Rysgil needed his approval in that moment more than she need air.

“Yes.”  Atlen sounded certain, as unshakable as a mountain.  Creators she adored him.  “Now pick them up and follow me.  Your first lesson starts now.”

Rysgil did not hesitate.  Instead she reached out, wrapped her fingers around the hilt of each dagger, and jerked them up out of the ground.

Her new life started that day and Rysgil would not miss a second of it.

Chapter Text

There was, of course, outcry when it was discovered that Atlen had taken her as an apprentice but neither of them cared.  Atlen ignored the way the rest of the clan sneered in his direction, the way Senros tried to corner him every chance the battle-master found. Rysgil took her lead from him, focused her attention straight ahead and let only Atlen’s words affect her, let only Harel’s devotion move her.

And when it was time for Atlen to leave, to head back out into the forest to hunt and to head off to the shemlen settlements to trade, Rysgil was at his side and Harel was at hers.

Keeper Dashana tried to protest, tried to claim that as her Second Rysgil could not leave the clan so early, that she had too much to learn.  That she was too valueable.

“Where was my value at the Arlathvhen Keeper?”  Rysgil sneered.  “You can find yourself and this clan a new Second at the next Arlathvhen or when some other child more worthy than I was shows signs of magic because I will have no part of it.  I am Atlen’s First, his student in all that he knows and you will not steal that future from me to tie me to a clan who hates my every breath.”

The Keeper had been speechless but in the end no further attempts to stop her had been made.  Indeed the rest of the clan seemed pleased, almost merry, on the dawn of their first departure.  Rysgil was sure that many of them hoped she would die before they returned, that Atlen would either put her down himself or she would run afoul of some shemlen’s sword.

The first night Rysgil spent outside the camp was magnificent.  She felt freer than she had ever felt before, felt safer in the depth of the woods with only Atlen and Harel for company than she had ever felt in the midst of the clan’s aravels.

She was notably different after the Templar’s attack, her and Harel both.  They were harder, stronger, better than they had been before and those differences continued to grow the older they both got.

Rysgil’s temper was short and she angered easily.  Where before she would have cowered, would have apologized and retreated, done anything to gain favor with the clan, now she snarled, snapped and let her magic flare beneath her skin at the first sign of a threat.

Harel was also smarter than he had been before.  His red eyes were always watchful and alert and when Rysgil or Atlen spoke to him he seemed to weigh their every word.  Rysgil knew that he understood them both, knew it deep inside like she could feel when he was nearby.

Still the changes in the both of them startled Rysgil sometimes.  She automatically bared teeth that were too sharp, too much like fangs, if someone even looked at her or Harel or Atlen crossly during the rare times they were back with the clan.  She growled low and dark in her throat when she was agitated.  Her nails, once as ragged and short as any others, were thick and strong and slightly pointed.

She felt like a wild thing, more wolf or beast of the wild than elvhen.

“What is wrong with me?”  Rysgil asked Atlen one afternoon as they stood together in a clearing deep in the forest.  They were days away from the clan, from anyone or anything, and Rysgil had almost bitten Atlen the day before when he’d startled her.  “What is wrong with both of us?”

“There is a price for everything da’mi.”  Atlen narrowed his eyes as he stared off into the distance, the action pulled his whisker like vallaslin tight across the sweep of his cheekbones.  “What you did, the day you healed Harel, changed the both of you.  You welcomed him into yourself and gave of yourself to him.  You entwined the very essence of who you are with his and he accepted what you offered whether or not the two of you realized what you were trying to do.  That kind of melding, that kind of togetherness, does not come without change, does not take place without a price.  For you that price is a bit of what makes you elvhen and for him a bit of what makes him a wolf.”

“Did I…”  Rysgil swallowed nervously, suddenly afraid that what she had done was wrong, was unnatural or dangerous.  “Did I make a mistake?  Did I hurt him?  Hurt myself?  Make us into what the clan has always thought us to be?”

“No.”  Atlen practically snarled and he was beside Rysgil between one breathe and the next.  His hand was gentle on her chin as he tipped her face up towards his own.  “You did nothing wrong lethallan.  You are not a monster or a demon or some portent of doom.  You are Rysgil and he is Harel and together you are simply … more.  You are strong and cunning and above all you are you.  You have the heart and soul of a true Ranger now.  Few do what you have done and find a way to be at one with their partner as you are with Harel.  Cherish that connection, take pride in it, and it will never steer you wrong.” 

“But what if I can’t control it?”  Rysgil pressed forward until she could hide her face in Atlen’s tunic again.  “I tried to hurt you, tried to bite you.  What if I can’t control it Atlen?  What if it takes me over?”

“I will help you learn to control the wolf in your heart as best I can da’len.  It is up to you if you will learn to love it and accept it as a part of you as I do.”  Atlen told her calmly as he pushed her back enough so that she was forced to look up at him again.  “I believe in you Rysgil.  In you and in Harel.  You will be strong and fierce, a true Ranger and her wolf.  I have no doubt that one day your strength will shape the future of the elvhen.  Such is my pride in you, my belief in the both of you.”

Rysgil stared up at him in wonder, unable to believe that he cared for her so deeply, that he had such faith in her.  It shored up her heart and beat back the doubts and the fear that had begun to creep in around the edges of her mind.  If Atlen believed in her and Harel then she would believe in her and in Harel as well.

Something must have shown in her face because Atlen smiled slightly, took a step back.

“Good.  Now back to your training.  We still have much to teach you, the both of you.”  Atlen tapped the long tree branch he’d whittled into a staff on the ground in front of him as Rysgil fell back into position with her daggers grasped firmly in hand.  He used the thing to help her keep time of her forms as he taught her to fight, as he passed on his dagger lore.  He also forced her to learn to channel her magic through the plain wood in the evenings.  The lack of a crystal or a focus made it difficult to do but he was insistent.  He swore that if she could learn to channel her magic through the plain wood without damaging it her control would increase dramatically.  Plus he told her that he would not have her deny any part of herself.

Her magic was a gift from the Creators Atlen told her frequently and he would teach her what he knew of the staff as well as daggers to help her hone that gift.

Atlen’s pride, his open affection and acceptance of her and Harel, of all that they were or could be pushed Rysgil forward like nothing else could have.  She wanted to learn, wanted to be taught and molded by him, and above all else she wanted to succeed.  She wanted to make Atlen proud of her in everything she did.  So she embraced everything that she was, assured that if Atlen was comfortable with her then she was fine, was natural and good despite what the clan always said about her and Harel.

Time passed quickly in the wilds, weeks and months swept by her in a whirlwind as Atlen taught her how to hunt, how to fight, how to survive.  How to live.

Atlen was a harsh taskmaster, he accepted no excuses and pushed her until she thought she would break.  He forced her to face her every mistake, forced her to confront her faults and her flaws.  But after each milestone, after the mastery of each move or skill, Atlen praised her.  After every training session he gave her cream for her sore muscles and made sure that she and Harel both ate well.  The stones that he continued to gift her with, small bits of precious materials tied with leather and left beside her bedroll or wrapped around the hilt of her daggers, mixed in with her inky curls like they were meant to be there, their weight barely noticeable but familiar.

Rysgil treasured each and every one of them and what they represented.

Harel, for his part, grew and grew, and then grew some more.  He went through Rysgil’s lessons with her, learned to weave in and out of the space around her, learned to jump and dart and twist around her spells and her daggers despite his great size.  He grew into the breastplate Atlen had altered for him, learned to move as quickly and quietly with its weight as he could without it.  Eventually he grew too large for it, stood higher and broader than any wolf Rysgil or even Atlen had ever seen.  Atlen helped Rysgil hunt and skin prey, helped her gather herbs and materials to trade for coin to make Rysgil a new breastplate when it finally seemed like he had stopped growing.

The blacksmith had assumed they were armoring a charger from the size of the measurements Atlen had taken the man and neither of them had attempted to dissuade him of his beliefs.  Harel had stayed safely in the forest outside the shemlen village and Rysgil had felt his eyes on her the entire time they were apart, watching, waiting, forever on alert in case she needed him.  Afterwards Atlen had done the smaller adjustments needed to make sure the armor fit and it had turned out well despite his assertions of not being much of a craftsman.  He had also taught Rysgil how to maintain Harel’s gear and made it a part of her daily routine.

During the winters when they were forced back to the clan’s aravels she spent her time pacing restlessly, twirling her daggers and practicing the moves Atlen had taught her.  She threw herself further into her magic or took to running through the snow covered forest with Harel at her heels or between her thighs, his fur thick and warm and his muscles surging as he carried her over roots and through streams, as sure footed as any halla.

Years passed and Rysgil grew taller and fiercer with both magic and blades.  With Harel as her steadfast companion and partner and Atlen her compass she grew steady and strong as the trees of the forests that were her territory.

“You have grown so much these past years.”  Atlen mused one night as the three of them sat around the merrily crackling fire Rysgil had lit with barely a thought.  “You are no da’len any longer, no more my da’mi.”

“I will always be your da’mi Atlen.”  Rysgil protested drowsily from where she was nestled in the curl of Harel’s body.  “For as long as you’ll have me I will always be yours.”

“You do an old hunter good emm’asha.”  Atlen mused quietly as he settled down on the other side of the fire.  “Tomorrow we travel back to the clan.”

“Why?”  Rysgil was already half asleep but she could not keep the question in check.  It was summer and still weeks from when they should be meeting the clan again.

“I have denied you long enough in an effort to keep you a child in some way.”  Atlen sighed.  “We will go to the Keeper’s aravel and she will grant you the vallaslin of your choice.”

“Truly?”  Rysgil was abruptly awake.  “Do you think I am ready for the blood writing?”

“You are more ready than any elvhen I have ever seen da’len.  You will gain your vallaslin and then you shall be my equal instead of my student.”

“Will you send me away?”  Rysgil hated how small her voice sounded, hated the way she could feel tears prick at the corners of her eyes and how Harel tensed behind her at the question.  “If the vallaslin will take me from your side then I will never get it.”

“I would sooner send my heart from my chest or the air from my lungs Rysgil than send you away against your wishes.”  Atlen told her gently.  “You shall be my equal but still precious to me.  If you would like I would have you as my partner on my hunts.  I am sure there is still something this ancient hunter can teach you even if you will be my equal.  Our clan will have little in the way of objections I am sure.”

“Objections are all they have when it comes to me.”  Rysgil snorted in disdain.

Atlen chuckled.  “Be that as it may you should sleep.  We will have a long journey ahead of us.”

Surprisingly enough Rysgil slept deeply and sweetly, the way Atlen had called her his girl and his heart helped her to find peace in her walks in the Beyond.  Not for the first time she dreamed that he was her true father, that Atlen and not some faceless hunter she’d only heard tales and songs of was the one she could claim as blood.

It wasn’t to be or course.  Atlen had loved her mother, as had Senros apparently, but she had chosen another.  Atlen had told her that once when she had asked after his reasons for being so kind to her.

It was a sweet thought nonetheless.

~~~

For the first time in years Rysgil wanted to weep at the cruelty of her clan, of the Keeper and the hearth-mistress who had raised her for so long.  She did not know what she had done to anger them so.  Did not know what sin she had committed besides being born into what she was.

They would not give her the vallaslin.

Atlen was white-faced in his rage and at her side Harel growled, a low vicious rumbling that had the hunters of the clan shifting nervously for their bows and swords and daggers.  Rysgil bit at the inside of her cheek with too sharp teeth hard enough to draw blood in an effort to keep herself calm.

“Come da’mi.”  Atlen turned harshly on his heel and stalked through the camp and back to where their packs were laid against the base of a tree.  Rysgil followed him without hesitation, desperate to get out of the camp and away from prying eyes.

They went deep into the forest until they reached a cave that they had used before in the past to camp and train in.  Atlen hustled her inside, forced her to sit cross legged on the ground and then disappeared back out into the woods without another word.  He finally reappeared a while later, arms laden down with roots and herbs that he left in a pile beside the old fire pit they had dug out in the center of the cave.

He stacked fresh tinder and wood and she lit the fire for him without being asked.  She watched in fascination as he ground and cut, mixed and mashed various herbs together in the large wooden bowl he pulled from his pack, anger like she had never seen from him apparent in his every move.

When the mixture was set beside the fire, close enough to warm it but far enough to not burn it, he finally turned to her.

“I have always loved my clan, our clan.  I have fought and hunted and prayed for their safety and their health, for the blessing of the Creators.”  Atlen spoke slowly, deliberately.  “But on this day I find that I hate them as I had not ever thought myself capable of hating.  What they have done to you is beyond the measure of cruelty, beyond what I thought them capable of as well.”

Atlen moved over to her then, knelt down in front of her and reached up to cup her face in his palm.  Rysgil could not help but turn her face into the touch, to treasure the tenderness that she only saw from Atlen and Harel.

“I am not a Keeper.”  Atlen continued quietly even as Rysgil stared up at him in confusion.  “I do not know the ritual to give a true vallaslin.  That is something I cannot do for you da’mi.  But if you wish it I could gift you with something else, another mark.”

“Alright.”  Rysgil didn’t even wait for Atlen to finish.  If it was done by his hand, was done by him, then she would wear it proudly no matter what it was.

“Your haste and your trust bring me to my knees anew each time.”  Atlen’s voice was thick and there was a suspicious glint in his eyes.  “Do you truly trust me so?  Would you give your skin over into my care, let me place upon it the marks of what you are to me, of what I see when I look at you, without even knowing what they are?”

“You are my clan hahren.”  Rysgil told him stubbornly even she reached over and buried her hand in Harel’s fur for comfort.  “You and Harel are all the clan I need and I trust you with any and all things.”

“Then I shall endeavor to be worthy of that trust.”  Atlen stood then, moved towards his pack and rummaged around until he pulled out another bowl and one of the knives he used for delicate skinning.  He grabbed the bowl from beside the fire and one of the thicker blankets and came back to her side where he spread it out and ushered her onto it.  “Take off your tunic da’len.  The mark will not go on your face as the vallaslin does.  It will be large and it will be painful, more so than the vallaslin, but it will be proof of your glory, of the soul of the Ranger that both you and Harel share.”

Rysgil did as he asked, unashamed to sit in only her breast bindings with Atlen beside her and Harel curled against her back. “I will wear it with pride, as I have worn everything you have given me.”  Rysgil tilted her head back, shoulders straight and spine stiff.

Atlen grabbed the smallest bowl and the knife and turned towards Harel.  “I will need your blood Harel, for if she is to be marked then it is only right to have a part of you in it as well.”

The wolf stared at Atlen for a moment and then inclined his head slightly.  Atlen moved carefully as he parted the thick fur above Harel’s heart and pressed his knife against the skin.  Blood welled up quickly and Atlen pressed the bowl beneath the wound until he was satisfied.  Rysgil immediately reached out with her magic and healed the cut.  Harel gave her a grateful nuzzle to the temple before he settled back down.

“It will hurt Rysgil.”  Atlen told her again after he had mixed Harel’s blood with the mixture he’d made before and then turned back towards her.  “The pain will be great and it will be long.”

“I do not care.”  Rysgil said the words slowly, deliberately.  Instead of wasting time worrying she laid back onto the blanket and bared her throat to Atlen trustingly.

“Then we will begin.”  Atlen held up a bit of sharpened bone that she had not seen him grab.

The first punch of the bone on the delicate hollow of her throat made her wince but Rysgil bit down on the inside of her cheek and tightened her hold on herself.  She would have no true vallaslin given by the Keeper, but this, this would be her pledge, her dedication to the Creators, to Atlen, to Harel, and to herself.  She would not shame any of them by crying out.

“Hold fast da’len.”  Atlen whispered to her as his hands moved the bone slowly over her skin.  “For you are glory and battle given form.”

The pain did not fade as Atlen circled her throat but it did mute as he moved down her right shoulder blade.  Rysgil let herself fall into the rhythmic punch of the bone, into the way she could feel Harel’s presence beside and inside her.  The way Atlen sang quietly as he worked, familiar songs to the Creators flowing off of his tongue even as he gently moved away her breast band so he could reach the skin underneath.

He worked well into the afternoon and then further into the night, wiping the blood from her skin with bits of cloth and water when it welled up too much for him to continue.  He turned to Harel twice more for blood and both times the wolf gave freely even if Rysgil could not heal his wound.  It was not until dawn had broken over the forest and spilled its light into the mouth of the cave that Atlen finally but down his tools and sat back on his heels.

“We will begin again after I have slept.”  Atlen fed her tea that tasted of elfroot and caused her to drift off into a restless sleep.  He woke her hours later and the process started again.

~~~

It took three days before it was finished. 

~~~

“It is done.”  Atlen smoothed a hand over her forehead carefully after he had cleaned the blood from his hands and gathered a cup full of tea from beside the fire.  “You have honored me above all other honors I have ever received to allow me to do this for you.”

“You are my clan.”  Rysgil whispered again as pain and exhaustion overtook her senses.  “You are all the family I have a need of.” 

“As you are mine.”  Atlen’s hand was gentle on her hair before he tipped her head up to carefully let her drink.  The familiar taste of elfroot hit her tongue as she sipped the lukewarm tea from the cup in his hand.  “Now sleep ma vhenan.  You have seen much cruelty and pain these past few days and I would have you rest for what comes tomorrow.  You will be sore for a day or two before it is safe for you to heal the wounds.  The ink and blood must settle first or you would undo our work.”

Exhausted, skin on fire and head pounding Rysgil let the tea take her down and under, let it soothe her aches and draw her into sleep.  Despite the agony she felt settled deep inside, as if the marks Atlen had etched into her skin had completed her somehow.

It was a good feeling.

~~~

It took three more days before Atlen would allow her to do more than sleep and sip elfroot tea and broth.  On the fourth day he let her heal her skin, confident that the ink and blood he’d etched into her would settle correctly and would remain with her always.  Eager to finally see what he had done Rysgil wasted no time in letting her magic wash over her body.

As soon as the last of the pain was gone she was moving.  She dashed out of the cave with a laugh, Harel hot on her heels and Atlen trailing behind them as she twirled around in the sunlight that spilled through the trees, uncaring that she was in clad in what was basically her smallclothes.

She stared down at the pale expanse of her stomach in wonder and let her finger tips trace over what she could see of the tattoo there reverently even though the angle was awkward.  The ink was a bold, deep red, a few shades darker than her and Harel’s eyes and it stood out against her skin magnificently.

“Here.”  Atlen was there then, the small mirror he’d bought her years before cradled carefully in his hands.  “So you can see it better.”

Hands trembling Rysgil took the mirror and lifted it up only to feel tears well up in her eyes again at the beauty of what Atlen had given her.

It was a wolf, as bold and fierce as Harel himself.  Its tail wrapped around her throat like a collar and flowed down over her right shoulder and disappeared beneath her breast band.  Rysgil turned and undid the material with a shaking hand, desperate to see it in all of its glory.  The wolf’s hind legs bracketed her right breast, its body flowed down the line of her ribs in a delicate arch until its front paws rested on the crest of her hip.  Its head, tipped back as if to howl, hovered right above her navel.

“It’s beautiful.”  Rysgil was unashamed of the tears that welled up in her eyes and spilled out.  She had never see anything more beautiful.

“It pales in comparison to you emm’asha.  But I am pleased that you like it so.”  Atlen smiled at her even though he kept his eyes carefully adverted from her bare torso.  Rysgil did not care, any shyness she might have felt erased by long years in Atlen’s company and the euphoria she felt over her mark.  Still she stooped down to grab her breast band and quickly redid it for his sake.

“I love it.”  Rysgil darted forward to throw her arms around Atlen and bury her face in his tunic as she had done when she was small.  “I will wear it proudly until the last of my days.”

“May that day be long in coming da’mi, and long after I have walked into the Beyond myself.”  Atlen hugged her back firmly.

A giggle welled up in Rysgil’s throat then, the sort of laugh that only came to her around Atlen and Harel.  She could not push it down, didn’t want to.  Instead she let it loose, let it well up and spill out of her.

“What has you so delighted Rysgil?  And during such a serious moment.”  Atlen questioned her, a look of mock sternness on his face.

“The clan.”  Rysgil chocked out as she wiped at her eyes with her free hand.  “The clan will hate it.”

“Yes.”  Atlen said after a moment’s pause, face serious and voice deadpan but eyes bright with mischief.  “I imagine Senros and the others might well give birth to halla of their own when they see it.”

Rysgil’s delighted laughter filled the clearing alongside Atlen’s smoother chuckle and Harel’s pleased barks.

~~~

Rysgil held her head high whenever she was in camp after that, her mark often hidden beneath her armor out of necessity but not shame although the tail that wound its way around her neck was normally visible.  During the heat of the summer she took to wearing little on the rare occasions when she was in camp, barely more than her breast band and leggings in fact.  It was an act of defiance to the scorn her mark brought, one that brought Atlen much amusement.

Time passed again, in flits and jumps.  She was Atlen’s partner in the hunt but she still felt as if she were the student she had been for years as their dynamic changed little.  He was still the father, the mentor and the teacher, she had always wanted and she was still his da’mi, his little knife, his daughter in all but blood.

Content, happy in a way she could barely express, Rysgil did not notice when Atlen began to cough, not at first.  But when he collapsed, pale and shaking, half way through their trek back to the clan’s winter camp she barely kept herself from panicking.

She poured her magic into him, desperate to heal him, but still he did not wake.  Finally she bundled him onto Harel’s back with the wolf’s aid and ran head long towards the camp, Harel’s long strides eating the distance swiftly.

Keeper Dashana took in her panic quickly and without the usual words of reprimand for her wild hair or for the way she was astride Harel’s back, she had Atlen carried into her aravel.

Uncomfortable in her skin, fidgety and panicked, Rysgil and Harel paced in time together outside the aravel for what felt like hours before Dashana finally stepped back outside.

“How is he?”  Rysgil was on the woman immediately, was barely able to restrain herself from grabbing her by the shoulders and sinking her claws into her skin to demand answers.

Atisha da’len.”  Keeper Dashana raised her hand up in front of her.  “He is fine child.  Just old and weary.  I am afraid that this season will be Atlen’s last hunt for a long time, if ever.  He has a sickness deep in his chest and even with my magic or yours it will take him time to heal.  He may not ever be able to carry the breath that he once could.”

Rysgil was horrified, distraught that she had not noticed his illness sooner, that her magic had not been enough to heal him.

“I want to see him.”  Rysgil did not have it in her to worry or care about propriety.  She brushed past Dashana and stormed into the aravel that she’d avoided for years.  A low keening whine tore out of her throat at the sight of Atlen, worn and pale where he laid on the thick pallet of furs.

“Hush da’mi.”  Atlen rasped.  “I’m sick, not going to meet the Creators.”

“I should have noticed.”  Rysgil threw herself down on her knees beside him and grabbed at his hand.  “I should have known you were ill.”

“You could not know what I did not want you to see Rysgil.”  Atlen squeezed her hand gently.  “I was selfish and wanted one more season with you on the hunt before I retired to the camp for good.  My time to do little but tell stories and tend the aravels has come.”

“No it hasn’t you foolish old man.”  Rysgil bit the words out past her guilt and sadness.  “You will hunt with me for many more years yet.”

“No.”  Atlen smiled up at her softly and for the first time Rysgil truly noticed the white in his hair, the deep lines beside the green of his eyes.  His age hit her like a blow to the stomach.  “You and Harel will walk the path of true hunters now, free from an old man’s meddling.”

“I will stay here with you.”  Rysgil did not want to leave his side.  Not then, not ever.

“For the winter yes, but come spring you will go again as you must.”  Atlen sounded certain, a knowing lilt to his voice.

Rysgil tried to deny it, tried to swear that she would stay with him, that she would endure the camp and the clan if it kept her by his side.  That winter she stayed close to him, haunted the Keeper’s aravel and then Atlen’s place in the camp once he was strong enough to move about again.

Yet when spring came, when the forest came to life around them Rysgil could not chase the ache from her bones, could not ignore the restlessness that she and Harel both felt.  They had not stayed in the camp past winter in years and it felt wrong to do so.  The scorn and dismissal of the clan rankled more than ever and Rysgil found her temper even shorter and vicious more often than not.

Finally Atlen pulled her aside one night.  “You are too much a Ranger, too wild and too much the wolf to stay.  I will be here when you return da’mi.”  He smiled at her gently and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead and something hard into her hand.  “Remember that and save up good stories for the winter months.”

Rysgil stared after him when he walked away before she looked down at what he had given her.  It was another stone, a bright shining piece of veridium wrapped in a leather thong.  Rysgil smiled and reached up to braid it into her hair with the others.

Like Atlen had intended the stone gave her the strength to gather her pack and Harel and leave.

That first year was difficult without Atlen’s familiar company and guidance but Rysgil and Harel pulled through.  They had stories and gifts of ironbark and other materials when they finally returned to the camp, small bits of pretty wood for Atlen to carve and whittle to his heart’s content.  He gave her a new pair of daggers, the blades sharp and wicked,as long as her forearms and curved like fangs.  She spent the winter at his side, ignored the others in the clan as was her way and spent every second she could telling him of her hunts and of the mischief she and Harel had gotten up to.

The next year was easier and by the third it was familiar.  There were long days and nights with only Harel and her daggers and magic for protection.  Evenings with only the occasional book she managed to barter for from a shemlen settlement for company as she read aloud by the campfire much to Harel’s pleasure.

She returned to the clan each winter, wilder, more feral than the year before, but always so soft and gentle with Atlen whose age had begun to show around the edges now that he’d settled into a softer life.

Then, on during the winter of her twenty-fourth year, Keeper Dashana approached her.

“I have a job for you da’len.”  The Keeper spoke softly but Rysgil had to bite back her sneer.  She hated it when Dashana called her da’len.  It was not the gentle endearment it was when Atlen called her that.  Instead it was a harsh reminded that in the eyes of the clan she was still a child, still without a vallaslin and thus not a full member of the elvhen.

And they all knew she never would be.

“I am not your Second Keeper.”  Rysgil bit out.

“No.”  Dashana shook her head slowly, something like sadness on her face.  “No you are not my Second although you should be.  That was a mistake I let stand years ago and it is years too late for me to fix it now.  You are however a hunter, the best our clan has seen since Atlen was young.  A Ranger strong and true if his words are to be believed.  The job I have for you calls for those skills.”

“What is it?”  Rysgil was interested despite herself and Atlen’s quiet quelling look from across the campfire kept any sharper retort she might have made behind her teeth.

“The other clans send word that the shem’s Chantry calls for a Conclave, a meeting of sorts like our Arlathvhen.”  There was a flicker of unease on Dashana’s face then and it immediately put Rysgil on high alert.  This was something that was obviously important, more so than the ill will the clan bore towards her if Dashana was willing to seek out her skills for the job.  “I need you to go there, to the place they call the Temple of Sacred Ashes.  The elvhen need to know what happens at this Conclave.”

“You would have me spy.”  Rysgil couldn’t keep the note of incredulity out of her voice.  “You would send me alone to spy on the shem?”

“Yes.”  Dashana made no attempts to soften her words.  “The fate of Thedas hangs in the balance and the elvhen cannot be ignorant as to the way the winds of fate blow.  You are the most skilled, the fiercest of us all that I have seen.  It should be you, it must be you.  No matter the hatred you bear me, no matter the hatred this clan deserves from you, you must do this thing.”

“When would I have to leave?”

“On the morrow.”  Dashana smiled grimly.  “You must be hasty if you are to make it in time.”

“I will think on it.”  Rysgil dismissed the woman and was grateful when the Keeper did not call out her insolence or attempt to stay longer.  Instead she nodded, tightened her grip on her staff, and walked away.

“You must do this thing.  We both know it.”  Atlen told her quietly from across the campfire.  “If she has come to you then things are dire indeed.  It is well known that you hold as little love for the clan as they do for you.  Many wonder why you’ve stayed as long as you have.”

Rysgil did not answer the buried question there, didn’t have to.  They both knew she stayed only for him, that she returned each winter with goods and coin and other materials for the clan only for Atlen’s sake.  Without him she would have disappeared into the trees years ago and never returned.

“I do not wish to leave you before the spring comes.”  She resented the idea of having her time with him cut short.

“You remember the Blight do you not?”  Atlen’s question took her by surprise.  She had been young but she remembered it well enough, the bits of it that had touched the clan as far removed as they were.  The winter had been harsher that year, game scarce even into the summer months.  Atlen had kept them close to the camp during their hunts, had seemed constantly worried and watchful.  The things she remembered most where his lessons on darkspawn and the stories that had reached them of Mahariel.  Rysgil had been fascinated by the tales of the elvhen woman who had ended it all, who had saved everyone and even now was rumored to remain at the shem king’s side as his closest confidant and lover. 

“I remember.”  She still wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything.

“This will be just as important Rysgil.”  Atlen was stone like in his seriousness then.  “The word is restless, you know it is.  Your stories of the things you hear in the shem villages whenever you have gone to trade these past few years have told us both that.  That book you carry around obsessively about that Hawke woman shows what has happened.”

Atlen was right.  Her beloved book, The Tales of the Champion, with its ragged binding and the pages that were in danger of falling out despite the care she had taken with it, had spun a story as unbelievable and as frightening as it was supposed to be true.

“I will tell you everything when I return.”  Rysgil was faintly shocked at her own words, by her implied agreement to go, but she was wise enough to realize that this was beyond her own feelings.

This Conclave would have to be investigated and Rysgil was the best one for the job.

“I will await your return da’mi.”  Atlen smiled at her.  “May the Creators guide your steps.” 

Rysgil smiled and nodded before she laid back against Harel and tried to fall asleep.  They would need their strength for the journey ahead after all, especially if they were to leave at first light.

All she wanted was to spend the rest of the winter with Atlen before spring took her from his side again.  Creators willing she would not be gone long.

Chapter Text

It was dark and there was fear.

Fear like Rysgil had only known once before, when water had rushed in around her and strong hands had wrapped themselves merciless and tight around her delicate throat.

There were things in the dark, creatures or beasts, she wasn’t sure what they were, wasn’t sure of the exact nature of the horrors the darkness hid from her.

She did not look, did not want to see what hunted her, what made her feel the maddening, mind numbing fear of prey.  She only knew that they were there and that they wanted her, wanted to rip and rend and tear her limb from limb.

She did not need to know what they were, only that they were real.

Rysgil gritted her teeth, ignored the way her too sharp, too long fangs bit into her bottom lip hard enough to draw blood, and pushed herself to her feet.

She ran.

Her feet were clumsy in a way they had never been before.

She stumbled.

Her claws dug at the rock beneath her as she grasped desperately at anything she could find.

Her mind whirled, hopelessness roared through her.

She was frightened.

She was prey.

There was a pulsing deep inside of her, like a heartbeat not her own, something warm and familiar, something she loved more than she loved herself.

The call of pack.

It urged her to live, urged her to fight, to tear through the obstacles in her path with claws and fangs if she had to.

It urged her to come back to it, to come home.

There was a flash of eyes, brilliantly green and tender, of a weather worn face and lips tilted up into a loving and patient smile.

There was a voice that called to her, a whisper of little knife, little blade, da’mi, precious thing.

Daughter in all but blood, daughter of my heart.

Live, it told her, live live live, run run run.

Ranger, it whispered, battle and glory given form.

Stand fast.

Do not yield.

Survive.

She gained her feet.

In the darkness she saw eyes, saw long tapered legs and fangs that glistened wet and deadly in the low light.

She ran.

They chased her.

There was a woman.

There was light.

There was pain.

There was nothing.

Chapter Text

Rysgil woke to pain.

It was in every breath, in every flutter of every muscle.  Her bones ached, her teeth ached, her skin and hair ached.

But above all else her soul ached.  Deep down inside of her something felt torn, felt split open like an overripe fruit.

The ground was cold and hard beneath her knees and Rysgil could smell stone, could smell the heavy feel of the damp and mold that hung thick in the air.  She could feel the dense weight of iron and wood pressed against the curves of her wrists.

More importantly she could tell that she wasn’t alone, that there were others in the room with her.

Rysgil opened her eyes slowly, careful of the way her head pounded out a painful rhythm as she tried to regain her bearings.  There were four of them from what she could see, armored and armed, their heavy iron swords pointed in her direction.  Shem she was sure, by the make of their clothes and the width of their shoulders.

Her first thought was slavers and Rysgil snarled in rage and surged up onto her knees, spine straight and eyes wide in the semi-dark of what she knew to be a room.  She readied herself to move, to throw herself forward, to fight regardless of having her hands bound.  She could fight with or without a weapon, would use mage craft or her teeth and claws if she had to.  She would never be bound, would never be beaten and kept chained.  Not by anyone.  She would die first.

Magic not her own crackled in the air around her before she could act.  The Beyond twisted itself in a strange way that she had never felt before, and her eyes immediately fell down to stare her own left hand.

She gaped in horrified fascination at the sight that greeted her as a sickly green light crackled and flowed from her palm.  The pain hit her in the next second, ripped through her like a knife or teeth through flesh.  She bit back the urge to scream and instead hunched her shoulders down and bared her teeth in a snarl at the closest armored shem on her right.  She would show no pain, would show no fear.  Not to these strangers who chained her like an animal, like they had the right to force her into obedience.  She would not give them the satisfaction.

Rysgil felt a rush of vicious pleasure at the way the sword pointed in her direction wavered for just a moment.  She would kill that one first, the one who had shown weakness so easily, the one who trembled before a wild eye elvhen woman who was chained against her will.  She pushed down the pain in her hand, the terrible burn that had worked its way up her shoulder and prepared herself to move again.

The door to the room slammed open then and a woman, tall, strong and armored, her hair dark and face grave, strode in, her steps confident and sure.  The armor she wore, the crest on the breastplate, erased thoughts of slavers from Rysgil's mind though the ideas that replaced it were not much better.  The woman wasn't a Templar but she was a warrior of the Chantry, that much was clear, and Rysgil held no fond memories of either.

Another woman followed her, her red hair mostly hidden beneath a hood, but the way she moved captured Rysgil’s attention.  There was a subtle predatory sway to her steps, a flowing smoothness to her movements that reminded Rysgil of Atlen and of herself.  This woman was dangerous, perhaps even more so than the warrior who circled her.

Rysgil snarled when the black haired woman got too close and turned as best she could to keep the both of them within her sight.

“Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now?”  The warrior spat, voice thick with familiar disgust and hatred as she paced around Rysgil, steps heavy and angry.  “The Conclave is destroyed.  Everyone who attended is dead.  Except for you.”

Rysgil remained quiet.  While confusion and a faint sense of horror rushed through her at the idea of the entire Conclave being destroyed without her knowing how she could not help but feel a sweeping wave of relief.  She could still feel Harel’s presence deep inside of her, could feel him alive and well and impatient to be back at her side.  She was so very grateful she had made him wait at a distance when she’d moved closer to the Conclave, had told him to hide and watch because his size and armor were too easily noticed.  They would be together again she knew, when it was safe for her to call out for him to come to her side.  He was smart enough not to seek her out until then.

“Explain this.”  The warrior reached out and grabbed her by the wrist, her gloved hand heavy and painful in a way that made Rysgil bare her teeth in a snarl as the mark on her hand flared in agony.

“I can’t.”  Rysgil snarled at the woman.

“What do you mean you can’t.”

“I don’t know what it is, or how it got there, you daft shem.”  Rysgil bared her teeth again, barely able to resist the urge to send a wave of lightning or frost at the woman.  Atlen had taught her the value of patience, had taught her to reveal only what needed to be known.  Her mage craft was something they need not know about if she could help it.

“You’re lying!”  The warrior grabbed her by the collar of her armor then and Rysgil reacted instantly.  She surged straight up on her knees and snapped her teeth in the woman’s face.  She had a brief second of satisfaction as the warrior’s eyes went wide and shocked before the red head pulled her back.

“We need her Cassandra.”  The red head snapped and Rysgil could not contain her sneer.  They needed her.  It seemed like someone always needed her for something.  And they all thought the best way to gain her cooperation was through threats and scorn, through anger and disdain.  Rysgil had no desire to be needed.  Not by anyone but Harel and Atlen.

“Let me go.”  Rysgil snarled, voice low and dark, filled with the anger and the barely repressed urge to lash out at the entire room.

“We need answers.”  The red-head turned to her again, face cold and hard but there was something in her eyes when she looked at Rysgil, a sort of fear and barely banked down sorrow.  “Do you remember what happened?”

In the darkness she saw eyes, saw long tapered legs and fangs that glistened wet and deadly in the low light.  She ran.  They chased her.  There was a woman.  There was light.  There was pain.

Rysgil shook the flash of memory off as best she could.

“Something chased me.  I ran.”  She spoke in stops and starts, resentful of the way she felt compelled to answer the woman who had such sadness and loss in her eyes.  “There was a woman.”

The red head seemed shocked at that but the newly named Cassandra was there in the next second.

“Go to the forward camp Leliana, I will take her to the Rift.”  Cassandra’s voice was almost gentle then and the red haired woman, Leliana, went without further protest.

“What did happen?”  Rysgil couldn’t help but ask even as she watched Cassandra closely as she bent to undo her shackles.  She snarled and ducked out from underneath the woman’s hand when she tried to help her stand. 

“It will be easier if I show you.”  Cassandra watched her with an arched brow before she slowly reached out and re-shackled her and then led her out and into the light.

~~~

It was like a dream after that, like a nightmare sent to her from the Beyond.  The Breach, a terrible hole in the sky, the Veil torn asunder like parchment and all of Thedas left vulnerable to demons and spirits and all manner of horrors both seen and unseen.

Cassandra beckoned her closer to it and Rysgil could do naught but follow.

They moved through the snow, headed ever closer to the great glowing Breach.  The mark, the pain that ran rampant through her body as it flared, sent Rysgil to her knees only once.  The way Cassandra stared down at her, something like pity in her eyes, made Rysgil vow that it would never happen again.

She would show no weakness, would stand tall and proud and vicious in her resolve.  Atlen had once called her glory and battle given form and she would strive to do him proud in that as she had in all other things.

Rysgil kept her attention focused on Cassandra, kept track of where the woman was behind her and around her, as she contemplated her chances of escape.  She was sure she could do it if she truly wanted to.

As far as she could tell they had no idea she was a mage and had made no effort to suppress her magic or her ability to wield it.  Although many would consider her lack of staff obvious impediment enough Rysgil had Atlen to thank for her continued ability to weave her mage craft without bits of wood or stone to aid her.

The Keeper would have had her dependent on a staff if she’d had her way, would have discouraged Rysgil from her open and easy manipulation of the Beyond.  Dashana would have made her normal, or would have tried to, would have tried to suppress her abilities to put the clan more at ease.  Atlen had encouraged her talents instead, had helped her sharpen them instead of restrict them.  While she could admit that the right staff, with proper enchantments and designs for spell amplification and direction, could be useful, she was not dependent on them as so many other mages were.

Atlen had trained her too well for that.

He had made her into a Ranger in truth, had helped her craft herself and Harel both into something wild and fierce and capable.  She could use daggers or a staff as easily as breathing, was more than passable with a bow as well.  She could also wield her mage craft easily enough through whatever weapon she chose or through nothing at all.

So she knew she could escape, could have Cassandra writhing on the snow at her feet as she called for Harel and fled into the ice covered mountains.  She was Dalish and a Ranger, they would never find her if she chose to flee.

But the sky, the thing Cassandra called The Breach, the sight of it, the pain of the mark on her hand, it all held her back.  She needed to know, needed answers of her own.  If the thing on her hand, if the foreign magic that invaded her core could hurt Harel or Atlen then she needed to know, needed to make sure she would not become a danger to either one of them.  She would throw herself from a cliff, would let the mark eat away at her, would turn her fire on herself before she let that happen.

So she kept moving, and when the bridge beneath her feet exploded she picked up a nearby pair of daggers and helped Cassandra destroy the shades that came for them.

The battle was quick, her knife work as skillful as always, and Cassandra was admittedly fierce with a sword.

“Drop your weapon.”  Cassandra snarled at her when it was over.

“Do you really think I’d need a knife to hurt you shem?”  Rysgil smiled then though it was little more than a pointed bearing of too sharp teeth that made Cassandra’s eyes widen again in an uneasy sort of way.

Grudgingly Cassandra admitted that given the circumstances her being armed was probably best.  Rysgil had to refrain from making a few more pointed observations about the woman’s reasoning skills.  Atlen’s chiding voice was strong in the back of her mind.  He’d always despaired of her admittedly poor manners, had told her she was too harsh with people.  He had blamed the clan’s cruelty and the lack of interactions with others on her inability to be more than distantly polite unless pushed.

She had always shrugged his subtle type of worry off, content with the fact that Atlen and Harel both understood her and her ways.  To her, their acceptance was all that mattered.

~~~

The trek after that was simple for Rysgil.  Her purloined daggers let her keep her mage craft secret as she relied on her knife work to protect her against the shades and wraiths they faced.  Her fur lined armor kept her warm from the neck down, her tattoo for once completely covered in deference to the cold.  Her feet were bare though, the soles tough and solid from years roaming at Harel’s side.

They stopped only to fight, a few times to riffle through the pockets of a stray corpse in search of information, and once for Rysgil to pluck a few sprigs of elfroot to shove into her pocket in case the health potions Cassandra had given her ran out and she needed a quick boost of energy.

It wasn’t long before they came upon more fighting.  The sight of a group of shades and wraiths attacking a smaller band in the distance caught Rysgil’s eye instantly.  She sprinted in that direction without hesitation, Cassandra hot on her heels.  Rysgil threw herself forward into the fray with a sound that was half roar and half laugh.  The battle-beat of her heart sounded a steady and familiar rhythm in her head and Harel’s strength pulsed in her heart as she let her knives twirl around her.  In the back of her mind she could hear Atlen calling out forms to her, could hear him tapping his staff on the ground to help her keep time, to help her turn her movements into the dagger dance that he was so famous for.

She was aware of others around her, knew battle-friend from foe well enough not to knife what seemed to be a dwarf in the back of the throat or to sweep the legs out from underneath the figure that practically hummed of magic to her right.  When it was done, when the last shade fell before her daggers she sheathed her knives and turned only to freeze.

The mage she had felt, the one who’s magic prowled around him like a predator in its own right, was directly in front of her.  Face stern and eyes solemn the mage was elvhen, that much was obvious from his ears, though he carried no vallaslin.  He stared at Rysgil for a split second before he reached out abruptly, grabbed her by the wrist, and shoved the hand with the mark towards the rift in the sky.

Rysgil snarled at him, bit back the scream of pain that echoed through her mind, and watched in a detached sort of awe as the rift sealed itself.  She snatched her arm back from the man as soon as it was done, snapped her teeth in his direction as she had done with Cassandra and reached for her daggers.

The mage stared back at her silently and something like interest darkened his eyes before he wiped it away.

“What did you do?”  Rysgil gritted the question out even as she licked at the small drop of blood that had welled at the corner of her mouth from where she’d bitten back yet another scream.  His eyes followed the movement intently and there was a small pause before he answered.

I did nothing.  The credit is yours.”  His voice was deep but pleasantly smooth, even and controlled in a way that made the hair on the back of her neck prickle in warning for some reason.

“You mean the mark?”  Rysgil kept her eyes on him even though they wanted to flicker down to her hand.  He smiled and went on to explain more about the Breach and her mark without any coaxing, surprisingly loquacious for someone who looked so solemn.

As the mage and Cassandra spoke, more around her than to her for the most part, Rysgil found her suspicious confirmed.  The sick green tear in the sky and the mark on her hand were related.  Her lips curled up in a fresh snarl then.  She detested the idea of being marked against her will, of being forced into something not of her choosing.

Another voice, husky and almost inappropriately cheerful broke her out of her daze.

“Great!  And here I thought we’d be up to our asses in demons forever.”  The dwarf, who quickly introduced himself as Varric, was charming.

The way he obviously needled Cassandra made Rysgil almost immediately fond of him in an absent and spiteful sort of way.  Plus his fondness for his crossbow, a truly unique contraption he called Bianca of all things, reminded her of the love she had for the knives Atlen had given her.  She called them Fear and Deceit after the ravens who had tried to trick Dirthamen and as another play on Harel’s name and the hatred the clan held for her.  As always Atlen had found her subtle sort of spitefulness amusing and had coaxed the clan’s craftsman into carefully carving feathers into the hilt of each one.  Creators willing they were back in the camp Cassandra had held her in.  She would steal them back later if it came down to it and they weren’t returned willingly.

Cassandra and Solas, as the mage eventually introduced himself, moved off down the mountain side with barely a glance at her or the dwarf but Rysgil followed them nonetheless.  She let them lead, unable to help the way her eyes strayed to Solas from time to time.  He was elvhen true, had the slender build of their people, but there was something about him, something off, something strange.  Plus she had noticed the way he’d side stepped mentioning she was a mage as he and Cassandra had talked.

There was idle chatter as they moved across the snow.  Varric and Cassandra left heavy and deep footprints in their wake while she and Solas practically glided across the surface, feet sure and steady as they moved.  Habit had Rysgil pausing to pick up things, bits of iron that she automatically stored in her pouch to take back to Atlen later, elfroot for her herb supply, once even a shiny little statue that had poked itself out of a dead shem’s pocket.

She ignored the looks the others except for Varric gave her.  She’d learned a long time ago to take what she could find, where she could find it.  The dead had no use for trinkets anyways and if she were to ever make it back to Atlen then she did not want to return empty handed.

~~~

The two new additions to her party were impressive in their skills although she had to force herself not to dispel Solas’ magic the first time he cast a barrier of protection over her.  The itch of his unfamiliar and almost oppressively strong magic made her skin prickle and something deep inside of her clench hotly but she did her best to ignore it.  She saw the way his lips quirked in her direction the first time he did it.  There was something almost mischievous in his eyes that let her know for certain that he knew what she was and was teasing her somehow, baiting her for a reaction.

Solas said something about the Dalish as they walked, something about how he had crossed paths with them a few times in the past and Rysgil had to force herself not to visibly sneer when he spoke of being … unwelcome.  Solas possessed strong magic, she could tell that after only hours in his company, and the Dalish would have picked up on it too.  Plus he had no vallaslin and offered no clan name.  They would have taken him for city bred more than likely, despite his obvious difference from those who grew up in an alienage.  She knew all too well the welcome that the Dalish were capable of extending towards those they deemed outsiders.

She longed for Harel in that moment, longed for his comfort and his warmth, his presence beside her.  She wanted his fur beneath her hands, the press of his shoulder against her own, the feel of his strength between her thighs as he carried them to safety, as they raced the wind together.  Rysgil bit the longing down harshly, determined not to bring him closer to danger than he undoubtedly already was.  He was safe, she could tell from the steady if impatient pulse of his energy that twined through her own, and she intended to keep him that way.

They picked up speed on the way towards the forward camp Cassandra had pointed them towards, cutting a swathe through the shades and wraiths they found on their way.  Rysgil did her best to ignore most of the chatter around her, granted most of it was Varric’s chatter, but she did respond once or twice to direct questions, her answers short and clipped off.

Varric mumbled once or twice about how she reminded him of another elf.  He said something about broody children and spikes that tickled at something in the back of her mind but she pushed the thought away as unimportant.  She had other things to focus on.

~~~

She sealed another rift outside a gate without any prompting, bit down until she tasted fresh blood in her mouth again and powered through the pain.  Cassandra ordered the gates open and the forward camp spread itself out in front of Rysgil.

Leliana was there, alongside a shem in Chantry robes that wanted her head.  Rysgil sneered at him, bared her teeth and flexed her clawed fingertips in an obvious threat.  She ignored the way Varric arched a brow at her curiously and the way Solas slid a barely noticeable step closer to her, the interest back in his eyes as he stared at her hands.

She was taken aback when the two women turned to her for an answer, but ultimately she chose the mountain path.  She bore the shems no love but she knew the fear of waiting for help that would not come, of being alone and terrified in the cold.  Plus she had no desire to find herself in the middle of a battle field where arrows and swords were far too likely to find her back from a shem unconcerned with cutting down a knife-ear alongside a demon.

The climb was tough even for her, hours of pain and exhaustion had begun to catch up with her slowly but she pressed ever onward.  She slid bits of elfroot into her mouth when the others weren’t looking, chewed on the leaves for a burst of strength and reached up to press a hand against her throat and the bright ink of her tattoo that hid beneath her armor.

She was battle and glory given form.

She would not yield, not even to this, not even to her own body.

~~~

Rysgil swallowed down a grin from the bright shard of satisfaction that lodged itself inside her heart when she closed the rift and saved the scouts hours later, vindicated in her choice not to leave them for dead.

~~~

Horror ate at her when they drew closer to the crater where the temple had once stood.  They stumbled upon the graveyard of bodies, corpses frozen with fire licking at their bones, faces twisted in horror where they lay on the ground.  Cassandra said that they had found her there among the ruins but Rysgil had no memory of the place, could not recall it in the slightest except for a painful thrumming in her bones.

They moved ever onward and the first glimpse of The Breach up close stole her breath away, made something within her cry out in hurt and fear.

She agreed to try and seal The Rift below it without a second thought.

The thing was an abomination, a perversion of the Beyond and it needed to be destroyed, needed to be unmade.

They moved and Rysgil heard Varric curse and let out a sharp string of denials at what they saw next.

The red lyrium hurt her as did the sound of the voice on the air, deep and twisted, smooth in a horrifying way that made her magic snarl and snap angrily.  Solas watched her from the corner of his eyes, she could feel his gaze on her like a touch, but she ignored it as best she could.

What she could not ignore was the image of herself, of the old woman Cassandra called The Divine, and the monstrous shadow that held her captive.

She could not answer Cassandra’s questions, had no memory except for a phantom pain that made her cringe.

Still she thrust her hand up towards The Rift without hesitation and barely flinched at the renewed pain that flared through her.  It was expected by now, a price she knew she would have to pay.

The Pride demon that emerged, on the other hand, was not.

They fought.

All of them together as a unit, comrades born in fire and danger.

She weaved in and out of the beast's legs, coated her stolen daggers with subtle bits of fire, just enough to heat the blade, to make them burn, but not enough to gain anyone’s notice.  Except for Solas who watched her even in the midst of battle.

Rysgil pulled at The Rift each chance she got, forced it to open for the shock it gave the Pride demon.

Blood ran down her chin from where she’d bitten herself to keep from screaming each time but she paid it no mind.  She focused only on the battle-beat of her heart, on Harel’s strength, on the remembered rhythm of Atlen’s staff on the ground as he taught her to dance.

Pride fell finally and there were screams of victory, panicked shouts for her to move, to push forward, to seal The Rift.

Rysgil stepped forward, used the last of her strength to thrust her hand up into the air, and pulled.

There was pain.

There were hot flares of agony that ate at her bones, at her soul.

And then, yet again, there was nothing.

Chapter Text

Again Rysgil woke to pain, woke with sore muscles and aching bones to an unfamiliar room.  She sat up abruptly, aware of the vaguely uncomfortable bed beneath her as her mind reeled and struggled to absorb everything that had happened.

It all rushed back to her.  The Conclave, the Breach, the agony of the mark on her hand.  Solas, Varric, Cassandra, fighting shades and wraiths, fighting Pride and closing the Rift.  It was all so surreal, almost too much to believe.  Only the ache in her bones and the pain that flared through her hand and arm were too much to ignore, too much to write off as a fever dream.

It had happened, it was happening.  It was all real and Rysgil was at a loss.

The elvhen girl that came through the door a few moments later fell to her knees in shock and called Rysgil my lady, like she was a shemlen noble or something else ridiculous.  Rysgil forced herself to be gentle with the girl, tried to calm her down to tell her it was fine but it only seemed to make her more distraught.

Haven, the girl told her, she was back in Haven and the Breach had stopped growing and Cassandra wanted to see her.  She could care less what Cassandra wanted but Rysgil wasted no time in getting up anyways.  She looked around for the daggers that she had found but they were gone.  With a snort of disgust Rysgil shook her head, confident that daggers or no she’d be able to defend herself despite the pounding in her head.  She headed out the door of the small cabin, half surprised to find it unlocked.

Shock hit her hard when she stepped past the threshold and saw the crowd gathered before the small cabin.  Soldiers lined the small dirt path from the door, fists pressed to their hearts, backs straight and eyes wide and almost worshipful.  Rysgil shifted uneasily, had to clench her hands hard enough that her claws drew pinpricks of blood from her skin to keep from lashing out with her magic.

Herald of Andraste.’ Someone in the crowd whispered and Rysgil fought to keep her face smooth and blank as she puzzled over what they could mean or who they could be talking about.  Regardless it seemed important even if she had no idea what they were going on about.  She was confused and she hated being confused, hated not knowing what was going on.

Still she would not be cowed, would not be intimidated.

Rysgil straightened her spine, squared her shoulders, and strode forward with all the confidence of a predator.  She let herself be guided by the line the soldiers formed, up to the Chantry where Cassandra supposedly waited for her.  Rysgil was actually eager to see the woman, eager to get the meeting done and over with so that she could leave, so that she could head out into the snow and call for Harel, so they could both make their way back to Atlen’s side.

That was all that mattered to her at the moment.

The Chantry was a large building as it often was in shemlen settlements, a hulking beast of stone and wood that made Rysgil vaguely uneasy.  She had been born and raised beneath the trees and the sky, her feet bare and in touch with the earth beneath her.  As used as she was to moving in and out of shem settlements to trade she’d never quiet grown accustomed to the heavy oppressiveness of their buildings.

There were raised voices inside the Chantry and Rysgil could tell they were discussing her.  One of them Rysgil recognized as the priest who had called for her head at the forward camp.  He seemed to have been unable to discard that particular train of thought.  The other voice, the one that spoke in her defense, was, to her great surprise, Cassandra.

Rysgil could not hold her tongue when the man put forth the idea that she was behind the entire thing and she pushed her way into the room.  Cassandra, Leliana, and the priest, Roderick if she remembered correctly, argued more, tossed words back and forth.  Rysgil sneered at them when they turned towards her, asserted that she’d done what they’d asked of her and had almost died.

She could barely contain her shock when she realized that this Herald of Andraste every once whispered about was supposed to be her.

Cassandra declared the Inquisition reborn and while Rysgil was not entirely sure of what that meant she still felt a shiver of foreboding creep down her spine.

“What if I refuse?”  Rysgil could not help but ask.  She wanted no part in their holy war, in their games of politics and intrigue.  She wanted the trees, wanted Harel and Atlen.  She wanted to go home, to the two who made up her clan.

Cassandra put forth the idea that she had a choice but was careful to remind Rysgil that they would not be able to protect her if she left.  Rysgil bit back her snarl as she paced around the room, her hands fluttering from her hair to her throat in agitation.  She knew what Cassandra meant.  The choice she had presented her with wasn’t a choice at all but an ultimatum.

If Rysgil chose to leave they would pursue her.  She would be conscripted into their cause willingly or not.

There was little else she could do but agree.  For as much as she hated the idea Rysgil could not deny that things were larger than her wants, larger than her desire to return to Atlen.

She was well and truly snared, trapped like the prey she had always fought so desperately to avoid becoming.

~~~

Cassandra sought her out again only hours later after that first meeting.  There were introductions to be made the woman said.  People she would need to meet as the Herald of Andraste.  Issues that needed to be brought to her attention.

Rysgil went because she had no other choice, could see no other option at the moment besides killing everyone in the village and fleeing or dying in the process.

The war room, or so Cassandra called it, was more crowded than before when they stepped inside.  Leliana was a familiar face but the dark skinned woman dressed in lush finery was not.  Josephine, as she was introduced, was a soft woman and obviously not a warrior but there was strength in her.  Rysgil felt a small curl of appreciation both for her beauty and for the fact that for all that had happened she was the only one who had attempted to greet her politely in admittedly accented elvhen.

It was a small gesture but still appreciated.

The one who truly captured Rysgil’s attention though was the man.  He was tall, broad shouldered and obviously strong.  Handsome she admitted grudgingly to herself, in a rugged way that was so different from the more delicate features of the elvhen men she was used to seeing.  Rysgil looked at him with a critical eye, attention arrested as it had been by Leliana and Solas when she’d first met them.  He was a warrior she could tell, a creature of battle just as she was.  It was more than the sword at his side or the armor he wore with such familiarity.  It was in the set of his shoulders, in the confidence in his stance and the crinkle of the scar on his mouth as he smiled at her.

He was intriguing Rysgil could not help but think.

Cullen, Cassandra called him.  The Commander of the newly formed Inquisition’s forces.

“It is a pleasure to meet you Herald.”  Cullen stepped forward then, sketched a shallow bow and reached for her hand.  Rysgil let him touch her, mystified as to his intentions, and blinked in shock when he pressed a kiss to the back of her hand in an almost courtly manner without even a second glance at her claws.

Rysgil drew her hand back sharply, watched him send an almost gentle look in her direction before he turned back toward Cassandra and the others.  Rysgil rubbed at the back of her hand absently as if she could erase the warm, slightly chapped feel of his lips against her skin.

They were arguing about the Breach, about how to handle the situation.

Cassandra pressed the idea of magic and mages and Cullen countered her with the idea of Templars.  Rysgil curled a lip at the thought.  If Templars were to be their choice of aid she really would leave.  She would rather take her chances in being hunted down by Leliana’s spies than allow herself to be surrounded by Templars.

“I used to be a Templar.”  Cullen practically shouted then, his hand on his sword.  “I know what they’re capable of.”

Rysgil’s world stoppedThere were hands around her throat then as water rushed over her head, as she struggled and struggled and the world went dark around her.  She was hardly aware of the way she instantly fell into her battle crouch, teeth bared and fangs glinting in warning as she snarled.

The room froze.

H-herald?”  Josephine was the one to break the heavy silence in the room but Rysgil didn’t bother to look at her.  Instead she kept her focus on Cullen, on the way he started at her wide eyed for a moment in obvious shock before his amber gazed narrowed, turned calculating and battle ready.

 “What is the meaning of this?”  Cassandra barked the question out.  Leliana stood in the corner of the room, eyes sharp and filled with a dawning sort of knowledge.

“You said nothing of him being a Templar.”  Rysgil snarled as she back up towards the door.

They will not take me.  I will not be taken.’ Rysgil thought wildly as the fragile hold she’d maintained on her magic finally broke.  The stress of what had happened, of the distance between her and Harel and the way she missed Atlen, all of it was suddenly too much to control.  Her magic snapped to life around her, burst from beneath her skin to writhe in the air around her.

 “You said nothing of her being a mage Cassandra.”  Cullen’s hand was on his sword then, his fingers wrapped tightly around the hilt.  ‘She would kill him before he tried to smite her, would see his blood spatter across the stones before he could call upon the lyrium in his blood.’

Electricity rolled beneath her skin, fire crinkled the ends of her hair, frost misted her breath.  She would use them all, would wield every element within her reach if he came for her.

“We did not know.”  Cassandra sounded shocked.  “She fought with daggers not a staff.  I saw no magic from her on the battle field.”

“Undoubtedly she meant to keep it a secret.”  Leliana murmured then.  “A wise and cunning move.”

“Please Herald, calm down.”  Josephine stepped forward then, stepped bravely into Rysgil’s direct line of sight.  There was something like fear in the ambassador’s eyes but her voice was steady and calm.  “The fact that you are a mage means nothing here.  You are the Herald of Andraste and you are safe among the Inquisition.  The Circles are no more and you are in no danger here.  Commander Cullen left the order some time ago and bears no true ill will towards mages.  He is loyal to the Inquisition and to you.”

Rysgil heard her words but didn't let them phase her.  She would not lower her guard, would not leave herself open and vulnerable to an attack.  Not again, not ever again.

There was a long moment of strained silence and then Cullen was the one who moved first.  Slowly, deliberately, he drew his sword and stepped forward despite the way Cassandra barked out a harsh command for him to stop.  He ignored her and instead he moved forward steadily, took small but deliberate steps until he was only a few feet away from Rysgil, his sword in hand but pointed towards the ground.

Rysgil held herself still even as she twisted her magic into a tighter weave beneath her skin, wove protections in the air silently and waited for him to attack first.  Her claws flexed as she stared at Cullen, unwilling to take her eyes off of him.

Shock rocked through her when he planted his sword in the stone in front of him and abruptly knelt, his forehead pressed to the pommel.

“I swear to bring no harm to you Herald.  I give you my solemn oath, my word of honor, that I will raise neither hand nor steel in your direction.  I was once a Templar but I have forsaken that path.  I vow that my loyalty and my life belong to you and to the Inquisition.  I am here only to serve in the hopes of bringing peace back to our world.  For mages and non-mages alike.”

Rysgil stared down at him, couldn’t do much more than blink her eyes in shock.  Her magic still swirled in the air around her, too volatile to calm without casting something.  The room felt small suddenly, like the walls were closing in on her.  Rysgil rose from her crouch and took another step back.

“Herald?”  Cassandra stepped towards her then, hand outstretched and Rysgil snarled in her direction as she reached back and found the door behind her.

“I need to leave.”  She rasped the words out as panic ate at her, panic that she did not want to show more than she already had.  “I have to go outside.  Now.”

Rysgil whirled around, threw the door open, and bolted.  She was distantly aware of feet scrambling to follow her, of raised voices and heavy footfalls behind her, but she paid them no head as she raced through the Chantry.

She needed the earth, needed the sky.  She needed Harel.  She couldn’t be parted from him any more, not with her magic whirling around her like a tempest, not with a Templar so close, not with the weight of so many eyes and so many expectations pressing down on her shoulders.

She threw open the doors to the Chantry, only mildly surprised to find Solas on the other side, staff in hand and face creased in concern.  He had known she was a mage and had more than likely felt her explosion of energy.  Rysgil did not stop, she shoved past him and kept moving at a loping pace, intent on reaching the gate and the frozen lake beyond.

Her magic needed to be released, she needed Harel.  It was the best and easiest place to go.  It no longer mattered to her if her mage craft was known, she could hold it back no longer.  Even her control faltered sometimes.

“What has happened?”  Solas’ voice was harsh, low and urgent as he trailed behind her.  “What has caused you to reveal yourself?”

“Templar.”  Rysgil snarled, voice barely more than a growl as she sank further into the wolf inside of her, into the powerful pulse of Harel’s strength that coursed through her heart.

I need him.”  She muttered, barely aware that she spoke.  She could feel him in the distance, moving ever closer to her, drawn by her distress.  She bit back the howl that wanted to rip its way out of her throat.  Not yet.  Soon.  She had to reach the lake before she could unleash it all.

Who?”  Solas asked.  “Who do you need?”

Rysgil didn’t bother to answer, Solas would see soon enough.  They would all see.  She jumped the short drop off of the edge of the embankment and ignored Varric’s startled yelp as she landed beside him.

Her magic flared out before her as she ran, a wave of force that blasted the gates open before she reached them.  She could hear shouting, could hear the startled screams of the villagers and soldiers.  In the distance she even heard Cullen and Cassandra’s voices telling people to calm down, to stand down.

Her feet hit ice and she kept running, kept going until she was in the middle of the lake.  She fell to her knees abruptly, went down on all fours to dig her claws into the ice as her back bowed in pain from trying to keep her magic held down and back.  The mark on her palm flared and pulsed in rhythmic agony but she ignored it.

She locked eyes with Solas from a distance, tried to get him to understand what was happening.  He unsettled her but he was a mage, was elvhen, and she hoped he would be able to read her enough to understand that she needed distance, that she needed space in order not to harm anyone.  She had no love for the shemlen in Haven or for the place itself but Rysgil had never been one to harm or kill indiscriminately and she had no desire to start now.

Rysgil shuddered, her back bowed again as she bared her teeth and snarled, more wolf than woman in that moment.  Solas’ eyes widened and suddenly he was moving, bare feet taking him back towards the shore of the lake where Rysgil could see Cullen and Cassandra and what looked to be the rest of Haven gathered.

“Everyone get back.”  She heard Solas call out just as she felt his magic in the air, felt the shimmer of a thin but wide barrier form in the air around as much of the crowd as he could reach.  "You must give her space."

Confident that they would at least be partially safe Rysgil knew she could finally let go, could finally give her magic an outlet.  Shaking she pushed herself up onto her knees and threw her arms out into the air beside her.

Her magic surged as she dropped her shields and let it roll free.  Lightning crackled in the air above her as a ring of jagged ice burst from the surface of the lake only to fall as a wave of flame swept out in a circle around her.  The earth trembled and Rysgil’s body shook with it as her magic reached far enough to batter at the barrier Solas had erected.

She felt the call well up inside of her again, wild and untamed, unwilling to be held back any longer.  Her Ranger’s soul, the thing that Atlen had saw in her from the beginning, pushed at her, begged her to unleash it.

Her hands came up to wrap around the column of her throat as she clenched her eyes closed, lifted her face to the sky, and howled.

Rysgil felt joy and relief burst to life inside of her as she howled long and loud, the sound filled with her longing and her love.

She carried the note for as long as she could, let it echo out over the lake to drown out the distant voices she could hear from the shore.

The air around her crackled with magic, teemed with energy.  Finally, when she could carry the note no longer and had fallen quiet, there was a profound sort of silence, broken only by her own ragged breathing.

Then, in the distance, she heard it.

The answering howl of a wolf.

Of Harel.

His voice, louder and stronger than hers could ever hope to be, tore through the quiet air.  It was a call to her, the answer to her cry for him, filled with the love and devotion she knew coursed through him as deeply as it did her.  He was coming, the howl said to her.

She needed him and he was coming.

Breathing ragged Rysgil pushed herself to her feet, stance steady despite the way her magic rolled around her and changed the surface of the lake again.  It pushed the ice back smooth and thick although it glittered and glistened like there was fire trapped deep within it.  A piece of her magic lodged firmly beneath the surface, woven into the ice and the waters.

She didn’t care.  Her attention was turned towards the mountains, towards the other side of the lake where Harel’s howl still echoed on the wind.

He was coming.

She felt him before she saw him, felt the bond between them tighten as he drew closer to her.

Then, across the lake, he crested the ridge and screams rose up behind Rysgil as the crowd that had gathered caught sight of him.

She didn’t care, her entire being focused only on Harel, only on her partner, her companion, one half of her entire clan.  One half of her soul.

He jumped from the cliff and landed on the ice, too sure footed to be natural, especially with his size and the thick steel armor that he wore beneath a layer of dark fennec fur.  It was part of her gift to him, part of the bond that tied them together.

Rysgil felt tears well up in her eyes at the sight of him, at the steady beat of his presence growing closer to her.  She wanted to run to him, wanted to meet him half way, but she couldn’t.  She was too weak from the strength of her purge and the force of the call that she’d held back for too long.

She stood there, body trembling in the center of the lake, as he raced towards her.

There were screams from the shore, shouts of Herald and screams for bows.  Solas’ voice rose above them, harsh and demanding as he order Cassandra to make everyone stop, to trust the Herald.

Rysgil paid them little heed. 

They could fire if they wanted to.  Her magic was too active in the air between them, too wild around her, to let an arrow or a bolt through.

They could not hurt her.

Could not hurt Harel.

Not now, not when they were finally together again.

He was close enough to see his eyes then, the brilliant crimson shade they both shared.  Rysgil dug deep and found the strength to move, to stumble forward a few steps as Harel began to slow.

They closed the last few yards between them together as she flung herself forward to wrap her arms around his great neck and bury her face in his fur above the collar of his armor.

“Harel.”  Rysgil whispered his name reverently, voice ragged and broken but filled with all of the devotion and worship the Keeper had always expected her to turn towards the Creators.  “Harel. Harel. Harel.”

Harel whined, twisted in her arms enough to lower his shoulder and press it against her stomach in a practiced move that boosted her onto his back.  She clung to him like a child, hands wrapped in his fur as her feet automatically braced themselves against the straps of his armor.

Harel turned towards the shore instantly.  He knew what she needed and she trusted him to protect her, to protect them both.  He would find them somewhere safe to settle down, somewhere they could lay together in peace as she regained herself.

For the first time since the whole mess had started Rysgil felt like she could breath.

Harel was there, he was by her side.

Everything would be alright.

Together they could face anything.

Chapter Text

Cullen had only been sort of vaguely nervous about meeting her.  Cassandra and Sister Leliana had both warned him about the woman, about the Dalish elf who had been declared the Herald of Andraste.

Vicious Cassandra had murmured to him, something like respect on her stern face, utterly ruthless in battle.

Strong, Sister Leliana had told him, something like wistfulness in her voice, a cunning and strength to be watched Commander, and above all else respected.

He had heard the whispers of her strangeness, had heard the tales of claws and fangs of all things.  He’d heard that the Dalish woman was terrifying from the scouts that had reported to him after they’d been saved from the mountain side they’d been trapped on.  The ones who had accompanied her to seal the Rift beneath the Breach had possessed similar stories.

He had assumed the stories were simple exaggerations, events twisted by the heat of battle and the fear that had lodged itself inside of everyone ever since the Conclave had fallen.  Nonsense from people accustomed only to interacting with elves from alienages or those who had been raised on tales of the brutal savagery of the Dalish.

Cullen had met many elves in his time, had even had the honor of meeting Mahariel herself once in one of the darkest moments of his life.  She had been a kind, if quiet, woman and had possessed an almost awe-inspiring sort of composure and skill.

While the elvhen, Dalish or otherwise, were undoubtedly different from humans Cullen knew that they were far from the simple, savage beasts many believed them to be.  The Circle, for all of its faults, and Cullen was wise enough to know that it had many, made equals of all in some ways.  He had left many of the misinformed racial prejudices of his youth behind him when he’d taken up his Templar duties. 

Magic had been what had mattered in the Circle, not race or something as simple as the shape of someone’s ears.

So he had brushed the stories off as hero worship of a sort or even fear, had taken Cassandra and Sister Leliana’s warnings seriously but also with a grain of salt.

Cullen had assumed he was ready to meet this Herald, ready to meet the woman who had become the rallying point of their fledgling Inquisition whether or not she wished to be.

He had been wrong.  So very wrong.

~~~

Nothing could have prepared him for her.

~~~

She prowled into the room behind Cassandra, spine straight and shoulders set with a sort of natural aggressiveness that automatically called his attention.  Her armor, made of leather and lined with dark fur, covered her from the neck down but did little to hide the subtle strength of her lithe form.  His gaze was drawn to her face instantly, to the riotous tumble of her curls and the wide, wild crimson of her eyes.

She looked fierce and savage in a way that made his stomach clench in appreciation and a helpless sort of admiration as he observed her, watched her track her assessing gaze over Josephine.  Her face was unmarked, free of the strange tattoos so many Dalish wore, but it was still almost delicate looking in the way elves often were.

Almost delicate because there was a core of fire in her that Cullen could see clearly enough even from a distance.  She was strong, that much was clear.

That strength only became clearer when their gazes finally met.  In that moment he could believe all of the stories he’d heard around Haven.  Could believe the tales of her battle prowess, of her viciousness and grit.

It set him to both ease and unease in equal parts, that savage sort of brutality he could see in her.  The Herald was strong, but she was also a relative unknown in Cullen’s eyes.  She would indeed bear watching in the future as Sister Leliana had warned him.

Still it could not be denied that the woman had been through much in so short a time and Cullen had no wish to add to her burden.  So after Cassandra had finished the introductions he smiled at her and kissed her hand like a courtier to show his respect.  The claw like nails were a tad startling but he took them in without flinching, careful to hide the stir of shameful interest that flared to life inside of him.

He allowed himself to be drawn into the argument of what direction they should take the Inquisition, as to whose aid they should seek instead.  It was a subject about which he had rather ... passionate beliefs.  The hate he’d once held for all of mage kind had been washed away in the fires of Kirkwall, in the shame of his own shortcomings.  But the idea of turning to them when there were able bodied Templars available to be recruited into assisting the Inquisition was something he could not come to terms with.

“I used to be a Templar.”  Cullen practically shouted, his hand on his sword.  “I know what they’re capable of.”

A snarl, so bestial and wild sounding, cut through the room and all eyes swung towards the source.  Cullen sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of the Herald, fangs bared to the light of the room, body tense and so obviously battle ready.

Andraste, a dark part of Cullen’s mind whispered as she snarled about not knowing he was a Templar, but she is magnificent.

All thoughts were driven out of his mind at the way magic practically exploded out of her then, burst into the air around her with tangible force.  Terror  struck Cullen’s heart for an instant then at the strength of it, at the overwhelming force of her power.  Amongst all of the other whispers and stories there had been no words of magic, no hint of the Herald being a mage.  He was unable to hold back a snarl of his own or his sharp words towards Cassandra who was quick to disavow all knowledge.

It took Cullen a moment to regain his bearings, something he would be ashamed of later he knew, but Josephine’s insistence that he would not attack the Herald snapped him back to his senses.

For all that he had been devoted to the order, for all that he believed in many of the principles the Templars and the Circles held true, Cullen was aware of their many faults.  He had seen horrors in the Circles in which he had served, horrors that extended beyond the failed Annulment during the Blight.

He had seen failed Harrowings, had seen mages abused by Templars and other mages alike.  He had seen the terror of children ripped from loving homes, forced into the Circle against their wills, torn from everything they had ever known or loved.  More than once he’d heard the sneering taunts of other Templars towards the mages they were supposed to guard, supposed to protect.  Afterwards he had turned a blind eye to much in his time in Kirkwall, a shame that would never leave him, but he had still seen, had still known.

Cullen knew that the Herald, who was apparently an apostate, had good reason to fear Templars.  All mages had reason to fear Templars.  Especially now, especially with what had happened.

But Cullen was the leader of the Inquisition’s army, the Commander of its troops.  There could be no fear between him and the Herald.  Could be no room for that kind of tension.  The soldiers would pick up on it, would sense the distrust in their superiors and would distrust in turn.

So he moved forward, he drew his sword and ignored every instinct, every outside word from Cassandra, and stepped closer to the mage, to the Herald.  To the wild Dalish woman with glinting fangs and the very elements twisting around her form.

He knelt, put himself at her feet and gave her his oath, swore his loyalty and his life to the Inquisition, to her.  He pressed his forehead against the pommel of his sword and waited for a blow, tensed himself to be attacked, accepted the inevitability of it deep inside of himself.  If it would be the price he would have to pay for what had to be done then so be it.

He did not expect her to run, to tear out of the Chantry with something like panic in her eyes as she fled like mabari were nipping at her heels.

There was a brief stunned second of silence before they all scrambled to follow her.  Solas, the other elvhen apostate, the one that Cullen had yet to meet or accidentally terrify, was running at the Herald’s side as soon as she threw open the Chantry’s door, staff in hand and face creased in obvious concern.

They followed her wild dash through Haven and Cullen despaired at the shock and fear on the faces of the soldiers and civilians they passed.  If the Herald intended to flee, to escape and not return, if they were forced to drag her back in chains and keep her prisoner for the mark she held, then the Inquisition was done, finished before it ever truly began.

There was outcry when she hit the surface of the lake and it only swelled when she dropped to all fours abruptly in the center.  Cullen started forward, aware that he wasn’t the only one as Varric and Cassandra both stepped forward as well.  In the distance he saw the Herald’s back bow, could see the agony on her face with a clearness that hit him like a blow.

Something was wrong.

“What in the Maker’s name is going on?”  There were whispers and shouts behind Cullen then, the crowd that had gathered upset and frightened.  Cullen didn’t pay them too much mind, attention focused unwaveringly on the Herald.

Solas was on the ice with her, paused some distance from her downed body, unmoving and simply staring at her.  Cullen wanted to curse at him, wanted to know why he hesitated when she was so obviously in pain, when something was so obviously wrong.  The apostate whirled in the next second and abruptly sprinted back towards the shore.

“What is wrong with her?”  Cullen demanded as soon as Solas was within reach.  The elf cut a sharp look in his direction but didn’t answer his question.

“Everyone get back.”  Solas called as he lifted his staff in the air.  Cullen felt his magic surge up around them, overwhelmingly strong.  A barrier shimmered into place across the shoreline, impressively large if a bit thinly spread.  “You must give her space.”

“Chuckles what in Andraste’s tits is going on here?”  Varric’s voice cut through the din.  “And since when did she become a full on elf sparkler?  I feel like that’s a pretty big issue to have been missed.”

“We can ask questions about her being a mage later Varric.”  Cassandra cut in, voice low and hard.  “For now tell us what is happening to her Solas.”

“She needs to purge.”  Solas’ voice was harsh.  Even with the way he was turned to face the Herald’s downed form, his arms in the air as he held up the barrier, Cullen could see a hint of almost dark interest on the apostate’s face.  “Her magic is strong.  Wild.  I suspect the shock of discovering a Templar in the midst of Haven as well as the stress of all that has happened these past days has finally become too much for her.  She spoke of a need for someone or something, I cannot be sure which or what.  Only that her magic must be unleashed before it harms her further.”  Solas broke off then and Cullen felt the air change at the same moment.

Out on the lake the Herald’s magic finally manifested completely.  The shockwave was brilliant, a ring of force that expanded outwards far enough to batter against Solas’ barrier.  The crowd on the shore screamed in fear as the surface of the lake changed beneath and around the Herald but Cullen and the others held steady and silent, attention focused forward.

And then she howled.

The sound ripped through Cullen and he saw the way Solas’ entire body jerked and went taunt as a bow string as well.  It was loud and long, so wild and animalistic that Cullen could barely believe it came from such a small creature even one as fierce and obviously powerful she was.

It was a calling Cullen knew with a strange sort of certainty as she finally fell silent, a summons the like of which he had never seen.

“There is such love in her song.  A call for strength, for comfort, for family.”  Cullen heard Solas whisper almost to himself, face open and filled with a strange sort of longing that Cullen did not understand.

He had little time to focus on the apostates strange words because, to his horror, her call was answered.

They all heard it, in the silence that followed her howl, the answering call on the wind.

“By the Maker,” Josephine breathed out somewhere behind Cullen.  “Was that a wolf?”    

It was, Cullen knew it was.  He had heard enough of them in his time to recognize one.  He had heard their calls in the night from a distance throughout his entire childhood, had heard their songs echo out over the waters of Lake Calenhad during his years in the Circle there.

Still, the beast that crested the cliff on the opposite side of the lake minutes later, was not at all what he expected.  It was huge to begin with, more horse than wolf, fur dark and thick.  The way it moved, the way it jumped and landed sure footed and steady on the ice was like nothing he had ever seen.

“Bows.”  A voice cried in the crowd behind him, a rallying call that others took up.  “We must protect the Herald from the beast.”

“Protect her?”  Some other hysterical villager countered.  “She called the beast.  It is Andraste’s wrath, the Maker’s wrath.  It comes for us all.”

“It will not harm her.”  Solas’ voice was suddenly in Cullen’s ear, a low almost breathy whisper that made a shiver trace down his spine as the unexpectedness of it.  Cullen cut his eyes to Solas’ face for a second, took in the way his eyes had gone dark and the sides of his mouth were curled up just the tiniest bit.

“You are certain?”  Cullen shifted uneasily, unsettled in a way he could not describe.  “

“She called for it Commander.”  There was a hint of wonder in Solas’ voice then, in his face.  “You heard her song.  She loves the wolf.”

“Stand down.”  Cullen found himself shouting, voice hard and demanding, even as his eyes were riveted to the sight of the wolf racing across the ice toward the Herald.  Solas’ words echoed in his mind, the truth of them stark and raw.  It had been love in her song, a wild sort of devotion.  Plus for some reason he trusted Solas’ words, trusted that the wolf meant her no harm.

“We must trust the Herald.”  Cullen called out as he struggled to keep his voice confident and calm for the impressionable soldiers and villagers that had gathered.  Still, he could not help but clench his hand around the hilt of his sword, could not help but grind his teeth in worry.  Love or not, know the creature of not, she looked so small then, standing in the middle of the lake, shoulders slumped and spine bent.  So breakable.

He watched, half in awe and half in terror, as she stumbled forward to meet the wolf.  Watched as she threw herself at it, wrapped her arms around its neck and buried her face in its fur like a child with a beloved mabari.  When the beast lifted her with its shoulder and she settled across its back in a move that was second nature, Cullen felt something within him relax just slightly.

“This will make the rumors worse.”  Sister Leliana’s accented voice spoke up then, low and calm, her words only for the small inner circle.  “The Herald has tamed a great beast, has brought a great wolf to heel, just as Andraste was once said to call the creatures of the wilds to her side.  This is not news that will remain within Haven.  Nor will the fact that she is a mage.  There will be consequences to such a public and … volatile revealing of her abilities.”

“Indeed.”  Cassandra agreed absently and Cullen couldn’t help but nod along.

“I will do my best to spin this in as positive a light as possible.”  Josephine assured them all but Cullen could hear the hint of worry and awe in her voice as the Antivan kept her eyes on the slowly approaching form of the wolf and the Herald.

“Am I the only one worried about whether or not that thing’s going to try and eat all of us when it makes it to shore?”  Varric’s voice broke in.

“Make no attempt to harm her and I am sure her … companion will make no attempts to see how agreeable dwarf is to its palate.”  Solas’ voice was dry and composed again at Cullen’s side.

“Hilarious Chuckles.”  Varric groused.  “Why are all the elves I meet so hilarious?  Why can’t more of you be as sweet as Daisy was?”

Cullen did his best to block out Varric’s relatively one sided grumbling.  The dwarf used bluster to cover his uneasy Cullen knew and he could not blame him.

“Commander, what do we do?”  Cassandra sounded uncharacteristically uneasy and uncertain.

The wolf had finally drawn even to Solas’ barrier, was standing silently on the other side, large and startlingly familiar red eyes observing the crowd calmly.  The Herald was firmly on its back, eyes closed and breathing even, face gone soft in sleep.

Cullen racked his eyes over the wolf, over the staggering width of its shoulders, over the expanse of its chest and the curious harness of dark fennec fur it wore over what, to Cullen’s trained eye, looked to be armor.  He was at a loss, so firmly out of his depth that he almost wanted to laugh.

He had no idea what to do.

No idea at all.

Chapter Text

Rysgil woke slowly but also warm and safe and comfortable for the first time in what felt like forever.

She moaned slightly and then yawned even as she snuggled back down into the warmth of Harel’s coat, the strength of his side.  She turned her head and buried her face in his fur, inhaled the scent of him, the smell of snow and forest that clung to his fur and always set her so at ease.

“The wolf is remarkably well behaved.”  Solas’ voice cut through the peaceful moment like a crack of lightning and Rysgil’s eyes immediately snapped open.  She cursed herself for her inattentiveness, for not noticing that Solas was a few feet away from the two of them, leaned up against the wall of what Rysgil recognized as the small cabin that she always stayed in.  Her irritation lacked the strength it would could have possessed though because Harel was watchful but relatively calm at her side so Rysgil knew she had been in no real danger.  Still the idea of Solas seeing her so vulnerable and open was discomforting to say the least.  “Though I would also put forth the idea that he is overprotective as well.”

Rysgil pushed herself up and away from Harel’s warmth although she couldn’t help but reach out to him and lay a hand on his muzzle.  Harel leaned into the touch, pushed his great nose into the warmth of her hand in a bid for more affection, but never took his eyes off of Solas.  Rysgil did not blame him.  She and Solas had spoken more than once since she’d been trapped into the Inquisition but she still wasn’t comfortable around him.  Wasn’t really comfortable around anyone to be honest.

Too many years of finding scorn and disgust around every corner and in every face that wasn’t Harel’s or Atlen’s had more than seen to that.

“He does as he feels he must.”  Rysgil bit the words out, ready to snap and snarl at Solas if he stepped out of line where Harel was concerned.

“Yes he does seem to be an excellent guard dog.”  Solas quirked his mouth into an almost sly grin then.  “Like an oversized mabari brought to heel.”

Harel’s snarl was echoed by Rysgil’s own, both of them instantly insulted by the disrespect of Solas’ words and his tone.  Rysgil let her magic flare, let it ripple out into the air around her and Harel even as they rose to their feet as one.  Harel dominated the relatively small cabin’s space but Solas looked unaffected even in the face of his size and Rysgil’s obvious anger.  If anything he looked pleased, looked satisfied in a way that Rysgil did not understand.

“So he does understand.”  Solas murmured and Rysgil froze, instantly weary all over again as she realized that he had provoked them on purpose.  Solas was far trickier than he appeared.  “I had wondered as to the extent of his intelligence.  The others are all too flustered still to begin to question it but I found myself unable to contain my curiosity.  The two of you are remarkable subjects from what I have seen so far.”

“We are not here for your amusement Solas.”  Rysgil snapped out, absolute distaste curling through her at the idea of being the source of yet more study and curiosity.  She was poked and prodded at enough as it was, what with the mark on her hand and everyone’s insistent belief that she’d been chosen by their holy bride.

“Ah, perhaps that was a poor choice of words on my part.”  Solas had the decency to look at least a bit abashed.  “I had simply hoped you would indulge me with a few questions so that I would have something to tell the others.  They are becoming … distraught.”

“I would have assumed Cassandra or the Templar would have dragged me from my sleep if their questions were so important.”  Rysgil sneered at the memory of Cullen but it too lacked some of the heat it would have before.  She had never been one to overlook details or facts to suit herself.  Even in her panic and rage she had heard his oath, had heard him swear his fealty to her and the Inquisition.  He would bear watching of course but Harel was with her now.  Rysgil felt far more settled than she had before, far more in control.

“The Commander seemed committed to the idea of leaving you be believe it or not.  Seemed to believe that sleep was what you needed and sleep was what you should have.”  Solas shrugged and ran his fingers lightly down the side of his staff in a move that caught Rysgil's attention for a moment before she shook it off.  “Lady Cassandra on the other hand was more insistent that they wake you for answers but your companion dissuaded them of that idea fairly quickly.  He made his way straight to your cabin.  Almost broke the door down before I managed to force push it open and then refused to allow anyone inside.”

“And yet,” Rysgil narrowed her eyes at Solas to help her bite back a small smile as she scratched lightly behind Harel’s ear and leaned her weight against his shoulder.  She had known Harel would find them somewhere safe to rest and the cabin was a good choice.  He would have been able to find the trail to the place she’d deemed an acceptable den easily enough.  “You are here.”

“And yet I am here.”  Solas gave her another of his small, peaceful smiles.  “He seemed amenable to my presence as long as I was careful to keep a certain amount of distance between us.”

Rysgil mulled that idea over for a moment.  Harel had never been what could be described as friendly or amenable to anyone that wasn’t Atlen or herself.  To see him even partially accepting of Solas was … strange.  Still she trusted him, trusted Harel with all that she was or ever would be.  If he deemed Solas safe enough for the moment she would follow his advice.

“How long was I asleep?”  She asked the question abruptly, switched topics in an effort to throw Solas off of his rhythm at least a little bit.

“A few hours, no more than three or four I would say.”  Solas answered easily with a small smile as if he knew what she had attempted to do.

Rysgil nodded and forced herself to straighten, to force the steel back into her spine and to set her shoulders in a hard line again.  She was still tired, exhausted deep in her bones, but she felt better than she had since that last night with Atlen by her side.  It would have to do.

“You should rest.”  Solas told her, tone surprisingly gentle and eyes soft.  Rysgil shifted her shoulders restlessly, uncomfortable with the weight of his gaze.

“There is no time.”  She knew that she couldn’t avoid the questions forever.  It was time to face them all whether she liked it or not.

“Please.”  Solas reached out towards her only to pull his hand back when Harel growled again, a deep warning rumble that echoed in the cabin.  To Rysgil’s surprise he nodded at Harel and met his eyes head on.  “I mean your mistress no harm.  If she would be willing to answer a few questions I could inform the others of what I have learned and she would be able to stay and rest till morning.”

Harel stared at Solas for a moment, snorted, leaned over to nudge Rysgil roughly in the side with his nose and then folded himself back down onto the ground beside her feet.  Rysgil stared at him taken aback.  Harel only stared up at her, red eyes wide and slightly commanding.  The two of them held the look for a long silent moment before she sighed.

Rysgil knew when she was beaten.  Harel had taken that same look with her more than once over the years when he was determined to get his way.  Once, with Atlen’s cooperation, he’d kept her trapped in a cave for three days when she’d unexpectedly run afoul of a particularly unpleasant bear.  She dropped down onto the floor beside him, body automatically fitting into the curve of his side so that her chin was propped up on the ridge of his shoulder, and waved a hand in Solas’ direction.

“Ask your questions then.  The quicker the better.”  Rysgil had no desire to spend hours indulging his curiosity after all.  If she could not have the peace of the forest with Harel then she wanted the peace of solitude with him instead.

“The main concern seems to be the fear of him attacking either the villagers or the few horses that are available.”  Solas started off quietly.

“He is not a simple creature.”  Rysgil sneered.  “He has no interest in horses and will do no one harm if they keep their peace and do not provoke him.”

“There is also some concern as to his … size now that you have been revealed as a mage.”  Solas grimaced then.  “There are a few whispers that it is a result of blood magic, that you have treated with demons and he is an abomination.”

Rysgil snarled again, felt her magic well up within and around her in rage, at the very idea that Harel was some sort of monster.  Some sort of demon.  She would not tolerate such thoughts, such prejudice against him.  Not from these people who knew little of either of them and cared to learn even littler still.  Harel’s quiet sigh and the way he leaned, just slightly, into her snapped Rysgil out of her haze.

“They would not be the first,” Rysgil ground out.  “To call me maleficar.”  The clan had thought, still thought, her a monster and Harel little more than a demon as well.  Fen’Harel himself reborn somehow in the both of them, two halves of the Dread Wolf reunited to wreak havoc upon them all.

Da’len …”  Solas pushed himself away from the wall as he tried to calm her but that word, that fucking word, sent rage roaring through her all over again.

I am not a child.”  Rysgil roared as she abruptly gained her feet, hands splayed at her side and fangs bared.  Harel was up then too, his previous ease forgotten, his own teeth bared and hackles raised.  Her rage came spilling out of her then, words jumbled together and underlined with a rumbling growl as she prowled forward across the space that separated her from Solas.  “I do not consort with demons, I do not use blood magic.  I am not the thing of nightmares that scared shemlen tell their children in the dark.  I am a Ranger.”

To her satisfaction Solas took a step back, and then another until he was hovering on the threshold of the cabin’s door.  There was no real fear in his face, Rysgil could see that, but she didn’t really care if she frightened him or not.  She simply wanted him gone, wanted his questions and his thinly veiled accusations gone.  She crowded up into his space so that she could reach behind him and push the door open.

Harel is my partner.”  Rysgil’s voice went dangerously low then, little more than a razor sharp whisper of sound.  Solas’ eyes widened, went dark and hot at the sound of Harel’s name, but Rysgil pushed on before he could speak.  “I am trapped here, bound to the Inquisition against my will.  I have accepted that.  But I will not be kept from him nor him from me.  Tell Cassandra and the Templar that if they must know.  Tell them all if you must.  If I am to stay here, confined to this duty, then Harel will be by my side or I will raze this fucking shem village to the ground.  Breach or no.”

A sharp burst of force had Solas out of the cabin then.  Rysgil snarled at him one last time as he stumbled back in the snow before she pulled the door closed and threw up a barrier of her own.  She could abide no more for the day, could stand no more of their questions and their unrelenting prodding.

Upset she prowled the small confines of the cabin as rage and renewed exhaustion ate at her bones.  Finally she collapsed on the floor in front of the hearth.  She had no interest in the bed.  It was both too small to fit Harel and too soft for her to find comfortable after years of sleeping on the ground.  Rysgil scrubbed a hand over her face, let her shoulders finally slump and then sighed out a heavy breath when Harel once again curled up behind her.

“I am tired Harel.”  She spoke softly as she stared into the flames that danced merrily in the hearth.  “And I miss him.”

Harel nudged her gently, twisted his great frame until she could both lean against him and his head was in her lap.

“I know.”  Rysgil smiled softly as she ran her hands lovingly across his muzzle before she bent over far enough to press their foreheads together gently.  “I know I have you, that we have each other.  I am so grateful for you Harel, so thankful for your love.”

She let silence stretch out between them for a moment before she spoke again, her voice lowered in an almost shameful whisper.  “I just … I wish this burden had never come to me.  I would not have it touch you or Atlen as I fear it will, as I fear it must.”  Rysgil ignored the way her voice cracked as she spoke.  “And yet … I am not sure if I am strong enough to bear it alone.”

There were no more words between them, or at least not ones that others would have understood.  Instead there was the thrum of Harel’s steadfast strength in her heart, the feel of his belief in her, his love for her.  Rysgil closed her eyes and let it wash over her and through her.  She let it soothe the ache in her heart, let it wash away the dull throb of agony in her hand, and pull her gently to sleep.

That night she dreamed of Atlen, of summers spent deep in the forests with him at her side.  She dreamt of nights spent by campfires with his hands gentle and patient in her hair, braiding in the stones and trinkets she so treasured.  She dreamt of their stories and their lessons.  Of the battle-beat tapping of his stick on the ground as he taught her the dagger dance.  She dreamt of the searing agony of the tattoo he had given her and the sweet joy of seeing it for the first time.

She dreamt of home and family, and the quiet certainty of knowing that she was loved.

And when she woke and realized that he was not there, that it was only her and Harel curled together in front of the hearth that was not her own, trapped by circumstances beyond her control, she pressed her face deeper into Harel’s fur.

And wept.

~~~

Rysgil emerged from her cabin the next morning to fears and whispers.  She held her shoulder straight and proud.  Her only concession to her unease was the hand she placed gently on Harel’s shoulder.

Together they moved towards the Chantry and the interrogation she knew was coming but refused to avoid any longer.

She would not be cowed, would not falter.

Harel gave her strength and she would not waste it.

~~~

Days passed.

Rysgil was forced to sit through meetings, forced to watch Cassandra pace restlessly as Josephine riffled through papers and documents, and Leliana skulked around corners and read mysterious correspondence.

They asked her questions, never ending questions, about her magic and about Harel, about how long they had been together.  About everything.  Rysgil gritted her teeth and fought to keep her calm as best she could as she answered and evaded by turns.

She was proud of the way she even managed not to have an outburst when Leliana asked about the clan and the reason she had been chosen to watch the Conclave.  Rysgil glossed over it all, told her that Keeper Dashana had wanted her to keep an eyes on the Conclave so that she could inform the clans as to what was going on.  That she had been chosen because she had the necessary skills to do it on her own.

Leliana had given her knowing looks throughout the entire thing, had seemed to know that she was hiding something, but had also seemed content to let it rest for the moment.

Rysgil was unexpectedly thankful for her subtle kindness.

As for the Templar, Rysgil avoided Cullen as often as she could in the days that followed.  She did her best to ignore the way he seemed to track her every movement any time she was near him.  She felt his eyes like a weight, hot and heavy on the line of her shoulders, on the fall of her hair.  Rysgil watched him out of the corners of her own eyes, desperate in a quiet sort of way to keep him in her sight.

She would not admit that she feared him.  She feared little, certainly not some broad shouldered shemlen with eyes like a great cat.  He simply made her … uneasy because he was a Templar.  And no matter his assertion that he was one no longer, that he had left the order, no matter the oath of loyalty he had so readily given her, Rysgil knew the truth.  He moved like a Templar, walked strong and tall like one with that same saunter, that same assurance in his stride.

She had seen enough of them over the years to know.

Rysgil longed for the outside world, for the freedom of the forest and the mountains.  She longed for Atlen and she tired of the strain of resisting the urge to attack the next person who insisted on calling her Herald.

Sometimes she wondered if most of them even knew her name before she dismissed the thought.  It did not matter, it had never mattered.  She knew that all too well.

The very idea that she was the Herald of Andraste was ridiculous and Rysgil did not hesitate to say so right up until Josephine begged her to be reasonable.  The people needed hope the Antivan said and she, as the Herald, gave them that hope.  It was only Rysgil’s appreciation towards the woman’s attempt to greet her in the manner of her people that made her hold back some of her more fervent protests to her new title.

Still she scoffed at the idea often.  She was no prophet, no harbinger of hope for these people.  She was a portent of doom if her clan was to be believed, a minion of deceit and catastrophe.  She was not the messenger of some burnt goddess, some shemlen woman who had been murdered out of fear and jealousy.

She was elvhen, she was a Ranger, she was just Rysgil.

As it was she wandered the small village constantly whenever she had a chance and so she was aware of the constant feel of eyes on her back, on her shoulders, on the points of her ears.

She heard the whispers, the way they called her Herald in one breath and knife-ear in the next, the way some could not believe they were to turn to an elf for aid.  There were other whispers too, ones about her hair and her teeth, about her claw tipped fingers and about Harel who paced tall and strong and oh so loyal at her side.

Monster, they whispered of him in the same breath they used to call her mage.

“Look at her, so wild, so vicious.  And that beast of hers.  The Dalish truly are savages.”  A woman muttered once to her companion as Rysgil and Harel passed her by.  “I know she is the Herald but I cannot help but thank the Maker that they stay so far from our cities.  At least the elves in the alienages are more … civilized.”

She buried her fingers in Harel’s hair to keep him calm.  The people of Haven had made few attempts to keep their fear and discomfort a secret and Harel did not appreciate their vicious whispers any more than she did.  The clan was different in a way, they knew what he was, what he was capable of, and gave him the respect he deserved if not the kindness or consideration.

The people of Haven treated him like little more than a beast, talked about him like he was little more than an overgrown and possibly feral dog.  Even the small band that comprised the Inquisition’s inner circle who had bombarded her with questions about him seemed mostly unable to grasp what Rysgil meant when she called him her partner.  Admittedly Rysgil had side stepped their questions when she could but she’d answered enough of them to where they should have understood more about Harel than they did.

As it was they thought him eerie, thought him frightening, but they had no idea how much Harel understood, how cunning and intelligent he truly was.

Well Rysgil knew Solas was aware of what Harel was, at least to a degree.  That night in her cabin and the way he had sought to provoke a reaction from them had proven that.  Plus there was also the glint of interest and knowledge in his eyes every time he looked at them.

Rysgil tried her best to avoid him as well.  Something about him, something about his magic and the way he moved, unsettled her in a way she did not like.  Solas felt like a storm to her, lit her senses up whenever she turned them in his direction.  He felt like something chaotic and greater than the skin he wore.

Cullen was much the same, though she knew the source of her unease with the man and had to resist the urge to snarl at the very thought of him.  A Templar.  She was trapped inside a village, surrounded on all sides by watchful eyes and expectations from people who barely remembered that she was more than the mark upon her hand.  And if that was not bad enough there were Templar’s.

For a moment she wondered if perhaps Senros and the others had been right, if what had happened to the Conclave had been her fault in some way despite what Cassandra and Leliana and the others seemed to believe.  A small part of Rysgil could not help but wonder if her situation was an attempt to force her to atone by the Creators for past sins she could not remember.  Or maybe for sins she had not yet committed. 

Perhaps, a small dark part of her mind whispered for the first time in years, perhaps she had brought misfortune to them all.  Perhaps her presence had murdered hundreds and ripped the very sky asunderPerhaps she really was a curse.

Perhaps the Keeper should have left her to the forest as a babe after all.

~~~

The day had been long but agreements had finally been reached.  Rysgil was to travel at dawn, was to set out for the Hinterlands with Varric, Cassandra, and Solas.  It was all in an attempt to gather support from some Revered Mother as well as the hope of gathering aid from the Horse-master Dennet.

She had been offered a horse of her own for the journey, one of the few the Inquisition had, but she’d turned it down.  Harel would be her mount as he always was.  The journey would be long but Rysgil was eager for it, eager to take Harel and feel the wind in her hair again as they raced across the snow together.

Rysgil smiled slightly and leaned her weight against Harel’s shoulder as they walked.  He was at her side as he always was when she moved through Haven and as always she took such comfort from him.  She had missed him during the day, during the long hours spent watching the others argue in the war room.  She’d sent him out to hunt for himself earlier that day, unwilling to trap him inside the Chantry just to have him by her side, and he was well pleased.  It was worth the discomfort of being parted from him to see him so happy now.

Plus the look of horror on Josephine’s face when they’d finally exited the building to the sight of Harel standing tall and proud, a wild ram hanging out of his mouth had been priceless.  Rysgil had known instantly that the ram was intended for her, one of Harel’s many attempts to fret over her, and the gift had certainly brightened her own day.

To her surprise Cullen had seemed to share in her amusement, had stifled a small smile and a bitten off chuckle behind a quickly upraised hand.

Rysgil had fought to keep her own grin off of her face and had instead reached out and patted Harel on the side of the neck in thanks.  She had waved the others off, had ignored Josephine’s protests and offers to have the ram taken care of, and led him down to the frozen lake so she could properly gut and clean the animal.  It had been relaxing in its own way, the familiar routine of cleaning prey with Harel at her side.  She’d chatted at him lightly, voice low and quiet, always aware of the soldiers who practiced not too far from where she was.

With the ram properly cleaned and quartered, the meat bundled and tied to Harel’s back and the leather set aside to be stretched and cured, Rysgil made her way back up to her cabin slowly. 

It had been a good respite but she was tired again.

She felt as if she was almost always tired now.  She felt despondent in a way she never had before.  The cage she had found herself in and the constant ripping pain of the mark on her hand had worn her down a great deal.  It woke her in the night sometimes, the mark, jolted her out of a dead sleep, and forced her spine into a harsh arch as pain ripped through her.  She would bury her face in Harel’s fur to muffle to small sounds she let slip out from behind clenched teeth but she was always careful to keep what it did to her hidden from the others.

Her pain was hers, her agony one of the few things she owned in this place.  Plus, since it did not reach Harel, did not transfer across the bond they shared, she felt no real need to bring it to anyone's attention.  The mark forced only her to suffer and that was reason enough to hold her pain close to her.  She would not have it bandied about as one more thing to study, one more aspect of the mark to investigate.

The sight of Solas, standing outside her cabin, staff nowhere in sight for once, immediately raised her hackles.  He’d been attempting to corner her for days and Rysgil had avoided him at every turn.  It seemed as if her luck had finally run out.

“What do you want of me now Solas?”  Exasperation was thick in her voice but he only smiled at her.  Sometimes she wanted to see what it would take to crack that damned calm expression off of his face again.

“A complicated question.”  Solas murmured almost to himself before he cleared his throat and spoke up again.  “The tale of your companion’s gift to you has become the topic of gossip in the village, Herald.”

Even Solas had taken to calling her by the dreaded title and it made Rysgil want to snarl.  Varric, Solas, Cassandra and the rest all knew her name, Rysgil knew that for sure as Leliana even knew the clan she technically hailed from, but none of them used it.  The villagers and soldiers were almost understandable as she was the Herald to them in truth but Rysgil had hoped …

She shook the thought off.  She knew better than that.

“Harel shared his hunt with me yes.”  Sometimes she wondered if this was to be her life now, a never ending cycle of explaining everything she and Harel did to interested passersby.

“You called him Harel, that night in your cabin as well.  I had been sure I was mistaken.  Is that truly the name you gave him?”  Solas asked quietly as he flicked he gaze over her from head to toe.

Rysgil resisted the urge to sigh and pinch the bridge of her nose.  Instead she glared at him harshly and stepped forward into his space.

“I did.  What of it?”  There was a challenge in her tone, in the aggressive set to her shoulders and Harel’s bristled presence behind her, but she didn’t care.  She cared for so little these days it seemed, all of the energy sucked from her by the mark on her hand and the weight of their fucking eyes.

“You named him for Fen’Harel did you not?”  There was that now familiar dark glint of interest in Solas’ gaze.  “I have meant to ask you as much for days now as I’m sure the others have not made the connection.”

“Yes.”  Rysgil hissed out, patience gone.  “That is who I named him for.”

“A curious choice for a Dalish like yourself.”  Solas murmured.  “Your people do fear the Dread Wolf so.  I would be pleased to know the story behind his name.”

“And I would be pleased if you were out of my sight.”  Rysgil could take no more of him and his questions, of any of their questions and demands on her time.  She needed rest, she needed sleepShe needed Atlen.

“Perhaps another time then, when the two of you are in better spirits.”  Solas backed down so gracefully that Rysgil almost felt bad.  Almost.

His interest in Harel, in their relationship, was one of many things that irritated Rysgil about Solas.  She understood he was a scholar at heart, truly she did, and a part of her could even appreciate that about him.  Her own thirst for knowledge had been encouraged by Atlen’s steady hand and had only grown the older she got.  But while the idea of discussing magic with him was a temptation beyond measure, she was uncomfortable with conversations that focused on things she and Harel had only seen scorn for in the past.

“Be mindful Solas.”  Rysgil warned him softly as he backed away from her in a move that was beginning to grow familiar.  “My patience runs thin as it is.  If you attempt to do anything to Harel, anything, I will gut you where you stand if he doesn’t do it first.”

“Peace.”  Solas held up a hand in front of him.  “I mean your Harel no harm.  I have always had a certain … fondness for wolves as well.”

There was something like mockery in his voice then, a tone of humor that Rysgil didn’t understand and didn’t appreciate.  Solas put her off balance and Rysgil hated anything that put her off balance.  She could not afford to be unsettled, not now, not ever.  Too many dangers waited for her, had always waited for her, to let down her guard.

She would not have the walls she had so carefully constructed damaged or torn down by some strange elvhen, no matter how pleasing his voice or how fascinating his knowledge was.

~~~

Rysgil slept deeply but rose with the sun as was her habit.  Harel at her side she went down to the lake after they had shared a quick meal.  Harel’s armor needed to be inspected before they left and Rysgil was determined to go over each piece with the dedication and attention to detail Atlen had hammered into her.

She would not have Harel harmed because a buckle was broken or because the leather had weakened without her notice.

She had it laid out on one of the stacks of timber by the shore line when Harel stiffened at her side and growled low in his throat.  Rysgil whirled, hands flying to the hilts of Fear and Deceit where they rested comfortably on her hips.  Leliana had returned them to her with a slightly sheepish smile when Rysgil had demanded them the night before.

To her surprise Cullen stood a ways away from the two of them, hands raised in a non-threatening pose as he stared at her.  He looked as wide awake as she did despite the early hour, armor and familiar fur lined cloak firmly in place.

“I mean you no harm.”  His voice, husky and warm, rang out over the quiet between them.  “I actually hoped you would allow me a moment of your time?”

Cullen moved a hand and rubbed at the back of his neck as he spoke.  It was the slightly sheepish, almost boyish, move that made Rysgil relent the slightest bit.  He was a Templar yes, but besides that first day they had maintained a set sort of politeness to each other.  Cullen had, Rysgil forced herself to admit, been nothing but courteous and even kind to her.

“As long as I can work as you talk.”  Rysgil jerked her head to the pile of armor on the timber.  “I have only so much time left before we leave.”

“Of course Herald.”  Cullen agreed instantly, expression open and sincere.

Harel settled down on the ground and Rysgil forced herself to relax, to move her hands away from her weapons.  She could not bring herself to turn her back on Cullen though.  She shuffled around to the other side of the timber pile so she could continue to go over Harel’s armor and keep an eye on him at the same time.

“I thought it was armor he was wearing.”  Cullen smiled slightly as he took a small step forward.  “That first day when you … called to him.  I was sure that he was armored but my attention was too focused elsewhere to give it much thought at the time.”

“He is my companion.”  Rysgil found herself saying, slightly surprised at the fact that she had spoken at all.  She normally held her silence whenever possible but the upcoming journey had her excited, almost cheerful.  The rage that had sustained her up until now was harder to maintain and fresh from sleep she didn’t have exhaustion to fall back on either as she had the night before when Solas had approached her.  “If I have armor then Harel deserves no less.”

“You are very close with him.”  Cullen tilted his head as he stared at the two of them, something like bemusement on his face.  It made the scar on his mouth crinkle slightly Rysgil couldn’t help but notice.

“He is my partner.”  Rysgil repeated.  She could not understand why they all found it so difficult to understand the concept.  She was a Ranger, Harel was her partner, her companion.  He deserved as much as she gave herself if not more.

“I understand.”  Cullen surprised her by agreeing with vehemence in his voice.  Rysgil flicked her eyes up from the strap she was oiling to stare at him with an arched brow.  Cullen flushed then and Rysgil watched, almost reluctantly fascinated, as red bloomed across his cheeks beneath his stubble.

“Do you?”  Rysgil asked the question quietly, actually curious for once.  She could not believe that she cared to know what a Templar thought but no one else had seemed so sure in their opinion.  Not even Solas who actually did know what Harel was to her.

“I am Fereldan.”  Cullen stated, something like pride in his voice.

“And I am Dalish.”  Rysgil replied dryly.

“No that’s … I am doing a poor job of explaining myself aren’t I?”  Cullen’s shoulders slumped just a bit for a second before he straightened them as he flushed again and rubbed at the back of his neck.  Rysgil didn’t even bother to try and hold in her snort of amusement.

“Do you know who the Ash Warriors are?”  Cullen asked her quietly when he finally seemed to have regained himself.

Rysgil shook her head slowly as her eyes went narrow.  She was well versed in most shem customs and things of that nature, knew much of their history and their traditions.  She had learned about them at Keeper Dashana’s knee at first and then her trading and travels as well as Atlen’s tutelage had seen to the rest of her education.  Still there were some things that were unfamiliar to her.

“We Fereldan have a particular love of mabari.  Not that Harel is anything like a common mabari.”  Cullen hurried to say when Harel picked his head up and glared at the man.  “The Ash Warriors, they bond with a mabari, often for life.  The warriors fight with the mabari, live with them, often die with them. They fight for what they deem honorable, for a chance to rewrite their pasts or to correct wrongs, not for coin or glory as so many others do.  They are heroes to most of us, warriors of legend.”

Rysgil was fascinated despite herself.  They sounded like Rangers of a sort almost.

“They sound like warriors I would respect as well.”  She saw the way Cullen almost jumped in surprise and then grinned, bright and startlingly warm, when he realized that he had her attention and her interest.

“You would like them I think.  The stories told about them are wide spread and often among the favorites we Fereldan’s tell.”

“Are there many of them in Fereldan then?”  Rysgil moved on to the next piece of armor that needed to be polished.

Cullen’s face turned almost sad then.  “Not as many as there once were.  They led King Cailan’s charge at Ostagar during the Blight.  They took great losses and have only just now begun to recover.  King Alistair apparently has a fondness for them as well.”

Rysgil’s interest perked up even further at the mention of the shem king.  Mahariel had supposedly adopted a mabari during the Blight and Rysgil couldn’t help but wonder if the king’s fondness had anything to do with his beloved mistress’s companion.  She had to force herself to bite back the questions that hovered on the tip of her tongue.

Silence fell between them after that.  Rysgil kept her hands busy as she worked the leather of Harel’s harness, checked the buckles and the strength, oiled it to a fine sheen and then checked the steel plates beneath the fur that kept them from rubbing her wolf the wrong way.  Cullen watched her, something almost like fascination on his face as he stared at her hands.

“You work well with his armor.”  Cullen broke the silence finally.  “Most mages do not know their way around plate mail, not to mention a criniere or peytral* as you so obviously do.”

“I am not a mage.”  Rysgil stressed the word.

“You have magic…”  Cullen began to protest but Rysgil cut him off.

“My magic does not define me.”  She looked up then and locked eyes with Cullen, tried to force him to truly understand what she was saying.  “I have magic yes, and I am not ashamed of it.  I was born with it, I use it in and out of battle.  But that is not all that I am.  What I am, is a Ranger.  You would do well to learn the difference.”

“I meant no offense.”  Cullen folded his hands behind his back, spine stiff and face carefully blank.

Rysgil studied him for a moment before she sighed slightly and nodded.  She wasn’t sure why she believed him but she did.  Cullen relaxed a bit and seemed to be searching for something to say.

“Did you need something specific?”  While his company had not been terribly unpleasant Rysgil felt as if she had indulged him long enough.  She was beginning to feel restless from having him so close, by being the focus of his attention for so long.  She wanted an hour or so of peace before she left at least.  The journey to the Hinterlands would be a relief but also a trial due to the company she would be keeping.

Varric was amusing but Solas was insistent and Cassandra, while a fine warrior and an honorable woman Rysgil knew, would likely be on edge as well.

“I wanted to wish you a safe journey.”  Cullen told her quietly.  “I know we are not on the … best of terms but I pray for your safety and for your success.”

“I will do all that I can to make sure the Inquisition gets what it desires.”  Rysgil would too.  She’d already sworn as much earlier.

“Yes I’m sure you will.  I will leave you to the rest of your preparations.”  He nodded in her direction and then turned to go.

She watched him walk away, his strides steady and sure with that swagger of his.  To her surprise he stopped after only a few feet and turned back towards her suddenly.

“I will do my best to remember that you are not simply a mage,” Cullen met her eyes across the distance, amber gaze hot and dark.  “If you would do me the favor of trying to remember that I am more than the Templar I used to be, more than the oaths I cast aside.”

They stared at each other for a long moment before Cullen turned then, tossed a soft, “Maker keep you” over his shoulder and headed back towards the tents.

Rysgil watched him go quietly even as her mind whirled.  More than a Templar he said, more than what he used to be just as she was more than her magic, more than a simple mage.

It was a thought worthy of … consideration.

~~~

Rysgil and her small party set of for the Hinterlands an hour or so later.  Rysgil astride Harel’s back and the others with horses of their own, or a pony in Varric’s case.

She rode in silence for the most part, content to close her eyes and tilt her head back as they moved forward so that she could feel the wind in her hair and the mist on her face.  She ignored the heavy feel of Solas’ gaze on her, ignored the way she caught him watching her every time she glanced in his direction.

She was happy to be out of Haven, pleased to be moving and active even if she wasn’t moving in the direction she wanted to be.

They bedded down that first night in a small cave that Harel found at Rysgil’s request.  Varric traded barbs with Cassandra around the fire while Rysgil busied herself with grooming Harel.  It was an indulgence that they both enjoyed as she ran her fingers through his fur and pulled out leaves or burs or anything else that had managed to catch on him.

Solas watched them in silence from his place in the far corner of the cave, his eyes shining in the dark.

When Rysgil dug through her pack that night for a piece of the dried meat she’d packed her hand bumped against something smooth and round that she didn’t recognize from touch.  Curious she pulled it out.

It was a small pot of armor wax, sturdy and obviously finer than the simple oil she normally used on Harel’s armor.

She hadn’t packed it.

Cullen, Rysgil thought as her lips twitched into a small smile that she quickly whipped away.

The Templar, no the Commander, was, perhaps, not so bad after all.

Just perhaps.

Chapter Text

The Hinterlands were vast and cold and beautiful in a way that only the wildness of nature could be to Rysgil.  Harel was a warm, familiar presence between her thighs, his armor cared for and secured safely in place.

It felt right to be in the wild again, to be as one with Harel as they hunted together, though their prey was different than it normally was.

Despite that it felt good to be free again in some small way.

Rysgil would savor the feel of it for she knew it would not last forever.

~~~

Harel carried her back into Haven what felt like years later.

Exhausted and weary to the bone Rysgil wanted to slump forward, wanted to find the comfortable spot between the grooves of Harel’s armor and sleep.  Instead she forced her spine straight, forced her shoulders even and her face blank.  The others were exhausted as well, blood and mud spattered all over their armor and clothesfrom the constant fighting and then the long trek back to Haven.  But it was to her that everyone looked.

Even now she could afford to show no weakness.

They had accomplished their goals, had gathered the Revered Mother Giselle’s support and Dennett’s horses would soon follow but it all rang as a hollow sort of victory for Rysgil.

There had been so many fade rifts, so much fighting.  So many Templars and mages, so many wraiths and demons.  The Hinterlands had been fraught with them and despite her best efforts Rysgil knew there were still more to be found, still more work to be done in the area before it could be considered stable again.  She had done what she could to help the refugees at the time, had hunted down meat and supplies for them, but she knew it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough, but it was all that she had the power for at the moment.  She needed rest, needed the chance to regain at least a fraction of her strength before she pressed on.

There had been so much fighting, so much blood and death, but that wasn’t the true problem.  Rysgil could fight.  She was fast and deadly with both blades and magic, could run and jump and tumble through the air to find her marks.  She had wielded fire and ice with flawless ease, had run lightning through her blades with barely a second thought.  She had stabbed and sliced, had parried and twisted, had danced her way in and out of her enemies guard just as Atlen had taught her, Harel ever at her side.

Battle was not new to her.  Battle Rysgil could and did handle well.

What had bothered her had been the innocents they’d found.  Simple peasants and farmers dead by the road sides, slaughtered and burned inside their homes or their destroyed wagons.  And on top of all of that horror were the oculara.  They were the skulls of mages made Tranquil, forcefully possessed and then slaughtered before they were mounted on poles for the purpose of finding those strange shards.  The ones that whispered to Rysgil, sang to her low and soft like a gentle crooning lullaby.  Some of those skulls had been small, tiny, childlike.

Rysgil had forced herself to look through each one, had known that the shards were important if the so called Venatori wanted them.  But afterwards, after she’d marked each shards location, she’d ripped the poles from the ground, had cradled the skulls in her hands and buried each of them beneath the nearest tree.  The others had watched her quietly, Solas’ eyes had been dark and heavy and Varric’s had held a sad sort of understanding.  Cassandra had helped her after the first one, had snapped poles in half with her sword or dropped down to the ground beside her and helped her dig.

The idea of those deaths had hit her the hardest for some reason.  The idea of being made Tranquil was bad enough.  To have that part of her soul ripped away, the very idea was horrifying to Rysgil on its own.  But what had been done to them, to the mages who held no connection to their own magic any longer, who had possessed no defense against the demons that had been forced into their bodies, had been so much worse.

Rysgil had to grit her teeth and bite at the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming in pain as they made their way through the village gates.  She hurt, her body was sore, exhausted and wracked with agony from the act of closing so many rifts in so short a time.  She’d vomited blood after the last one, had hidden it from the others who had been busy gathering research material or dressing their own wounds.  It had taken all she had to make it to Harel’s side so that they could start on the journey back.

Harel stopped just past the gates and Rysgil stiffened her spine even further as she prepared to dismount.  She felt a sharp tug of affection for Harel when he lowered himself down to the ground as far as he could in order to make it easier on her.  He was always so attentive, so eager to aid.  Alongside Atlen's love and the clan’s hatred of her he was the one constant in her life, him and the love she knew they bore each other.

Despite her best efforts Rysgil’s knees shook when her feet touched the ground, barely able to hold her weight.  She had to grab ahold of Harel’s fur and lean into his strength in order to keep standing as her head swam.

“Herald.”  Cullen’s voice cut through the noise around her and Rysgil turned just enough to find him watching her from a few paces away, something like concern on his face.

“Commander.”  The conversation they’d had before she left was still fresh in Rysgil’s mind even after so long away.  She had made a decision to not be overly curt with Cullen if she could help it.  That didn’t mean she was comfortable around him.  It just meant that she’d try harder to force back the instinct to go for his throat at odd moments.

“I trust your journey back was safe if overly long.”  Cullen smiled slightly at her, eyes warm.  Rysgil couldn’t help but wonder about the softness in his face sometimes.  It was unexpected from someone like him and she didn’t know what to make of it.

“We saw only minor issues on the ride back.”  They’d been attacked twice on the outskirts of the Hinterlands but the battles had been short and barely noteworthy.  They had also run afoul of an angry wolf on the outskirts of Haven but Harel had taken care of it quickly, had ripped its throat open with an easy efficiency.  Rysgil had the creature’s pelt stored on one of the pack horses and would use it to reline some of Harel’s armor at a later time.  It was what he’d so obviously wanted when he’d presented her with the body.

“I know you must be exhausted but Josephine and Sister Leliana beg for your and the Lady Cassandra’s presence in the war room as soon as possible.”  Cullen’s face twisted in sympathy when Rysgil curled a lip in anger.

They would not even let her rest or eat or, Creator’s forbid, bathe, before they called for more from her.

“Harel needs to be tended to and then I’ll come.”  They might not give her time to rest but she would make sure that Harel was given what he needed before they dragged her back into the confines of the Chantry.  And perhaps she could find something for her empty stomach as well while she did so.  Food would help to bolster her flagging energy stores for the moment.

“Of course.”  Cullen bowed his head at her, fist pressed over his heart, and turned to leave before he hesitated.  “I am glad that your journey went well all things considered.  It is good to see you and the others returned to us.”

“Thank you.”  Rysgil dipped her head in his direction in agreement, too exhausted to bristle or brush him off.  While a rest from the fighting was welcome the return to Haven was much less so.  Rysgil had grown to hate the place in many ways, hated what it represented, hated how she was trapped in its walls.

Cullen hesitated again as if he had something else he wanted to say before he shook his head and walked away back towards the Chantry with another short bow.  Rysgil had noticed that he had a tendency to do that sort of thing a lot around her, hesitate that is.

Solas was outside her cabin by the time she made it there with Harel, stripped down to the soft looking tunic he normally wore in the village.  Her eyes tracked over the surprising breadth of his shoulders before she shook herself out of her daze.  She was so exhausted she’d begun to spot out in places it seemed.

“I don’t have time for you or your questions Solas.  I’m required in the war room again.”  Rysgil pushed her cabin door open and ushered Harel inside unable to bring herself to care when Solas followed her inside and shut the door gentle behind himself.  She was exhausted but Harel was still plenty strong enough to take out his throat if Solas overstepped himself in any way.

“We have only just returned.”  There was a soft kind of concern in Solas’ voice, a hint of worry that made Rysgil narrow her eyes as she looked at him over Harel’s shoulder.  She pushed the issue away and turned her attention back to her task.

“And yet I am still required.”  Her fingers were uncharacteristically clumsy as she tugged at the straps on Harel’s armor.

“They push you too hard, too far.”  Solas stepped forward then, a slow slide to the right of where she and Harel stood.  She watched out the corner of her eye as he traced his fingertips over the edge of the bed that she never used.  “You push yourself too far.”

“I do what is required of me.”  Rysgil bit her tongue to stifle the whimper of pain that arched through her when she lifted the heavy plate from Harel’s shoulders and set it to the side to be dealt with later.  “I do what I am capable of.”

“And you are capable of much.”  Solas’ voice was warm then.  “More so than any Dalish I have met it many years.  Yet you seem to be incapable of respecting your own limits.  A curious trait but not uncommon in one so young and full of life.  Your clan must find a great deal of frustration in keeping you in line.”

Rysgil stiffened.  She knew it was meant to be an absent statement and not a pointed cruelty, but the mention of her clan still turned Rysgil’s mood even sourer than it already was.

“My limits are my own business Solas, not yours.”  She curled a lip at him in irritation.  “Need I remind you again that I am no child in need of a nurse maid?”

“No.”  Solas smiled then, something sharp in his eyes that made Rysgil want to fidget.  Instead she worked on the next buckle of Harel’s armor, determined to unburden him before she made her way to the Chantry.  “That is a lesson I have learned rather well over our weeks traveling together.”

“Then why are you here?”  As always in his presence her irritation was quickly beginning to overtake her exhaustion.  There was just something about Solas that vexed her so, much in the same way Cullen was able to set her so off balance.  Rysgil had a hard time wrapping her head around the two men sometimes.

“I simply wished a moment alone with you.”  Solas smiled.  “A chance to see you and to ask you how you fared in private without the Seeker or the dwarf hovering as they do.”

“I am fine Solas.  Eager to entertain your endless parade of questions?  No.  Fine? Yes.”  The last of Harel’s armor came away and Rysgil set it down with the rest before she edged around Harel’s form and towards one of the packs she’d dropped by the door.  It had the last of her dried meat in it.  While Harel was more than capable of hunting for the both of them while she was busy she didn’t like the thought of letting him go without some kind of food in his stomach.  Plus she was liable to collapse if she didn’t eat soon herself.  “I told you that I know my own limits.  There is no need for you to hover.  You have done enough of that these past few weeks as it is.”

He had too, had seemed determined to glue himself to her side at every given opportunity.  She’d caught him watching her and Harel more times than she could count, eyes dark and interested in the sun or gleaming in the dark of whatever camp they’d scratched out of the wilderness.  It had unsettled her to the point of distraction until she’d forced herself to put it out of her mind.

“Perhaps I believe that someone should set different limits for you then.”  Solas was a step closer to her suddenly, close enough that Rysgil could have reached out and touched him if she wanted to.  Not that she did, not that she wanted to.  “Perhaps I believe that someone should stop you from overreaching yourself so.”

“And do you think you’re capable of something like that?”  Rysgil bristled hard, clenched clawed hands around the sack in her hands until she felt it tear in places.  How dare heHow. Dare. He.  “Do you think you can teach me these new limits Solas?  Do you think you know what I need better than I know myself?”

Almost as if he seemed to realize that he’d reached the edges of her patience Solas seemed to withdrawal.  His shoulders rounded out and he smiled slightly, that same blandly pleasant expression that seemed to be his default.  Rysgil didn’t trust it for a moment.

“It was an idle observation, nothing more.  Now I would be pleased if you would drink this before you leave to attend to your business.  I took the liberty of procuring it for you.”  Solas placed a regeneration potion on the table beside the bed.  His long fingers traced the glass edges of the bottle slowly as he pulled his hand away.  “I do not like seeing you so exhausted.”

“Then perhaps you should see less of me.”  Rysgil couldn’t help but snarl.

“That is something I am not sure would be possible.  For a number of reasons.” Solas smiled at her again, almost playful around the edges, before he turned and moved towards the cabin’s door.  “I hope your business with the others is fruitful.  You know where to find me if you have a need of me Herald.  I am, as always, at your service.”

Rysgil stared at the spot where Solas had stood long after the door had closed behind him.  It was Harel’s slight whine and gentle nudge in the side that pulled her from her daze.  Still she could not help but feel as if she had missed something in the exchange she and Solas had just had.

She got the distinct feeling somehow that she and Solas had been having two vastly different conversations.  There was an undercurrent there that she didn’t understand and Rysgil hated being confused.

~~~~

Allies.

Rysgil was to recruit others, was to set out and bring more power to the Inquisition.  Leliana and Josephine had information on a few noteworthy individuals that they might recruit since they were still unable to approach either the mages or Templars for aid.  And it would be the mages if Rysgil had any say.  Despite her resolve to be more civil towards Cullen she had no desire to surround herself with more Templars than absolutely necessary.

“Herald.”  Leliana’s voice rang out as Rysgil moved pass her tent on her way to her cabin.  They would be leaving in the morning, headed first to some chateau to meet with an exalted mage and to hopefully bring her into the fold, and Rysgil was desperate for sleep.  “If I might have a moment of your time.”

‘A moment’, Rysgil thought, ‘was all that everyone wanted out of her and she was fast approaching the point of having no more moments left to give’.  Still she turned and trudged her way to Leliana’s side.

“I will not keep you long.”  Leliana was a hard woman, so wrapped up in her grief over the Divine’s death but Rysgil could still see a kindness in her, a softness beneath her deadly skill and efficiency.  “I thought this matter would be better addressed now instead of whenever you finally return to Haven.”

Rysgil could understand that she supposed.  It was unlikely that she would be back any time soon.  Not with the demands that had been placed upon her shoulders.

“What do you need?”

“You have made no attempt to send word to your clan since your arrival at Haven.  Am I correct?”  Leliana asked unexpectedly.

Rysgil’s eyes narrowed sharply.  She knew the spy mistress was smart and observant, but she had hoped to avoid this sort of issue.  “Why do you ask?”

“Josephine wishes to send them a message, an official statement of sorts about the Inquisition and its goals.  She hopes to further relations with the Dalish by exalting your place in the Inquisition.”  Leliana graced her with a shallow smile.  “She has insisted upon it though I am aware that you may not agree.” 

Rysgil repressed the urge to laugh.  Exalting her position in the Inquisition would likely have the opposite effect on the Dalish, particularly her own supposed clan.  More likely they would turn tail and withdraw further into the wilds in order to escape her supposed corrupting influence.

“Send all the letters and messengers you like,” Rysgil did her best to keep her expression neutral.  “Though word of my involvement would be best left out of them all.”

“I know that you worship your own gods and have no reverence for Andraste but would they not be pleased to know you are alive?  Word may have reached them already of course since it has been some time.  Still an actual affirmation would perhaps be more welcome.”  There was a sort of wistful fondness on Leliana’s face then.  “Mahariel always spoke so fondly of her clan though she has not seen them for many years now.  The Blight and her duties as a Warden forced her to give them up of course.  Now her unwillingness to stray too far from Alistair’s side for too long have kept her busy these past years.”

Rysgil was momentarily thrown off guard, interest caught without her permission.  “You know the Hero of Ferelden?”

“Oh yes.”  Leliana smiled then, bright and genuine.  It lit up her face, made her truly stunning instead of merely beautiful.  “Mahariel and I traveled together during the Blight along with King Alistair and many others.  It was a chaotic but … rewarding experience and I consider her one of my dearest friends.”

Rysgil had to bite back the urge to spout out question after question.  She wanted to know what had happened, wanted to know what Mahariel was like.  Wanted to know so much about the elvhen woman who had inspired the loyalty and love of an entire nation and as well as the man who had become its king.

“I would … not be against speaking with you about it sometime.”  Rysgil shifted her shoulders and reached up to adjust the collar of her armor.  The temptation of stories of Mahariel were too much to pass up despite the sudden urge to run back to her cabin that sprang up inside of her.  “Time permitted of course.”

“There is much to do.  There is always so much to do.”  Leliana’s smile faded but then her face went soft again.  “But perhaps time can be found eventually.”

Rysgil’s lips twitched as if to smile but she stomped the urge down.  “If that is all then?  We leave at first light and I still have much to do in order to prepare.”

“Of course Herald.  I did not mean to keep you.”  Leliana bowed her head graciously in Rysgil’s direction.  “I will have Josephine send out her missives and I will instruct her to be particularly diplomatic.”

“That would be wise.”  She knew that there would be questions later, that whatever messenger was sent to the clan would undoubtedly return with stories.  But for now Rysgil would take the delay from the inevitable that had been granted to her.

“Is there no message you would like me to pass on?  No missive or note for anyone in particular?”  Leliana asked softly just as she turned to go.

Rysgil stopped, face twisted in hesitation since her back was safely turned to the spy mistress.  Atlen.  She wanted, needed, to speak with him, to let at least him know that she was alive and well.  In truth she needed to know that he was the same.

Determined Rysgil set her shoulders and turned back towards Leliana.  “There is a man who travels with the clan.  Atlen.  He is, was, my … partner on many hunts.”

“Ah of course.”  Leliana’s face twisted in a knowing smirk then much to Rysgil’s confusion.  “I can have word sent to him discretely if you wish.”

“No.”  Rysgil shook her head slowly before she reached up into her hair and found the veridium shard Atlen had given her before she left.  It took only seconds to unbraid the stone and to curl the leather thong that held it carefully around it.  She cradled the shard in her palm for a moment, loathe to give it up, to let another touch it, before she thrust her hand out toward Leliana abruptly.  The spy mistress took the stone with a bemused expression.  “Just make sure that word reaches him that Harel and I both live, and make sure that he receives that.  Have your messenger tell him that I … am sorry I could not spend the winter with him.”

“It will be as you say.”  Leliana nodded and tucked the stone into her cloak and out of sight.  “Is there no other message for this Atlen?”

“That will be enough.”  Rysgil breathed out a shallow breath and stared absently over Leliana’s shoulder desperate to ignore the prickling in her eyes or the way her breath wanted to catch.  “He will know what it means.”

“I understand Herald.”  That softness from before was back in Leliana’s face.  “Now please, go see to your preparations and rest.  You and your companions will have a long journey ahead of you.  May the Maker guide your footsteps and your hand.”

Rysgil set off back towards her cabin then, intent on finally getting Harel’s armor clean as well as getting a bath and food for herself.  Harel would more than likely be waiting on her and she was eager to settle down with him for the night and rest.

~~~

Leliana sidled her way into the war room as was her habit and was unsurprised to see both Josie scribbling on her board and the Commander bent over the table, face intent and brow furrowed.  They both looked up when she shut the door behind her.  The Commander, always so serious, gave her a polite nod before he went back to his considerations.

Josie on the other hand studied her a bit closer.

“And what pray tell, has you so gleeful this evening?”  Leliana could not help but return the small smile that Josie gifted her with.  With so much grief and sorrow since the Divine’s death, with so much anger and pain seething inside her heart, it was nice to feel lighter even if only for a moment.

“I spoke to the Herald about the missives you wished to send to her clan.”  Leliana stepped forward until she could lean her hip against the war table aware that she had Josie and surprisingly enough the Commander’s full attention.  “She insisted that you would be best to leave any mention of her out of them.”

“That is unusual is it not?”  The Commander spoke up, brows furrowed even deeper in confusion.  “Dalish are normally very insular in my experience.  Almost violently so in many cases.”

“I believe that we have much to learn about our Herald.”  Leliana put forth as she reached into her cloak and pulled the stone out, a piece of veridium if she wasn’t mistaken.  It was smooth, the edges rounded off with care and the leather that tied around it was well cared for and finely cut.  Obviously it was a piece that had much meaning.  Of course the way the Herald had been so reluctant to part with it said as much as well.  She toyed with it idly, purposefully, and waited for one of them to ask the obvious question.  She had to find her small amusements where she could after all.

“Alright Leliana.”  Josie put down her board and moved around the war table to stand in front of her, hand held out expectantly.  “Hand over whatever it is that you’re fiddling with as we all know it is the real reason you’re here.”

Leliana bit back her smile and graciously handed the veridium shard over.

“It is very pretty Leliana.”  Josie turned the stone over in her hands.  “Veridium is it not?”

“Yes, it is.”  Cullen was the one who answered much to their surprise.  He had moved around the war table to stand beside them and after a moment’s hesitation he gently took the stone from Josie’s hand.  “This is one of her pieces is it not?  One of the ones she wears in her hair?”

“Why Commander,” Leliana drawled slowly just for the pleasure of watching the Commander’s face flush.  “I did not know that you paid our dear Herald’s hair so much attention.”

“She is … it is… I do not.”  He stammered so adorably that Leliana had to raise a hand up to hide her slight smile.  Josie on the other hand had no such compunctions and openly giggled.  The Commander flushed and thrust the stone back in Leliana’s direction.  “The stones are noticeable is all.  Many in Haven have remarked on her hair, on the things she has woven into it.  Some of the soldiers have bets going that there are human bones hiding in her curls, though I have discouraged those rumors most … fervently.  It is unusual.  Nothing more.”

He protested so earnestly that Leliana did not have the heart to call him out on his obvious lie.  At the moment.

“Why do you have it Leli?”  Josie titled her head curiously.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without them so they are obviously important.”

“It is a token, to be given to someone in her clan.  A man.”  Leliana watched the Commander carefully from beneath her lashes.  She saw the moment his face froze.  That could prove to be interesting later on.  “Someone named Atlen who will, apparently, understand what it means.”

“What do you think it means?”  Josie’s face was alight with interest.  'Ever the romantic,' Leliana could not repress the fond thought.

“Veridium bolsters strength.  It could be a token of love I suppose.  A lover’s reminder of the strength to be found in an embrace.”  Leliana watched the Commander’s face with something approaching fascination as it closed down even further.  “She seemed distressed in her sort of way when she mentioned regretting not being able to spend the winter with him.”

“Perhaps it is rude of us to discuss her obviously private affairs between us.  I doubt she would be pleased with us.  And I for one would not be eager to face either her or Harel in a true rage.”  The Commander turned abruptly and marched back around to the other side of the war table.  He propped his hands on its thick surface and stared down at the map with a mulish expression.

“Too true.”  Josie paled slightly and turned to pick up her board.  “I will write up the missive and make sure the messenger has instructions to be discreet with the more personal delivery.”

Leliana watched them both with a small smile as she tucked the stone back into her cloak.  She would give it to the messenger personally when the time came.  Her eyes tracked back over to the Commander, swept over the tense set of his shoulders and the displeased curl of his lip.

Interesting indeed.

~~~

Rysgil snarled, an irritated flash of teeth, as her name was announced to a room full of shem nobles dressed like fluttering butterflies and bits of colored paper.  Fragile and helpless the lot of them.

She felt the loss of Harel’s comforting presence at her side keenly but Cassandra had insisted that she enter alone.  The invitation had, after all, only been address to her.  The Herald of Andraste.

Rysgil had a sneaking suspicious that she would never be free of the damn title. 

The Lady Vivienne was a …  commanding presence.  The way she’d frozen the shem noble had inspired a distant sort of respect in Rysgil.  The woman was powerful, there was no doubt about that.  She had a masterful control of her abilities and no compunction about using them.  Rysgil could relate to that, could appreciate it even.

But her views on the Circle were where they parted.

Vivienne was fierce and intelligent.  Rysgil knew she would be a useful ally for the Inquisition but the way she spoke of the Circle, of the Court, all of those petty things the elite played with while everyone else starved and suffered, unsettled Rysgil.

Vivienne had never known true fear, had never seen the horrors a Templar could inflict, had never seen the brutality that ran rampant through many of the Circles.

Rysgil had, both first hand and in passing.

Vivienne would join them but Rysgil feared that there would be much tension between them in the days to come.

~~~

The Grey Warden that Leliana had heard tell of, a man named Blackwall apparently, proved to be more elusive than they had thought he initially would be.  It took them longer than either she or Harel liked to find him but perhaps she shouldn’t have been so surprised.  The Hinterlands were, after all, a notoriously large area to cover.

Finally they managed to track him down finally only realize they had stumbled into a raid on a bandit encampment.  Rysgil and Harel both joined in gleefully once the situation became clear.  Afterwards, words clipped but firm, Rysgil spoke with the man about the Wardens and the Inquisition alike.

“Perhaps,” Blackwall finally said after some hesitation and more than one uneasy look towards Harel.  “A Warden could have much to offer the Inquisition.  Especially with so many of the Order missing as you say they are.”

“Good.”  Rysgil accepted the man’s allegiance with a stiff nod and moved to loot the bodies of the fallen.  Cassandra could instruct him on how to get to Haven.

~~~

The Iron Bull was … an unexpected acquisition but a welcome one.  Rysgil approved greatly of the strength the large warrior and his band, The Chargers, displayed.  Cremisius, or Krem as he was called, was as polite and likeable as he had been outside the Chantry when they’d first spoken.

“If I’d known the Inquisition had warrior elf goddesses on giant wolves leading their forces I would have sent Krem to try and sign on weeks ago.”  Bull, as most seemed to call him, sidled up to Rysgil with a grin and an exaggerated wink of his one good eye.

“What?”  Rysgil blinked up at him and then narrowed her eyes sharply when he laughed.  By her side Harel grumbled low in his throat.  Rysgil felt more than saw Solas stiffened slightly on her other side, could practically hear the way the wood ground beneath his long fingers as they clenched tightly around his staff.

“We’re going to get along just fine Boss.”  Bull grinned again and walked away to bellow at Krem about ale or something.  Rysgil wasn’t really sure, still too taken aback.

“You,” Solas ground out, voice surprisingly harsh.  “Should stay away from that one.  He is entirely too uncouth.”

In the background Varric laughed.

~~~

Val Royeaux was like nothing Rysgil had ever seen.  It was beautiful in a strange and structured sort of way, different than the untamed splendor of the wild but no less potent.  Her eyes were drawn to the beautiful silk banners, to the flowers and meticulously trimmed trees, the towering stone buildings.

“It is a sight to see is it not?”  Cassandra’s soft voice spoke up beside her and Rysgil nodded curtly at the woman.

It was indeed.

The confrontation with the Lord Seeker that followed was unexpected but happened as Rysgil knew all her interactions with Templars and their kind would.  With thinly veiled threats and promises of violence.  It was only Varric’s hand on the small of her back and Harel’s warm thrumming presence where he waited for her a ways away from the city that allowed her to keep her calm.

Templars, real ones at least, would never condone to work with mages.  Rysgil had always known that.

Cullen was different she realized in a flash of complete clarity.  He was indeed a step away from the Order just as he had said he was.  She would have to remember that.

The invitation from Fiona was equally as unexpected and Rysgil tucked it away in her thoughts with a hint of caution.  She was too well trained to walk into things blindly after all.

Meeting Sera after that was both startling and slightly anti-climactic.  The strange elf was skilled and well connected but Rysgil did not appreciate her pointed comments about her lack of vallaslin and how that was “good yeah?  Means you’re not too elfy.  Can work with that.”

Still, she had to admit, if only to herself, that seeing a bunch of shem warriors fumble around in their small clothes had been amusing if not slightly uncomfortable.

Sera would, undoubtedly, liven Haven up a great deal.

Rysgil just knew that she didn’t really care.  She had too much weight on her shoulders, had too much to do.  She would have to report back about the invitation to Redcliffe and that meant she would more than likely be returning to the Hinterlands soon.

Because no matter what protests there were, if the others wanted her cooperation then they would extend a hand of friendship to the mages instead of the Templars.

If Cullen or anyone else wanted to fight with her over the issue then Rysgil would deal with them.

She did, after all, know her way around a multitude of weapons and a wealth of magic.

And if all else failed she always had Harel and her own impressively sharp teeth to help get her point across.

Chapter Text

More people poured into Haven every day and with every task Rysgil and her small but skilled band pulled off.  Leliana’s ravens came and went in small flocks, and Josephine was a constant whirl of quills and ink and parchment.  Cullen’s voice, strong and deep, echoed across the settlement constantly as he drilled his ever growing collection of warriors.

Haven had begun to grow almost to bursting but Rysgil stared out at the battlements in longing whenever she was back within its walls.

She constantly wanted to leave, wanted to take Harel and flee into the night, but she held herself back.  She forced herself to be calm and steady when she longed to do nothing more than sink her daggers or her teeth into someone’s throat.  She caught herself wondering daily whether or not Leliana’s messenger had reached Atlen yet, whether or not he knew she was alive and well.  Most of all she fretted quietly over the news the messenger would bring back in turn.

She spent time hovering near Dennett’s crude stables, never able to get too close because of the way the steeds grew antsy in her presence.  Still she liked to watch them, especially the Red Hart that had been brought in.  She had no need of a personal mount, Harel was her steadfast companion and always willing to carry her in times of long travel, but she liked to admire them anyways.  It helped to soothe her when she felt restless.

It wasn’t always enough though, wasn’t always enough to settle her down when she felt trapped.  When her magic rolled beneath her skin and begged to be let free, to be set to a purpose.  She itched from the need to cast constantly in her agitation.  Rysgil took to making small bursts of colored lights, the small wisps that had been her company as a child, in the privacy of her cabin as she laid curled against Harel’s side on the floor in front of the hearth.

Harel’s warm and familiar presence was her only true solace during her time in Haven although she did take a small measure of comfort from speaking to Varric.  His witty form of humor that balanced the knife edge of pessimism and optimism brought her some small amount of amusement.

The Iron Bull was also an amusement, his unabashed personality an almost welcome change of pace from the more restrained members of their party.  Although it did seem to delight him to no end whenever he said something she didn’t fully understand.  Which was, irritatingly enough, often.  He was a strong companion on their quests though and his presence freed Cassandra to attend to her other duties for the Inquisition.  Solas, normally so deliberately calm and even tempered if not always polite, seemed to have taken an almost irrational dislike to him though.

Rysgil wasn’t sure why but she didn’t particularly care either.

When Solas and Bull were focused on prodding at each other she was left in peace with Harel’s solid companionship or Varric’s mildly entertaining commentary.

She had learned a long time ago to embrace what small blessings she could find in life.

~~~

As much as Rysgil loved the wilderness, loved the feel of nature and the wind in her hair and sun on her face, she was ready to burn the Hinterlands to a crisp.  Because there was a dragon.

In the week they had been gone from Haven again in an attempt to garner better relationships for the Inquisition Rysgil had encountered enough hardships and irritation to threaten her already tenuous control on her temper.

First they had been mapping the area, exploring the outer reaches of the forests and establishing camps and safe areas and Bull had seemed determined to charge every bear they’d come across.  While Rysgil had fought a few in her time alongside Harel and knew the value of their pelts and claws, not to mention their meat, she’d become irritated after the sixth time Bull had forced them into battle.

Solas had seemed equally exasperated and Varric had muttered about being surround by overgrown, destructive children for the second time in his life as he fired shot after shot with Bianca.  Bull had just been joyful, high on the adrenalin of battle and eager to continue.

Rysgil had forced them all to climb a small mountain instead of going around it in retaliation.

When they’d stumbled into the dragon’s hunting and nesting grounds Harel had been forced to help them keep Bull from charging at it as well.  Rysgil had finally snapped, her irritation and the ever lingering agony of sealing yet another rift had made her vicious.

“I will skin you and mount your great horned head atop the tavern hearth if you take another step closer to that dragon Bull.”  She had pressed herself up into his space with a snarl, had bared her teeth and left lightning ripple across her finger tips in warning.

Bull had looked only slightly weary of her but he’d backed down easily enough at her insistent attitude.

“For the record Boss.”  Bull had smirked at her later on when they were well on their way towards one of their earlier camps.  “You’re free to mount my head anytime you’d like.”

Rysgil had stared at him for a moment, aware of the way Solas’ face looked as if it had been carved from stone and the way Varric looked in danger of choking on his own laughter.  Bull had grinned, wiggled his eyebrows once, and then kept right on walking.

She would never understand him.

~~~

“I would ask a favor of you.”  Solas asked her unexpectedly a day or so later.  They were deep in the reaches of the Hinterlands still and would remain so for days yet before they turned their attention toward returning to Haven.

“You may ask all you like Solas.”  Rysgil cut her eyes in his direction as she ran her hands over Harel’s face and scratched lightly behind his ears.  “I make no promises.”

“As I well know.”  Solas had moved until he was crouched down across from Rysgil but was still well out of touching range much to her relief.  Having to hold his gaze was tiring enough it in its own way without having to worry about avoiding touching him as well.  “Still I hope once I explain you will agree to aid me.”

“I’m listening.”

“I have heard tell of an ancient elvhen artifact in this area, one that may help to strengthen the Veil and make difficult for more rifts to form in the area.”  Rysgil stared up at him, attention captured, and Solas seemed to notice because he smiled slightly before he kept talking.  “I know we are working to gain the influence and power that is needed to further the Inquisition’s cause but I feel it would be a worthy lead to pursue.  By your leave of course.”

Rysgil thought about it for a moment, about the idea of an artifact from their people’s past that might help to ward off the development of further rifts.  It would be a blessing to her, a relief to know that there was even a small chance of preventing more of them from developing.  Sealing each one was its own unique form of agony for her.  Even if it turned out to be a false lead, which she doubted given the normal quality of Solas’ information, it would still be worth investigating on the off chance of it being true.

“It sounds worth looking into.”  Rysgil agreed slowly.  “Tomorrow when we set off you can chose the direction.”

“I am confident that it will not take us long.”  Solas assured her.  “I have a good idea as to where to search for the artifact.”

In the end Solas was right.  They found the caved in chamber with the artifact quickly enough the next morning.  Unfortunately they also found demons as well as something else, or rather someone else there.

Someone who, once the fighting was finished, Rysgil recognized and who recognized Rysgil in turn.

Mihris, First to Keeper Thelhen of Clan Virnehn.

She was younger than Rysgil by a handful of winters but she remembered her well enough from the few times their clans had met in the wilds.  She had also been at the last Arlathvhen that Rysgil had been forced to attend.  Atlen had deemed it necessary and as always she had folded to his wishes.  Mihris had gotten along well with Fiwyn, Keeper Dashana’s First, if she remembered correctly and like the rest of the clans had been instantly leery of Rysgil and Harel both.

Rysgil.”  Mihris breathed out as soon as she saw her and Harel clearly for the first time.  There was surprise on her face but it quickly turned to scorn.

“Mihris.”  Rysgil nodded even as she hardened herself and placed a hand on Harel’s side to keep him steady.  She was used to the scorn after all.  The only thing that bothered her at the moment was the fact that Solas, Varric, and Bull would bear witness to her shame.

“A friend of yours Herald?”  Varric spoke up as he stepped forward and slung Bianca back into place between his shoulder blades.

“I am no friend of hers.”  Mihris curled a lip in Rysgil’s direction, the lines of her black inked vallaslin stark against her face.  “I do not associate with monstrous da’len who consort with beasts.”

“Have a care Mihris.”  Rysgil snarled as she stepped forward.  Harel was beside her, red eyes wide and fixed on Mihris intently, his head down and his shoulders raised as he prowled forward, their every step in time with each other.  “Before we are tempted to show you just how monstrous we truly am.”

“Not to interrupt such an obviously warm reunion,” Varric broke into the charged silence that had fallen over the clearing.  Rysgil was surprised to see that his face was hard and displeased, as were both Solas’ and Bull’s.  “But we came here for an actual reason didn’t we?”

“We already know.”  Mihris sneered right over Varric’s attempt to diffuse the tension in the air.  “Word has reached many of the clans as to what you have done and will reach many more soon.  We know that you alone survived the Conclave, you and that creature of yours.  We know how you broke the very barriers between this world and the Beyond.  Keeper Dashana should have drowned you like an unwanted pup when you were small.”

Rysgil could not contain herself anymore.  She leapt at Mihris, swatted the fireball the mage sent in her direction away with a swath of ice, and wrapped a clawed hand around the girl’s throat as she slammed her up against a nearby pillar.

“I did nothing.”  Rysgil spit, her voice slurred as her rage brought her closer to the wolf that resided in her heart.  “I will not take your slander Mihris.  Not anymore.  Not ever again.  Not from you and not for your pathetic superstitions.”  Rysgil slammed the girl against the pillar again, uncaring of the way her claws bit into the soft flesh of her neck.  “You want me to be a monster, you and all the others like you who would condemn me for being born as I am, for being what the Creator’s made me.  You would push and prod and judge me for sins I have not committed.  Hate me for what I am Mihris, not for what you and your pathetic Keeper think I am.”

“You are an abomination amongst the people.”  Mihris choked out around the hand Rysgil had wrapped around her throat.  “Nothing more than a mistake that has not and will never earn the right to wear a vallaslin of their own.  Your own Keeper could not give you away at the Arlathvhen.  No clan wants the burden you would bring them.”

“And you are nothing more than a treacherous bitch whose Keeper choses to turn to demons for aid instead of the clans you prize so highly.”  Rysgil felt a vicious flash of satisfaction spring to life inside of her at the way Mihris’ eyes widened in shock.  “Oh yes.  I know exactly what you did.  We can smell it on you, Harel and I, the stench of corruption, of blood magic.  Your precious Thelhen is a coward.”

“Keeper Thelhen is wise and powerful.”  Mihris clawed her wrist but Rysgil didn’t even flinch, just tightened her grip in warning until she finally stopped.  “We will close the Breach before your shame brings death to us all just as your own Senros has always said it would.  And then we will be rid of you once and for all.”

Rysgil laughed, a dark and openly bitter sound that made Mihris flinch sharply.  “Senros may be the battle master of my clan,” She sneered the word.  “But he is as foolish as the rest of you.”  She raised her left hand up, let the mark on her palm flare to life with a flash of sickly green power.  The pain of it was worth the fear in Mihris’ eyes when she saw it.  “I will close the Breach Mihris because I can.  I will show the Dalish what I am, what I and Harel are capable of.  And if they chose to come for me then they will die as all the other who have thought to take from me have died.”

Rysgil pulled Mihris away from the pillar and flung her to the ground at her feet.  Mihris scrambled to stand, one hand clamped around her throat and the steadily bleeding claw marks Rysgil had left there.  Rysgil flicked the blood from her claws with a deliberate sort of slowness and then reached out and grabbed Mihris by the chin despite the way she tried to flinch away from her.

“Go tell your Keeper what has happened here.  Tell all of the clans.  Tell them what I have done and what I will do.”  Rysgil was done with them.  Done with all of their accusations and fear, done with their baseless hatred.  She had never wanted any of it, had never done anything to earn it, but if that was all she could have from them then by the Creators she would make it hers.  “Tell them that I would rather pledge myself to Fen’Harel’s side, would rather walk in his shadow as they have always believed I have, than suffer their stupidity a moment longer.  If they believe me and Harel to be so monstrous, if they believe us to be portents of doom, minions of the Dread Wolf himself, then so be it.  We will bring death to the Dalish who come for us with war in their hearts, we will bring death to all who would come for us.”

Rysgil let her go again, stepped back and closer to Harel’s side again.  Mihris stumbled back, face paler than ever and eyes wide with horror.  Rysgil grinned at her, bared sharp deadly fangs that gleamed in the sunlight in a mocking smile.

“Run Mihris.”  Rysgil taunted her with a small wave of her hand before her grin abruptly vanished and her face went cold again.  “Run now and hope that Fen’Harel’s teeth find your throat long before my own do.  For I cannot guarantee which of us would be kinder.”

Mihris ran. 

There was silence in the clearing then, broken only by Rysgil’s ragged breathing and Harel’s low and continuous growl.

“I could probably still catch her and kill her if you want me to Boss.”  Bull’s voice was hard and low, different from the normally jovial tone he carried.  Rysgil breathed in sharply and exhaled slowly.

“Forget about her.”  Rysgil rasped.  “She’s not worth the effort.  None of them are.”

She turned on her heel and moved towards the collapsed entrance to the cave, aware of the heavy silence behind her and the eyes on her back.  Her magic sprang up without hesitation and helped her to toss the debris aside with a flick of her wrist.  She stood in the entranceway for a moment before she looked back at them over her shoulder.

“Are you coming or not Solas?  Your artifact should be here.”

Solas looked as if he wanted to say something, his eyes were dark and heavy with questions, his jaw clenched tightly.  Rysgil couldn’t deal with him, with any of them at the moment.  She needed to keep moving, needed to keep going ever forward.  She was battle and glory given form and she would not fall to the cruelty of those who should have loved her.  Not again.  She had all she needed.  She had Harel and she had Atlen.  Their love was all that she had ever or would ever need.

She ignored the dark voice that whispered that perhaps Atlen had turned on her too, that perhaps he had finally been turned to the clan’s views where she was concerned.

When more enemies ripped themselves up from the very ground beneath them Rysgil could only laugh with glee as she threw herself into the fray.  Anything to erase the numbness that had overtaken her heart.

~~~

“The Dalish can be a closed minded people.”  Solas told her that night, voice soft in darkness of the camp in an obvious attempt to comfort her.  Rysgil did not need or want his comfort.  Especially since he did not know what he was talking about.  “Do not be hurt by one girl’s jealousy of you or the confusion and fear of the others.”

“You dislike the Dalish Solas, you have made that abundantly clear.  You think us backwards and stumbling like little more than children.”  Rysgil told him softly with a deliberate sort of icy calm.  “In some ways I could even agree with you, in some ways the clans are little more than frightened, stubborn children wondering the world.  But do not think for one second that you truly understand them or how they feel towards me.”

Solas was silent behind her and Rysgil had no interest in hearing what else he might have to say.  Instead she tucked herself deeper into Harel’s fur, buried her face in the soft strands and closed her eyes.

And when she cried that night she did so softly, silently, unwilling to let the others hear more of her shame than they already had.

Rysgil did not know how much more she could take until she shattered completely.

Chapter Text

Rysgil stared down at the war table silently as the others talked around her.  It was littered with the curious little icons and figurines that were used to mark their missions and progress in areas or to note areas of interest the scouts had returned with information about.  Rysgil found them intriguing and had palmed one or two when no one was looking in a fit of frustrated boredom.  She’d taken them back to her cabin and played with them in front of the fire while curled up against Harel.

The enchantments on the little fist that denoted Cullen’s forces and the sword icon that she’d grabbed were simple things.  Small wisps of magic that did little more than light up when set down on the map.  They were useless outside of the war room true, but she had been thankful of the small distraction they had given her.  She’d tucked them into a pouch on her armor anyways instead of returning them or throwing them into a fire with the thought that Atlen might appreciate them when she saw him again.

“We would be foolish to ignore the summons from Grand Enchanter Fiona any longer.”  Leliana’s accented voice spoke up and Rysgil could not help the way her eyes cut towards Cullen then.  A heavy frown creased his brow and caused the scar on his mouth to pull itself tight.  “We have gathered enough power and influence through the Herald’s actions in the Hinterlands to be able to secure passage into Redcliffe.”

“Indeed and not a moment too late.”  Cassandra spoke up, arms folded across her armored chest.  “The Breach grows larger by the day and Solas tells me that it shows no signs of stopping.”

“I still believe that suppressing the Breach’s magic would be wiser than enlisting more mages in an attempt to manipulate it.”  Cullen had not moved on his stance about recruiting the Templars but he had been less aggressive about it.  His eyes always cut to Rysgil when he spoke of it and Rysgil wasn’t always able to stop herself from baring her teeth at the man.  He had been almost kind to her yes but Templars were out of the question in her opinion.

“I’ll sign no treaties with Templars Commander.”  Rysgil bit out harshly.  She already knew that closing the Breach could kill her, the agony of closing the smaller rifts she had encountered so far had solidified that idea inside her mind.  But when it was over, when it was sealed and if she survived then she would take Harel and return to Atlen’s side.  If she did live Rysgil knew she would likely be weak afterwards, exhausted and in agony, unable to defend herself and left with Harel as her sole protector.  She would not surround herself and Harel with Templars who would see them both dead or her made Tranquil as soon as the opportunity arose and her magic was no longer needed.

“I know.”  Cullen dipped his head in acknowledgement, voice and eyes both soft as he looked at her.  Rysgil rolled her shoulders uneasily and bit back the growl that rumbled in her throat.  She hated when he did that.  “But I cannot deny the fact that I hope I can change your mind if given the chance.”

“There is no longer any time for debate Commander.”  Josephine spoke up.  “I receive reports daily from both Leliana’s contacts and my own that new rifts are opening all across Orlais and Ferelden.  If something is not done the effects may ripple out to the Imperium or Nevarra eventually.  If rifts were to open there…”  Josephine trailed off, voice tired and worried in that soft, sweet way of hers.  The woman was a skilled ambassador, intelligent and cunning enough to handle the numerous dignitaries and other matters that were required of her.  That aside Rysgil also knew she was the softest of them all, the one less sharpened by war or pain or cruelty.

“We would be over run on all accounts.”  Cullen acknowledged with a weary sigh.  “We hold no secure ties with either nation and with the Herald as the only way available to close the rifts it would be a nightmare.  Already we have spent weeks accumulating the forces that we now have at our disposal and they are stretched thin as it is.”  Cullen looked harsh in that moment, shoulders held straight and stiff as he stared down at the war table.

“I fear that to wait longer to move forward would be our undoing.”  Cassandra agreed as she turned back toward Rysgil at her place by the door.  “Make your preparations and move for the Hinterlands as soon as you are able Herald.  There is no more time to waste.”

Rysgil nodded and turned to leave the room.  Something like relief unfurled inside of her before she pushed the emotion down.  It was agreed then.  There would be no more talks of Templars, no more of Cullen’s expressive eyes as he attempted to sway her to see his reason.

They would treat with the mages.

~~~

Blackwall seemed uncaring of whether or not he accompanied her and Sera was as vulgarly grateful to stay as far away from so many mages as she was about anything she did.  Rysgil took no offense as the elf was weary of magic, found it ‘creepy’, or so she said, but held no outright hatred for mages.  She was simply honest in her unease and Rysgil could respect that.  Vivienne had seemed interested in going but Rysgil had ignored her.  The last thing they needed in their attempts to approach the rebel mages was a fervent believer of the Circle accompanying them.

Sola, Bull, and Varric were easy enough to rouse to her side as she told them of her upcoming journey.  They would leave with first light as they normally did and as always Rysgil would spend her evening readying her own gear and checking over Harel’s.  Again she took up her place by the edge of the lake as she set to work, Harel for once not at her side.  Rysgil had caught him eyeing the stray nugs that wondered near Haven and she’d waved off to hunt after she’d stripped his armor.

Rysgil lost herself in the work fairly quickly.  The polish that Cullen had given her, the squat fat pot that she carried with her every time she left Haven, made the work much easier admittedly but it was still time consuming.  It was a perfect time for her to think though, to be able to stand outside in nature and shuffle through her thoughts and emotions, to put some order to her mind before she embarked on her next mission.

“You’re dedicated I’ll give you that.”  Varric’s voice caused her to pause and glance up with an arched brow.  The dwarf did not often seek her out, seemed content to keep his own company while inside Haven for some reason.  Rysgil got the sense that he was keeping himself guarded on purpose, that he was keeping as much distance between himself and everyone else as he could.  Rysgil could understand that, the need to keep himself at a distance.  “You’re polishing that armor like the fate of the world might actually rest on just how shiny you can make those buckles.”

“We leave in the morning.”  Rysgil found herself replying lowly.  There was something about Varric, a kind of hidden sadness in him that put her at ease around him more than most of the population of Haven.  “A fool who would ride into battle with uninspected armor is either an arrogant fool or a soon to be dead one.  Unlike some I have no interest in being either.  And neither does Harel.”

“You and that wolf are something else.”  Varric told her.  “I’ve never seen anything like the two of you before.  You move together like you know exactly what the others thinking.  How’d you pull that off?”

“Years of dancing together.”  Rysgil responded only to find herself confused when Varric huffed out a rough chuckle and shook his head slowly.

“What is it with irritable elves and dance jokes?  Is this a cultural divide thing that the rest of us haven’t figured out yet?”  Varric asked almost absently.

Rysgil wasn’t sure what he meant since she’d been serious.  She and Harel moved together so well because of the years they’d spent practicing the dagger dance and her mage craft together under Atlen’s instructions.  But before she could even think about setting him right Varric plowed on.

“You remind me of how he was when we all first met you know?  Prickly as a quillback and as broody as the night is dark.”  Varric looked fond then.  “Of course he’s not much better now days from what I’ve heard but before we all split she had managed to soften some of his edges.  Though mainly only where she was concerned.”

“Who,” Rysgil couldn’t help but ask, slightly mystified at the open affection in Varric’s voice.  “Are you talking about?”

“Fenris of course.”  Varric smirked slightly as he crossed his arms.  “He was one of the most down right unapproachable elves I’d ever met, well right up until I met you.”

Time seemed to stand still for a moment and Rysgil felt like she could hardly breathe as the pieces fell together in her mind.  He’d introduced himself as Varric Tethras.  Witty, sarcastic Varric was the Varric Tethras.  He’d written Tales of the Champion.  She’d been traveling, fighting, and living near the person who’d written Tales of the Champion and she hadn’t realized it.

If he were there Atlen would be laughing at her Rysgil knew.

“You were friends with the Champion.”  Rysgil breathed out unable to hold back her slight tone of amazement.  “You knew the Fenris and Hawke and all of the others.  You’re that Varric.”

“You’ve read my book.”  Varric sounded almost as amazed as she felt and Rysgil forced herself to snap out of her awe.  She coughed awkwardly and then turned her attention back to Harel’s armor.

“I have.”  She didn’t mumble but she did keep her attention firmly on her task.

“Oh no you don’t.”  Varric was grinning, eyes bright and happier than she’d ever seen them, face filled with amusement.  “You’re not gonna put me off that easily.  I know the book’s popular, hell it’s what got me into this mess, but I didn’t take you for the type to read that sort of thing.  Dalish don’t normally take to outside stories do they?”

“I’m not what you would call a normal Dalish.”  Rysgil bit her lip, ashamed of the way she’d allowed herself to speak freely and the bitterness that even she’d been able to hear in her own voice.

Something in Varric’s face seemed to soften and she knew he was thinking of their encounter with Mihris, of the harsh words she and Rysgil both had spoken.  “I’m not what you would call a normal dwarf either sweetheart.  Nothing to be ashamed of there.  Sometimes normal isn't all it's cracked up to be.”

There was silence between them for a long moment.

“It was a good book.”  Rysgil told him roughly even as she kept her eyes firmly on the buckle and strap in her hands.  What made her different from those who should have been her people and what made him different from his own were not the same but she still appreciated the sentiment.  “I bartered with shemlen for a copy of my own but I left it behind with Atlen.”

“Atlen?”  Varric’s voice was interested suddenly.  “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about anyone specific in your clan before.  Who’s Atlen?”

Rysgil winced, discomforted by how easily she’d let herself slip again with Varric.  Still there was little harm in telling him she supposed.  Leliana already knew Atlen’s name after all and for all his charm and connections she was far more dangerous than Varric was.  “He was my partner on my hunts for many years.  He is precious to me.”

“Oh Chuckles is going to love that.”  Varric muttered but only smiled when Rysgil looked up and stared at him with a brow arched high in question.

“You are a singularly irritating dwarf.”  Rysgil narrowed her eyes and glared at him halfheartedly.  “I can see why Cassandra seems so intent on strangling you half the time.”

“And you, my dear ill-tempered Herald, are never allowed to meet Hawke.”  Varric shot back with a grin.  “You're just her type and she’s liable to try and run off with you and Fenris both.  And despite his … reluctance to deal with mages I’m half sure he wouldn’t object too hard if she tried.  Especially not after actually meeting you.”

“Why would ... “ Rysgil trailed off and then snarled at Varric in frustration.  “What are you talking about dwarf?”

“Oh you’ll figure it out eventually I’m sure.”  Varric only shook his head and turned to saunter off back towards his tent with a wave over his shoulder.  Rysgil watched him go with confused frown and slightly hunched shoulders.

By the Dread Wolf people were confusing to Rysgil no matter their race.

~~~

“May I speak with you Herald?”  Cullen’s voice broke Rysgil out of her final preparations the next morning.  Harel was armored and stood ready as she attached the saddle bags to his back.  The extra weight was nothing to him, not after years of helping her to haul game and materials through forests and over mountains as they hunted or traded with the shemlen villages.

“What is it?”  Rysgil turned to face him, slightly surprised at the way Harel merely eyed him disinterestedly, obviously unconcerned with Cullen’s presence.

“Ah.”  Cullen had a small bag clutched in one hand even as he rubbed at the back of his neck with the other.  It was a familiar gesture of his that never failed to amuse Rysgil in some distant way.  Sometimes she wondered why he did it.  Did his neck itch?  Did the fur on his pauldrons bother him?  “I wanted to wish you a safe journey Herald.  While I wish your destination was somewhere other than Redcliffe I hope that the road is not too difficult.”

“I have traveled to and from the Hinterlands many times now.”  Rysgil did her best to ignore his not so subtle allusions to his desire to treat with the Templars.  “The road is long but familiar and Harel and I are always on our guard.”

“Yes, I had noticed that about you, him, the both of you.”  Cullen stumbled over his words for a moment before he seemed to collect himself.  Rysgil watched a flush of red wash over his cheeks with slightly narrowed eyes.  Cullen was clearly not his best in the mornings it seemed.  He stumbled over himself far too much.  “That is to say I have no doubt you and he both are capable of protecting yourselves.  Still I would not have you leave without knowing that I hope for your safe return.”

Rysgil wasn’t sure what to say to him, wasn’t sure how to deal with Cullen’s insistence on being polite and nice to her despite their conflicting beliefs where the Templars were concerned.  It was a situation she had never found herself in before.

“The sentiment is … appreciated.  By Harel and myself.”  Rysgil spoke slowly, carefully, and had to resist the urge to tug at the collar of her armor.  “Creators willing it will all go well and we will return with more aid for the Inquisition’s cause.”

“So long as you return Herald that is all that matters.”  Cullen told her earnestly, something like worry dark in his eyes and fitted across the downward turn of his mouth.  “While I know you have chosen your course, and while I respect that decision, I pray that you will be cautious.  The Templars are not the only ones who have been fighting a war these past months.  The mages at Redcliffe are likely on edge and caution would go far in assuring your safety.”

Rysgil nodded, aware that Cullen was not attempting to needle her.  He was right Rysgil knew.  The mages at Redcliffe would likely be easy to startle and quick to violence if she was not careful.  Which was one of the reasons Varric was accompanying her as well as Solas.  Both were cunning and Varric was surprisingly charming.  Bull was also an assent with his Ben-Hassrath training.  Their combined skills would, if the occasion arose, hopefully make up for her … less that diplomatic personality.

“I will tread lightly.”  Rysgil assured him gruffly.  “I have no interesting in being forced to fight my way through a small army of mages out for my blood on top of everything else.”

“No I imagine not.”  Cullen shifted slightly where he stood and then folded his hands behind his back.  The action made his shoulders seem broader Rysgil couldn’t help but notice, made his chest seem wider and his already impressive height larger.  “If the after action reports Sister Leliana and I receive are true then you have enough irritation and opposition to deal with without adding the entirety of the rebel mage faction to the list.”

“You have no idea.”  Rysgil scoffed lightly at the understatement.

“Indeed I feel as if some of it is too extravagant or ridiculous to be real.”  Cullen quirked a smile at her.  “After reading about your party being asked to summon someone’s dead grandfather as well as you leading a druffalo back to its pen to aid a farmer I was half convinced that Varric had slipped a draft of one of his new novels into the reports by mistake.”

“Don’t forget the dragon that’s staked a claim on a portion of the area or Bull’s enthusiasm for it.  I certainly haven’t.”  Between that, the mages and Templars fighting as well as the bandits, bears, and demons that ran amok Rysgil was surprised that the Hinterlands was anything besides a smoking crater in the earth.

They started at each other for a moment as silence fell between them.  Rysgil cocked her head to the side curiously when it was obvious that Cullen was not leaving.

“Yes.  Right.”  Cullen dropped his hands back down to his side, the small bag still clutched in his left.  “I have taken up enough of your time and you have been kind enough to indulge me.  I will take my leave of you.  May the Maker keep you Herald.”  Cullen sketched a small bow and turned sharply on his heel to stride away.

Rysgil watched him go, attention caught by the swirl of his cloak as he moved.  He was a few yards away when he abruptly stopped, whirled back around and stalked back in her direction, face hard with determination.  Rysgil tensed automatically, felt her fingers twitch towards Fear’s hilt before she stopped herself.  She would not be the one to pull a weapon first, not with so many people around.  If Cullen moved to violence then she would answer with her magic first.  He may have been a Templar but Rysgil had killed her first at twelve and knew how to draw on horror and rage to overpower their resistance.

“Here.”  Cullen thrust the hand with the small bag clutched in it out in her direction once he was within reaching distance of her.  Rysgil blinked and stared down at his hand in confusion.  Cullen spoke up again after a few seconds of awkward silence, voice almost pained.  “Please take it.”

Rysgil flickered her gaze up to his face and then back to his outstretched hand a few times before she slowly reached out and carefully took the small bag from him.  The very tips of her claws scraped lightly against the palm of his hand and Cullen’s breath hitched but he said nothing, didn’t curse or shrink back from her as many others hand.

The small bag opened easily for her, the leather strips that kept it closed only loosely tied.  Rysgil stared down at her palm when the item inside came tumbling out.  It was a whetstone, but unlike any whetstone she’d ever seen before.  One side was smooth as was normal, but when she turned it over in her hand Rysgil saw that the other side was decorated.  There were delicate looking leaves and vines carved across its surface with a charming amount of detail.

It was pretty, and finer than any whetstone had the right to be.  Rysgil had always used the more crude ones that Atlen had trained her with.

“I hope I have not overstepped but I saw the one you had and I thought you could use a new one.”  Cullen said gruffly and he kept his gaze fixed firmly behind her when she looked up at him again.  “Weapon maintenance is important after all and I know you are reluctant to take things from the quartermaster.”

“Thank you.”  Rysgil said the words slowly, almost hesitantly, through her confusion.  She pushed them to treat with the mages and he gives her a pretty little whetstone like some kind of reward?  What was wrong with him?  “It is a fine stone and will come in handy.  The one I have been using is old and likely not to last much longer.”

“I am glad then.”  Cullen smiled, a small, almost shy expression, before he dipped his head and turned from her again.  “Now I really will let you get on with your business.”

Rysgil debated with herself for a moment before she took a small step forward and touched his elbow softly with her fingertips before he could take another step.  She stepped back quickly when he gave her a surprised look over his shoulder.  She could understand his shock; she rarely willingly touched anyone in the Inquisition outside of battle.

“Thank you.”  Rysgil repeated softly as she shifted her shoulders and kicked the toe of her boot against the ground lightly.  “For this and the armor polish.  I should have thanked you for it sooner as Harel and I both find it helpful and the scent … pleasing.  But I didn’t so I’ll do it now.  Thank you,” Rysgil hesitated again and reminded herself that he was more than a Templar, “Cullen.”

Cullen’s eyes went wide then, the amber light of them bright as he stared at her with a strange look on his suddenly flushed face.  His voice was rough and vaguely strangled when he spoke again.  “You are most welcome.”

He left then, sketched another of his customary small bows and practically ran away from her.  Rysgil stared after him for a moment, whetstone in hand as confusion roared through her.

“What’s got Curly in such a huff?”  Varric called to her from a few feet away, his hands wrapped around the reins of his squat pony that he tied around a nearby post securely before he walked towards her and Harel.

“I’m … not sure.”  Rysgil’s brows crinkled as she started down at the stone in her hand.

“What have you got there?”  Varric nodded towards her hand.

“Cullen gave it to me.”  Rysgil handed him the whetstone and watched as he turned it over only to snort at the decorated side.  “He said he saw the one I’ve been using and figured that I needed a new one.  It’s a very nice stone.”

Andraste’s ass it’s copper marigolds all over again.”  Varric muttered before he shook his head and handed the stone back to her.  “Fereldan’s are useless at this sort of thing.  Hawke gave the worst gifts too come to think of it.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”  Varric waved her off.  “Is that all that happened?  What was said?  Cause Curly was redder than my favorite guard-captain’s hair when he stormed off a second ago.  I’m pretty sure I might have seen actual flames.”

“I thanked him.”  Rysgil had no idea what Varric was getting at but she was lost enough to play along.  “Nothing else really happened.  He gave me the stone, I said, ‘thank you Cullen’, and then he left.”

“Oh.”  Varric suddenly looked understanding and amused all at the same time.  “I get it.  Curly really does have it bad and Chuckles is going to hate that.  I can’t wait till he finds out he’s got competition on this front as well.  Bumbling competition, yes, but still competition.”

“Why do you call him that?”  Rysgil broke in suddenly, struck by a thought that refused to go away.  It was something small and stupid but it had stuck with her anyways and she was curious.  “Why do you call him Curly?”

“It’s his hair, it used to be a lot different.  You should have seen him back in Kirkwall.  He had hair like an elfroot snarl, not loose curls like yours.”  Varric gestured towards her hair.  “Or the swept back thing he’s got going on now.  Hawke was always fascinated by it every time we ran into him.  She’d go back to the Hanged Man with me and bitch about it for hours.  She’d have a fit to see him all grown up now and emulating Aveline.”

“One day I will understand whatever it is you’re always going on about.”  Rysgil swore at the dwarf only to have Varric chuckle lightly and shake his head.

“Go ahead and try.”  Varric told her with a small laugh.  “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get a decent sized betting pool up and ready before that happens.  Sera would probably be willing to help me.”

Rysgil just growled low in her throat in frustration and turned determinedly back towards finishing her preparations.  The stone she tucked firmly inside her armor for safe keeping.

It really was a nice stone.

~~~

The rift outside of Redcliffe’s gate was strange.  It set Rysgil on edge, more so than the agony that came with sealing a rift normally did.  She hesitated to move forward even when the gate was lifted and an invitation to the tavern was given.

“Is something the matter?”  Solas asked quietly beside her, eyes alert and shoulders stiff.  Sometimes she wondered how much the rifts affected him, how much of their power he could sense.  “You seem uneasy.”

“There is something in the air here.”  Rysgil murmured to him as her eyes darted around the clearing in front of the gate restlessly.

“Boss?”  Bull’s deep voice was low and serious on her other side and ahead Rysgil could see Varric chatting with the guard, spine stiff and hands twitching.  Even the dwarf could sense her unease and was giving her time to think and confer with the others it seemed.

“Harel.”  Rysgil ignored the two of them for a moment and called her partner to her side.  Harel came, eyes wide and ears perked forward.  He could sense her unease as well, could feel it as she felt his slowly settling battle lust, the thrill of the hunt that hummed through them both.  “Take to the cliffs above the village.  Watch but remain hidden.  Something is not right here.”

Harel nodded and leaned forward to press his nose against the side of her face in an affectionate gesture.  Neither of them cared about the blood on his snout as Rysgil leaned into the gesture for a second and then watched as Harel turned and trotted towards the mountain side.

“That will never not be creepy as fuck the way he understands you.”  Bull muttered but there was no real malice in his voice.  “Do you think he’d wrestle with me?  Nothing serious just some playful grappling with minimum bloodshed.”

“Probably, but you’ll have to ask him.”  Rysgil responded absently as she watched Harel disappear over the ridge.  “He enjoyed tussling with me and Atlen as a pup but he is far too large for that now.  You are one of the few who would be able to stand beneath his strength.”

“Atlen?”  Solas spoke up beside her.  “I was under the impression that the clans feared Harel and you both.”

“Atlen is different.”  Rysgil shot Solas a quelling look.  “He accepts us for what we are.”

“And what exactly are you?”  Bull asked, voice interested.  “Been meaning to ask but keep forgetting.”

“I am a Ranger.”  Rysgil told him as she turned back towards where Varric was still chatting with the guard.  “Enough questions.  Stay on your guard in this village.  Something does not sit right with me.  The air here is foul.”

Redcliffe was like many of the shemlen villages that Rysgil had been to in order to trade.  They roamed around for a bit before they headed towards the tavern.  Rysgil was determined to get a lay of the village in case they were forced into a fight and Bull agreed with her.

It ended up being a wise decision.

They stumbled across a healer in one of the huts who was amiable to helping the refugees after a few stern words and being given the majority of the herbs Rysgil had managed to collect.  There was also a shem named Connor who spoke of Tevinter and a Magister, of a past filled with demons and blood.  Rysgil could see the guilt in him and it unsettled her for some reason.  He’d obviously been a boy ten years before, a child who had been taken in by a demon’s whispers and blamed himself.

“Do not wallow in useless guilt.”  Rysgil told him roughly, careful to keep her hands curled to hide her claws and her mouth held right to hide her fangs.  It was a practice that Atlen had taught her when around shem villages.  Rysgil hated hiding anything about herself but she’d long learned that she unsettled shem almost as badly as she unsettled other elvhen.  She had no desire to be chased from Redcliffe by a frightened mob before she’d done what she’d come to do.  “You were a boy and stronger men and women than you have fallen to the whims of demons.  Your guilt changes nothing.  Instead step forward and use your gifts to help those left behind by this war, those who have suffered at the hands of all those involved.”

Connor had stared at her with a mix of sadness and hope in his eyes before Rysgil had turned from him.

“That was a kind thing you said to him.”  Solas was just slightly behind her, hovering as he did on her left side.

“It was the truth.”  Rysgil dismissed the issue easily.  “All mages who are corrupted are not evil.  Some are too young to realize what they are doing, untrained and uneducated in how to keep themselves safe.  He was a child, the fault was not his.”

“Too few understand that distinction.”  Solas agreed with her grimly.  “They allow themselves to be controlled by fear instead of attempting to understand.”

Rysgil knew that all too well.  She had been kept isolated from the clan, had been scorned and shunned repeatedly, for what she had been born as, for the magic that had sparked to life inside of her when she drew her first breath.  Fear had ruled her life until Atlen had given her the tools to make it her own.

Above all else she loved him for that alone.

~~~

The Gull and Lantern was a tavern like any other though admittedly large and solid.  Rysgil moved through the crowd inside easily enough, used to weaving around bodies larger than her own.  The unsettling prickle in her gut got worse when they finally stumbled upon their target.

Fiona did not know them, remembered no invitation, no meeting in Val Royeaux.

Rysgil bared her teeth at the elvhen woman, no longer concerned with appearing normal, and prepared to move forward when the door to the tavern slammed open.

Magister Alexius was well dressed, finely groomed, and polite as he invited her to sit and discuss the mages and their situation with him.  He also stank of corruption, reeked of blood and pain as Mihris had.

He was a Magister of Tevinter in all ways it seemed.

His son Felix on the other hand, smelled of something tainted and horrible that was different from the blood magic stain that clung to his father’s scent.  He smelled of death.

And when he stumbled into her Rysgil let him, kept her face clean of all emotion and her magic tightly furled beneath her skin.  The parchment he tucked into her hand was a surprise but she waited to read its message until Alexius had escorted him out and then she passed it to the others carefully.

They all agreed that it was likely a trap but Rysgil knew they would investigate it anyways.

~~~

The rift in the Chantry was a surprise but Dorian of House Pavus was more so.

The Tevinter mage was mocking and condescending but he didn’t flinch at the fact that Rysgil was elvhen or at the way she fought, so vicious and bloodthirsty with both magic and blades.  Instead he was focused on the mark and on informing them all that Alexius was toying with time itself.

Felix’s revelation that Alexius was aligned with the Venatori caused Rysgil to snarl in rage.  She hated the Venatori almost as much as she hated being chained to the Inquisition against her will.  The things they had done in the Hinterlands alone with the oculara were horrifying.

There was something almost fond in Dorian’s voice when he spoke of Alexius and how they had once worked together.  It was eclipsed by his anger and determination to be there if Rysgil chose to confront the Magister but she still heard it.  She watched him go silently, mind a whirlwind of information, questions, and concerns.

At least she knew why the air was so foul in Redcliffe if the Venatori had managed to twist time itself to their cause.     

~~~

“You know something just occurred to me.”  Dorian announced as soon as she opened the door after he’d knocked.  The mage had shown up at Haven a day or so after they had returned from Redcliffe and had barely left her side since much to Rysgil’s confusion.  His first meeting with Harel had been filled with screams and one half attempted fireball that Rysgil had shut down with a snarl and a hand at his throat in warning.  Beyond that initial scare though he seemed content to haunt her footsteps.

“What is it now Dorian?”  Rysgil resisted the urge to rub at her temples.  Dorian was, in some ways, even more exhausting than Solas with his questions and his nagging.  But for some reason she found him more comfortable to be around than the others, much in the same way she saw Varric.  There was something almost soothing in Dorian, in the way he smelled of clean heat and sand and spice despite the cold of Haven’s snows.  There was no taint in him, no stench of corruption or blood, just magic and life.

“Now, now.  No need to be snappy.”  Dorian tsked at her with a mocking frown.  “I am here in this cold, Maker forsaken wasteland, gracing you with my presence and humbly agreeing to aid you against Alexius.  The least you can do is indulge me occasionally.”

“I’m going to indulge you with a blade in the throat if you keep on.”  Rysgil growled as she stepped back to let him inside.  She probably wouldn’t, not really, but sometimes the temptation was strong.

“You’re a bristly little thing aren’t you?”  Dorian threw himself down in the chair beside the fireplace and lounged there like he had the right to be inside her cabin.  “All thick curls and frothing rage.  It’s endearing really.  Almost as attractive as the way you constantly threaten to maul people with your eyes alone.”

“Harel.”  Rysgil called softly.  “Eat him.”  Harel just huffed lightly in Dorian’s direction before he closed his eyes and went back to his nap.  They both knew she wasn’t completely serious otherwise he would have.

“Your furry friend and I have reached an accord.”  Dorian sounded almost smug.  “He doesn’t tear me into itty bitty pieces and I refrain from pissing myself and screaming like a small child every time he moves.  I’m not sure which of us got the better deal to be honest.”

“Regardless I feel as if I’m the one who is truly suffering.”  Rysgil settled down beside Harel and went back to sharpening Deceit with the stone Cullen had given her.  It really was a pretty stone.

“I am a gift.”  Dorian stressed the word before he waved a hand in the air in front of him dismissively.  “Anyways enough of our charming banter.  I came here for an actual reason believe it or not.”

“I am both shocked and awed.”  Rysgil assured him dryly, slightly surprised at herself.  She was not normally so free with her words with anyone outside of Harel and Atlen but Dorian drew her out of her anger and her silence so very easily.

“As you should be.”  He leaned forward abruptly, clasped his hands together and let them dangle down between his legs as he stared at her.  “As to my original point.  I realized this evening that we were never properly introduced.  While you know who I am, I don’t actually know your name.”

Rysgil froze and even Harel seemed startled as he lifted his head up off of the cabin’s floor and looked at Dorian.  Dorian stared back at them in confused silence for a long moment before he coughed and leaned back in his chair again.

“Have I stumbled across some sort of Dalish faux pas?”  For a brief second Dorian looked legitimately concerned before he wiped the expression away.  “Will there be a war betwixt our houses now?”

“No.”  Rysgil shook her head slowly, aware of the way her heart was pounding in her chest and the way her palms felt vaguely damp.  “It’s just … no one has …” Rysgil was at a loss for words and she stumbled over her own thoughts with uncharacteristic clumsiness.

“What is it?”  Dorian’s voice was gentle, almost coaxing.

“Everyone here, in Haven, in the Inquisition,” Rysgil cleared her throat and stared down at her dagger, her shoulders hunched forward and spine bowed.  “They all call me Herald.  You are the first to ask for my name.”

“I see.”  Something in Dorian seemed to soften, seemed to gentle and almost relax.  “Will you tell me what it is then?  Your name I mean.  I would very much like to know.”

“Rysgil.”  She barely whispered before she forced herself to swallow hard and speak up.  “My name is Rysgil.”

“Rysgil.”  Dorian tested the name out on his tongue and Rysgil couldn’t help the small burst of warmth she felt.  It had been months since anyone had said her name, a small thing but something that had grown larger and larger in her mind.  She had taken to whispering it to herself in the night in an effort to remember that she was more than the Herald, more than the mark on her hand.  It was nice to hear it again.  “It is a fine name.”

For the first time in what felt like forever Rysgil could not suppress her smile.

It was small and delicate, little more than a twitch of her lips, but Dorian saw it and returned it with one of his own.  A genuine gesture that lacked the mockery of his normal grins.

It was more than Rysgil had let herself hope for in some time.

Chapter Text

“We do not have the man power to take the castle.”  Cullen waved a hand towards the war table.  “We must either find another way inside or give up this nonsense and go and find the Templars.”

“Redcliffe is in the hands of a Magister, Commander.”  Cassandra cut in.  “That is something that cannot be allowed to stand.”

“Alexius asked for the Herald by name.”  Josephine clutched her board with a white knuckled hand.  “It is an obvious trap.”

“You squabble like children.”  Rysgil could not hold her silence any longer.  They had pushed her forward at every turn, pushed her to fight and kill and suffer for the furthering of their cause.  And now they wasted time arguing over something that was, in her opinion, simple.  “Alexius meddles with time.  He is no simple mage to be pushed aside and handled at your leisure.  He is far worse than the demons and the undead that plagued Redcliffe during the Blight.  He must be dealt with, now.  And yet you waste time bickering.”

The three of them looked shamefaced for a moment before Leliana stepped forward.  She was the only one who had held her tongue so far and Rysgil respected her for it, even if Leliana did unsettle her at times.

“The Magister has nothing but pretty words and flattery for you Herald.”  Leliana smiled then, that same shallow expression she’d given Rysgil before, the one that did not reach her eyes.  “In fact he is so complimentary that we are sure he means to kill you.”

“Let him try if he dares.”  Rysgil bared her teeth in a snarl, aware of the way Josephine twitched and the way Cullen’s spine snapped even straighter than before as his eyes, bright and watchful, turned in her direction.  Rysgil defiantly held eye contact with him as she spoke.  “He will find that I am not as easy to subdue or slaughter as the Tranquil mages he and his Venatori brethren have taken to massacring for their experiments and rituals.”

“Redcliffe is one of the most defensible fortresses in Ferelden.  It has repelled thousands of assaults.  If you go in there you will die.”  Cullen’s tone was hard and harsh but his eyes never strayed from her own.  “We will lose the only means we have of closing these rifts.  I won’t allow it.”

Something inside of Rysgil’s chest cracked so sharply she could almost hear it.  The mark was his concern.  She had known that already.  It was all that any of them worried about and a part of her could understand it even.  But to hear it again, stated so openly and freely, made something inside of her wither, like a blossom left too long in the cold.

She had wanted, had hoped, somewhere deep inside, that perhaps being trapped in the Inquisition would be her way out of a life filled with scorn or being seen only as a tool.  She had obviously been wrong and she wanted to curse herself for even the idle thought that things would be different here.

Perhaps one day she would be able to stomp out the seeds of hope that infested her soul before someone else insisted on doing the job for her again.

Spine stiff, Rysgil folded her hands behind her back so that she could dig her claws into the tender flesh of her wrist.  The pain kept her grounded for the moment, kept her steady and calm.  That and the ever comforting beat of Harel’s love and devotion that ran through the core of her.  She ignored the way Cullen frowned when she abruptly turned her gaze from him and focused instead on taking deep even breathes.

She was battle and glory given form, she would not be shaken by the words of some shem with warm eyes and a warmer smile who saw her only as a tool.

The conversation flowed around her as she centered herself and it wasn’t until Cullen spoke up again that Rysgil finally joined back in.

“There must be a way.”  She tossed the words out into the conversation because she knew that there had to be one, had to be something they had missed, another way into the castle.  If there wasn’t then she would make one.  Anything that did not involve crawling to the Templars for help.  “We need another way into the castle.”

“There is a secret passage into the castle.”  Leliana announced.  “A way out for the family.  It is too narrow for troops but we could send agents through it easily enough.”

“They would be discovered far too soon to be of any use.”  Cullen pointed out.  “An unnecessary and distasteful waste of life.”

“Not if attention in the castle were focused elsewhere.”  Leliana countered softly.  “Perhaps the envoy that Alexius desires so badly.”

“Yes.”  Cullen sounded contemplative.  “Focus their attention on the Herald while we take out the Tevinter.  It is risky but it could work.”

Rysgil could feel blood welling up beneath her claws but she bit at the inside of her cheek and refused to make a sound.  She would play bait for them now it seemed, a chess piece to be moved and shuffled into dangerous situations only when it suited their plans and whims.  It hardly mattered if she was being honest with herself.  She would have stormed through Redcliffe’s gates with or without their approval anyways.  Whether she did so now as a part of their scheme hardly made a difference.

The war room’s door slammed open and Rysgil whirled, teeth bare and claws tipped with blood.

“Fortunately, you’ll have help.”  Dorian sauntered inside the room followed by one of Leliana’s anxious looking agents and Rysgil forced herself to calm down.  Dorian slid into place beside her as if he belonged there and Rysgil felt herself soften a bit at the small smile he sent her.  “Rysgil love, you should have fetched me.  You know how excited I was for this little tea party and you’ve gone and made me late.  I do hope you saved all the interesting gossip till I arrived.”

“I’m not your nursemaid or your mother.  You sleep like the dead anyways, Harel almost did actually eat you last night you know.  If only to stop the snoring.”  Rysgil kept her face blank, aware that their conversation had the attention of the entire room, but unable to ignore Dorian’s good natured teasing.  Cullen in particular seemed both displeased and shocked by the easy banter between her and Dorian.  Rysgil pushed that thought away.  His opinion mattered little to her, not when he’d just reaffirmed her belief that he saw nothing but the mark on her hand when he looked at her.  The armor polish and the pretty stone had been attempts to aid her in battle just as he’d said they were.

“I beg your pardon?”  Dorian sputtered, an affronted look on his face.  “I do not snore.  It was probably the wind you heard, seeping in through the cracks of that hovel you’re staying in.”

Rysgil snorted and folded her arms across her chest, careful to keep her bloodied wrist and nails hidden in the fur lining of her armor.

“Now as I was saying.”  Dorian shot her a glare that was offset by the warm glint in his eyes before he turned a more serious look towards the rest of the room.  “Your spies will never get by Alexius’ magic without my help so if you’re going after him then I’m going along.”

“I must strongly object Herald.”  Cullen ground out, teeth clenched and stubble covered jaw a harsh line.  “He comes to us from nowhere and expects us to trust him.  Do not trust the value of his word too far.”

Rysgil looked up at Dorian silently, searched his face with narrowed eyes.  The Tevinter was watching her in return, face carefully blank but eyes warm and more than slightly sad.  It was that soft glint of loneliness in Dorian that called out to her Rysgil realized in that moment.  He knew isolation she could tell, knew what it felt to be stripped down, judged, and found wanting.

“You are sure you can get around his magic?”  Rysgil asked.

“I am the only one who can.”  Dorian inclined his head in her direction.  “I’m the only one besides Alexius himself who is familiar enough with the research to even begin to understand what he has done.  You have known me for only a short time but please, Rysgil, trust me on this.”

“You will have the most dangerous role.”  Cullen sounded earnest, almost regretful and desperate as he tried to convince her again, but Rysgil refused to let it touch her.  “We cannot, in good conscious, force you to do this.  Please reconsider marching into a trap with only the word of a stranger from Tevinter to go on.  It is not too late to turn to the Templars.  They would aid us in this matter as well.”

“Dorian has my faith and I will go to Redcliffe.”  Rysgil saw the small spark of warmth in Dorian’s eyes at her blatant favor before she turned back towards the others.  “As I have said before I have no desire to turn to the Templars.  Unless you are so eager to see me dead or Tranquil Commander?  For that is all that would await me if I fell victim to your former order again.”  Rysgil scoffed harshly.  Cullen looked as if he’d been slapped, eyes wide and face slightly pale.  Rysgil ignored the slightly uncomfortable twist in her gut at what she had inadvertently revealed.

“Dorian, Bull, and Solas will accompany me if they all agree.  We will deal with Alexius and his magic once and for all.”  Rysgil looked around the room once more, took in Cassandra’s stoic face, Leliana’s blank expression, and Josephine’s worried one, silently before she nodded and turned on her heel.  Cullen she avoided all together.

She would go now, would spend what time she could with Harel before they left.

Dorian followed after her, kept stride at her side as she left the war room to grow loud again in her absence as she strode through the Chantry.  He followed her all the way through Haven, until they were standing in front of the frozen lake and staring out over the ice that still carried bits and pieces of her magic trapped within the ice.  She could feel Harel in the distance, could feel him making his way to her side now that she was free of yet another meeting.

“You do not have to come.  You could tell me what I need to know now.  I don’t need you there.”  Rysgil spoke to Dorian after a moment, voice gruff but still soft, gentler than was her norm with anyone that wasn’t Harel or Atlen.

“I know I am from Tevinter but I hold no peace with blood magic or any of the other grotesque experiments Alexius has undoubtedly performed with the Venatori.”  Dorian said sharply.  “If you do not trust me fine.  But do not discount my knowledge and the assistance I could provide you with because of the country of my birth.”

“I don’t care where you’re from.”  Rysgil interrupted Dorian abruptly as she turned to stare up at him again just in time to see surprise flash across his face.

“Then what is the issue Rysgil?”  He said her name easily, naturally, and Rysgil wanted to bask in the sound.

“You hold some … affection for Alexius.”  The other mage made to protest but she shook her head at him slowly.  She wanted to be kind to Dorian in that moment, wanted to repay him the kindness he had already dealt her somehow, and was not entirely sure as to what to say.  Atlen and Harel always understood her, knew how to look beneath her tone or words for her true meaning.  “Do not bother denying it.  I saw the truth in your eyes at the Chantry in Redcliffe.  Are you sure you wish to do this Dorian?  This could end in his death, will likely end in many deaths.  You would be a valuable companion yes, but I am no weak kneed creature incapable of winning a battle on her own.  I would not hold you at fault for staying.”

“You are actually kind beneath all of that anger aren’t you?”  Dorian mussed.  Rysgil snarled at him, crossed her arms over her chest again and spun to stare back out over the lake.  Dorian chuckled lowly and softly placed a hand on her shoulder.  Rysgil forced herself not to stiffen but she could not ignore the wave of embarrassment that tried to creep up on her at the way she jolted at the simple touch.  “Thank you for that but Alexius is … something I should deal with.  It would be cowardly of me to hide here while you march into the fray.”

Rysgil nodded, able to understand.  She would not have been able to sit back and allow others to handle the situation if she were in Dorian’s place either.

“Besides,” Dorian squeezed her shoulder lightly.  “I would be a fool to let the only friend I have in this place go off on her own.”

Rysgil sucked in a sharp breath.  Friend.  No one had ever called her that before.  No one had ever wanted to call her that before.  Dorian might have meant it in a casual, throw away manner, but to Rysgil it meant much more.  Determination solidified inside of her then.  She would protect Dorian as well, would keep him safe as she strived to protect Harel and Atlen both.

No harm would come to him.  Rysgil would destroy any who dared to try.

~~~

Leliana’s agents left that night and Rysgil was determined that she would leave before dawn the next morning.  Rysgil stole through Haven quietly, Harel barely more than a shadow at her side.  Dorian would meet her at the edge of the lake and had agreed to wake Bull.

It was, unfortunately, her responsibility to gather Solas.

She crept up on the cabin he stayed in and made quick work of the flimsy lock that held the door closed, thankful that Solas did not erect a barrier to sleep under while in Haven as they did around their camps in the wilds.  She could have broken it if he did but it would have taken time she did not want to waste.  She slipped inside with only a whisper of sound.

The cabin was dark, lit only by the lightly smoldering coals in the hearth, but Rysgil had no problem navigating the small space.  Elvhen eyes saw well in the dark after all, like a wolf or a great cat, and hers were better than most thanks to her bond with Harel.

Solas was stretched out across the bed that was nestled in the corner of the room.  His arms where folded beneath his head, his eyes were closed and his face peaceful.  Rysgil also could not help but notice that he was bare chested despite the lingering chill in the cabin.  She traced her eyes over him slowly, unable to quell her curiosity.  She had known that Solas was stronger than he appeared to be, stronger than many gave him credit for being as a mage.  It had been obvious to her, his hidden strength given away by breadth of the shoulders he kept purposefully rounded to make him appear smaller and the rolling pace of his stride.

Without the enchanters robes he favored in battle or the soft tunic he wore in Haven Solas’ strength was even more obvious.  While still slender as their kind so naturally were, he was sharply defined, muscles cut in sharp relief beneath skin pale from all of his time spent sleeping so he could wonder the Beyond.  Briefly Rysgil wondered what he would look like with a dagger or a sword in hand.  For some reason she imagined that he would look as natural as a warrior as he did a mage.

She brushed the thoughts off with a quiet snarl and a rough shake of her head before she moved forward.  Solas needed to wake if they were to leave Haven before dawn, before everyone else was up and about their daily tasks.  Rysgil wanted to be gone by then, wanted to be well on her way to Redcliffe before the rest of the Inquisition awoke.

“Solas.  Wake up.”  Rysgil hissed as she reached out a hand to knock her knuckles against his bare shoulder.  His skin was warm, hotter than she had expected it to be, and Rysgil jerked her hand back instantly.  Solas didn’t so much as shift in his sleep.

Irritated but unwilling to touch him again Rysgil stepped back and lifted a foot.  She’d tried the easy way and it hadn’t worked.  Perhaps a swift kick to the bed frame would.  If it didn’t then she’d take more drastic measures.

Before she could move magic lit up the air of the cabin as a thin tendril of force wrapped itself around her waist and abruptly tugged her forward.  Rysgil shrieked as she tumbled forward and went sprawling across the bed and directly on top of Solas.  His chest was a solid, hot wall beneath her cheek as she laid for a moment absolutely stunned.  Solas’ chuckled then, a rasp of sound that she could feel as well as hear, and rage ripped through her.

Rysgil lashed out with her claws, called lightning to the tips of her fingers as she slashed down at Solas’ unprotected ribs.  Her attack hit a barrier that she hadn’t even felt Solas erect but Rysgil didn’t waste any time.  She pushed herself up onto her knees above him and snapped her teeth in his face in warning before she practically threw herself off of the bed.

She landed in a crouch a few feet away, claws flexing and breathing ragged as she stared at Solas where he was still laying on the bed. 

“In my defense that would have been considered a terribly rude way to wake someone.”  Solas’ voice cut through the silence of the cabin a few moments later.  His eyes shined in the dark when he turned his head enough to stare at her, face faintly amused.  “But then of course I was not asleep and you were not concerned with being polite.”

“Pretending to be asleep after I’ve tried to wake you is far from polite too.”  Rysgil gritted out angrily.  Solas frustrated her so, more than she cared to admit most of the time.

“I was curious as to what you would do.”  Solas unfolded his arms and sat up, the motion as fluid and effortless as everything he did.  Rysgil took a few more hurried steps back away from the bed.  “It is a personality flaw of mine if you will, that curiosity.”

“One that is going to get you killed if you’re not careful Solas.”  Rysgil warned him, teeth aching from the anger that was still rippling inside of her.  Distantly she could feel Harel’s amusement but she blocked that from her thoughts.  She’d get him back later.

“You are not the first to say so.”  Solas agreed with her.

“Just gather your things.”  Rysgil didn’t want to waste time trading barbs with him, especially not when she was so off balance herself.  “I want to be out of here as quickly as possible.”

“Is there a reason for your haste?”  Solas pushed himself up off of the bed and wandered to the small wash stand that was settled beside the fireplace.  Rysgil watched the play of muscles across his back for a moment before she looked away, still unsettled by the memory of his body pressed against her own.  He'd been so warm.  There was the sound of splashing water before Solas spoke again.  “While dawn is a normal departure time for our excursions it is not yet close to being light out.  Has something happened while I slept?”

“No.”  Rysgil watched Solas move around from the corner of her eye, watched as he slipped his tunic on and then reached for the heavier enchanter’s coat he had draped over the back of a nearby chair.  “There is little time to waste and I am eager to begin the journey.  Dorian is gathering Bull and will meet us outside near the lake with horses for the three of you.  Harel is outside.”

“Ah yes, the Tevinter.”  Solas reached for the staff he carried with one hand and his already packed bag with the other.  “I have questions for him regarding the magic this Alexius wields.  Perhaps he will be open to discussing it with me.”

Rysgil stiffened before she forced herself to relax.  Solas was ruled in part by his curiosity and could be as rude as he accused her of being but she had little doubt that Dorian could handle himself.  A verbal spar between the two would likely also keep Bull amused so Rysgil resolved not to interfere unless Solas overstepped himself with Dorian.

Then all bets would be off.

Rysgil turned towards the door of the cabin, ready to depart.  She didn’t let her stride falter as she moved forward, not even when she subtly slicked the doorway with a mixture of ice and a small static charge.  There was so little power behind either spell that she was sure Solas would not detect the magic before it was too late.  Besides that it was only enough to make Solas stumble, not to hurt him.

Petty revenge for his petty trick.

She was outside the cabin, ignoring a still amused Harel, when there was a satisfying thump and a bitten off curse behind her.  Rysgil had to bite back her grin as she beckoned to Harel and moved off towards the gates of Haven and the lake that lay beyond.

She wanted to be gone well before dawn after all and that meant they needed to make haste.

She refused to admit that all of her hurry was in an effort to avoid Cullen and the early morning meetings that had grown almost customary between the two of them before she departed on another journey.

She refused to admit it but that didn’t make it any less true.

~~~

The ride to Redcliffe passed surprisingly quickly as they only stopped when absolutely necessary.  Once at the gates Rysgil sent Harel to the mountains to watch and wait.  She hated sending him from her side but Alexius meddled with time magic and Rysgil would not see Harel targeted.  Dorian separated from them as well in an effort to keep his presence a secret until absolutely necessary.

The walk up to the castle was silent and grim with only Solas and Bull at her back but Rysgil kept her face turned forward and her stride steady.  The white cloaked guard she encountered just through the castle doors stank of blood and corruption.  Venatori.  Rysgil bared her teeth but kept her composure otherwise.  She could not rip his throat out, not yet.  There were other, more important things to worry about.  Such as giving Leliana’s agents time to get inside the castle.

“Announce us.”  Rysgil ordered, chin up and eyes narrowed in warning as the Venatori shifted in front of her.

“The Magister’s invitation was for Mistress Lavellan alone.”  Some blond shem spoke up as he crossed the open hall and made his way to their side.  “The rest will wait here.”

Rysgil stepped forward, let her magic well up around her until frost glistened in the air around her.  She would not be dictated to here as well.  “Where I go, they go.”  The words were more of a threat than anything else, a dare for any to try and prove her wrong.

They were lead further into the castle without any further protests and announced before Alexius who was as deceptively smooth as before.

Grand Enchanter Fiona spoke up, anger and fear in her voice.  As much as Rysgil wanted to shut her down for being fool enough to treat with a Magister she kept her voice even and as civil as possible as she invited her to voice her opinions as a guest of the Inquisition.  Agree with the woman or not Rysgil knew that her cooperation would be needed once Alexius had been dealt with.

And he would be dealt with.

The rest happened quickly.  Rysgil called Alexius out on his involvement with the Venatori and Felix jumped to assure his father that she knew everything.  The betrayal on Alexius’ face was stark and honest but there was no time to dwell on it.

When Alexius mentioned the mark Rysgil’s attention was captured.

“If you know so much then tell me.  What was this mark supposed to do?”  Rage and a fragile sort of hope beat inside her chest.  Perhaps Alexius would let something slip that they could use, perhaps there was a way to free her from the chains the mark had leashed her with.

But it wasn’t to be.

Alexius spat insults instead, spoke of her betters and when Dorian slid out of the shadows of the hall Rysgil knew that the entire situation would end badly.  There would be no peace here she knew, could feel it in the air, in the tension in the room.  The information on the Elder One and the idea that the person who had murdered the shem’s precious Divine wished to be a god reinforced that knowledge.

Leliana’s agents arrived in time to save her the trouble to slaughtering the Venatori but then Alexius acted.  Rysgil felt the sinister magic in the amulet in the Magister’s hand immediately and she dropped herself down into a crouch, prepared to spring.  Dorian sprang forward in a whirl of magic that washed over Rysgil’s senses like a burst of sunlight.

It was too late though, the air before them was ripped apart and the world around Rysgil followed with it.

~~~

Rysgil hit the water hard and screamed as agony raked through the very heart of her.  Her chest burned, her head pounded with a sickening rhythm that threatened to drown out her thoughts.  Dorian’s shout managed to reach through the fog of pain that had wrapped itself around her in time for her to look up and see two soldiers who had run up on them.

She didn’t hesitate, didn’t even give herself time to think.  She launched herself forward into the first one’s space, all unbridled fury and agony.  She pushed the emotions out in front of her like she had so long ago against the first Templar she had killed even as she rammed directly against the man’s armor.  The man shrieked as they hit the water together and Rysgil wasted no time in ripping his helmet off of his head and sinking her claws into the tender flesh of his throat.  Blood gushed from the wound but Rysgil didn’t care.  She was on her feet and in search of her next opponent before she realized that Dorian had already taken care of it, the second soldier little more than a charred husk in one of the shallower corners of the water filled room.

“Rysgil?”  Dorian sounded hesitant but Rysgil couldn’t focus on him.

She doubled over in a fresh wave of agony and dug her claws into the meat of her arms.  It hurt.  She felt as if something had been ripped away inside of her, as if somewhere deep down she was bleeding out, something vital and necessary to her sliced apart.  She didn’t understand what it was, couldn’t figure out what wound she carried that would torture her so.

“Focus on me Rysgil, come on now.  Focus on my voice.”  Dorian was crouched down beside her, his hand hovering over her shoulder as he rambled on, his voice filled with a mixture of awe and fear as he tried to distract them both.  “We’re still in the castle, so it’s not a question of where we are but rather of when.  Alexius used that amulet and sent us through time Rysgil and I need your help if we’re going to find a way back.”

Rysgil sobbed, terror and agony clouded her mind, kept her unable to focus no matter how hard she tried.

“Whatever’s the matter just try, you have to try and push through it.”  Dorian pulled her against his chest as he knelt in the water beside her and Rysgil latched onto him, sank her claws into the thick fabric of his robe.

The desperation and concern in his voice broke through to her enough for Rysgil to remember her promise, the pledge to protect Dorian as best she could.  That wasn’t something she could do if she was crippled by fear and agony.

She turned her focus inward, reached for the center of calm and serenity that Atlen had taught her to access years ago to keep her mind clear in battle.  She reached for Harel’s love and devotion, for his steadfast strength and boundless courage.

There was nothing there.

Panic crashed into her then and Rysgil pushed her focus even deeper as she searched for him.  The truth crashed into her abruptly.  The wound that hurt her so, the agony deep inside her soul, the crushing terror and pain that threatened to drive her mad had only one possible source.

The bond that had been a part of her for so long had been severed.

Harel was dead.

“No.”  Rysgil whimpered as tears welled up in her eyes.  “No. No. No.”  She screamed the word over and over as she clawed at Dorian’s shoulders, pulled back to beat her fists at his chest.  A light barrier shimmered into place beneath her hands, just thick enough to keep her from clawing him open and then he wrapped his arms around her tighter.

“Tell me how to help you Rysgil.  Please.  Tell me what to do.”  Dorian pleaded with her, voice tight.

“He’s dead.”  Rysgil’s voice was little more than a whisper and she felt Dorian stiffen against her.  Hopelessness railed through her.  “Harel’s dead.  I can’t feel him anymore.”

Dorian cursed, something short and vicious sounding in Tevene before he pulled away from her.  The slap that he gave her made her ears ring, and she bared her teeth on reflex as she stared up at Dorian in betrayal.  His face was fierce and hard but his eyes were still soft and warm.

“We’ve moved through time Rysgil.”  Dorian gritted out.  “We need to find out how far and we need to do it quick.  I need you to pull it together so we can get back to our own time, so you can go back to Harel.”

“Back to Harel?”  The words were slow to register but they sparked something in Rysgil, some kind of inner light that slowly began to flare to life.

“Yes.  Back to him.  Hopefully.”  Dorian frowned then.  “We should be able to go back the same way we came Rysgil, if we can get that amulet.  I need you with me for that.”

“Yes.”  Rysgil would do anything to get back to Harel, to make the agony of the broken bond between them disappear, to have his steady presence back where it was meant to be.  “Yes.”

“Good girl.”  Dorian pushed himself up onto his feet and pulled her up along with him.  He steadied her for a moment when she swayed but Rysgil felt her strength returning, felt her will and determination begin to reemerge from underneath the pain.  “Are you with me now?”

“Yes.”  Rysgil took a step back, squared her shoulders, and reached down to drawn Fear and Deceit from where they rested on her hips.  “But Dorian, when I find Alexius I’m going to rip him apart.”

“Somehow I figured as much.”  Dorian sounded both sad and almost amused behind her but he made no move to protest.  Instead he bent down and riffled through the pockets of the nearest corpse and came up triumphant with a key in his hand.

~~~

The red lyrium sang to Rysgil just as it had at the Temple of Sacred Ashes.  It was like a war beat she could not escape, a lullaby that haunted her.  It was every song she’d ever heard the story teller sing for the clan, every fire side celebration she’d been banned from, all rolled into one.

It was beautiful.

It was monstrous.

It was sickening.

Cancerous.  Something that crept into the mind and nested there, ate away at everything within its reach.

Dorian seemed relatively unaffected, but was careful not to touch it or get to close to the massive spires that jutted out of the floors and walls.  Rysgil hated it, wanted it gone, wanted it out of her head.

They found Fiona first, red lyrium growing from her like a twisted sort of fungus, her voice a strange echoing sound when she spoke.

A year.

They had lost a year.  Harel was dead and they had been flung forward an entire year into a future almost too terrible to be real.

Rysgil could not stand to look at Fiona, to see the agony on the woman’s face any longer.  So when their questions were done she took Fear, reached through the bars of the cell where Fiona was being kept and quickly, cleanly slit the woman’s throat.

Fiona smiled, grateful, even as her life drained away.

Alexius would die Rysgil swore to herself.  For Harel, for Fiona, for all those he had slaughtered in the past and all those he would slaughter if left unchecked in this future.  He had made his choice and Rysgil would give him death in return.

She moved through the dungeon with Dorian at her side, both of them barely able to mask their desperation.

They found Bull next, singing softly to himself inside his cell.  Rysgil barely bit back her whimper at the sight of him.  The Qunari warrior was sickly looking, muscles wasted away until his huge frame looked almost gaunt.

“You’re not dead.  You’re supposed to be dead.  There was a burn on the ground and everything.”  His voice shook when he spoke to them.

Dorian explained as best he could and it took him too long to coax Bull into coming with them, to help them in returning to their time.  Bull spoke of demons, of Empress Celene’s death and of the Elder One, rambled on in a helpless, uncaring sort of way.

“Snap out of it Bull.”  Rysgil snarled, finally fed up with his resistance.  “Help us get back to our time and I swear to you I will rip Alexius’ throat out with my teeth.”

“Alright.”  Bull agreed after a long pause.  “I always did like the way you worked and to be honest it’s not like you could make things worse.”

And then they were three.

~~~

Together they scoured the dungeons, went from room to room looking for any information.

“Is someone there?”  A familiar voice, overlaid with that strange echoing quality that Fiona and Bull both possessed, called out and Rysgil froze before she whirled around and darted down a passage.

Solas.

Like Bull he looked thinner, sickly almost, but he stood with his shoulders back and his spine straight, unbowed even in this.  Rysgil made quick work of his cell door and stepped forward towards him unhesitatingly when it was open.

“Solas.”  Rysgil called his name softly.

“Be gone demon.”  Solas’ face twisted sharply and for a moment Rysgil could have sworn she saw fangs in his mouth, teeth like her own.  “I will not deal with your torment any more.  She is dead and you will not haunt me any longer with her form.”

Atisha Solas.”  Rysgil called out to him in the hopes that the elvhen word would calm him.  She let her magic well up around her, let it drift over to him in a soft, gentle wave so that he could feel it, could feel her and know that she was real.  His eyes were wide in realization when he felt it.  

“You are alive.”  He breathed the words out as he stepped forward abruptly and his hands came up to rest on Rysgil’s shoulders.  She let him, unable to flinch from him, too ensnared by the pain and sadness in his face.  She had never seen Solas look so broken.  “How?”

“He sent us to the future.”  Rysgil spoke before Dorian could for once.  “Alexius and his amulet ripped a hole through time.”

“Then you can return.”  Solas’ eyes blew even wider with sudden hope.  “You can go back and stop this madness from every happening.”

“That’s the plan.”  Bull cut in.  “We’ve got to make sure they get back and stop that Vint from fucking everything up like this.”

“I could not agree more.”  Solas’ seemed to glow with determination then, a bright swath of will that cut through the sickly pallor of his skin and the corruption of the red lyrium that lingered on him.

They moved through the castle together.  Solas was never far from her side, constantly within reaching distance, even during battle.  More than once she felt his fingers brush over the back of her hands or the ends of her hair.  He always had a look of almost wonder on his face when she looked at him and Rysgil found that she could not snap or snarl at him.  Not after the hell he’d obviously been through.

“Solas.”  Rysgil finally spoke up as they moved quietly through the dungeon and up into the upper halls of the castle.  It was selfish, what she wanted to know, but the question itched at her throat, begged to be released and refused to be ignored.  “What … what happened to Harel?  How did he die?”  It hurt to even say the words.

“When you were taken from us,” Solas started off slowly.  “Alexius used our surprise to call more Venatori to his side.  Leliana’s agents were slaughtered and we were overrun.  We could hear screams from the village, from outside the castle gates.  When Alexius ordered his mages to investigate Harel appeared.  He was … crazed.  Mad.  He ripped through the guards, slaughtered all in his path as he tried to get to Alexius, as if he knew somehow that the Magister was responsible.  Alexius was forced to summon demons to fight alongside his Venatori in order to stop him.  I believe he still bears scars from where your Harel almost ripped his arm off.”

“That wolf of yours was a warrior until the end.”  Bull agreed, voice gruff but filled with respect.  “Never seen an animal fight that hard for anything.  He almost ensured our escape too and that’s saying something.”

Rysgil clenched her eyes closed for a brief moment.  Harel had died bravely, had left a sea of blood in his wake.  It was not enough, would never be enough, to ease the pain in her heart, but it was a balm that helped to push her forward.  When she returned to her time she would praise Harel for his strength, for using the agony of their broken bond to lay waste to their enemies where she had only broken down.  He had always been the stronger of the two of them.

Time seemed to slow as they moved through the castle.  Rysgil fought like a thing possessed, rummaged for information with unseeing eyes.  The steady war beat of the red lyrium pounded in her ears, and only grew with each splash of infected blood she shed, with each new pillar of it they discovered.

“I searched for you.”  Solas’ voice broke through the battle haze that had fallen in front of her eyes.  They had paused for a moment to allow Dorian to glance over a few piles of parchment for any information that might be useful to them.  “In my walks in the Beyond, before the horror that took the world was enough to resonate even this far.  Before the red lyrium grew too powerful and blocked my connection.  I could never find you, nor any remnant of you.  I saw only the death of our world.”

“What happened Solas?”  Rysgil was soft with him, gentle even as she had been with Atlen after he’d gotten sick those many winters ago.  “Bull spoke briefly of demons and the shem Empress Celene’s death.”

“The Elder One came for the mages, and they followed as they had to.  And then he came for the villages and the cities.  He came for the crowns and the kings and queens who wore them.”  Solas shuddered.  “He came for the Inquisition, what was left of it.  And they stood and they fought but they were not enough.  When you disappeared, hope fled with you.  I had thought these to be the last of my long days, trapped here in this castle, growing weaker with each new day, cut off from the Beyond and the strength and peace within it.  A slow, cruel death.  Alone.”

“This will not come to pass.”  Rysgil promised him.  “I will not allow it Solas.  We will not allow it.”

“I have done much in my life that I am not proud of.  I carry many sins upon my shoulders.”  Solas stepped closer to her then, reached up and cupped her cheek in his hand and squeezed his eyes shut as if he were savoring the sensation.  “To have lived long enough to see you again, to know that this mistake might be rewritten, that is more than I deserve.”

Sorrow welled up inside of Rysgil.  Solas irritated her, frustrated her often, but this … this was a fate she would have never wished on him.  To see him as a shadow of what he was, of what she knew him as, was … distasteful.

“This sin is not yours to bear Solas.”  Rysgil told him gently as they stepped away from each other and prepared to move forward again.  “It belongs to Alexius and to the Elder One he serves so loyally.  Not you, never you.”

She did not understand his bitter laugh but she did not hold it against him.  Solas was entitled to some bitterness after what he had so obviously been through.

~~~

Leliana was all sharp edges and pain, so obviously tortured and practically torn apart but strong enough to kill her tormentor, strong enough to help them forge their way forward.  Rysgil did not fault her for her anger either.  Rage was one of the only things keeping her moving as well, one of the only things that allowed her to press pass the agony of Harel’s absence and the red lyrium’s song.

They moved ever onwards, gathered shards of red lyrium and killed when necessary.  It was in a moment of quiet as they moved through the halls that something caught Rysgil’s attention.  A voice in the distance, low and ragged but familiar.  She moved towards it, unable to ignore the sound.

Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.  Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.”  The words became clearer the closer she got and Rysgil knew what she would find before she opened the door but she still could not help the low, pained sound that escaped her.

There settled on the floor in a corner, red lyrium sprouting from his shoulders and the backs of his arms, was Cullen.

His hair was longer than it had been the last she’d seen him, it curled around his shoulders and clung to his hollowed cheeks.  His great furry pauldrons and red cloak were gone, replaced with a ragged black cloak that she’d never seen before.

“Cullen.”  Rysgil breathed out his name, horror twined around her heart and threating to take the air from her lungs.  Cullen’s chant broke off abruptly and he looked up, his once warm amber eyes overshadowed with a sinister red glow.

“You’re alive.”  Cullen breathed as he struggled to his feet, bits of red lyrium fell from his shoulders to shatter on the ground at his feet.  “By the Maker you live.”

Rysgil was frozen, could only watch wide eyed, as Cullen surged into her personal space.  His hands were rough when they came up to cup her face, the skin broken by the tiny red shards that sang to her even now.  The red lyrium was like a pulsing beat in her head, like a war song that would not stop.  Still, as with Solas, she could not bring herself to move back, to make Cullen stop touching her.

Not when he too looked so desperate, so brokenly happy, to see her alive.

He pulled her to his chest carefully, wrapped arms spiked with red lyrium around her and shuddered with what sounded suspiciously like a sob.

“If this is a dream then do not wake me.”  Cullen whispered into her hair.  “For I could not bear another day like the ones that have dawned this past year.”

She let him hold her for a long moment, ignored the way his tears burned her skin and the way his arms were almost painfully tight.  There was something like gratitude in his face when he finally pulled away from her.

Cullen, much like Leliana, did not care for their explanations.  He cared only that there was a chance to fix it, to strike the suffering they had endured from existence.  He took up the sword and shield of a fallen enemy and, much like Solas had, glued himself to her other side.  Few were the enemies that made it close enough to her after that for her to strike out with her daggers.  Cullen was an impenetrable wall and Solas an unbreakable barrier.

The song of Cullen’s red lyrium was quieter too after a while, less a war beat and more of a coaxing melody.

~~~

Alexius, when they found him, was little more than a broken shell who raged about the Elder One.  Felix, who crouched at his feet, was barely more than a blank eyed doll even when Leliana slit his throat with her blade.

Mad with grief Alexius attack and Rysgil threw herself forward into the battle with a howl of rage, unwilling to let Cullen or Solas deprive her of her vengeance.  They ripped through the demons he summoned, tore through all the opposition he brought against them.  Rysgil suffered the agony of the battle, of the mark, and when it was done she pounced on Alexius like a wild thing.

Just as she had promised, she took his throat between her teeth and tore it out.

“He wanted to die didn’t he?”  Dorian sounded exhausted and sad beneath it all.  “All those lies, those justifications.  He lost Felix long ago and didn’t even notice.  Oh Alexius.”

Rysgil spit out the mix of blood and flesh in her mouth and snarled.  “He will die twice over Dorian.  I will kill him again to keep this from happening.”

“I know.  I would hope that the Alexius in our time might be reasoned with but seeing this, knowing what lengths he was willing to go to.  I cannot say if he deserves the chance.”  Dorian sighed and shook his head as he stood again.  “Give me an hour and I will should be able to have the spell working.”

“An hour?”  Leliana’s incredulous voice broke in.  “Impossible.”

“You must leave now.”  Cullen rasped.

“The Elder One comes and you must not fall to him.”  Solas agreed.

“Me and the elf will hold the outer doors for as long as we can.”  Bull hefted the axe that he’d managed to find and turned towards the doors with a wave.  “When they break through it’ll be your turn.  Don’t fuck it up.”

Solas stepped back towards her then, reached out and pressed something hard and sharp into her palm.  Rysgil curled her fingers around it automatically and stared up into Solas’ eyes.

Halam'shivanas, ma ghilana mir din'an.”  Solas murmured as he smiled at her one last time, pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles and then turned to follow Bull through the doors that slammed closed behind them.

When she uncurled her fingers Rysgil saw that it was a tooth, blacked with age but smooth as glass and had as silverite.  It was one of the teeth from the jaw he wore around his neck.  ‘The sweet sacrifice of duty, guide me into death’ those were Solas’ last words to her and the tooth his gift, all that would be left of the Solas of this future, of the one ready to die to make sure she lived.  Rysgil swallowed hard and tucked it into her armor beside the stone Cullen had given her.

Cullen turned towards her when the doors were closed and bared.  For a long moment all he did was stare at her before he lifted a hand and wiped gently at the blood that was smeared across her cheek.

“You are as beautiful as the day I last saw you.”  Cullen whispered, voice broken and ragged, and Rysgil’s eyes went wide in confusion.  “I never told you.  Could not find the courage, could never find the opportunity or the reason.  But I was so in awe of you.  And when word came that you had disappeared, that you were dead … I knew this world would follow.  But you’re alive and I am at peace for the first time in years.  By the Maker you are alive and I would give anything to keep you that way.”

“Cullen.”  Rysgil did not know what to do, what to say.  Cullen just smiled at her, traced the arch of her cheek with his thumb, and shook his head.

“The only way we all live is if you make sure this never happens.”  He bent down and pressed a kiss to her forehead.  “Please.  Undo what we could not prevent from happening.  You are our strength, whether you realize it or not.”

“Cast your spell.”  Leliana interrupted.  “You will have as much time as I have arrows.”

“And as I have breath.”  Cullen agreed as he stepped back and hefted his shield again.

Time seemed to inch past as Dorian worked his magic and Rysgil paced close to his side.  Cullen and Leliana took up their positions in front of the doors.  She could hear screaming through the door, could hear the bellowing of Bull as he charged an enemy, could feel the flow of Solas’ magic in the air.  She itched to go to them, to help them, to not be forced to listen to them die, trapped helplessly beyond the doors as they committed suicide.

Finally it stopped and there was a horrible sort of silence.

The doors shuddered and splintered and Rysgil knew that they were gone.

Ar lasa mala revas."  Rysgil whispered as Leliana and Cullen stepped forward, ready to die for her and for Dorian as well, for the chance to rewrite the past.  You are free.  And she would make sure they stayed that way.

The door shuddered.

“Though darkness closes, I am shielded by flame.”  Leliana notched an arrow.

“Andraste guide me.”  Cullen’s voice joined hers as the door gave way and Venatori and terrors alike spilled into the room.  Bull’s body was tossed carelessly to the floor.  “Maker take me to your side.”

Rysgil started forward but Dorian grabbed her by the arm.  “You move and we all die.”

The portal ripped itself open behind her.

Rysgil saw Leliana in the grasp of a Venatori, a terror demon ripping at her.

Cullen lay still and silent on the ground at her feet.

Then the world ripped itself apart again and she was gone.

~~~

Rysgil landed back in her proper time on her feet, body curled in a crouch.  The agony that had ripped at her soul was abruptly gone, replaced by a burst of euphoria as her connection to Harel locked itself back into place.

Rage ripped through her, echoed by Harel’s own, and she whirled on Alexius.  Dorian did not try to stop her and the shouts of Solas and Bull fell on deaf ears.

She was on him in the next second, his shoulders pinned beneath her knees and her fists swung over and over again at his face, coated in a thick layer of sharp tipped ice.  Blood arched through the air around her, splattered across the fur of her armor to mingle with the gore of those she had slaughtered in that damned future.  She didn’t care.

She beat at him over and over again, unwilling to let up, until strong arms wrapped around her and she was lifted bodily away from him.  Alexius’ face and head was little more than pulp but still she did not feel satisfied.

She had killed the man twice now and she knew that it would never be enough.  Not for what he had done.  Nothing would ever be enough.

“Calm down Boss.”  Bull’s voice rumbled behind her, his arms tight but gentle around her.  “He’s beyond dead.  It’s over now.”

“Put me down Bull.”  Rysgil’s voice was calm, even.  Almost pleasant.  Bull put her down instantly and took a hasty step away from her.  Rysgil turned on them, saw Solas standing off to the side but could barely stand to look at them, their deaths too fresh in her mind.  “It isn’t over.  Not yet.”

She called on her magic, let flames wreath themselves around her arms, let lightning lift her hair from her back and spark between the stones that were scattered throughout the curls.  “It will not be over until I have burned every last Venatori from the inside out.”

Shouts from outside grabbed her attention and Rysgil was moving before anyone realized what had happened.  A strong blast of force pushed the great doors open and she sprinted through them without a second thought.

She knew what it was outside.

Harel.

He was surrounded by soldiers dressed in regal dark armor and waving swords and spears in his direction.  Rysgil snarled and darted forward into the crowd, magic whirling around her as she force pushed soldiers out of her way.  She would not allow them to touch Harel.

“Touch him and you die where you stand.”  She snapped her teeth at the closest soldier and pressed herself against Harel’s side as her magic washed over him in a thick barrier.  She would not lose him again, not now that she’d finally gotten him back.

“I’d suggest you listen to her.  I’m not sure what is it with elvhen women and abnormally large animals but you all know how protective my lady is of her own beast.”  A voice broke through the crowds and the soldiers immediately took a collective step back and lowered their weapons.

Rysgil watched through narrowed eyes as a man walked through the crowd.  He was tall and blonde and carried himself in a way that reminded her of Cullen somehow.  The soldiers all saluted him as he moved through them, pressed clenched fists to their hearts.  It took Rysgil a moment to realize what must have happened.

Mahariel’s lover, the shem king Alistair, had arrived.

Chapter Text

Alistair, the shem king, was … strange.  After he arrived and ordered his soldiers to stand down he turned and ripped a verbal strip off of a strangely shell shocked Fiona who had followed them all outside.

Once finished he turned to Rysgil.

Andaran atish’an Herald.”  King Alistair’s pronunciation was perfect as he gave her the formal greeting of the Dalish and Rysgil blinked at him, taken aback for a long moment.

Ma serannas.”  Rysgil bowed her head to him and uttered her thanks for his welcome, voice rough and halting.

Once the introductions were done he demanded to know what she intended to do with the mages.  Aware that she needed to tread carefully Rysgil told him of her plan to offer them a place in the Inquisition.  Seemingly satisfied King Alistair clapped his hands, wished her a safe journey, again in the language of her people, and then turned on his heel and marched back into Redcliffe muttering about cheese of all things.

Slightly shell shocked Rysgil watched him go.

That,’ she could not help but think, ‘was Mahariel’s loverA shem king who spoke as one of the people did?’

She pushed the thoughts away quickly enough though, and instead turned her attention towards watching the soldiers follow King Alistair back into the castle intently even as she kept the barrier she’d placed around Harel at full strength.  She was tired, body and soul sore, but she would protect him, would allow no chance for harm to come to him in this place.

Not again.  Never again.

When the last of the soldiers had disappeared through the gates Rysgil turned and flung herself at Harel, desperate to feel him, desperate to be closer to him, to his warmth and strength, to bask in the knowledge that he was alive.

“I lost you.”  She whispered in his ear, voice terrible and broken.  “I lost you.”

Harel whined, long and low, and draped his head over her shoulder to draw her even closer.

It was a long time before either of them moved.

When they finally did it was to discover Dorian and Solas standing off to the side watching them, Bull leaned up against the side of a tree not too far away.  Rysgil found her eyes drawn to Solas, to the jawbone he wore around his neck, to the way his eyes were intense and steady on her and lacking that awful red lyrium glow.  The tooth she had tucked in her armor seemed to pulse against her heart.  She looked away from him quickly, unable to erase her last sight of him, the other him, from her mind.  The way he’d been so gentle, the kiss he’d placed on her knuckles before he willingly walked to his death.

She owed them answers, she knew that, her and Dorian both.  But for once Rysgil wanted to hide, wanted to run like the coward she had sworn to never be.  For once she did not have the strength to face the issue head on.

Not now.

Not with their deaths so fresh in her mind and in her heart.

~~~

Rysgil rode towards Haven with Harel’s sturdy warmth between her thighs, Dorian on her left, Solas and then Bull on her right, and a veritable army of mages at her back.  More would follow as well once issues at Redcliffe had been taken care of and better transport for the children and elderly could be arranged.

She had barely spoken in the days since they had liberated the castle, had only answered questions directly posed to her that she could not avoid as she kept herself glued to Harel’s side.  It had taken all of Rysgil’ will to write the short missive they had sent to Leliana informing the spymaster that they were alive and well and that the mages would be accompanying them back to Haven.  Her hands had shook around the quill when she laid it to parchment and she’d had to rewrite it three times before the letters were even legible.

Dorian had run a great deal of interference for her with the others, had told Solas and Bull both an abbreviated version of what had happened.  She was grateful for that, grateful for the way he’d stepped in and filled the gaps left by her weakness.  She was also grateful for the way that neither Bull nor Solas pushed for answers.  Solas was a surprise in that category but perhaps he’d been able to see the devastation in her face or felt the turmoil in her aura because he’d kept his normally invasive curiosity to himself.

Rysgil would be forced to speak of it soon enough she knew, forced to face Cullen and the others and explain what they had seen, what she and Dorian had experienced.  She would be forced to tell them of what was to come, of the terrors that would take the world, if they did not act.

She dreaded it.

To her slight horror but not her surprise Cullen was waiting on her when she finally made it to the clearing in front of the frozen lake.  With his shoulders straight and face serious he looked as imposing as he always did, nothing like the half broken shadow of himself he’d been in that damned future.  Nothing like the red lyrium infected shell of a man who had called her beautiful and died in her name.

She could not bear to look at him as she was barely able to look at Solas or even Bull.

Rysgil knew that the future she and Dorian had been thrown into didn’t technically exist for her.  She knew that those she had met there had all been dead anyway, that they’d been so riddled with red lyrium that it was only a matter of time.  But still she could not help the anger or the sorrow that roared through her, a dull echo of the pain that had hit her with Harel’s death and the later realization that Atlen too would have been gone.

In that future she had saved no one, had saved nothing.  In that future she had failed everyone and in that failure had brought death and destruction unto the world just as the clan had always said she would.

In her own eyes that future and her failure in it had labeled her as much a monster as the mysterious Elder One.

“Herald.”  Cullen was at her side as soon as she had slid off of Harel’s back, one of her hands still tangled in the fur above his armor.  “It is good to see you returned safely, and with so many following your lead.”

Rysgil barely contained her flinch at having him so close to her, so warm and solid and most of all alive.  Even now she could hear the echo of the red lyrium that had thrummed so strongly in him and Solas both in the back of her mind.  A ghost of a song that haunted her at night, a rhythm that crept up on her as she slept, left her open mouthed and silently screaming into Harel’s fur.

“Herald?”  Cullen’s voice was soft, something like worry in his tone, but Rysgil stared straight ahead, forced herself not to look at him, too afraid of what it would do to her already fragile composure.

Instead she marched past him and straight towards the Chantry where she knew Cassandra and the others would be waiting for her.  Harel followed her, for once not attempting to go to the cabin that they had claimed as their territory or to slink off to hunt.  Neither of them were keen on being separated from each other at the moment.  Not even for her to tell the others what had happened.

“What is wrong?”  Cullen demanded behind her, voice harsh and hard.  “What has happened?”

“Commander that’s a bit of an unpleasant tale I’m afraid.”  Dorian’s wry voice spoke up.  “Rysgil will undoubtable rather inform everyone at once so it’d probably be best if we all just followed her.”

Rysgil kept her eyes forward, kept her shoulders straight and spine stiff as she made her way to the Chantry, aware of the footsteps behind her as the others followed her silently.  She clenched her eyes closed for a moment, bit at the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood, and then forced herself to swallow the scream that was clawing at the inside of her throat down.

She had to tell them, had to tell them all what had happened, but by the Creators she did not want to.

They gathered around the war table noisily, Sera was loud in the small and crowded room as was Varric’s interested voice.  Rysgil kept close to the door that had been left open in deference to Harel’s massive size.  Behind them the main hall of the Chantry had been cleared and the outer doors closed in order to maintain some degree of secrecy.

They all had questions, Cassandra and Cullen’s voices rose above the din and battered at Rysgil’s fraying self-control.  She stared ahead aimlessly, let them shout and argue for a moment as she leaned against Harel’s side and tried to regain her bearings.  It was Dorian’s gentle hand at her elbow that finally snapped her back to reality. 

“I can tell them if you want Rysgil but we both know they’ll take it better from you than from some Vint.”  There was a curl of bitterness in Dorian’s voice, a shallow glint of it in his eyes, but it was overshadowed by the warmth he held when he looked at her.

Rysgil reached up and squeezed the hand on her arm softly even as she shook her head slowly in denial.  Dorian was giving her the chance to avoid it, to back out of the responsibly of explaining what had happened.  He was giving her an out just as she had tried to do the same for him before they’d left for Redcliffe and the confrontation with Alexius.

It was an appreciated gesture but it was also an offer that she could not accept.

“The mages join us on a probationary basis.”  Rysgil finally spoke up, voice monotone, aware of the way the room went instantly quiet and every eye turned in her direction.  She kept her own gaze carefully fixed on the stone wall behind them all.  “There are far greater dangers ahead of us now, the Breach not included.  There was much to be learned at Redcliffe.”

And so Rysgil told them, slowly, haltingly, of what had happened.

She spoke of Alexius’ magic, of her and Dorian being ripped through time.  She spoke of demon armies and assassinations.

She spoke of death and decay, of a world brought low by the song of red lyrium.

She spoke of the Elder One and his plans and his evil.

She avoided Solas’ gaze, could feel the heat of it on her face, when she spoke of his and Bull’s sacrifices.

She ignored Cullen’s indrawn breath when she spoke of his and Leliana’s deaths.

She said nothing of Harel’s death, of the agony of realizing that he had been torn away from her, of the sheer horror of realizing that their bond had been shattered.

She said nothing of Solas’ parting words, of his kiss, soft and gentle on the back of her hand or his gift to her, of the sad sort of pride that had lit up his eyes beneath the red lyrium glow as he walked straight backed to his death.

She said nothing of Cullen’s kiss, of the way he’d called her beautiful and the tenderness in his eyes when he’d pulled away from her or his fierceness in a battle in which the only outcome was his death.

And when it was done, when her hands hurt from clenching themselves so tightly in Harel’s thick fur, when there was nothing left for her to say, nothing left for her to tell, Rysgil did the one thing she had not allowed herself to do in years.

She turned her back on the room and ran.

~~~

Dorian watched her go silently, sadly, even as he ignored the upheaval she left in her wake.  That was a normal occurrence for her he had realized only days after meeting her.

When he’d first decided to approach the Inquisition Dorian had all but dismissed the rumors that the supposed Herald of Andraste was some half-feral Dalish woman.  Rumors of her had spread far and wide although they’d held little in the way of actual details.  All he’d heard were tales of her viciousness, of her claws and fangs and how she had tamed the very beasts of the forests to do her bidding.  He’d dismissed it as another savage southern fantasy.

But then he’d met her and she’d been all of that and more.

She was a force of nature given form in Dorian’s opinion.  A maelstrom forced into a body almost too small, almost too delicate, to contain its winds.  She had lightning in her eyes, frost on her breath and fire in her heart.  She was, he could not help but think, the type of woman he imagined wars were fought over if one was so inclined, the type of woman who left devastation in her wake as easily as breathing.

And yet she was so unaware of her own charisma and feral sort of charm.

Dorian wasn’t sure what or better yet who had hurt her so, what had made her so angry and vicious, so mistrustful of others, he just knew that something had.  He could see it in her eyes, in the way she looked slightly lost when no one else was around.  She was always so tightly wound and desperately guarded, so ready to draw blood with claw or fangs or words if necessary.  She was so desperate to protect herself as if she knew exactly what would make her shatter if she wasn’t careful.

But she was more than that, more than that fierce strength that was such a part of her.  There was a sweetness in her, a softness that she buried deep.  He saw it in the unexpected and awkward sort of kindness she had shown him and the way she clung to that massive beast of hers, arms desperate and terrified of finding him gone again. 

By the Maker her screams from when they had landed in that future and she had discovered her Harel was dead would haunt him just as surely as the other horrors they had found there.

She reminded him of himself if he was honest.  An outcast even amongst outcasts, a pariah of sorts even amongst this gathering of heretics if the Chantry was to be believed.  Forever held apart by what and who she was, by the mark on her hand or the magic in her heart, or a million other tiny differences that others could not or would not overlook.

And then there was the way she had reacted to his request for her name, the shock and sad surprise in her eyes, the way she’d seemed blown away by something so simple.

Well, needless to say Dorian had resolved himself to using her name as often as possible.

“Don’t.”  Dorian found himself sliding in front of the still open door of the war room as the Commander, tall and blond and fierce, went striding towards it, obviously intent on following Rysgil.  “Leave her be Commander.  She’s earned her space for a bit if I do say so myself.”

Get out of my way.”  The Commander gritted out, mouth curled up in a small snarl.  Dorian arched a brow in surprise.  He had not seen the Ferelden so up in arms about anything in the admittedly short time he’d spent in the camp so far.  The man was normally even tempered if a bit serious.  It was a surprise to see him so obviously upset now.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”  Dorian kept his calm even as he watched the former Templar warily.  He wanted to give Rysgil as much time and distance as he could but he also had no interest in getting skewered by some broad shouldered warrior’s sword while trying to do so.  Well … not an actual sword at least but he digressed.

“I need to …” The Commander broke off and snarled, a gesture that was almost frighteningly close to Rysgil’s own favorite expression of anger or unease.  “She should not be alone.”

Ah,’ Dorian thought as something within him relaxed.  ‘So that’s the way of it.’

“She’s not alone.”  Dorian reminded him carefully.  “She has Harel with her and I’m sure that’s what she needs at the moment.  Give her some time Commander.  Go and attend to the others.  She will come back when she’s ready.”

He watched as the Commander seemed to debate with himself for a moment and then deflated slightly.  The man huffed out a rough sigh and then gave a forced nod at Dorian in agreement.

“My questions for her can wait.”  The Commander hesitated for another moment before he shook his head again and turned back to where Cassandra seemed perilously close to strangling Varric at the war table.

Dorian slumped back against the door frame and took in a deep breath as he let the slight flare of adrenalin that had rushed through him fade.  He let his eyes trace across the other inhabitants of the room and was surprised to find Solas staring directly at him, still clad in his battle clothes, staff held loosely in his hands.

Their eyes met and held for a long moment and Dorian saw the strange elf’s gaze flicker over his shoulder to where Rysgil had disappeared for a brief moment.  Then Solas turned his attention back to Dorian and gave him a slight, almost approving nod, as if he had heard the conversation between him and the Commander and approved of what Dorian had said.

Dorian shook it off and turned his attention to where the others were arguing with a sigh.  He reached up, ran a hand through his hair and then smoothed down his mustache before he stepped forward.  Perhaps if he offered himself up to their curiosity and demands for answers they would spare Rysgil for a while longer.

He had never truly had a friend before and yet he already counted Rysgil as one despite how short a time they had known each other.  If he could give her this small bit of comfort and protection then he would.  He owed her that at least.

What was more was that he wanted to do that for her.  He had a feeling that she had been given far too few favors in her life.  He ached for her sometimes, in the quiet moments of the night, ached for the way she stood at the center of everything but remained so alone with only Harel at her side.

Dorian would not treat her as callously as others did even if they did not realize it.

~~~

Rysgil vaulted onto Harel as soon as they were out of the Chantry.  She laid herself almost flat against his back and tangled her hands in his fur.

“Go.”  She whimpered to him.  “Harel please, just take me away.”

And Harel did.

He darted through Haven, took her out the gates and cut a sharp right up the path around the frozen lake.  He ran past the cabin where she’d found the notes for those potions and kept on passed the logging stand they’d discovered.  He ran through the snow, ate up the distance with long strides until the frozen waterfall that spilled into the lake was behind them.

He ran with her until Haven disappeared in the distance behind them and all that surrounded them was snow and stone and wilderness.

The wind was cold, it stung her face and wiped her hair into a frenzy behind her when she finally pushed herself up to sit properly on his back but Rysgil didn’t care.  She let it wash over her, let herself pretend that the moisture on her cheeks was a result of the bite of the cold.  Rysgil flung her arms out at her sides, let herself imagine for a moment what it would feel like to fly, to be free from even the earth itself if she so wished.

Harel kept running until Rysgil finally felt calmer, steadier, and reached down and tangled her hands in his fur again.  Only then did he slow and then finally stop.  They were deep in the mountains by then but Rysgil felt more comfortable, more at home, than she had felt in months.

This was where she was meant to be, where they were both meant to be.  Deep in the wild, away from everyone else, in a place where they could harm no one and no one could harm them.  If it had not been for Atlen Rysgil knew that she and Harel would have disappeared into the wilds years ago.

She could have lived like that with him happily, could have spent her years with no one but Harel at her side if it meant escaping the clan’s scorn.

But her love for Atlen had always pulled her back to the clan, back to him.  Even as separated from him as she was it still pulled at her.

And now something else pulled at her as well.  The heavy weight of the burden placed upon her by the Inquisition, the agony of the mark on her hand, the gaps in her memory.  They all tugged at her, pulled at her.

Even now she found herself unconsciously turning back toward Haven.

She was well and truly trapped, as weighed down as if Cassandra had never removed the chains from her wrists that day when it had all began.

“Should we run away Harel?  Go find Atlen, go back our lives and leave them to deal with this on their own?”  Rysgil asked Harel softly even though she already knew the answers to her questions.  She had, in some part of her, always known.  The great wolf twisted to stare back over his shoulder at her, red eyes wide and warm but filled with a sort of exasperated determination that made her smile and huff out a small laugh.  There was no one around after all, she could be free with her emotions here with Harel in this moment.

“Yes.”  Rysgil agreed softly.  “I know we have to go back.  I know we can’t run from this.”  Rysgil sighed and leaned forward again to bury her face in the fur between his ears.  “Let’s just stay here for a while longer.  Just the two of us.  Let’s just pretend we’re free Harel.  Just for a little longer.  Let’s just pretend.”

Because they both knew they weren’t free, not anymore.  They might never truly be free again.

~~~

They did not return to Haven until night was thick and dark around them and the settlement was quiet.  Harel jumped one of the lower portions of the wall and they both slinked through the shadows until they made it back to their cabin.  Together they slipped inside.

Rysgil was unsurprised to find Dorian asleep in her bed.  He knew she never used the thing and had taken to camping out in her cabin instead of taking the tent that had been given to him.  Rysgil enjoyed his company in all honesty.  It had been strange at first to have someone who wasn’t Atlen in her space but Dorian was surprisingly soothing company.  He liked to read when it was just the three of them, would curl up with a tome of some sort and sit in silence, all his sarcastic quips quiet as he read.  Sometimes he would talk to her, would ramble aloud about magical theory as she groomed Harel or sharpened her weapons.

Rysgil stared at him for a moment before she reached over to tug the rough spun blanket up a little further on his chest.  A whisper of thought had a small flame dancing in the burnt down fireplace as she quietly fed it fresh kindling to chase some of the chill from the cabin.  Dorian was, for all of his bluster, used to the heat of Tevinter and Rysgil knew that the cold cut him far deeper than his shallow seeming quips about all of the snow let on.

She would rather he not fall ill if she could help it.  Magic, as she had learned with Atlen, could not always heal every hurt.

Rysgil was as quiet as possible as she took off Harel’s armor and set it to the side.  He collapsed in front of the fire with a quiet huff and closed his eyes.  She was too exhausted to worry much about herself so Rysgil simply folded herself down onto the cabin floor and curled up into the curve of Harel’s body as she always did.

She hoped that the nightmares would leave her for the night, that she would not be haunted by the red lyrium song or the memories of what had happened in that future.

~~~

The nightmares came and left her shaking in the dark of the night, tears wet on her cheeks and anguish heavy in her heart.

~~~

Dorian woke her early the next morning much to Rysgil’s surprise.  He looked fresh faced despite the early hour and had a thick loaf of bread in one hand and bowls of stew balanced on the other.  He sat one down on the floor in front of her, shrugged a sack off of his back and then folded himself down beside her.  There was what looked to be an entire nug in the sack he carried and he nudged it over towards Harel who took the gift happily.

“Compliments of our other resident elf apostate who cornered me on my way from the kitchens.”  Dorian nodded towards Harel’s meal as he broke the bread in half and handed her a piece.  “I do believe he hunted it himself actually, which is strange to say the least.  Solas doesn’t look the type to go out of his way for that sort of thing.”

Rysgil cut a look towards Dorian as she slowly chewed at the heel of her bread.  The idea that Solas had hunted and then given his prey to Harel through Dorian was … unsettling.  Rysgil wasn’t sure to make of it but she knew she’d have to say something to Solas, would have to thank him for the gesture even though she’d much rather continue to avoid him.  She wondered if that was his purpose, if he knew that such a gift would push her to interact with him.  Rysgil shook the thought off.

They ate together in silence for a while before Dorian finally spoke up again.

“The others had many questions.”  His voice was soft.  “I answered them as best I could after you left.  Hopefully they won’t feel the need to badger you for every little detail now.”

“Thank you.”  Rysgil looked up at him, made sure to catch Dorian’s eyes so he would understand how serious she was, how grateful she was towards him.  Dorian’s face softened even more in response.

“Rysgil I know that things were more … difficult for you in that future than it was for me.”  Dorian reached out a hand and lightly touched his fingertips to her knee.  “If there is anything I can do … if you wish to speak of it …” He cleared his throat roughly.  “Well just know that I’m here if you’ve a need of me.”

“You are a good friend.”  Rysgil managed to say.  The word stuck in her throat a bit, so unfamiliar it was to her, but it was worth the way something in Dorian’s eyes seemed to lighten.

“Of course I am.”  He smirked at her then.  “I told you before.  I am a gift.  In all things I do, including friendship obviously.”

Rysgil snorted, rolled her eyes, and ripped another chunk of bread off with too sharp teeth.

And that, as they say, was that.

~~~

Rysgil could not avoid them all forever.

Indeed Solas was close at hand when she emerged from her cabin with Harel and Dorian on her heels.  She could see him in the distance, leaned up against one of the other nearby cabins, feet as bear as her own and staff nowhere in sight.  The tooth she still had tucked into her armor seemed to pulse again at the sight of him and her hand fluttered up unconsciously to press against it.  She took in a deep breath and steeled herself for what she knew she had to do.

“I will follow shortly.”  She told Dorian quietly, never taking her eyes off of Solas’ patiently waiting figure.  “I need to speak with him.”

“I can come with you if you want.”  Dorian placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.  Rysgil wasn’t sure if she’d ever get used to the easy way he touched her sometimes.  Besides Atlen no one had ever done such a thing so regularly with her.

“No.”  She shook her head.  “Harel needs to hunt more and I should speak with Solas alone.  Go and speak with Fiona.  I know you’re eager to.”

“I do have questions for her, about Alexius and things that happened before I arrived.”  Dorian squeezed her shoulder softly before he let go and took a step towards where the mages were being housed.  “Still if you need me …”

“I know.”  Rysgil shooed him off with a wave of her hand.  “Go.”

Rysgil watched him saunter off before she turned to Harel and pressed a quick kiss between his eyes.  “I will be fine and you are always close to me if I need you.  I cannot cling to your side like a helpless da’len forever.  Atlen would not approve.”

Harel huffed, gave her a tender nuzzle, and then trotted off towards his favorite hunting grounds.  She watched him go, unable to squash the rise of panic that hit her right before he turned the corner.  He stopped, looked over one massive shoulder at her and Rysgil felt her tension ease at his silent reassurance.  She waved him on as she turned as well and made her way towards Solas.

“You and the Tevinter have grown close in so short a time.”  Solas said instead of an actual greeting.  Rysgil forced herself not to stiffen, not to jump to the almost instinctual irritation and aggression that always reared its head inside of her around Solas.

Dorian,” Rysgil stressed his name, tone still sharp despite her efforts to control her temper as she forced herself to look at his face.  She could not spend the rest of her time with the Inquisition avoiding looking at him or at any of the others.  “Has been a loyal and trustworthy companion.”

“I meant no offense.”  Solas assured her and a slightly heavy silence fell between them.

Ma serannas for the food for Harel.”  Rysgil spoke up suddenly and shifted uneasily as she thanked him, more aware than ever of the weight of Solas’ gaze on her.  “It was a thoughtful gesture.”

“A gift of goodwill and concern.”  Solas straightened and took a step closer to her.  “One I was not sure you or your partner would accept.”

“Solas I …” Rysgil broke off, clenched her hands tight enough that her claws bit into the flesh of her palms, and forced herself to continue.  “I would speak with you, privately.”

There was a flash of surprise in Solas’ eyes at her unexpected request but it was gone quickly.  “I am, as ever, at your service Herald.”

Rysgil turned on her heel and made towards the gates of Haven.  She led Solas out towards the frozen lake and the piles of timber that she normally used as a stand to clean Harel’s armor on.  It was far enough removed that their conversation would not be easily over heard.

“What troubles you?”  Solas asked her softly as he hovered close to her side.  She could feel his warmth even with the distance between them.  Rysgil shifted back on her heels slightly at the memory of how hot his skin had been beneath her hands that morning he’d tugged her down on top of him.  Of how his lips had pressed so softly against her knuckles before he’d gone to his death for her.

“There is much that neither Dorian nor I spoke of,” Rysgil started off slowly, “concerning what happened in that future Alexius sent us to.”

“I had suspected as much.”  Solas immediately acknowledged.  “It was in both of your faces when you returned, in the viciousness of your attack on the Magister upon your arrival.”

Rysgil bared her teeth at the mention of the mage.  Alexius had once been precious to Dorian but a part of Rysgil still longed to feel his throat between her teeth again, to feel his blood on her claws as a punishment for the horror he had wrought.

Solas reached out and grabbed her by the hand then and, unlike with Dorian, Rysgil could not contain her flinch, her jump of unease.  Still Solas did not let her go.  Instead he wrapped warm fingers around her own and squeezed lightly.

“There must have been much horror in that future to unsettle even you so deeply.”  Solas murmured, voice low and gentle.  “I would hear whatever it is you wish to tell me, if only to take the burden from your shoulders.”

“You died.”  Rysgil rasped out, unable to keep the words held back any longer.  They came spilling out almost without her permission.  “You, he, they all died and I did nothing but watch, like a coward.”

“You are many things but a coward least of all.”  Solas told her gently.  Rysgil looked away from him then, unable to hold his gaze when she felt so vulnerable.  “What else troubles you?”

Rysgil’s free hand slide up to tap against the front of her armor unconsciously before she reached into the small pocket sown into the inside and wrapped her fingers around the tooth.  She kept it carefully cupped in her hand and hidden from view as she withdrew it.

“Before,” Rysgil cleared her throat, “before you, he … just before, he gave me something, a message or a gift, I am not sure the meaning behind it.  But it was, is, yours and I thought to return it to you.”

Rysgil raised the hand that held the tooth up between them and slowly uncurled her fingers so that Solas could see what she held.  He sucked in a harsh breath and brought his free hand up to touch it gently with the tips of his fingers.  Rysgil felt a sudden surge of magic in the air between them, felt the tooth turn white hot for a moment and only her iron will kept her from dropping the thing out of shock.

On his part Solas went pale for a second before he snatched his hand back sharply and seemed to force himself to breathe deeply.  The hand that still held hers twitched harshly for a moment before it too relaxed.

“That is not meant for me.”  Solas told her softly even as he reached up and curled her hand closed around the tooth again.

“What happened?”  Rysgil stared down at her closed fist.

“Do not worry.  It was simply meant for you.”  Solas reassured her.  “It is an old custom, something done in ancient times that has been lost to the ages.  I … saw it many times in my travels through the Fade.  Keep it as a token of his favor, a symbol of his faith and protection.”

“You would not be … uncomfortable with that?”  Rysgil could not help but ask even as she drew the hand with the tooth back closer towards her chest.

“I am not the same man who died for you in that future.”  Solas’ voice was firm but still gentle.  “I do not have his experiences or all of his suffering to shape me.  But I know that he wanted you to have that and that I can do no less than honor that wish.  Keep it.  It belongs to you now and would not have me even if I wished it to.  Besides I can think of no one more worthy to carry it than you.”

Rysgil felt her stomach clench sharply at his words as she tucked the tooth back into her armor.  She forced the feeling down and then stood there beside Solas silently, more aware than she wanted to admit of the way he continued to hold her hand.  Still for the first time she felt no real urge to move, no real urge to snap or snarl at him and his infuriating ways.  Instead she felt lighter than she had before, as if a bit of the terrible burden that future had placed on her shoulders had indeed been lightened.

It was a step in the right direction she supposed and that was what truly mattered.

There were footsteps behind them then and Rysgil and Solas both turned only to find Cullen behind them, eyes trained on their clasped hands, a curiously hard look on his face.

“I did not mean to interrupt Herald.”  Cullen’s voice was stiff as he glanced at her face and then quickly away.  Rysgil frowned, confused and unsure by his reaction.

“I will leave you here.”  Solas slowly let go of her hand, inclined his head in her direction and took a small step back.  “I have matters of my own to attend to.  The Seeker has requested my presence to discuss rallying the mages in order to close the Breach.  Remember what I said Herald, it belongs to you now.”

Rysgil watched Solas walk away, eyes drawn as always to the way he seemed prowl across the ground in a way that was familiar to her.  When he stepped through the open gates of Haven Rysgil turned her attention back towards Cullen.  She had dreaded speaking with him just as she had dreaded speaking with Solas but she knew she could avoid it no longer.

She had ran once already and she would not allow herself to do so again.

“It was not my intention to cut your … conversation short Herald.”  Cullen folded his hands behind his back.  “You have my apologies.”

“No.”  Rysgil shook her head and rolled her shoulders.  “We had finished.”

“I had something I wished to discuss with you.”  Cullen took a small step closer to her and then stopped himself.  “If you are amiable of course.”

Rysgil folded her arms across her chest and nodded to Cullen.  Cullen was silent for a long moment before he sighed, cleared his throat, and finally spoke again.

“It came to my attention after you had left for Redcliffe that perhaps I misspoke in the war room that day.”  Cullen held himself perfectly still, and Rysgil found herself caught in his warm gaze.  Like she had with Solas she could remember the warmth of him from that future.  She could remember the way his lips had pressed against her forehead, the way his hands had felt on her face, skin split by slivers of red lyrium.  “I was … worried and I spoke in haste and with poor thought.  I did not mean to imply that I cared only for the mark, that it was the only thing to be concerned about.  I hope that we might put that misunderstanding behind us.”

Rysgil felt something within her soften slightly, some slight sting of hurt that had haunted her ease a bit.  She knew that Cullen was attempting to erase the tension between them and she understood his reasoning even if she did not completely trust it.  In all honesty she did not truly trust any of them.  Dorian had her faith and her protection above all of them but even with him she still felt off balanced and wrong footed at times.

Still she could not forget the way Cullen had been so gentle and soft in that damned future.  She could not overlook how, even after being so obviously tortured and ravaged by the red lyrium in his body, Cullen had been sweet with her.

Rysgil did not speak of that with Cullen, could not bring herself to do so.  There was no gift to try and return to Cullen as there had been with Solas.  That future Cullen’s words were something she would keep to herself for now, would hold close to her heart.  She would treat them as Solas had encouraged her to treat the tooth his other-self had given her.  As a token meant for no other than her, a gift for her alone.

“It is forgotten.”  Rysgil told him softly and watched as the tension in Cullen’s shoulders abruptly melted away and a small, pleased smile stretched across his mouth.  Hesitantly Rysgil held out her hand towards him, an offer to seal the agreement to move forward between them.

Instead of clasping her around the forearm as Rysgil had intended Cullen instead wrapped his hand around her own, turned it until her knuckles faced upwards, and bent forward to press a soft, warm kiss across the back of her hand.

“Your life is precious.”  Cullen murmured as he looked up at her through his lashes, lips still hovering over the back of her hand, warm breath fanning across her skin.  “Please never believe otherwise.”

"You are our strength, whether you realize it or not.”  The words from the other Cullen drifted back to her then in that moment and Rysgil felt her heart clench tightly even as her mind whirled.

Dorian, Solas, Cullen.

All three of them had said similar things to her in so short a time, had called her friend, and worthy, and precious.  She did not know how to handle it, could barely wrap her mind around the idea that they were serious, that they saw her as anything more than the mark on her hand or the magic in her blood.

Her hand trembled in Cullen’s grasp and for once Rysgil did not know how to make it stop.

Chapter Text

In the fire and candle light of their cabin, Harel at her back and Dorian reading a history tome aloud to them on the bed, Rysgil wrapped the tooth Solas had given her in thin strips of leather.  Cut from the hide of one of the ram’s Harel had hunted and she’d turned over to be tanned it would hold as well as the leather Atlen had always used for her stones.  It was quick work to have it secured and then braided into her hair so that the tooth rested safely against the back of her ear.

The weight of it was a comfort in a way she had not expected it to be.  It was also a reminder of what would be lost should the Inquisition fail.

Not that she truly needed the reminder.

The knowledge haunted her day and night.

The poisonously sweet rhythm of the red lyrium undercut her dreams.  The pain of Harel’s loss was a phantom ache in her chest.  The memory of Cullen and Solas’ faces, of Bull’s broken body and Leliana’s desperation, all swam behind her eyelids, ready to lash out at her at a moment’s notice.

She needed no reminder of the horror of that future.

Still Solas had told her that the tooth was a token of faith, of protection and favor.  Outside of Atlen and Harel and now Dorian, Rysgil had experienced precious few of either in her life.

She would not forsake that rare kindness or that sacrifice now.

~~~

“We need more time.”  Dorian crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Cullen mulishly.  Solas had been the one to make the suggestion of waiting to attempt the Breach but Dorian had agreed and had quickly become the most vocal of them all.  “The mages can be rallied and set to the task after we’ve had time to compile what we know about the Breach and prepared accordingly.”

“Impossible.”  Cullen’s arms were braced against the war table as he leaned forward.  “The Breach needs to be addressed now, as soon as possible.  Closing it cannot be delayed through some misguided attempt at studying it further.”

“Unlike hacking at anything that moves with a sharp piece of metal magic takes cunning and deliberation Commander.”  Dorian scoffed harshly.  “You can't just throw spells at a giant hole in the sky and hope for the best you know.”

Rysgil felt a brief burst of amusement beneath the irritation that writhed inside of her.  Dorian’s sharp tongue and the look of frustration on Cullen’s face was somehow entertaining.  Still they had been arguing for the past two hours about the Breach and Rysgil had been tired of the fighting after the first ten minutes.

“The Tevinter is, surprisingly, correct Commander.”  Vivienne’s cultured voice added then and Rysgil gritted her teeth harshly.  She disliked the way the others referred to Dorian.  It was only at his request and by her own will that she’d not snapped yet and taught them all better.  “There is a delicacy required here that cannot be overlooked in favor of haste.  We must be careful.”

“Indeed.  As I said before if we move too quickly we run the risk of causing more damage than that which we seek to heal.  The Breach is a … delicate thing for all of its strength and destructive power.  Caution would be advised.”  Solas was as calm as ever in his place leaning against the wall to Rysgil’s right.  Her own back was to the closed door which made it easier for her to get out of the room if need be.  Easier to get to Harel who was settled outside of the war room as was his habit ever since their return from Redcliffe.

“We agreed before Redcliffe that haste was our best option.”  Cullen ground out, jaw set and shoulders stiff.  “I see no reason to err from that line of thought now.”

“Enough.”  Cassandra’s voice cut through the rising voices then, tone hard and filled with command.  Silence fell instantly.  “This incessant arguing gets us nowhere.  If an accord cannot be reached between us then the Herald will decide as she is the one the burden of closing the Breach must fall to.”

All eyes in the room immediately turned in Rysgil’s direction and she resisted the urge to fidget and bared her teeth instead.  She had brought them their mages and still they turned to her for more, turned to her to make decisions, to pick and choose.  How she wished to be free of their pressure, of their expectations.

Rysgil looked first at Cullen, took in his frustration and his irritation that did little to hide the hints of fear in his eyes.  The Commander argued out of a desperate need to see things done, to see the Breach closed before more destruction could spew from it.  Rysgil knew that, and she even understood his opinion and his view.  Still …

“We cannot afford to delay any longer.”  Rysgil could see the first hints of triumph blossom in Cullen’s face and she had to turn her eyes from him and focus her attention on Solas instead.  “Yet we cannot go into this blind.  What is needed before we attempt to close the Breach?”

“The mages must be taught the best way to focus on closing the Breach.  Their magic must resonate with your own as best it can.”  Solas kept eye contact with her.  “Too many conflicting energies could cause it to rip open further if we are not careful.”

“Can you teach them such a thing?”  Solas was powerful, Rysgil knew that, but she was unsure if such a thing could truly be taught.  Still for all her power she was not as educated on the theoretical side of magic as the other mages in her party were so there was much that she did not know.

“I can.”  Solas dipped his head in her direction.  “I have witnessed you close enough rifts now to know the ebbs and flows of the magic that is necessary.  I can show them how to focus their energy correctly.”

“Do it.”  Rysgil nodded at him and then turned toward Dorian and Vivienne.  “What else?”

“Lyrium would be useful.”  Vivienne announced.  “The apostate speaks truth in that it will take a great deal of energy.  Lyrium potions would go far to assuring that the mages you have gathered are able to remain strong enough to handle the burden.”

“New staves wouldn’t hurt either.”  Dorian stepped closer to her side and Rysgil was grateful for his silent support given the way she could feel Cullen’s eyes boring into her.  “Many of the ones brought from Redcliffe are old, damaged from warfare and battle.  If we could outfit at least a portion of the mages with better equipment then they would have more power and better focus to put towards the Breach.”

Sometimes Rysgil forgot how much most other mages relied on a staff to channel their magic.  Bits of wood and crystal and metals to direct their power.  She knew her way around a staff yes, but Atlen had made sure she would never be as limited as they were and for that she was eternally grateful.

“We have neither the time nor the resources to outfit an army of mages with new staves.”  Cullen interjected, desperation naked in his voice.  “Herald please, we need to move quickly.”

Rysgil spared Cullen a quick glance even as her mind whirled.  Cullen's plea tugged at her because she knew that he, they, were, all of them, correct in one way or another.  She had to find a solution that would balance the two options of caution versus speed for truly neither could or should be totally abandoned for the sake of the other.  “Four days.  I will give you four days to gather what information you can Dorian, and for you to teach them what needs to be done Solas.  In the meantime turn Harrit towards repairing what staves he can.”

Rysgil turned towards the Spymaster who had remained quiet and watchful for most of the meeting.  “There was a smuggler in Redcliffe, use her if you have to and gather as much Lyrium as is possible.”

“Of course Herald.”  Leliana bowed her head in agreement.  “We have a more conventional channel available to us as well.  Between the two we should have what you ask for quickly.”

“Four days.”  Rysgil repeated to the silence of the war room, head held high and shoulders straight.  She had made her decision and she would not waver.  “On the fifth we march for the Breach, prepared or not.”

~~~

Rysgil woke early the next morning as was her habit.  Harel was curled around her but Dorian was nowhere to be seen, the bed that he normally slept in empty and cold.  She was sure that he’d spent the night either pouring over what information had been gathered on the Breach or perhaps harassing the blacksmith or Solas.

While not everyone had been pleased with her decision the day before Rysgil could not say that they had not jumped to action to do what she had ordered.  Leliana had departed to her tent to send out ravens as soon as the meeting had broken up.  Rysgil had seen Solas corner a vaguely uncomfortable looking Fiona afterwards and Cullen had immediately moved back towards the blacksmith and his troops.

Even now, though dawn was still not upon them, Rysgil could hear the distant rhythmic ping of the blacksmith’s hammer in the distance.  The forge would run continuously for the next few days she knew, in an effort to outfit as many of the mages as they could.  New staves would be crafted from scavenged parts of old ones and the few materials they had been able to collect.  The ones that weren’t in too bad a state of disrepair would be mended as best they could.

As for herself Rysgil knew she had yet another day trapped in the confines of the war room ahead of her.  Sometimes, despite the danger and the pain it caused her, she longed for rifts to seal, for enemies to fight.  She longed for the quiet that came with battle, the silence that settled itself around her mind as her entire being turned its focus to the give and take of a fight.

Almost anything would be better than the suffocating press of the Chantry’s walls around her as she was sequestered in the war room.

~~~

“We can line the walls here and here.”  Rysgil watched as Cullen pointed down at the small but extremely detailed map of the destroyed Temple of Sacred Ashes that one of Leliana’s scouts had drawn for them.  “We’ll layer the mages across this part of the clearing.  It will give them a clear line of sight and ample space to cast.  I’ll have my troops form lines in front of them for protection.”

“Your troops will be a welcome sight for them I am sure.”  Cassandra crossed her arms and nodded at Cullen.  “Solas has said that once they begin to cast it would be dangerous to falter until the Breach is sealed.  Your soldiers will give them the time they need if we find ourselves facing opposition.”

Uninterested in the chatter and plans being bandied about around her Rysgil’s mind wondered.  She knew what was being discussed was important and yet she could not focus on it.  Troop placement, mage positions, all of it mattered little to her in the end now that they had settled on when to move forward.

She knew where she and Harel would be during it all.  They would be at the front, directly in the middle of all of the action, because the Breach had become her responsibility, her burden.  The weight of it pressed down on her, sent something deep inside of her to almost panicking, like an wolf with its leg caught in a hunter's trap.

Still there were only two more days left and then the Breach would hopefully be sealed.

Rysgil just hoped that her life would not be forfeited in the process although she had her doubts about such an optimistic wish.  The pain from sealing the smaller rifts was excruciating.  They drained her in the worst sort of ways, pulled deep at her magic and her strength until she tasted blood in her mouth and had to lean against Harel for support.

The Breach was so far beyond those small rifts, so far beyond what she’d already faced.

Even with the support of the mages she knew that the pain would likely be beyond imagining, beyond anything she’d ever experienced.  A part of her feared it, the coming agony, the sick promise of the pain and hurt that would ravage her body when she turned the mark towards the Breach.  She did not want it, had never wanted it, but like so many other things, like so much other pain, it had come to her anyways.

Rysgil bared her teeth in a silent snarl and clenched her hands into tight fists.

She would not falter now, would not back down from this.  She could not.  Fear or not, agony or not, Rysgil would face the Breach and she would see it sealed.  Even if it took her life, even if it drained her until she was nothing more than a withered husk, she would not run.

She would not prove herself a monster equal to Alexius by standing by and allowing that damnable future to come to pass.

Rysgil turned her attention inward, focused on the steady thrum of Harel’s strength and support that beat in the heart of her.  She did not want to lead him to his death, not again, but she had spoken with him about it, had whispered to him, late at night, the odds and chances they faced, and she knew that he would follow her.  They would be together in this as they were in all other things and if she fell before the Breach then Harel was ready to fall with her.

She was so in tune with Harel in that moment that the surge of excitement that tore through him caused her to stagger suddenly and lose her balance.  To her surprise both Cullen and Solas steadied her with a hand on each of her shoulders.

“Rysgil!”  Dorian called out to her, voice alarmed, as he rounded the table.

“Herald what’s wrong?”  There was urgency in Cullen’s voice, in the gentle but firm grip both he and Solas had on her shoulders.

“Harel.”  Rysgil chocked out as she felt her partner’s energy practically thrum with excitement once again.  “Something’s happening.”

She was moving then, slipping out from beneath Cullen and Solas’ hands as she spun around and headed towards the door.  She could hear and feel them all behind her but she didn’t care, not with how Harel was calling for her.

Rysgil sprinted through the Chantry and flung the outer door open just in time to hear Harel howl, loud and victorious, as he tore off across Haven.  Rysgil took off after him, something like panic beginning to eat at her.

Harel was through the gate far ahead of her but to her surprise he almost skidded to a halt outside.  Rysgil hurried to catch up to him and when she finally did it was with a small crowd on her heels.  When she laid her hand against the side of his neck she found his large body quivering in excitement.  His tail was held high and tongue lolling in the way he only did when he was truly happy.

“Harel what is it?”  Rysgil was almost frantic.  Harel never acted like that, was never so rash as to dart off without her.  “What has happened?”

Harel turned towards her then and pressed his wide head against her chest in a quick but almost playful headbutt before he turned back towards the road that lead from Haven and tossed his head up to howl again.

“Riders!”  Rysgil heard a sentry on the wall call suddenly.  “Riders approach!”

Her heart leapt to her throat and seemed to skip a beat then as she whirled to look in the direction Harel was staring so intently.  She blocked out the questions the others were asking her, blocked out the noise they made behind her.  Instead she pressed herself closer to Harel’s side as she waited and dared, for the first time in a long time, to hope.

The first horse crested the hill with a woman in the familiar uniform of one of Leliana’s messengers settled firmly on its back.  The second horse that followed held a stranger.  The figure on its back was wrapped in a thick green cloak, hood pulled up to cover their face.  They rode towards Dennet, who stepped forward to take the reins from them.

It was then, when the second figure dismounted, that Rysgil saw it.  Strapped to their back was a staff, a long and slender length of wood.

Rysgil took a stumbling step forward away from Harel’s side then.

She knew that staff, knew it well.  Carved painstakingly and overlaid with precious ironbark, it had been a gift she’d agonized over for an entire season.  Something meant to support the person who was most precious to her in times when she could not.

Rysgil moved almost without thought.  She took one stumbling step after another that quickly turned into a run.

A name was on the tip of her tongue as she sprinted across the distance between her and the cloaked figure who’d finally turned to face her.  A name that she had carried close to her heart for months now, one that she had whispered into the thick of Harel’s fur for comfort as night pressed in around their small cabin.

“Atlen.”  It came out as a cry instead of the whisper Rysgil had intended but she didn’t care.  She couldn’t keep it pressed down any longer, couldn’t keep it quiet, and instead it became a mantra, each repetition louder than the next until she was practically screaming it.  “Atlen.  Atlen.”

She crashed into Atlen’s arms hard enough to make him stagger back with a huff but Atlen moved with it, used her momentum to twirl her around in a small circle like he had when she was a child.  Ordinarily she would have never let him do something like that in front of the eyes she knew where watching them but at the moment it didn’t matter.  None of that mattered.

What mattered was the scent of him, the smell of wood smoke and snow, of the oil he used on his weapons.  The scent of hearth and home and all of the things Rysgil had ever loved.  What mattered was the way he folded himself around her automatically, tucked her into the folds of his cloak like she was a child again as she burrowed her way closer to his chest.  What mattered was the feel of his lips pressing a kiss against the top of her head.

What mattered was that he was there.  That he was real and that his arms, still strong despite his years of living in the camps, were wrapped around her as if they could protect her from the world.  What mattered was that Harel was there then too, prancing around them excitedly, his joy echoing inside of Rysgil’s chest as her own swelled to match it.

Rysgil.”  Atlen’s voice was choked when he spoke, thick with the same tears that she could feel trickling down her own face.  His hands came up then, calloused from years of dagger work and hunting but always so gentle with her, and pressed against her cheeks.  He pulled her head up enough so that he could lean down and press his forehead against hers, the fabric of his hood swallowing up both of their faces.  “Da’mi.  Oh how I have missed you so emm’asha.”

“Atlen.”  Rysgil sobbed as she pushed forward to nestle her face against the warmth of his throat and her arms wrapped themselves around his waist.  “Atlen.”

“Shh.”  Atlen held her tighter, reached up to press a hand against the back of her head.  His fingers buried themselves in her hair as he rocked her slightly where they stood.  “Hush now da’mi, I’m here.  Hush.  Everything will be alright, I swear it to you.”

Unable to help herself Rysgil pulled away from Atlen, tipped her head back, and, for the first time since everything had first started, laughed.

“Yes.”  Breathless, face wet with tears and heart almost bursting with joy, Rysgil grinned.  The expression felt bright and happy and genuine, as she was unashamed of her too sharp teeth or the fact that they had an audience.  None of that mattered.  All that mattered was that now Rysgil had a reason to truly believe that everything might actually work out.  “Yes it will.”

Because, in that moment, with Atlen and Harel both back at her side, Rysgil could not envision anything other than victory.

Chapter Text

Rysgil could not bring herself to let Atlen go.  She twined herself around him again, wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into the shelter of his cloak, confident that he would welcome her into his space as so few did for her.  Harel was beside them, no longer prancing and spinning happily but pressed against Atlen’s back to both brace him and to get as close as possible to the both of them as he could.  He nudged his great head under the edge of Atlen’s cloak and woofed softly in a move that made Rysgil giggle lightly in delight.

She had not been so happy in years, so filled with undeniable joy, in far too long.

“I missed you.”  She murmured into Atlen’s chest as tears abruptly flooded her eyes.  He was real.  After so long he was real and with her again.  “Atlen I’ve missed you so much, we both have.”

“Oh, my Rysgil.”  Atlen hugged her tightly again before he reached down a hand and rubbed lovingly at the strip of fur between Harel’s eyes.  “I have missed you too emm’asha, my most precious treasure.  Long were my days and nights without you by my side da’mi.  Empty was my heart without the two of you there to fill it.”

“There is so much …” Rysgil barely managed not to choke on a sob much to her own horror.  “So much has happened and I have needed you so Atlen.”

“And you have me da’vhenan.  You have me now.”  Atlen pushed her back so that he could wipe her eyes with the inner fold of his cloak.  “Now dry your tears da’mi for now is not the time.  Later you can unburden all of your woes and cry into my shoulder until exhaustion takes you if that is what you need.  First you must introduce me to the group standing behind you who looks as if they will rip me limb from limb if I do not release you soon.”

“They would not dare.”  Rysgil snarled suddenly as she prepared to turn and confront those who had gathered.  If they took one false move towards Atlen she and Harel would see their flesh separated from their bones, would see them broken and destroyed.  Neither she nor Harel would abide any threat to Atlen or his safety.

Atlen’s quiet huff of laughter and his hands on her shoulders stopped her mid motion.  Slightly puzzled she turned her face back up in his direction.

Atisha my fierce Ranger.”  Atlen sounded so fond in that moment that Rysgil felt her ire melt away like frost in the sun.  “Still so ferocious, still battle and glory given form.  Their protectiveness does them a great service da’mi.  It does my old heart good to know that for all the pain and trials you have surely faced there are those who would see you protected here.”

“They protect the mark not me.”  Rysgil could not keep the bitterness out of her voice, did not even try to.  She had no need to hide any part of herself from Atlen.  Then shyness slammed into her and she resisted the urge to shuffle her feet and tug at the collar of her armor as she always did when nervous.  Atlen had always teased her mercilessly about that as well.  “Except … except for Dorian.  He is a mage, from Tevinter and he … he calls me friend Atlen.  He calls me friend and willingly shares a cabin with me and Harel.  He is smart and strong and I think that you will enjoy his company as Harel and I do.”

There was a long pause and then Atlen spoke again, voice careful and even.  “Does he now?  I will have to meet this Dorian and see the one who has found a place so close to your side.  Anyone who has been of a comfort to you is worth knowing and has my thanks.  Now dry your eyes again and we shall put their curiosity to rest.”

Rysgil stepped back from him reluctantly and, careful to keep her back turned towards the restless group behind her, summoned a light coat of frost to the tips of her fingers, just enough to cool the skin.  She pressed her hands against her eyes for a few moments to hopefully erase the redness of her tears before she let them drop and blinked back up at Atlen again.

“Good.”  Atlen reached up and pressed the tip of his finger against the point of her nose as he had when she was a child.  When she smiled up at him just slightly he dropped his hand and then reached back to pull his staff off of his back so that he could lean on it slightly.  “Let us go now.  The sooner we do this, the sooner an old man can rest.  I am not made for such long travel by horse any longer da’mi.”

“You rode Harel for hours just last spring Atlen and then we threw daggers well into the night.”  Rysgil murmured as she finally turned and took in the combination of confused and carefully blank faces of those who were watching them.  “You are not nearly as old and feeble as you choose to pretend to be at times.”

“Such insolence.”  Atlen’s voice was husky and warm with his amusement.  “Have pity on an old man and save your sharp tongue for someone with thicker skin and a stronger back.”

They fell silent as they moved back towards the group.  Rysgil was pressed against one of Atlen’s side and Harel the other as if they were both frightened he would disappear if they gave him any space.

~~~

Cullen had followed her out of the war room at a dead run, second only to Solas’ and the fleet footed grace that effortlessly carried him across the snow in her wake.  Dorian, practically frothing with worry, followed close behind him.  The others were close on his heels, voices raised high in concern.

Of all the possibilities Cullen had been imagining, of all the horrific things that had sprung to mind at the way she’d rushed out of the war room, at the way her Harel could be seen dashing through Haven ahead of her, a reunion of all things had not been among them.  At least not a happy one.

Cullen watched, frozen in shock and bitten deep by some other sharp emotion he refused to put a name to, as she flew forward into the arms of this Atlen, this Dalish elf she had once had Sister Leliana send her token to.  This stranger whose name she cried out so joyously.  He watched as she was twirled around in the air, as the hood that covered the elf’s face dipped down and swallowed hers up as well.  Cullen clenched the hand that had automatically wrapped itself around the hilt of his sword until his bones ached but he managed to keep his place.  Managed not to step forward and rip her away from this stranger.

Barely.

He was fully aware that she needed no rescue and indeed would be more liable to turn on him if he tried to perform an unwelcome one.  Still the urge was undeniably there.

And then, to the surprise of all of them he was sure, she pulled away, tossed her head back, and laughed.  His heart skipped a beat at the sound of her laughter and the sight of her unfettered grin.  They were expressions he’d never seen from her before and they brightening her face like spring come early.  Like the thaw after a long and arduous winter.

'Maker’s Breath.'  Cullen felt as if he’d been blindsided, as if someone had snuck underneath his guard and laid him low with the flat side of a broad sword.  Or perhaps a brick to the temple.  He’d had both happen in the past and the feeling was remarkably similar truth be told.  'She is beautiful.'

“Startlingly so.”  Solas’ spoke up softly from beside him.  Cullen immediately stiffened again.  He was horrified and painstakingly aware that he’d been caught in the middle of his less than appropriate thoughts about the Herald.  Thoughts that he’d apparently spoken out loud instead of to himself as he’d intended.  Yet when he turned his head enough to look at Solas and gauge his expression the apostate’s attention was focused straight ahead instead of on him.  Solas’ eyes were bright and fierce and they were locked on to the embracing figures ahead of them.  “To see her so bright and obviously happy after so long is rather … shocking.”

“She is normally quite the little rain cloud isn’t she?”  Dorian commented then as he stepped forward and into the bit of space between Solas and Cullen, eyes trained ahead but staff gripped tightly in hand all the same.  Cullen stifled another curse at the way he almost jumped.  He’d been so focused on Solas and the subject of their, apparently, shared fascination that he’d rather forgotten to pay attention to his surroundings.  He'd have to make sure he spent extra time on the training field tonight.  A mistake like that in battle could cost him his head.  “Well that’s actually like calling a hurricane a light spring rain or something of that nature but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.”

Cullen wasn’t sure how to respond to that so he stayed silent and waited for Dorian to finish.  As he had found on the few occasions he’d spoken with Dorian in the past the man, for all of his flashy attitude and sarcastic sniping, rarely said anything without a point behind it.

“Yes dear Rysgil can be so morose, and vicious as well of course, can’t forget about that, but she does have the loveliest of smiles from what I’ve seen.  As lovely as they have been rare.”  Dorian’s voice went smooth then, tone cutting and filled with more than a hint of warning in a way that made Cullen immediately perk up and pay attention.  Just across from Dorian he could tell that Solas had done the same thing.  “It’s nice, comforting somehow, to see her so obviously pleased.  It would be a … shame if something were to happen to dampen her all too rare joy.  Especially in light of what she’ll soon face.  I imagine the consequences of such rash and irresponsible behavior would be absolutely dreadful for all parties involved.  In fact I would go so far as to say they could even be deadly.”

Dorian was gone just as quickly as he’d appeared, had swept away from them to hover just on the outside of the crowd they had all formed.  Cullen was left vaguely stunned and almost amused.  He’d rarely been so politely threatened before.  If memory served him Varric was the last to have done so.  That had been back in Kirkwall of course.  The dwarf had been willing to raze the city to the ground to protect Hawke and the family she and Varric had formed out of their assorted companions.  If the way Solas’ eyebrows were arched up were any indication Cullen was willing to go out on a limb and say the other man felt the same way.

Cullen did not have a chance to further contemplate Dorian’s warning for the Herald had turned and begun to make her way back towards their group, her Harel and this Atlen in tow.

~~~

Rysgil lead Atlen forward carefully, senses alert to any possible danger to him.  Despite the way Cassandra and Leliana both eyed her, despite Cullen’s curiously hard features and Solas’ carefully blank ones, or the way Josephine stepped forward looking to be in full ambassadorial mode, she had eyes only for Dorian who hovered just at the edge of the crowd.  She steered Atlen straight towards her friend without any hesitation.

“I would introduce you first.”  Rysgil nodded towards Dorian and motioned him forward with a flick of her fingers.

Dorian looked almost startled before a small pleased smile spread across his face.  Still he was a nobleman’s son beneath it all, as he had repeatedly told her, and thanks to their many late night conversation he knew how much her choice to introduce him first said of her fondness for him.  He stepped forward instantly.

“Dorian, mage of Tevinter, scion of House Pavus, pariah, and more importantly the Lady Rysgil’s battle companion and friend if I may be so bold.”  Staff held straight in his left hand Dorian fisted his right atop his heart and bowed low to Atlen before he straightened and held his hand out in Atlen’s direction, palm facing upwards*.  “It is an honor to meet you.”

There was a pause and Rysgil found herself fretting slightly, worried in some way that Atlen would not approve of Dorian, that he would not like her friend.  It was a type of anxiety she had never faced before.

Finally Atlen moved.  He passed his staff to Rysgil who took it automatically, and reached up to pull the hood she’d almost forgotten he was wearing down so that it rested around his shoulders.  Atlen looked as she remembered him to, the vibrant green of his whisker like vallaslin stood out against skin that would never lose the tan it had gained from long years under the sun.  His hair, more white now than the raven’s wing it had been when she was a child, was still pulled back into its long braid.  His eyes, framed by thick lines, were the same intense shade of green.

But there was a thinness to his face that worried her and Rysgil resolved to speak with him about it as soon as they were tucked away from the others.

“Atlen, hunter for the Clan Lavellan, keeper of dagger lore, proud master and hunting partner to Rysgil.”  Atlen reached forward and clasped Dorian’s hand firmly.  Rysgil felt shock and deep affection rush through her at how both of them had added her into their titles, into their formal introductions.  “You are well met Dorian of House Pavus.  Rysgil has named you friend as well.”

Dorian winced slightly when the two finally dropped the hand shake although he shook his head and smiled at Rysgil’s silent but curious look.

“Come da’mi, introduce me to the rest.”  Atlen urged her warmly.  Rysgil smiled up at him softly even as she handed him back his staff and turned to introduce him to Varric next.

Varric took Dorian’s method of greeting as the rule of thumb and stepped forward with a bow and an outstretched hand.  “Varric of House Tethras, a humble storyteller and merchant.”

“Tethras?”  Atlen hummed as he returned Varric’s handshake politely, albeit briefer than the one he’d shared with Dorian.  Atlen cut his eyes in Rysgil’s direction and she felt a faint sense of dread well up in her stomach at the amusement she could see sparkling within them.  “You wrote Tales of the Champion did you not?  Did Rysgil drag you here or did you come willingly?  She is rather enamored with the tale of your Hawke and your other companion F-“

“That is enough hahren.”  Rysgil cut Atlen off with a light bump to his shoulder.  Of course he would figure it out sooner than she had given everything that had been going on.  She knew he would eventually learn about how long it had taken her to place Varric’s identity and then the teasing would never stop.  For his part Varric looked almost scandalized for some reason.  “Humiliate me later.”

“Of course emm’asha.”  Atlen turned back towards the introductions dutifully.

Rysgil introduced him to those of the inner circle diligently.  The rest of Haven had gone back to their business, too busy preparing for their coming march on the Breach to focus overlong on what they were doing.  Under Rysgil’s narrow eyed watch everyone showed Atlen the highest of respect.  Cullen even went so far as to remove his gauntlet before offering his hand and Solas gave the traditional Dalish greeting much to Rysgil’s surprise.  Atlen paused on both of them longer than the rest besides Dorian before he allowed her to move on and introduce him to Sera and Bull and the others.

Finally, Rysgil announced that they would return to her cabin.  Atlen needed rest and food and Rysgil wanted to be alone with him and Harel.  There was so much to tell him and so little in the way of time left.  Cassandra made as if to protest but it was Dorian who cut a sharp look at the Seeker and ushered Rysgil on.

“Go.”  Dorian grinned and gave her a wink.  “Spend time with your Atlen, tell him what’s happened.  I could use a break from the tomes I’ve been buried in so I’ll take your place in the war room.”

Rysgil nodded at him in thanks, linked her arm with Atlen’s, and turned towards her cabin without bothering to look back.  Harel trailed faithfully at her heels.

~~~~

“Well.”  Dorian huffed out a burst of air as he stood with the others and watched Rysgil lead the older elf towards the cabin they shared.  “I have a feeling things are going to be even more interesting around here now.”

There were murmurs of agreement, mainly from Varric and interestingly enough from Sera as well.  Dorian flexed his hand again.  His bones still smarted a bit from the truly impressive grip Rysgil’s Atlen had on him.  Dorian had been on the receiving end of his fair share of intimidating handshakes and Atlen’s ranked up there with the best of them.  Dorian felt amusement quirk up inside of him because he had not been the only one to receive such treatment.  Indeed he’d seen both the Commander and Solas flexing their own hands subtly.

It seems as if my own threats were unnecessary.’  Dorian couldn’t help but muse as he started at the Commander and Solas whose eyes were still trained on Rysgil’s retreating back.  ‘Two minutes into an introduction and her Atlen had the both of them pegged it seems.  He noticed what has eluded Rysgil these many weeks almost instantly.  Although I’ll have my work cut out for me convincing him that I’m not a threat as well.’

Still it would be worth it Dorian knew.  Atlen was obviously dear to Rysgil, was someone she considered precious and Dorian would respect that bond.  It would be worth it because Rysgil was worth it.  Because she treated him as if he were worth something as well and that, in Dorian’s experience, was a rare thing indeed.

She was far more than viciousness and impressive teeth and Dorian could not help but wonder what would happen when the others truly realized that.

~~~

“You are so thin Atlen.”  Rysgil cupped hand over her mouth to surpress the keen of distress that tried to fight its way out of her throat.  Atlen, already as slender as any elvhen, was thinner than she remembered him to be once he’d taken off his cloak and settled down in the chair she’d pulled in front of the fireplace.  “Are you sick hahren?  Do you need medicine?  Healers?”  Her magic sparked to life around one hand, ready to be willed into action, as her other reached for one of the regeneration potions she kept tucked into her armor.

“Calm yourself Rysgil.  I’m not ill.”  Atlen patted his knee softly and Rysgil forced herself to calm down.  She moved to his side and sank down onto the floor beside his leg so that she could rest her chin on his thigh.  One of his hands came up to stroke lightly over her hair in a way that automatically made her relax even further.  “I was, until recently, in mourning.”

Mourning?”  Rysgil’s head shot up off of his thigh as she stared up at him in shock.

“My sweet, foolish da’mi.  Your hair is a mess da’vhenan.”  To her surprise Atlen laughed and shook his head.  "Come, let me fix it for you."  He urged her to move until she was settled between his splayed knees with her back to him.  His fingers immediately went to work unbraiding her tokens and laying them out across his knee.  A few moments passed between them in comfortable silence before Atlen’s hands stilled and he spoke, voice soft and wrecked.  “I thought you dead when word came of the Conclave.”

Atlen!”  Rysgil went to turn and across from her Harel whined, low and pained.

“No just … let me finish Rysgil.”  Atlen’s hands on her shoulders kept her in place before they moved and went back to her hair as he undid more stones and bits of metal.  His fingers lingered over the tooth that she had braided into her hair before they removed it as well.  Rysgil felt strangely bereft without it but she shook the feeling off and turned her attention back towards Atlen.  “I raged at the Keeper when word came, blamed her for your death.  And when I could be angry no longer my grief set in like a sickness.  The despair ate at me by the day, whittled away my strength.  I knew I would not last another season without you so great was my anguish.  I was content only with the idea that I might see you again once my soul had been ushered to the afterlife.”

Horror roared through Rysgil and she felt tears prickle her eyes again.  Atlen had suffered for her, because of her, because she’d been so focused on her own pain that she’d not sent him word until Leliana had approached her.

“But then word came of a survivor, an elvhen woman, and I knew it was you.”  Atlen’s voice was hoarse but strong then, filled with conviction.  “I knew with a certainty that I could put towards nothing else in my life that you yet lived.  For if any could survive such a thing it would be my da’mi, my glorious Ranger and her Harel.  And when word finally reached the clan of your specific survival the life that had begun to fade from me was restored.  I ate when before I had wanted no food, I slept when before I had wandered the camp aimlessly in search of you.  My strength slowly began to return but whispers of discontent had already begun to spread through the clan.”  Atlen went silent and leaned forward abruptly until his forehead rested on the crown of her head.  His voice shook when he spoke then.  “When the messenger arrived with your stone in her hand and your words on her lips I knew she could not leave unless I accompanied her.  I knew that I had to find you, had to come to you.  I would not leave you to face these horrors alone Rysgil.  I would not leave you to shoulder these burdens without me.  Not you, not my Rysgil.”

“I am sorry.”  Rysgil was openly sobbing and Harel had crawled across the floor to lay his great head in her lap.  “I am sorry Atlen.  I should have … I should have sent word sooner, should have done something to let you know.  There was just so much … too much.”

“Shh.”  Atlen pressed a kiss against her hair.  “Shh Rysgil no.  It’s alright.  You are alive.  You and Harel are alive and that is all that matters.  I could ask for no greater gift.  You have been so brave da’mi.  So strong.  Do not blame yourself for an old man’s sadness.”

Woken by her emotions or not, Rysgil did not know, but the mark chose that moment to flare and send bolts of hot agony racing through her bones.  Rysgil could not muffle her pained cry quick enough, her guard too low to be effective.

“Rysgil!”  Atlen exclaimed as he sat up straight and urged her head back enough to where she could stare up at him.  His eyes raked over her face quickly before they narrowed sharply.  “You are in pain.”

“No.”  Rysgil denied as she carefully tucked her marked hand beneath her thigh, unwilling to add to Atlen’s sorrow at the moment.  “I am not.  Not anymore.”

“Do not lie to me da’mi.”  Atlen chided her gently, worry strong in his face.  “Tell me what has happened.  Tell me everything Rysgil.  Please.”

Weak as she always was in the face of Atlen’s quiet concern Rysgil did just that.  She told Atlen of the Conclave and all that she remembered, of everything that had happened afterwards.  Of the rifts and the Breach.  She told him of Cullen and watched him stiffen at the thought of her being so close to a Templar.  She spoke of the allies she had gathered, of meeting Mihris and Dorian.  Of Alexius’ vile plot and the horrors of the red lyruim future.  She spoke of how they would be marching for the Breach the day after next.

She spoke for hours as Atlen removed her tokens, carefully combed her hair, and re-braided everything into place.  She paused only long enough to answer the knock on the door and retrieve the food that one of the servants brought with Dorian’s compliments.  In the lowering light of the cabin she whispered to him the agony of the mark, the searing pain of closing the rifts.  She confessed to the weight of the chains the Inquisition had thrown onto her, of how the title Herald felt more like a collar or a trap than an honor.  For the first time she allowed herself to speak truly, deeply, of her fear to anyone besides Harel.

“I fear this will claim my life and his.”  Rysgil confessed as she stroked her hand against Harel’s muzzle.  “I fear I am not strong enough to endure this Atlen and I fear what will happen if I fail.”

“You are strong enough.”  Atlen reassured her as he stroked a hand over her hair again and paused briefly to play with the sliver of veridium he had returned to its rightful place amidst her curls.  “You are far stronger than you believe emm’asha.  If you fail at this task then it cannot be done.  It pains me that the mark causes you such grief but I am also proud of you, proud that you carry it for whatever reason.  Our world hangs in the balance Rysgil and you carry the fate of us all.  For all that I would spare you the agony I could not imagine one more suited to seeing this task done than you.”

Rysgil turned her face into his knee to hide the way her eyes had welled up once again even as she felt her resolve harden.

Atlen was with her now and she would see this thing done.  She would see the Breach closed and Atlen and Harel, Dorian and all the others protected.

She would not falter and she would not fail.

She could not.

Chapter Text

“Rysgil, wake up.”  A hand ran gently over her head and the soft, familiar touch pulled Rysgil from dreams filled with pain and the sick green glow that haunted her every moment.  “Wake da’mi.”

“Atlen.”  Rysgil was slower to wake than she had been in months.  She’d been on edge for so long that what sleep she had managed to get was fraught and filled with a thick sense of underlying fear.  Having Atlen back at her side had allowed her to have the first true rest she’d had in ages.  Even with the nightmares that still haunted her.

“Shh.”  Atlen stroked a hand across her hair.  Rysgil leaned into the touch, nuzzled her face into the palm of his hand.  She took in his scent, the smell of wood smoke and snow, of the oil he used on his weapons, and couldn’t help but sigh.

Rysgil let him soothe her as she woke, warm in her place on the ground, her head in Atlen’s lap and Harel’s massive bulk curled around the both of them.  It felt like home again in a way that made her heart ache with joy.  As long as Atlen and Harel were by her side she was home.

“Has something happened?”  Rysgil questioned as she pushed the familiar green cloak that had been draped across her down and sat up with a yawn.  She stretched her arms above her head and arched her back sharply before she relaxed and reached out to run her fingers through Harel’s fur.  She felt relaxed, almost happy even, despite the situation she’d found herself in.

“Everything is fine.”  Atlen rose to his feet as well, still graceful and lithe despite the age that had slowly begun to overtake him.  He moved towards the small table that was settled in the corner and gathered a few loaves of bread and some of the dried meat.  Dorian always made certain to keep things like that on hand in the cabin for them.  Neither she nor Dorian really liked the tavern or sitting around any of the camps as they ate.  They were, the two of them, pariahs in their own way.  The privacy was always appreciated.  “It’s just time for us to wake.  The sun will be up shortly and there is much to be done.”

They ate together in comfortable silence.  Rysgil couldn’t help but smile at the familiar way Atlen slipped Harel bits of rough rye bread and pieces of dried meat.  It was a custom that had developed between the two of them when Harel had been a pup.  She would send Harel to hunt later but Atlen’s loving habit of feeding Harel by hand was a much welcomed sight.

“Rysgil.”  Atlen caught her attention once they’d finished eating.  “Come.”

Rysgil immediately perked up, body and senses immediately alert, because she knew that tone of voice.  She had lived with it for years, had heard it as Atlen directed her every move and thought to push her towards achieving her goal.  When she looked at him she could see a familiar firmness in his eyes, a familiar sort of sharp focus that made her straighten her spine and square her shoulders.  She moved over to his side and folded herself down until she was resting on her knees beside him.

“What do you wish of me hahren?”  Before Rysgil was her trainer, her teacher, the keeper of dagger lore who had taken her as his First and he deserved nothing but the highest amount of respect she could give him.

“I know that you have had far too much weight on your shoulders emm’asha and it grieves me that you must bare it as you do.”  Atlen reached out and took her hand in his.  His fingers were careful when he traced over the points of her claws.  He’d begun to do that when she was younger.  She loved the fact that he’d never been hesitant when it came to her differences.  He had instead embraced all of them and in doing so had embraced both her and Harel in their entirety.  “I would help you bear that weight Rysgil but I am old.  I have not the strength I once had, I cannot carry this for you no matter how much I wish I could.”

“Having you here …” Rysgil swallowed hard and leaned forward so that she could press a soft kiss against the back of Atlen’s knuckles.  “It gives me more strength than you could possibly imagine.”

“And I wish that strength to be more than it is.  I wish to add more to it than I can.”  Atlen smiled ever so softly at her, a gentle and serene expression that belayed the seriousness in his eyes.  “I wish to move mountains and oceans for you emm’asha.  I wish to reorder time and life itself for you, to show the Creators and all others the sting of my daggers, the pain of my knives, if they dare to bring you even closer to harm.”

Atlen.”  Rysgil’s voice shook at his obvious care for her and Harel’s wellbeing.  His love never failed to humble her.

“But I cannot do these things for you da’mi.  Like a well-worn dagger my body has dulled with time.”  Atlen released one of her hands and held up a calloused but still graceful hand to forestall her words of protest.  “We both know it is true.”

Rysgil knew but she did not like to think of it, did not like to dwell on the slow creep of time that she knew would one day steal Atlen and his warmth from her and Harel both.  The very thought of it froze the air in her lungs.

“Yet for all that time has stolen from my body I am still your teacher.”  Atlen reached out to her again and this time gently gripped her chin so he could tilt her head back further.  He stared at her for a moment, eyes soft, before he moved on to idly play with one of the many stones that were scattered throughout her hair.  “You are still my First and I would not have you so troubled.  I would not have your thoughts so weighty and your mind so burdened before you leave my side and move into battle once more.  You cannot go to the Breach as you are now Rysgil.  A mind so heavy as yours is now would dull the swiftness of your feet, would blunt the force of your blades and lessen the bite of your mage craft.”

Rysgil sucked in a soft breath and forced herself to exhale slowly.  She knew he was right in this moment as he so often was.  Her thoughts were heavy, her mind was burdened.  There was the stress of what had happened, the pain she had felt in that damned false future, the agony of the Mark on her hand.  All of it weighed so heavily on her, put doubt in her despite her best efforts to banish it.  For all of her rage and resolve, for all her current joy over having Atlen beside her, she could not ignore the seeds of despair, the tiny thorns of doubt that pricked her heart like vicious thistle.  Small but painful.  A clear mind and a balanced spirit would aid her at the Breach.  Rysgil knew she held too much rage, too much magic, to ever be fully balanced and serene like so many of the elvhen were but every little bit would count.

“What would you have me do hahren?”  Rysgil would trust his advice, would trust his word as she trusted no other and she knew Harel would follow alongside her as he always did.  For so long Atlen had been the only safe harbor for her and Harel admist the storm that was their life.  They both trusted him above all others.

“I would have the both of you dance for me.”  Atlen told her.  “I would have you and Harel dance and remember the vir tanadhal.  I would have you both show me you remember the way of the three trees.”

Rysgil looked at Harel in that moment, his great body settled peacefully at her side, his eyes as bright and eager as she knew her own were in that moment.

“Of course hahren.”  Rysgil grinned, more of a baring of teeth really, an expression of vicious eagerness that Harel echoed at her side.  “We would be honored to dance for you.”

~~~

Rysgil stretched her body, warmed up her muscles and loosened her limbs in the privacy of her den before she set out into Haven with Harel and Atlen at her sides.  Dawn had crested in a burst of pinks and yellows and she found herself eager to dance for Atlen, eager to do as he had asked.

 But first there was something she had to do.

“Harel.”  She called her partner’s name softly and his eyes were immediately on her, as bright and intelligent as always.  “Take Atlen to the lake and guard him.  I will be there shortly and then … we shall dance.”

“Where are you off to da’mi?”  Atlen sounded curious but unconcerned.  He knew she had no interest in skipping the dance they had discussed so whatever drew her from their side would be important.

Rysgil chewed on her lip for a moment, surprised to find herself slightly embarrassed but determined to push on.  “I have spoken to Dorian of the dagger lore you taught me and for a mage he finds it … interesting.”

“You like this mage do you not?”  Atlen’s voice was casual but his eyes were serious in a way Rysgil was unfamiliar with.  “You named him friend above the others and he showed the same curtesy to you in return.  I can tell he is as strong as you told me he was but I admit your partiality for him is surprising.”

“He is … different.”  Rysgil admitted softly, fondness swelling slightly in her chest at the thought of Dorian, her friend.  “He does not treat me as they do, does not look upon Harel with mistrust or treat him as a beast either.  He, he asked me for my name hahren and he is … kind in his way.”

“Ah.”  Atlen gentled then, seemed less stern.  “That he shows you such thoughtfulness does him credit in my eyes as well.  Yet I know you well and I sense some other purpose afoot here.”

Rysgil debated for a moment before she pushed forward, confident in speaking openly with Atlen as she was with only Harel, though Dorian came a close third now.  “He is not like me, is not what you taught me to be.  He’s bound himself to wood and stone, to crystal and steel.  His mage craft is powerful but he is … restricted.  I would show him how he could be freer, how his magic could flow without rod or staff, as easy as breathing.  Just as you once taught me.”

“You seek to protect him or to better his protection of himself.”  Atlen hummed, something almost approving in his voice then when he spoke.  “You would have him see the dance in hopes he might desire to learn a blade to better protect himself or to cast freely without the staff.  To unshackle him from wood and steel so that he might not be crippled by its loss.”

“Yes.  I would not see him cut down or brought low by something so simple.”  Dorian’s lack of a weapon beyond his staff and his dependency on it made her uneasy.  Vivienne was the same but the refined mage had proven that she could have frost flow from her hands alone if she placed enough will behind the urge.  Plus while Rysgil respected her there was no real fondness, no fierce desire to protect and defend the Circle mage as there was towards Dorian.

Solas did not need her concern she knew.  He wielded magic easily, staff or no, just as she did.  Plus there was a barely concealed fierceness in him that reassured her that he would not be so easily subdued by anything.

“My pride in you knows no bounds Rysgil.”  Atlen reached out and drew her closer to his side then so he could press a kiss to her temple.  Rysgil sighed and leaned into the gesture, as eager to soak up his precious affection as she always was.  “Go and fetch your mage and we will meet you at the lake.  He can watch the dance and perhaps you will awe him enough to get your wish.  Let all of them watch if they must.  You are glory and battle given form Rysgil and if they have not already learned then you shall show these shem why our dance is feared throughout all of the clans.  You and your Harel shall show them why its beauty and skill goes unmatched by the petty knife tricks lesser warriors peddle as proof of their mastery.  You will show all who doubt you that you are truly a Ranger in body and skill as well as soul.”

Rysgil’s answering smile was brilliant in the early morning light, a fierce expression but also open and warm in the quiet that surrounded the three of them.

~~~

“It’s an ungodly hour for such practices but I find myself unable to refuse.”  Dorian blustered when she found him a few minutes later, skulking around the war room with a thick tome in hand.  Still she could see the lie in his eyes that negated his words.  He was eager to watch her and Harel dance, had paid enough attention to the information he’d coaxed from her to understand exactly what dancing for her and Harel actually entailed.

“If you are so opposed then I would not drag you from your beloved books.  I know you are delicate and I would not have you frightened by the dance.”  Rysgil found herself almost teasing him, still slightly weary but also hesitantly pleased at the way she acted around Dorian.  He made her relax in some ways, made her feel comfortable enough to settle her guard just the tiniest of degrees to where she could do more than snarl and bare her teeth.

Delicate?”  Dorian practically sputtered as he snapped the book he held shut with a loud thump.  “You are a horrid creature Rysgil and I honestly think I preferred you before you tried to unearth that twisted thing you call a sense of humor.”

“Come, Harel and Atlen wait.”  Rysgil motioned Dorian forward and was, as always, quietly pleased at the way he came to her side without a second thought.  It still amazed her sometimes to have anyone beyond Harel and Atlen so willing to be close to her.  The others of the inner circle and those who regularly made up her battle parties did not avoid her but she was far less at ease with most of them.  Dorian’s easy acceptance of her, his efforts to see her and Harel both as more than mark and beast respectively made her heart sing quietly in pleasure.

“Ah yes, your Atlen.”  Dorian kept pace with her easily enough as they moved through the Chantry.  “Impressive man that one, grip like an iron trap and protective too.  I was half convinced he was going go for my throat with his teeth.”

“Atlen would not harm one I call friend.”  Rysgil furrowed her brows and turned to look up at Dorian.  “Especially not with his teeth.  While sharper than you shems his are no nearly as effective as my own or Harel’s.  He would use his blades instead.”

“You my dear are almost hopelessly literal at times.  Truly you are.”  Dorian shook his head, mouth pulled down in an exaggerated frown.  “I almost feel sorry for those two.  Almost.”

“Who?”  Rysgil was uncertain who he was talking about.  Like Varric and Bull, Dorian sometimes talked about things she didn’t always catch.  It was frustrating but for Dorian she endured it.  With Bull she normally just set something of his on fire when he became too annoying.  Varric seemed apt at towing the line.

“Never mind.”  Dorian waved the question away.  “You’ll understand one day.  I think.’

Rysgil started to push the issue but then she paused, her mind circling back to their earlier words.  The idea that he and Atlen might not get along was … discomforting.  “Do you … are you not … comfortable around Atlen?  Your meeting was brief but if you …”

“Rysgil.”  Dorian interrupted her, his voice as soft as the sudden half smile on his face.  “Your Atlen seems to be a fine man from what you’ve told me of him.  While I’m not fool enough to think him harmless that does not mean I find his company distasteful.  I am … pleased that his actions match the tales you told me of him far more than you realize.  Now stop worrying and let us go.”

Rysgil felt the thick band of tension that had curled itself around her heart loosen at his reassurance.  She reached up to touch the shard of veridium in her hair just as they turned the corner to make their way past Varric’s camp.  The dwarf was, surprisingly, awake and poking his campfire with a stick.  “Atlen was the greatest of the clan’s hunters and though his time to tend the aravels has come he is still far more skilled than many would believe.  There is still none but myself who can rival his mastery of the dagger lore and for all my skill I still have much that only time can teach me as he says.  We are the only two who can dance as we do in all the clans.”

“Then I find myself even more eager to see your dancing now.”  Dorian actually seemed to mean his words and Rysgil found herself pleased.  She knew he found the dance interesting from their conversations in the past but to hear him say so again was always welcome.  She had never danced for anyone but Atlen with Harel as her partner and she was … anxious in a quiet sort of way.  Plus, though she knew more than Dorian would see given where they were, she still found the thought of her friend being disinterested in what was essentially such a large part of her displeasing.

“Did you say dancing?”  Varric’s interested question broke into the conversation between them.  Rysgil turned to see the dwarf, Bianca nowhere in sight, staring at them with thinly veiled interest.

“Yes.  Atlen would have me dance for him on the lake.”  Rysgil remembered what Atlen had said about letting them all see and hesitantly offered.  “You may watch if you’d like.”  She was slightly leery of the glee that seemed to bloom across Varric’s face.

“It really is a cultural thing isn’t it?”  Varric grinned.  “Broody made jokes but I never thought …” Varric shook his head, threw down the stick in his hand, and practically jumped to his feet.  “Give me five minutes and don’t start without me.”

Varric was gone before Rysgil could say anything, headed off towards the tavern at a fast clip.

“You know I don’t think I’ve ever seen him move that fast before.”  Dorian mused quietly.  “Not even in battle.”

Rysgil shook her head and turned back towards the steps that would take her to the lake and Atlen and Harel.  She was sometimes sure she would never understand these people.

~~~

Varric could hardly contain his glee.

It was all he could do not to shout it to the roof tops.

Claws, as he called her in his head most of the time, the grumpiest elf he’d met since Hawke had fallen ass over teakettle into love at first evisceration with Fenris, was going to dance.

While he was almost sure it wasn’t going to be what it sounded like he still had to get everyone.  Mostly for his own entertainment of course, and for the betting pool he and Sera had running.

Chuckles and Curly were sure to be in a right state.

He suspected their small-clothes might never recover.

Varric couldn’t wait.

~~~

Atlen watched the mage, Dorian, fidget on the edge of the lake a few feet from him even as the rest of his attention was turned towards where Rysgil readied herself.  Armor in place, Fear and Deceit on her hips, she and Harel stood across from each other in the center of the lake, foreheads pressed together as she whispered to the wolf.  It was what they always did before they danced in this manner, a sort of communion between the two of them that never failed to make his heart warm with his love for them.

Still he could not deny the fact that pain ate at him even as he watched them.  His precious Rysgil, his da’mi and her cunning wolf.

His Ranger.

Even now, years after he had drawn her and Harel to his side, years since the three of them had cleaved together to form their own small clan, guilt still ate at him.  Rysgil had been burdened with a hard life in many ways.  Fear and disdain had hounded her footsteps from shem and elvhen alike, her only true peace and safety found deep in the woods and the wilderness.

There was not a day that went by that Atlen did not wish he had done something earlier, had stepped forward from his own grief sooner.  He loved her fiercely as she was but he could not help but wonder what would have happened had he taken to her sooner.

Would it have saved her pain and despair?  Would it have spared her the anguish of the clans’ hatred and scorn?  Would she be different?  Softer?  Would he have been able to spare her the terror she’d faced at that Templar’s hands?

He shook the thoughts from his mind and leaned heavily against the staff Rysgil had given him.  His fingers traced the protective sigils absently.  It did not matter.  What was done was done and he could not change it.  Rysgil was alive and really that was all that mattered.

Even if she was not truly safe, even if agony haunted her every footstep thanks to that damn mark on her hand.      

Atlen felt anger surge though him anew at the thought but carefully kept his face blank.

He had not told Rysgil but he had done more than rage at the Keeper when news of the Conclave’s destruction had reached them.  The woman would carry a scar for what she had done, for what Atlen had thought she had caused.  Even now, with knowledge that Rysgil and Harel both yet lived, a part of Atlen wished he had snapped the woman’s neck instead.

He had encouraged Rysgil to go, aware of the direness of the situation, and for that his guilt would never leave him.  Yet Keeper Dashana had sent his da’mi out to spy, with no true thought for her safety Atlen knew.  She and the clan had been pleased to see Rysgil gone.  News of her death had been celebrated much to his disgust and rage.  And then when word of her survival had come and the whispers had started …

Atlen had not been able to bear their ignorance any longer and had left to find his Rysgil only to find her here, chained in a way she should have never been.  Captured as surely as a wolf in a hunter’s trap.  He hated it as he knew she and Harel both did.  Hated the thought of her being burdened by this mark, by the name he had already heard these people whisper as they looked at her, half afraid and half in awe.

Herald of Andraste indeed.

Atlen had to bite back the urge to scoff at their foolishness.  Rysgil was not the prophet of some burned bride, some martyred woman betrayed by her own kind.  Mark or no mark Rysgil was not so simple a thing as the Herald they named her.  Atlen knew that, had always known that.  Rysgil was … special.  In more ways than even he knew, he’d always been able to tell, and he was honored to have had such a hand in her upbringing.

She was magic and might, wolf and woman, life and death.  She was the one who the clans feared in their ignorance when they should have worshiped her, fought for her favor and for her grace.  She who was even now an outcast amongst these people who would use her as Keeper Dashana had.  She was of the sharp teeth and fragile heart.

She truly was battle and glory given form.

There was a small shuffle of noise and Atlen cut his eyes back towards Dorian, vaguely amused at the slightly uncomfortable look on the mage’s face.

Good.  He should be uncomfortable.

Atlen was pleased to see Rysgil open herself even a small measure to someone besides himself and Harel, but that did not mean he would give his blessing to the first one to see her as the prize she was.  Especially not when he could tell there was more than one sniffing at her heels even if she was unaware.  There was the blond warrior shem for one, as well as the elvhen mage.  Both bore watching as they made him uneasy for different reasons beyond the glint in their eyes when they looked at his precious len.

“Do you require something Dorian of House Pavus?”  Atlen felt his lips quiver as he fought the urge to let them twitch into a smirk at the way the man hesitated, mouth half open for a moment, before he reached up and smoothed his mustache.  A move obviously meant to buy him a moment and to help him collect himself.

“This isn’t going to be awkward at all.”  Dorian muttered, seemingly to himself, although Atlen heard him clearly.  Shem sometimes forgot that elvhen had sharper senses than they did but Atlen felt no need to remind him of that.  You learned much when others thought you could not hear after all.  “Rysgil is a beautiful woman.”

“Yes.”  Atlen narrowed his eyes sharply.  “She is.  Beautiful and more.  You would do well to remember that mage.”

“That’s not … I didn’t mean …” Dorian trailed off with a frustrated groan.

“You didn’t mean to call her beautiful?”  Atlen tightened his grip on his staff.  “You suddenly do not find her pleasing?  You are so fickle as to change your views so quickly?”

“No, no.”  Dorian waved a hand between them.  “She is beautiful, stunning even.  An all-around catch if one where so inclined.  Once you get beyond the viciousness and thinly concealed rage.”

“Have a care Dorian of House Pavus.”  Atlen warned, more amused than he let show over the man’s fumbling.  “Slander against Rysgil will see you well acquainted with just how much viciousness and thinly concealed rage I possess.”

Oh for the love of … I can see where she gets it now.”  Dorian narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms across his chest.  “I thought it was just her but no it’s the both of you, malicious individuals who like nothing more than to see innocent mages squirm.”

“Speak freely but carefully boy.”  Atlen left off on further baiting the mage, aware of the small crowd quickly approaching them from across the way, the dwarf, whose presence he would be sure to tease Rysgil about, in the lead.

“Fine, fine.”  Dorian obviously saw them too for his face became serious and hard.  “She is beautiful and powerful, and also far more special than any of these here realize even now.  I know this, you know this.  I do not think that she does.”

“Rysgil has always been blind to her own worth.”  Atlen admitted softly.  “I blame the clan and my own inaction in her youth.”

Dorian looked interested but did not press further on the subject.

“I would offer you my aid in protecting her, in guarding her against those who would wound her heart, the heart she tries so hard to guard.”  Dorian held his hand out to Atlen again as he had upon their first meeting, palm upwards and fingers splayed.  “She does not deserve any more grief, should not hold more burdens than she already shoulders.”

Atlen reached out and clasped his hand but when Dorian would have drawn away Atlen kept his grip firm, just shy of bruising.  “And what of the harm you might do her heart, you who have shared her cabin and her time, you who she calls friend?”

“Rysgil is … dear to me.”  Dorian admitted softly and it was to his credit that he did not fight Atlen’s hold on him.  “But her charms, and they are many I assure you, hold little interest for me.”

“If not her charms then what holds you so firmly to her side?”  Atlen needed to know the answer.  He was still strong, still dangerous, but he had not lied to his Rysgil.  Time had dulled his body, had blunted his edges.  He could not be everything she needed him to be anymore.  If there were any chance to find someone else who would be willing to watch her when he could not, any chance there was one he could perhaps trust not to abuse her …

“I know what it is like to be alone, to be an outcast and a pariah.”  Dorian’s voice was gentle again, sad in that same way Atlen had heard from Rysgil so many times over their years together.  “She is the first to call me friend.  She is far kinder than she wishes to admit, sweet in a certain kind of way, and I find myself eager to guard her almost jealously from rougher, more incompetent hands.”

Finally, after a searching look at Dorian’s eyes, Atlen released his hand with a shallow nod.  “It is good to know I won’t have to gut you for overstepping your bounds.”

“No that’ll never be an issue I can assure you.”  Dorian smiled almost wryly and Atlen had his suspicions as to why but he kept his silence.  It was not his secret to tell and the boy had not outright brought it up.  “I’m afraid your worries in that area should be focused elsewhere.”

“Yes.”  Atlen sighed and resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration.  How well he knew.  “Neither of the two are subtle.”

“Maybe not to us, or anyone else really, but she’s completely clueless.”  Dorian huffed.  “Actually rather adorable truth be told.”

“Indeed.”  Atlen grinned then as he turned back towards Rysgil who had assumed her ready position and was obviously waiting for him to begin.  “Although a piece of advice if I may.  I would refrain from calling her adorable where she can hear you.”

Maker no.”  Dorian sounded suitably horrified.  “She’d eat my face off.”

Atlen laughed and resolutely ignored the curious looks of the small crowd that had gathered around him.

He knew what they were there for, all of them, but especially those two in particular.  Undoubtedly the dwarf had brought them forward for his own amusement, he seemed the type.  They had heard she was to dance and no doubt they imagined something far different than what would happen.  Likely only Dorian truly knew what was to happen and even he would not know everything.

Atlen chuckled roughly again, this time in anticipation.

They would see his da’mi dance and then there would be no hiding her beauty or her skill.  For Rysgil was never more alive than when she and Harel moved together.  Atlen had never seen anything more breathtaking than the two of them dancing and he had loved her mother so much he’d never given his heart to another in the same way.

Yes, she would dance and they would all finally see her for what she was.

Glorious.

~~~

“I place myself into your care Harel, as I have ever been, and I keep you in my own.”  Rysgil pressed her forehead harder against Harel’s.  She inhaled the breath he exhaled deeply, let herself feel him in every corner of her being.  It was what they always did before they danced in such a way and it would be wrong to forego the ritual between them because of where they were.  Some things were more precious than privacy.

Rysgil could feel eyes on her from the shore, could feel people staring at them but she didn’t let the knowledge distract her.  This was what mattered, this moment between her and Harel.  Their dance.  Not the eyes, not the mark, not the Inquisition.  All that mattered was her and Harel and the soon to come war beat of Atlen’s guiding tempo.

“We move together, one soul, two bodies, forever connected, forever entwined.”  Rysgil finally backed away from Harel but their eyes stayed connected as she walked backwards until a respectable distance was between them.  “My daggers are your claws, my magic your fangs.  Nothing can reach us here.  We are glory and battle given form.  Nothing can touch us.”           

Rysgil breathed deeply, entirely focused on Harel’s eyes, mind sharp and body ready for Atlen’s word, for her teacher’s command.

And then from the shore a rhythmic tapping began, Atlen’s staff, overlaid as it was with precious ironbark, range hollow with each hit.  A familiar rhythm, a wordless tune, swelled up and Rysgil let it overtake her, let it eat away all other noise until all she could hear was her own heartbeat, Harel’s breathing, and the hypnotic tempo that signaled the beginning of the dance. 

Sahlin.”  Now.  Atlen’s voice range across the distance between them and Harel and Rysgil moved forward as one.

They shot across the distance between them with matching snarls, fangs exposed to the light as they lunged at each other.  Harel went for her throat, teeth bared viciously, but Rysgil spun away from him in the last second, arms raised above her head as she twirled only to flare out at her sides when she stopped and lowered herself into a crouch.

She advanced then, sprang across the ice at Harel, feet sure and silent as she leapt at him.  He ducked his head down but Rysgil didn’t falter.  Instead she planted her palm between his ears and used the momentum to flip over his body and land, knees bent, in a crouch on his back.  Her hands went down underneath her and with a heave she was balanced on her palms, legs straight up in the air above her as Harel raced across the surface of the frozen lake.

Harel skidded hard to the right and Rysgil was airborne again, tucking her body into a ball as she tumbled through the air in a move long familiar.  She landed firmly on the ice, claws leaving gouges as her momentum caused her to slide a bit across the surface.  Harel was in front of her again, the same amount of distance they’d had between them in the start back again.  Silently Rysgil drew Fear and Deceit, aware that the true dance was about to begin.

Vir assan.”  Atlen’s voice called to them then.  “Remember the Way of the Arrow, for you must be both swift and silent.”

They moved again at the signal, bodies darting forward in fluid motion as they leapt and lunged at each other.  Rysgil twirled, Fear and Deceit flashing in bright arcs as she coated the blades with ice so fine it was like glass.  Time had no meaning as they danced.  All that mattered was the flash of daggers in her hands, the flare of her magic, and the way Harel ducked and weaved into, out of, and between her strikes as they danced across the lake.  Neither of them made a sound as they moved, feet silent, eyes locked on one another as they twisted together and away.

Vir bor’assan.”  Atlen signaled the next set to the dance.  “Remember the Way of the Bow, for as the sapling bends, so too must you.”

Harel charged across the ice at her only to raise up and swipe his great claws at her like a bear, his large paws cut through the air between them with brutal efficiency.  Instead of jumping away Rysgil let her body go fluid, let herself sway and bend backwards, the edge of Harel’s claw passing just above the tip of her nose.  She straightened quickly and swayed out of the way of Harel’s next attack, and then arching to the left to avoid the one after that.  Like the sapling Atlen had named Rysgil and Harel flowed and bent their bodies around each attack.  Rysgil was free with her magic, let it coat her blades and her hands, let it flow off of her in waves without conscious thought.  She had only to think and there was an arc of lightning, a gout of fire, or a spire of ice for Harel and her to twirl around or through or under.

Her magic was a part of her, was her, and as such it danced with her.

That was what far too many mages never realized.  Mage craft took control yes, but it also took acceptance.  For a mage’s power came from within, came from deep inside, and that required acceptance and understanding more than a tight leash and a rigid grip.  Magic lived in everything, not just those who could call upon it, and like any living thing it rebelled if held too tightly.

Vir adahlen.”  It seemed far too soon to Rysgil when Atlen called for the final phase even though she knew they’d been dancing for quite some time.  “Remember the Way of the Wood, for you should receive the gifts of the hunt with mindfulness.”

This was her favorite part of the dance anyways.  She and Harel moved together, into each other, each movement like a plea, a prayer.  Rysgil swiped Fear in his direction and Harel ducked beneath her reach to swipe his tongue quickly across the underside of her jaw.  He snapped his teeth and threw out a clawed paw and she twirled into his chest, careful of her daggers, and stroked his muzzle lovingly with her own claws.

Each movement was a caress, a silent thanks for the partnership between them, as they slowly brought their whirlwind of movement, of daggers and claws and magic to a finish. 

Halam.”  Atlen called then.  Finished.

Rysgil could just feel sweat begin to bead upon her lower back beneath her armor when Atlen called for the end.  It was a good, clean feeling.  The end of the dance had come again far too soon for Rysgil’s taste.  She loved little like she loved dancing with her Harel.  She was far from tired, but dancing with Harel was not about working herself into exhaustion.  It was about connecting, about dancing with no restraints, about freedom and life and remembering what was and is important.

She felt fresh again, uplifted from the weight of all that had happened, buoyed by the dance and by Harel and Atlen and even Dorian.

She felt centered.

Calm.

Atlen had been right, her mind had been too heavy.

But now, now it was not.

And so tomorrow she would seal the Breach once and for all.

Chapter Text

Word of the Herald’s coming dance had reached Cullen quickly.  Varric carried the news with what seemed to be an uncomfortable amount of glee when they ran into one another outside the Chantry.  At first he’d thought it a jest, the idea of her dancing was one that had never even crossed his mind outside of his bedroll.  Yet, given the small crowd at Varric’s back, Cullen was for once hard pressed to believe that the dwarf was simply trying to taunt him or anything of that nature.

Even the Lady Vivienne had gravitated to Varric’s side, a look of intrigue on her otherwise artfully impassive face.  Cullen knew that Varric was many things but being foolish enough to risk the mage’s ire for something so small and insignificant was not something the dwarf would do.  Varric would save it for something worthwhile and likely far more scandalous.

Helplessly intrigued Cullen followed, unable to ignore the siren’s call of such an event.

Their small crowd, all of the Herald’s normal companions and the advisors, made their way to the lake side in haste.  Varric and Sera were squabbling at the front, something about bets and destroyed smallclothes that Cullen was sure he was better off not understanding.

Like a beacon his eyes were drawn to her as she stood on the lake, pressed close to her Harel.  She stood like a pillar, all dark furred armor and long tumbling curls that glinted in the sun thanks to the stones she always wore.  He could not hear what she was saying but he knew it was important, could see it in the intense concentration that seemed to radiate around the two before they slowly broke apart.

“If you are to watch, then you will be silent.” The low voice of the Dalish man Atlen called then and Cullen’s attention turned towards him and Dorian along with everyone else.  “The dance is not for you, it is for Rysgil and Harel.  I would have you all watch if only to see their skill but if you cannot find respect for the dance and for them, if you cannot quiet yourselves enough to see what they are sharing, then you will leave.”

Silence rippled across their small gathering like a wave breaking against the shore.  No one wanted to take the chance and miss whatever it was that was about to happen so they stopped chattering and moved closer to Atlen.  Cullen was aware of Solas and Iron Bull bracketing him and while his instincts disliked being caged in he knew them as allies and it kept the instinctual surge of tension at bay.

Cullen watched as Atlen stepped away from Dorian until he stood just on the edge of the lake, the ornate white staff he carried held out in front of him.  There was a moment of long silence and then the tapping began.  The staff rang out against the ground with a hollow note and it wasn’t long before Cullen could hear the rhythm that had begun to form.  His eyes immediately went back to the Herald’s still and now obviously ready form.

Sahlin.”  The elvhen word rolled off the elder’s tongue and then she moved.

He took a half step forward before he could stop himself at the way she and the wolf lunged at one another only to calm when she twirled away to crouch on the ground like a wild thing.

And then Atlen spoke again and Cullen’s breath caught in his throat.  Just like the last time he’d stood on the edge of this lake and stared out at her.

It was obviously not a dance in the traditional sense.  It was no courtier’s elegant but practiced stance, no carefully maintained form and rigid posture.  But he could see why they called this a dance, could see the grace and discipline in each move.  It was raw and powerful instead of gentle and restrained.  It was untamed and visceral just as she, they, were.

It changed with each phrase Atlen spoke, became sharper, deadlier.  Cullen had never seen a mage wield their magic as fluidly as she did without a stave or some sort of focus.  She channeled the elements across her daggers, called forth flame and ice and lightning without a sound or a gesture.  And all the while the two of them danced.

They moved like lovers, her and the great wolf at her side.  Cullen could see the devotion in their every move, the give and take, the perfect partnership.

And yet, to his slight shame, Cullen could not help but wonder how she would move with another partner, how well she’d do at a different type of dance.

~~~

Solas watched her twirl and twine around and with her wolf.  His eyes narrowed thoughtfully at the taste of her magic in the air, the petrichor scent of it mixed with something wild.  Something he had not sensed in far longer than he cared to think about.

Something almost … timeless.

She was unique and Solas admitted that even before this she had already captured his interest.  How could she not with the way her magic sang around her in joy, with her great wolf and the wildness he could see in her heart?  With the tooth his alternate self had gifted her with?

So yes he freely admitted she had been intriguing and he had enjoyed passing time baiting and studying her by turns.

But now … now she had his attention.

Solas watched her move, watched her dance come to its conclusion, and felt his suspicions grow.

~~~    

Rysgil rose earlier than normal, surprisingly well rested despite the low thrum of almost eager tension that was snaking its way through her body.

The Breach called to her, called to the mark on her hand, to the magic that flowed through her body.  Its perverse nature beckoned her forward even with all of the distance between Haven and the Temple of Sacred Ashes.  The mark pulsed painfully, small shocks of agony that she’d almost gotten used to that thrummed in time with her own heartbeat.  It was almost as if the Breach itself knew that she would come to it today and was as eager to be closed as she was to close it.

Or perhaps it was simply eager to see her try.

Atlen was still asleep, laid out on his bedroll close to the fire and leaned against Harel’s massive bulk just as she had been moments before.  Rysgil took a moment and watched the way the firelight flickered over his features.  Love swelled in her heart alongside a fierce rush of gratitude.  For all the pain and anger she held Rysgil could not deny that she was eternally grateful to Atlen.  Without him she would not have been half of what she had become.  Neither she nor Harel would have reached the level they had, would have never unlocked the potential that lurked inside of them without his guiding hand.

Instead they would have disappeared into the wild, a pair of half grown creatures left to go feral, ruled and dominated by the wildness in their hearts instead of in tune with it as they were.

She owed him much and at times she knew with a stinging sort of clarity that she would never truly be able to repay him.  All that consoled her was the fact that Atlen asked her for nothing.  Nothing.  He did not ask for her blood or her magic, did not ask for any of the things she could have done for him.  Instead, in return for his care and aid, he wished only her safety, only her and Harel’s happiness.  And so she gave him all of the love she could muster, all of the tenderness she hid so deep inside of herself, in that fragile place she had wrapped in anger and resolve so that the clans could not touch it.

It didn’t always feel like enough.  Not for what Atlen had given her.

Her attention strayed towards the bed where Dorian lay again, finally comfortable being back inside the den she and Harel had laid claims to for some reason.  He was precious to her as well, precious in a way she had not anticipated.  She cared for him, this mage who called her friend, who called her by her name.  She cared for him in a way she’d never had before, a soft glow of warmth and amusement that curled sweetly through her stomach when they were together.  He had wormed his way inside her heart in his own way, had hollowed out a small corner and laid claim to it.

She wanted to protect him, her first and only friend. 

So it was for Atlen and for Dorian, more than for herself and Harel, bound together as they were in life and in death, or any of the others across the whole of Thedas, that she would do this thing.  She would go to the Breach, she would use the mark on her hand, and she would stitch closed the rip in the fabric of the Veil.

She would do it or she would die trying.

For Atlen’s safety, for Dorian’s bright but rare honest smile, her life was only one of many things she was willing to give.

~~~

The cabin stayed quiet even when the others woke.

There was a stillness in the air, a tension that none of them mentioned but all felt.  They knew what was to come, knew what could happen.  Knew the prices that could be paid.

It didn’t matter, none of it did.  There was no choice.

This was a thing that had to be done and only she could do it.

Dorian and Atlen both left her and Harel in the cabin, gone supposedly to seek provisions for the morning meal.  Rysgil tactfully did not mention the food that Dorian kept the cabin stocked with, grateful for the moment of privacy, for the opportunity to shore herself up for what was to come.

With only Harel as her witness, Rysgil girded herself for war.

She stripped down in the quiet of the morning, skin impervious to the cold thanks to the way her magic ran hot as fire and bright as lightning through her veins.  Her precious stones were laid out carefully on the small table as she removed the braids and decorative knots from her hair.

Rysgil cleansed herself in the wash basin that had been set beside the fire to warm with slow, careful movements.  The rough spun rag rasped against her shoulders, caught against the tips of her breasts and the hollows of her hips.  Her skin was cast in shadow from the flickering fire light and the wolf that Atlen had etched onto her skin so long ago seemed to shift and move like it was alive.  When she was finished, the night’s dirt and sweat washed away, she brushed her hair out with the thick handled comb that Atlen had given her until it shone in the firelight.

With deep, even breaths she redressed.  Rysgil placed each piece of her armor with a deliberate kind of concentration, cinched each buckle with short, steady motions.  Her fingers were quick as she redid her tiny braids that held all of Atlen’s gifts in place, and the tooth Solas had given her settled back behind her ear.  Fear and Deceit hung on her hips where they belonged once she was finished.

Her heart was a war-drum, the battle beat of it loud inside her chest despite the fact that she’d not yet left the cabin, as she turned her attention to Harel and his armor.  For once she did not want to venture out to the lake to care for his equipment.  She wanted to stay inside the cabin, inside the illusion of safety and calm, for a while longer.  So she brushed out his fur, pressed sweet kisses along his muzzle, and made sure that his armor was as secure and safe as it could possibly be.

  All the while she did her best not to admit that she had dressed them both for death as much as she had for battle.

“You know what we go to do today.”  Rysgil pressed her forehead against Harel’s and breathed in his scent deeply.  “You know what could happen.  What this mark and the Breach could do to me.  To us.”

Harel woofed softly and then whined and Rysgil felt his understanding, his slight sorrow and more importantly his burning determination, well up within her.  He knew as well as she did what could happen and neither of them would be cowed by fear of it.

“We go to seal this thing and we both know it could be our deaths.  We both know that sacrifice could be the only way to accomplish this goal.”  Rysgil gritted her teeth.  “We both know that they would send us even if it was the only choice, even if we had no wish to go.”

Rysgil had no illusions as to her place.  Herald she may be but the mark on her hand made her both a source of strength and a potential martyr for the Inquisition.  If her death would seal the Breach she had little doubt her head would roll.  For what was one life, or two, against the horror of the Breach?

“We will face it together, as we have all things my Harel.”  Rysgil pressed a sweet kiss between the massive wolf’s ears and forced herself to straighten.  “We have never been conquered and we shall not submit now.  Not to them, not to the Breach.  Not to anyone.”

Harel chuffed lowly in agreement, a vicious snarl building in his throat that Rysgil knew was his way of adding his voice to her own.

“We are glory and battle given form.”  Rysgil clenched her fists, let her claws bite into the flesh of the palms.  “We are Rangers and Rangers do not cowerWe are the ones who endure.”

Spine straight and shoulders squared Rysgil threw open the door to the cabin and prowled out into Haven proper, Harel at her heels.

~~~

“Are you ready for this Herald?”  Cullen asked quietly as they stood around the war table.  His face was serious, his voice firm yet almost gentle.  Rysgil could tell they were all nervous and yet eager to see this thing done.

“I will see it done.”  Rysgil gritted the words out, aware of the way the others started at her before she turned on her heel and headed back for the door.  “Give your orders and make ready.  We leave for the Breach immediately.”

She refused to look back at any of them as she made her way out of the Chantry.  Instead she buried her hand in Harel’s fur and forced herself to move slowly across the stone floor.

She would not run.

~~~

Dorian gravitated to her side naturally as she moved towards the lake where she could see Atlen standing in the distance.  Solas and the others were not far behind her.  She could hear Cullen shouting orders to make ready, could hear the sound of Leliana’s crows as they took flight.  The mages that had followed her from Redcliffe were slowly gathering, equipped with the best equipment they had been able to scrounge together.

She spoke with Dorian quietly for a moment before he moved off to finish a few last minute preparations.  When he was gone she moved closer to the lake.  Rysgil stood silently for a moment beside Atlen, Harel on her other side.  She was as ready as she would ever be but there was one last thing she needed.  One last request to make.

“Atlen?”  Her voice was hesitant even to her own ears so the way Atlen’s eyes sharpened as he turned towards her was no surprise.  “Hahren, I have a … request.”

“Anything emm’asha.”  Atlen smiled down at her softly.

“I might not … this could …” Rysgil found herself unable to voice the words to Atlen despite all of her resolve and determination.  She could not look him in the eye and speak so plainly of her death again.

“What is it da’mi?”  Atlen reached out and cupped her cheek in one calloused hand.  “Tell this old man what he can do for you before you ride forth into battle.”

“I would have you sing for me.”  Rysgil finally blurted out as she marshaled her determination.  Her heart clenched sharply at the way Atlen immediately stilled and went pale beneath his tan.  “I would have you give me the rites.”

Rysgil no.”  Atlen’s hand shook against her face and all at once she regretted asking him for such a thing.  Regretted her moment of selfishness.  “Do not ask this of me.  Do not ask me to sing you to death as I heard the Keeper sing your mother.”

“I am sorry Atlen.”  Rysgil clenched her eyes closed and turned her face further into his palm.  “I am selfish and cruel.  But I would have this thing, this gift from you, so that the worry of my passing will not haunt me, so that I might focus myself on the task that is to be done.”

“No Rysgil.”  Atlen sighed after a tense moment.  The lines in his face seemed deeper when she looked up at him, the sorrow that had always glimmered in the backs of his eyes was readily apparent.  “You are far from selfish.  So far from cruel.  But I cannot give you this.  I cannot sing you into death.  Not you.  Not my precious daughter.”

Rysgil’s breath caught in her throat.  For all his words of love, for all his terms of endearment, Atlen had never called her daughter so openly before.  All at once she felt tears spring to her eyes even as she refused to let them fall.  Daughter.  For so long she had dreamed of this moment, had dreamed of hearing him call her such.  So many of her childish imaginings had revolved around that very idea, that Atlen was somehow her father.

Now that dream had finally come true on the cusp of her marching towards her possible death.

The Creators were both cruel and kind.

“This old man’s one regret is not telling you I love you enough Rysgil.”  Atlen continued, voice rough and husky.  Rysgil could see the light gleam of tears in his eyes again and the sight made her ache.  “I could not love you more if you were the child of my own flesh and blood.  I cannot sing you into death, neither you nor your Harel.  You are both too precious to me.”

Rysgil could not speak.  Her words hung in her throat, caught behind the one she dared not say even now, the name she dared not call him even in light of his own confession.  Father.

“I will not give you the rites.”  Atlen repeated.  “But I will sing to you if you wish it, I will sing to you a song that I should have given you years ago.  A song I would have you remember even in the darkest of times with the greatest of distances between us.”

“Please.”  Rysgil could say little else and so Atlen pulled her close to his chest, wrapped his arms around her, and sang.

Elgara vallas, da'len

Melava somniar

Mala tara aravas

Ara ma'desen melar

 

Iras ma ghilas, da'len

Ara ma'nedan ashir

Dirthara lothlenan'as

Bal emma mala dir

 

Tel'enfenim, da'len

Irassal ma ghilas

Ma garas mir renan

Ara ma'athlan vhenas

Ara ma'athlan vhenas

Sun sets, little one,

Time to dream

Your mind journeys,

But I will hold you here.

 

Where will you go, little one

Lost to me in sleep?

Seek truth in a forgotten land

Deep within your heart.

 

Never fear, little one,

Wherever you shall go.

Follow my voice--

I will call you home.

I will call you home.

 

Atlen’s voice was husky and rough, but the melody rose higher in the air around them.  Rysgil was dimly aware of the way the camp around them had fallen silent to listen to his words even if Solas was likely to be the only one to understand them.  Rysgil bit her cheek bloody to hold back the urge to cry that roared through her even as she clenched her hand deep in Harel’s fur again where he’d pressed himself against both of their sides.

Atlen repeated the verses twice and then let the last note linger in the air around them for a moment before he buried his face in her hair and tightened his hold on her again.

“Live Rysgil.  Both you and Harel must live.”  Atlen whispered in her ear.  “Survive this and come back to me my daughter, my son.”

~~~

“I’ve got to ask what the song was about Boss.”  Iron Bull steered his massive horse as close to Harel as it would come so he could ask what had to be the burning question once they were all well outside of Haven.  Their war party was large, all but Josephine, Atlen, those chosen to stay at Haven and the non-battle personnel with them.

Rysgil debated not answering, gave careful consideration to not indulging their curiosity.  Even Cullen, seated atop his own war horse, was undeniably curious if his expression was anything to go on.  Solas, the only one who would have understood the words, had remained quiet on the subject in a move that was both considerate and surprising for him.  Dorian, seemingly aware that something sensitive had happened between her and Atlen, had also not asked though he normally seemed curious about those sorts of things.

“We know the way this could go, how this could end.”  Rysgil tried not to let the curl of resentment in her breast grow.  “I asked him for rites so that Harel and I might move forward should death find us.”

There was a collective sense of surprise in the air around their traveling group but Rysgil kept her eyes straight forward, determined to ignore it.  Bull had asked and if they did not like the truth then they should all take it as a lesson to be careful what they question in the future.  If she even had a future of course.

“That was not the song he gave you.”  Solas finally spoke up but again Rysgil refrained from cutting her eyes in his direction.

“No.”  She admitted softly.  “Atlen would not give me the rites.  He refused to sing me into death.”

“Then what did he sing?”  Cullen seemed almost hesitant to ask.

“A lullaby.”  Rysgil confessed almost tenderly for once uncaring as to what they might think or say in response to her answer.  “A song sung to stifle a child’s fear when nightmares would take them away.”

After that there was no more unnecessary conversation.

Rysgil was distantly pleased in an almost vindictive sort of way that she’d somehow managed to kill whatever cheer there might have been found.

~~~

As eager as he was to see the Breach closed Cullen could not still the small bit of trepidation in his heart.  It would be dangerous he knew, not only for all of them but for her in particular.

The way she and Harel had danced was beyond anything Cullen had ever seen.  His respect for both woman and wolf had risen another notch and considering how they already inspired far more awe in Cullen than he allowed to show that was saying something.  Their relationship humbled him in some way he could not define.  Especially after their conversation about the Ash Warriors and his better understanding of just what the two of them were to each other.

Thoughts of that conversation brought forth memories of their other encounters outside of the war room.  Cullen couldn’t help the way warmth twisted sharply in his gut at the memory of her hand on his arm, of her voice, husky and rough, saying his name.  His thoughts that night, every night since he’d met her if he was to be truthful with himself, had been impure but he was unable to subdue the want she inspired in him.

Only one other woman had inspired anything close to such a reaction in him and that had been Mahariel herself.  Even so Cullen knew that his attraction to the quiet Dalish woman had been a mix of youthful hero-worship and fervent gratitude for her rescue during the botched Annulment of his Circle more than actual desire.  Even Hawke, who Cullen freely admitted was beautiful but obviously mad, had never endeared such thoughts in him for all the admiration he’d had over her skill and her ascension in Kirkwall.

Yet this woman, this wild Dalish with fire in her eyes and fury on her claws, undid him effortlessly.  With nothing more than his name she’d had him fumbling, as nervous and unbalanced as a stripling.  He’d spent more of his limited free time in the training yards these past few weeks than ever before.

It was more than her beauty, and Andraste she was beautiful in the same way a forest or a summer storm was beautiful, all untamed depths and unbridled power.  She made him want to bridge their differences in a way no one ever had before.  He wasn’t sure what it was about her that drew him to her so but he could not deny his attraction even if he was not sure what exactly to do about it.  He could not stop the way he gravitated to her side in odd moments, how he longed to speak with her, how his curiosity ate at him when his thoughts turned in her direction.

She stripped his calm from him easily, took away the command he’d wrapped around himself like a cloak years ago without even seeming to realize what she did to him.  Maker he’d been reduced to awkward gifts and mishandled conversations that had done little to restore his confidence and had instead left him far more enchanted with her than he’d already been.

What was more was the fact that he was not alone in his fascination.  Solas openly admitted to sharing his interest in her, and Cullen was not foolish enough to believe that they were the only two who found their minds turned towards the Herald.  The Tevinter, Dorian, had already sidled up beside her and the Herald seemed loath to send him away.  Cullen could not deny the way jealously twined its way through him at the thought.  Although the arrival of Atlen had cooled it some since he’d been revealed as her elder and not the lover he’d thought she’d left behind.

Still Cullen knew more would come, especially if, no when, she sealed the Breach.  While he had little in the way of true hope that she would turn to him in such a manner above others he could not deny that he was … captivated

Staring at her as she was now, straight backed and regal atop her fearsome partner’s back he could only hope that her Atlen was right to deny her the rites she spoke of.

He could only hope that they, he, did not send her to her death.

~~~

The Temple of Sacred Ashes was as dismal and unnerving as Rysgil remembered it being.  She prowled through the carnage with Harel ever faithful at her side, Bull, Dorian, and Solas at her back.  Cullen and Leliana had already moved forward as well and were working to get everyone into place.

Above them the Breach pulsed rhythmically, sending sparks of agony thrumming through Rysgil’s body that she determinedly did not let show on her face.  She would show no weakness here either.

“Mages!”  Solas’ voice called out behind her and Rysgil knew it as the signal it was.  “Focus past the Herald!  Let her will draw from you!”

Rysgil barely withheld her sneer as she took a step forward.  Now they were willing to let her will touch them, now they had no problem with her being both Herald and elvhen.  She shook the thoughts off and prowled forward towards the Breach with Harel.

With one final deep breath Rysgil lifted her hand, felt the mark flare to life in a burst of agony, and stepped forward towards the Breach.  Sickly green light crackled around her and Harel who pressed himself against her side, a solid and familiar source of comfort.  It hurt, the agony was a living thing that twisted and writhed beneath her skin.

Yet still she pressed forward.

She felt it the moment the other mages added their power to her own, as their magic hummed to life in the air around her, so much more sedate than her own was but still powerful in its abundance.  There was so much of it, so much magic, so much power.  She let it flow into her, through her, and could not help but scream at the fresh rush of agony as the energy rushed through her.

It was too much for her body, too much power not her own.  She tasted blood, thick and heavy in her throat, could feel the way her heart skipped a beat before it resumed its frantic pace.

With a shriek of agony and rage Rysgil thrust the mark upward in front of her, reached out towards the Breach, and pulled.

She needed it to close, it had to close.

It must be closed.

It would be closed.

Then, as if in a dream, she felt it move, felt it stretch, felt it begin to shrink.

Black closed in around the edges of her vision and Rysgil hit her knees but still she did not stop.  She poured all she had into the act of closing the Breach, pushed out every bit of magic and might she could muster and channel. 

Above her the Breach snapped closed with a shockwave of sickly green power, a rush of raw magic that forced her back to arch again in agony.

The next thing Rysgil knew Cassandra’s hand was on her shoulder and Harel’s warm weight was against her side.

“You did it.”  Cassandra sounded one part shocked and one part elated.

The roar of victory that sprang forth behind them was deafening.

All Rysgil could do was marvel at the fact that she and Harel both were alive.  She hurt, deep inside where no one could see but she could still feel, there was a ball of agony tormenting her.

And yet, despite all of that, despite all of the odds, she was alive.

Chapter Text

Haven was alight with joyous laughter, with firelight and revelry, and yet Rysgil and Harel stood apart from it all.

Once she’d managed to pry herself out of Atlen’s embrace she and Harel had tucked themselves away above the celebrations for a few moments of peace.  Atlen and Dorian had both been reluctant to let her and Harel venture off by themselves of course.  Yet after a few moments hesitation the two had seemed to understand and finally accept their need for distance for the moment.

A part of Rysgil was still in shock.  She’d expected so much more resistance in sealing the Breach.  She’d expected more Pride demons or perhaps something worse.  She’d expected battle and blood.

She’d expected to die.  Had accepted it in some ways even.

And yet she lived.  Sealing the Breach had been agony, far beyond sealing the smaller rifts, and yet … and yet it had seemed almost easy in a way.  Too easy.

It unsettled her for some reason.  Made her anxious deep inside.

The Breach was sealed and yet Rysgil did not feel calm.  All of Haven celebrated their victory and yet Rysgil did not feel victorious.

Instead, for some unshakable reason, she felt as if they had simply entered the calm before the storm.

Familiar footsteps behind her shook out of her thoughts and she and Harel turned as one to watch Cassandra saunter towards them through the light dusting of fresh snow.

“Solas confirms that the heavens are scared but calm.”  Cassandra sounded calm and even but Rysgil could see the satisfied curl to her mouth easily enough.  “The Breach is sealed.  We’ve reports of lingering rifts and many questions remain, but this was a victory.  Word of your heroism has spread.”

Heroism.”  Rysgil scoffed as she threaded her fingers through Harel fur, an instinctive move for comfort.  “Is that what they are calling it now?  Is it heroism when it is forced?  When one is given no choice in the matter?”

Rysgil did not consider herself brave, did not consider what she’d done an act of heroism.  For one she’d not been alone, others had stood at her side, had pushed her forward to accomplish this goal.  Others had pulled at her strings, made her dance like a marionette for their own goals and ends.  She had seen the need for the Breach to be closed, but she had been given no true choice either way.  She had been shackled to that path by way of mark and man, by the magic in her hand just as surely as the forces of the Inquisition had shackled her that firsy day not so very long ago.

So yes she had done what had needed to be done, had set her course along that road, had bared her teeth and resigned herself to pain and death in the face of that goal.  But in the end, for all of that, she had not truly decided upon that path on her own, only the manner in which she would travel it.

And so, in her eyes, that was not heroism.

That was little more than slavery.

Cassandra sighed, a low tired noise, and turned to look out over Haven, at the bright fires and the sounds of revelry.  “Whatever you wish to call it Herald, I am not sure if we need more or less of it.  But you are right in a way.  This was more a victory of alliance than anything else.  And now, with the Breach closed, that alliance will need a new focus.”

“Then you will find that focus without me or Harel.”  Rysgil snarled and at her side Harel bristled as well.  “I will not be chained any longer.  I will have my freedom from this place and from your causes.”

She had been shackled here, her and Harel and now Atlen through them, for far too long.  Forced to play their Herald, forced to play the pet, to deal with their prodding, with their manipulations and their disrespect.

“You are the Herald.”  Cassandra whirled to face her again.  “We nee-“

The sound of the watch bells and Cullen’s voice shouting in the distance cut Cassandra off mid-sentence.

What is happening?”  Cassandra shouted the question above the sudden din.

“Cullen calls us to arms.”  Rysgil, unlike Cassandra, could hear him even from such a distance, his voice a beacon of sound even through the increasingly panicked screams of the villagers.  “There is a force approaching.”

“Then we must get to the gate.”  Cassandra drew her sword even as the three of them jumped the small wall and sprinted towards the gate.

Cullen stood at the gates, Josephine and the others gathered at his side.  They all turned as one at the sound of their approach.  Rysgil wasted no time in planting herself between Dorian and Atlen, Harel pressed against her shoulder and his massive muzzle against the side of her face.

“One watch guard reports that it’s a massive force, the bulk of which is still over the mountain.”  He sounded grim in a way that Rysgil had rarely heard from him, mouth pursed tight and tawny eyes hard.

“Under what banner?”  Josephine fluttered behind him, outwardly composed but Rysgil could practically smell her fear.  She was, Rysgil could not help but think again, the softest of them all in some ways.

None.”  There was a moment of grim silence at Cullen’s announcement and the knowledge it brought with it.  A massive force flying no banner, having no describable allegiance, was unheard of and dangerous beyond words.  No outward allegiance meant no readily apparent motive for such an attack.

Then, before anyone could say or do anything else, the gates in front of them shuddered and Rysgil could see and smell the burst of flame that had blossomed on the other side.

“I can’t come in unless you open.”  A voice, young and gentle called from the other side of the gate.  Rysgil darted forward almost before she realized that she’d moved and one of the soldiers flung the gate open only steps ahead of her.

There were bodies on the ground beyond the gate, and a solider in armor marching menacingly in her direction.  Rysgil snarled and reached for her magic as easily as breathing but before she could strike there was a familiar wet slicing sound and the soldier fell.

“I’m Cole.”  There was a boy where the soldier had once stood and his voice was that same young, gentle, but harried voice from before.  He seemed to focus in on Rysgil immediately and stepped to her side without a second glance at anyone else.  “I came to warn you.  To help.  People are coming to hurt you.  You probably already know.”

“What is this?”  Rysgil’s eyes darted around to the numerous dead soldiers but they always came back to rest on this Cole.  There was something strange about him, about the way the magic surrounding him flowed.  He was … odd.

“The Templars come to kill you.”  He practically whispered the words and Rysgil felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.  At her side Harel growled, low and threatening, and they both turned as one to look over at the mountain side where Rysgil knew the threat was.

Even without Cullen’s words on their position Rysgil was sure she would have known where they were at anyways.  She could feel them now, could somehow sense them in the air.

Behind her eyes a familiar and sickening song began to hum.

Templars?”  Cullen was there suddenly, sword in hand, and Rysgil barely kept herself from stepping back and away from him.  “Is this the Order’s response to our talks with the mages?  Attacking blindly?”

“The Red Templars went to the Elder One.”  Cole practically shuddered with the words, as if saying them hurt him.  Rysgil stiffened at the mention of that name.  “You know him?  He knows you.  You took his mages.”

Cole turned then, pointed towards the mountain, “There,” and Rysgil’s eyes could not help but follow his direction.

Even with her eyesight Rysgil could just see the silhouette of someone impossibly tall and slender from such a great distance.  But that wasn’t what captured her attention.  Her eyes went wide and her claws bit into the flesh of her palms as her hand clenched tightly at her sides.  Because the aura of magic around that silhouette was monstrous.  Twisted and wrong it flared in the air around the Elder One, jagged edged, malformed, and worst of all red.  Crimson like the blood hue of that cancerous lyrium from Alexius’ wretched future.

“He’s very angry that you took his mages.”  Cole whispered.

Cullen.”  Rysgil barked out his name, something like panic eating at her throat.  “We need to move.  Now.”

“Haven is no fortress.”  Cullen sounded determined but also resigned in a way even as he agreed with her.  “If we are to withstand this monster then we must control the battle.  Get out there and hit that force.  Use everything you can.”

Cullen turned from her then to rally the forces, to call them once more to arms and to her back, using that damned title as a rallying cry.

But for once Rysgil didn’t focus on it.  Instead calm settled over Rysgil like a blanket then, calm and the familiar start to the war beat that was such a part of her.  At her side Harel crouched, body a straight line and teeth bared to the crisp night air.

Everything they had was far more than most after all.

~~~

The Templars came at them in a wave, scuttling across the frozen lake to batter against their lines of soldiers and mages alike.

There were so many of them.

Rysgil knew, in that moment, that there was no way they would be able to keep them all back from Haven, no way they would be able to hold against them indefinitely.  They surged like the tide, spilling over the edges of the lake as they raced ever closer to the village no matter how many Rysgil and the others cut down.

Her heart raced, her breath was ragged.  They would die.  Atlen would die, Harel would die, Dorian would die.  Cullen and Solas and all of the others would die if she did not do something, did not find a way to stem the tide of enemies.

She blinked, chest heaving with something more than the heat of battle, something close to desperation.  And then her eyes fell on the lake, the cold thick ice that covered colder, deeper waters.

“Break the ice.”  She whispered to herself before she whirled around to Solas.  “Solas the lake.  We must break the ice.  Force their soldiers to funnel themselves around either side.”

“It would take too much magic.”  Cullen shouted from a few feet away.  Rysgil turned in time to see him pull his sword from an enemy’s chest.  “Our mages would be better suited to facing the enemy’s forces.  They do not have the magic to spare.”

“They do not.”  Rysgil agreed even as she set her shoulders with determination.  “But I do.”

“Do not do this.”  Solas grabbed her by the elbow as she and Harel darted forward towards the lake.  “It is too dangerous, too great a chance of risk.  That much power will drain you beyond measure.”

Enough.”  Rysgil snarled as she jerked herself free from him.  “You have no idea what I am capable of.”

It was the truth.  Solas did not know.  None of them besides Atlen and Harel, truly knew the depths of her power, the well of magic she could pull from.  None of them knew just what she could truly do when pushed to the edge.

Besides her magic still lingered in the lake, dormant and quiet inside the thick ice, but she could feel it.  It had slept just beneath the surface ever since she’d been forced to purge and call for her Harel and even now it was waiting for her to call it forth.

Rysgil wasted no more time on Solas’ doubts or any of the words the others might have had.  Instead Atlen caught her eye from behind the group, staff clasped firmly in his hand and face hard.  He gave her a small nod and a gentle smile.

It was all the approval Rysgil needed.

~~~

The ice was smooth beneath her feet when she stepped out onto the very edge of the lake but Rysgil didn’t acknowledge it.  Instead she focused, reached down inside of herself to the deeper well of her magic, past the threads of power she used every day without second thought.  She reached for the larger bulk of it, for the wilder stream of power that made her what she was.

Beneath her the ice shifted and something inside of her seemed to thrum.

More Templars stepped out onto the ice on the other side of the lake, another wave preparing to move forward.

Rysgil bared her teeth in a feral snarl, grabbed a hold of that thrum of power, and yanked.

The ice of the lake shattered and the Templars, with their heavy armor and clumsy feet, fell into the frigid waters with shrieks of rage and fear.

“Horribly unpleasant way to die I’m sure.”  Dorian was at her side then, eyes grim but mouth twisted into a small smile.  “Couldn’t have happened to nicer people I’m sure.”

“Then let us make sure they have a great deal more company.”  Rysgil looked up at him.  She barely felt winded, barely felt the drain on her magic thanks to what had been stored in the lake.

“You’re a woman after my own heart.”  Dorian announced as he gave her a quick wink.  “I swear you are.”

~~~

There was no time for much else after that.

Funneling the Templars helped to give the soldiers a chance to regroup but the enemies still came.  Their numbers reduced but still arriving in a trickle instead of the steady wave like break from before.

Another big move needed to be made and again Rysgil was the one onto whom that burden fell.

Rysgil darted across the snow swiftly, Harel at her heels as she headed for the nearest trebuchet.  It was only a few moments before Bull, Dorian and Solas were at her side again and only seconds later Rysgil was forced to pull Fear and Deceit from her sides once more and put them to work.

They fought back the line of enemies there long enough to allow the operators to fire the thing but no one stopped to rejoice.  Instead they again dashed across the snow and rocks towards the next one.

The second trebuchet was a welcome sight even as in the distance a line of torches could be seen heading down the mountain side and ever closer to Haven.

Rysgil paid it all no mind though, instead she ignored the blood on her face and hands and turned the trebuchet’s wheel hand over hand as fast as she could, thankful for Cullen’s constant attention to the massive war machines.  She’d seen him more than once barking orders for the things to be properly cared for.

The snow on the mountain side rushed down like a river beneath the force of the trebuchet’s payload and the line of torches disappeared.

There were cheers but celebration was not to be had for long.

The trebuchet exploded in a blast of fire, slivers of wood flying out in all directions as Rysgil threw up an arm to protect her face.

Oh that’s just messed up.”  Bull growled as the dragon flew over their position.

With a low, mirthless laugh, Rysgil could not help but agree.

~~~

Rysgil jumped over corpses, enemy and ally alike, as they raced back towards the gates where Cullen was ushering people through.  She only took a moment to blast open the door to the forge to help Harritt gather what he was so desperate to save before they were off again towards the gates.

“The Chantry’s the only building that might hold against that beast.”  Cullen turned then and looked her directly in the eyes.  There was something almost sad in his gaze beneath the anger and that calm and steady strength he had about him.  “At this point just make them work for it.”

Oh, the realization hit Rysgil directly in the chest for some reason, he knows we’re all going to die.

~~~

Rysgil tore through Haven like the flames from the dragon’s maw.  She and the others ripped down doors and shoved aside fallen timbers to get the trapped villagers free.  Flissa sobbed, terrified, as they helped her out of the rubble of the tavern.  There were others too, people trapped inside houses or wounded and vulnerable out in the open.  Rysgil and the others raced through the village to save them all and herd them back towards the Chantry.  Even Threnn required aid against a small swarm of Templars.

Finally though Rysgil’s ears could hear no more cries for help so she turned towards the Chantry instead.

The odd boy Cole and Roderick were there when the doors opened, the priest ushering people inside even as one hand clutched at his stomach in obvious pain.  Cole managed to grab the man just as he collapsed, face pale and robes stained with blood.

“He tried to stop a Templar.”  Cole told her as he dragged Roderick further inside and laid him against a pillar.  “The blade went deep.  He’s going to die.”

“Herald.”  Cullen’s voice took her attention away from the pair as he sprinted to her side.  Behind her Harel panted, fur dark with blood both his own and others.  They all sported more than a few cuts that still bleed sluggishly but Rysgil knew how to focus past the pain by now.  “Our position is not good.  That dragon stole back any time you might have earned us.”

Rysgil knew that, had been able to tell it the moment the beast had appeared.  They could do much but at the moment they could not battle a dragon, especially not one as powerful and malformed as the one she’d seen.

“I’ve seen an Archdemon.”  Cole’s voice came then.  “I was in the Fade but it looked like that.”

Horror roared through Rysgil then.  An Archdemon.  They were not Grey Wardens and Blackwall alone would stand no chance against such a beast.

“It will kill everyone in Haven.”  Cullen spat and Rysgil forced herself to pay attention.

“He doesn’t care about the village.”  Cole’s eyes were on her then, she could feel them like fingertips down her spine.  Somehow she knew exactly what he was about to say.  “He only wants the Herald.”

She’d know that, of course she had.

“I don’t like him.”  Cole almost whined.  Cullen bit off a curse beside her but Rysgil let out a small, breathless laugh instead.

“Another avalanche would be our only hope of slowing them down.”  Cullen raked a hand through his hair.  “We could use the trebuchets again.”

“But we’re overrun so it would also bury Haven.”  Rysgil nodded as the solution solidified inside of her.

“We’re dying.”  Cullen agree.  “But we can decide how.  Many don’t get that choice.”

Rysgil wanted to scoff at him in that moment but she knew he was right.  No matter how much it galled her, no matter how much a part of her rebelled against the idea, she could do nothing but agree with him.

She’d spent so long trying to avoid dying for this place, for these people, and then when she’d finally resigned herself to death she’d been spared.  Yet now she was faced with the idea yet again and she already knew her answer.  Just like before, Atlen, Dorian, everyone, would die if she did not do this thing.

She did not need Cole’s reassurances because she already knew that this Elder One would see to that if he had his way about things.  He would slaughter them all in his attempts to kill her.

Cole and Roderick spoke up then, talked about the path that could lead them to safety.  But still Rysgil knew it was not meant for her, could not be meant for her.

“Can you lead them Cullen?”  Rysgil rasped, throat tight.  “Can you get them to safety?”

“It is worth the chance.”  Cullen stepped closer to her then.  “But what of your escape?”

There was a ringing moment of silence between them then as the reality once more seemed to dawn on Cullen.  There would be no escape for her and they both knew it.

“Perhaps you will surprise it?  Find a way?”  Cullen’s words sounded weak to the both of them even as he ducked away to issue orders to the soldiers milling about.

Rysgil turned toward Harel then, reached out and buried her hands in his fur so she could press their foreheads together.  “You know what I would ask of you my Harel.  You know what is to be done.”

Harel whined and licked gently at the side of her face, uncaring of the blood on her skin.  Rysgil pressed closer to him, eyes prickling and breathing heavy.  This walk to death felt different this time for some reason, felt worse that it had before when her anger had buoyed her so effortlessly.  Now the greater part of her was just … tired.

“I am sorry that we will not be together at the end as we always wanted, as I had promised you.”  Rysgil murmured to Harel.  “I will wait for you in the Beyond my Harel.  We will not be parted for long, we both know that, but you must do this for me.  You must get all of them to safety before you join me.  Get them through the mountain pass, see them settled, and then take Atlen home, back to his clan so that he will be safePromise me.”

Harel just pressed closer to her and refused to look up even when she tugged at his fur with desperate hands.

“It is different this time and we both feel it so I would ask that you give me this promise Harel.”  Rysgil practically begged the great wolf and she knew that he understood exactly what she was talking about, knew that he could feel the difference too.  “Send me to death with this weight off of my heart, with your vow etched across our bond.  Do this for me.”

Harel sighed, pressed closer to her once more and then pulled back to look her directly in the face.  His eyes, as crimson as her own, were solemn.  It was all the confirmation she needed.

“I will see you again soon my friend.”  Rysgil leaned forward and brushed one final kiss across his muzzle.  “Now go.”

Harel did as she’d asked and turned to trot further into the reaches of the Chantry.

“You’ve sent him from your side.”  Cullen was there again, watching her despite the frenzied movements of everyone else.

Rysgil yearned for Atlen in that moment but she did not look for him.  He’d been helping to move the wounded when she’d seen him moments ago, had taken command of the frenzied civillians alongside Mother Giselle, but she would not call out to him.  He would, she knew, try to stop her if she did.  She had already said goodbye to him once, she could not bear to do so again.  Rysgil heaved a shuddering sigh and turned back towards Cullen.

“When the Elder One takes me,” Cullen tried to break in, tried to protest what they both already knew to be fact but Rysgil waved him off.  “No Cullen, listen.  When he takes me Harel will hold on as long as he can.  He’s promised me that.  But he won’t have a lot of time afterwards.  Let him help you as much as he can.”

“Herald, I …” Cullen stepped forward then and, to Rysgil’s surprise, reached out and cupped her jaw gently in his hand.  “Is there no other way?  Is there nothing else to do but to condemn you once again?”

“I go to my death and I have made what peace I can with that.”  Rysgil stared up at him, at this ex-Templar with his tawny eyes and a touch that she’d actually allowed.  “But I will make it glorious.  And with my last breath this monster will hear me.”

Rysgil …” Whatever Cullen had been about to say was cut off by the sound of the dragon screeching outside.

Hurry.”  Rysgil stepped out of Cullen’s reach then and turned back towards the Chantry doors.  She did not look back, not even when some small part of her heart begged her to. 

~~~

“As if we’d let you have all the fun, love.”  Dorian rolled his eyes at her when she arched a brow at the sight of him, Bull, and Solas waiting on her by the Chantry doors.

“This is death, you know.”  Rysgil pointed the obvious out.  “For you as well as for me this time.”

“Indeed.”  Solas agreed softly but firmly.  “We are, as ever, by your side.  The dwarf wanted to come as well but he was needed elsewhere.”

“There’s a fucking dragon Boss.”  Bull huffed as he shouldered his massive axe.  “No way in hell I’m going to let you tangle with that without me.”

Rysgil didn’t know whether to curse them all or thank them.  She settled on simply moving forward and towards their goal instead.

Again the Templars they fought were barely that.  Many of them little more than twisted and malformed horrors.  Bodies misshapen and corrupted by the red lyrium Rysgil could feel within their veins, could see jutting up out of their skin like spires.

They cut them down as they came though, one after another, after another.  Each more grotesque than the last as they made their way towards the trebuchet and began to calibrate it.  The towering giant of a creature was the worst by far but Rysgil threw herself forward with a snarl and feral roar at each new threat.  She sparked flame and lighting across the blades of her knives and hacked at the thing’s flesh with rage singing in her soul.  Harel’s absence ached like a wound but she kept moving with the others at her side and a war beat in her heart.

Once it was dead they were all tense, shoulders stiff and hands wrapped firmly around their weapons as they watched for any sign of more approaching enemies.  Again Rysgil worked the trebuchet desperately, determined to do what she’d sworn to do in order to give Harel and the others the time they needed to flee.  It clicked into place with a loud sound after what felt like only seconds and an eternity all at the same time.

But yet again dragon fire interrupted her plans.

Move.”  Rysgil screamed at the other three.  “Now!”  She was distantly grateful at the way they didn’t hesitate to scramble away.

She moved to follow but flame burst to life around her and she was sent tumbling through the air instead.  She landed hard, breath knocked out of her.  Head aching from the impact Rysgil forced herself to her feet even as her various cuts and bruises screamed in agony.

Then, through the flames, she saw him.

Tall, slender, and twisted, distorted and perverse just like the Red Templars stood who, what, could only be the Elder One.  He was more creature than man and the malformed dragon that quickly landed behind her to box her in with a roar was little better.

Enough.”  The Elder One spoke and his voice was like a wound to Rysgil.  The song of the red lyrium was strong in every part of him, it sat jagged and grotesque beneath his skin, along the sides of his skull.  “Pretender you toy with forces beyond your ken no more.”

“You will have no fear from me foul creature.  I will not tremble at your words.”  The words ripped themselves from Rysgil’s throat almost on their own because she would show this thing no fear, not even now, not even at the end of things.

“Mortals always hurl such words at the darkness even as they cower like babes.”  The Elder One scoffed.  “Once such words were mine.  They are always lies.  Know me, know what you have pretended to be.  Exalt the Elder One, the will that is CorypheusYou will kneel.”

“I kneel for no man nor beast.”  Rysgil spat, rage and what she would never show to be fear twining in her breast.  Still she would not back down, would not cower and falter before this abomination.  Her palms flared with magic, lightning crackled between each of her fingers.  “And I will never kneel to you.”

“You will resist.  You will always resist.  It matters not.  I have come for the Anchor.”  Corypheus sneered at her as he raised one large talon like hand up and showed her the orb he had clutched within it.  Rysgil breath caught at the flare of tainted magic the thing gave off.  It seemed so wrong somehow to see the thing like that, like something precious had been twisted even if she did not know what exactly it was.  “I will have it if I must rip it from your corpse.  The process of removing it begins now.”

The mark on her hand flared with agony then and it was all Rysgil could do to keep her feet.

“You disturb a ritual years in the planning and instead of dying you stole its purpose.”  Corypheus spoke even as he twisted his hand in the air between them, sick crimson magic flaring at his talon tips.  The mark, the Anchor as he’d named it, flared in time with his aura, sent waves of sickening pain washing over Rysgil almost too fast for her to truly process.

“What you flail at the rifts like a bumbling child I crafted to assault the very heavens.”  Corypheus hissed.  “I will not be denied my prize.  Not even by you who would use the Anchor to undo my work.  The gall.”

The twisted dragon chose that moment to move closer to Rysgil and the Anchor flared again with such vicious intent that Rysgil was finally driven to her knees.  If felt as if she were being skinned, as if she were being undone from the inside out.  The agony was almost too much to truly be pain, almost too much to actually feel.

Corypheus stepped forward then and reached down to grab her by the wrist.  He lifted Rysgil clean up off of the ground and she dangled, agonized but alive, from his hold.

“I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the Old Gods of the Empire in person.  I found only chaos and corruption.  Dead whispers.  For a thousand years I was confused.  No more.  I have gathered the will to return under no name but my own, to champion withered Tevinter and correct this blighted world.”  Corypheus leaned closer to her and Rysgil could smell his stench, like rotting meat and the sickly smell of the red lyrium.  “Beg that I succeed.  For I have seen the throne of the gods, and it was empty.”

He threw her then and Rysgil crashed against the side of the trebuchet with a bitten off scream.  She spit blood from her mouth as she struggled to push herself upright.  The agony of her numerous small wounds and the flare of the Anchor sucked at her strength but still she called an arc of lightning to her hand, a feeble attempt at protection.

“The Anchor is permanent.  You have spoiled it with your stumbling.”  Corypheus advanced on her, his twisted dragon at his side.  “So be it.  I will begin again, find another way to give this world the nation – and God – it requires.  But I will not suffer even an unknowing rival.  You must die.”

Rysgil panted her way passed the pain and when she looked up she saw a glimmer of light in the sky, just past Corypheus’ shoulder.  It was the signal she knew, the one meant to tell her that Cullen had gotten the others passed the point of danger.

It was time.

“The throne of your gods might be empty, creature.”  Rysgil grinned, all sharp teeth and blood.  Death came for her but as she’d said to Cullen this beast would hear her for she would not go quietly.  “But I am Dalish and I hold no pact with them.  Cry for your Golden City to one who would care to hear you weep.”

Rysgil threw the arc of lightning out from her palm and lunged for the level to her right.  The trebuchet fired, the mountain shuddered above them, and Rysgil ran.

There was a roar behind her and a crevice in front.  Rysgil threw herself forward in a move born of fierce desperation.

Oh,’ she suddenly realized as the snow and ice rushed in behind her as she fell, ‘Cullen said my name.’

And then her back slammed against stone and she knew no more.

Chapter Text

Cullen watched her go, watched her walk away from him again.  The taste of her name was still fresh on his lips and tongue, the sound of it was something he’d never meant to say, a slip he’d been helpless to guard against.

The memory of the way she’d closed the Breach, the agonized and enraged sound she’d made when she’d thrust herself towards the thing, lingered in his mind.

As did the terror he’d felt when she’d collapsed down onto her knees.

He’d been so afraid that he’d condemned her to death then, that he had taken part in seeing her martyred for their cause, no matter how worthy it was.

His relief at seeing her alive, obviously exhausted but so very alive, had been blinding, had swept over him like a wave.

He’d thought they’d bought themselves time then, that sealing the Breach would give them room to breathe and plan and perhaps to grow.

A selfish part of him had thought that now he would have time …

But it was not to be.

Instead he had to watch her turn from him again, had to watch her march towards death looking so much smaller, so much more fragile, without her wolf at her side.

It wasn’t right.  A steady burn of frustrated anger writhed in Cullen’s chest.  None of it was right.

“It aches.  Missed chances and sorrow like an old wound.”  Cole whispered from his side so suddenly that Cullen’s hand was on the hilt of his sword almost before he realized he’d moved.  “She should not die for us.  Not her.  Not ever.  I should be stronger.  Should be able to protect her.  It’s why I took up the shield, to be able to protect.”

“What?”  Cullen rasped as he shuddered at the unexpected experience of hearing his thoughts spoken aloud by another.  Uneasy he took a large step away from the boy.

“She’ll die fighting.”  The pale boy seemed to reassure him, face earnest.  “She’s too strong to let herself do anything else.  She’ll be brave right up until the end.”

Cullen felt sick at the thought because he knew the boy was right.  She was unlike anything he’d ever seen before and he knew that even in the face of such monsters she would be brave until her final breath.

The thought was more hurt than comfort.

“No.  Wait.”  Cole seemed almost frantic then.  “That wasn’t what I wanted to do.  Let me try again.”

Cullen frowned, shook his head to clear the haze that had come over his mind in his moment of inattention, and then turned away from the Chantry doors.  He had much to do after all to make sure that her sacrifice was not in vain.

Still his sorrow lingered alongside his barely banked rage.

He should have been able to stop this.  Should have been able to protect her and the others.

What good was he if he could not even keep these people, this village, her, safe?

~~~

Varric waited with the others just past the danger zone outside of Haven, Bianca a heavy but comforting weight in his hands.

He had to wait for the last people to clear the pass before he let his baby shoot of the signal that all was clear.  Bianca was one of the few weapons powerful enough to get through the wind gusts that dominated the pass they were in and most of the mages were too exhausted to summon enough power to blast a fire ball high enough.

Harel barreled past him then, the older elf Atlen on his back, and Cullen pulling up the rear.

“Everyone is clear.”  Cullen rasped and Varric could see the sorrow and anger in his eyes.  Varric could practically hear the unspoken words.  Everyone was clear, everyone but her.  “Send the signal.”

Varric sighed, hefted Bianca, and sighted down the length of the fire-bolt he’d loaded her with.

In that moment he couldn’t help but think of Hawke and the others, of the family they had all made together in Kirkwall, of the terrible realization of just who that Elder One was.

He’d done so much to protect Hawke, to protect them all, after the Seeker had gotten her angry and attractive hands on him.  Now it looked as if most of that would be for nothing.

If they got out of this alive, and Varric knew it was a big if, he knew what he had to do.

He had a Hawke to send for and as much as he wished she wouldn’t sometimes Varric knew she’d come to him as soon as he did.

That was the way she was, his Hawke.  That was one of the things he loved about her so much.

Varric took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and fired.

The Seeker was going to actually kill him this time if this damn mountain didn’t do the job for her first.

~~~

Bull paused on the edge of Haven, just over the rise of the hill, and turned back towards where they’d left the little elf.  He watched, transfixed, as she stood against the dragon and the Elder One.

She was hurt, he could see that easily enough, could see the way she favored her ribs even at a distance, but she was still defiant, still brave.

She reminded him of his Krem, of how he’d been in the beginning in some ways.  Both so brave and so strong, and yet so obviously hurt in a deep, unsettled way that came with being misused by those around them.

Krem had settled though, had found a home with him and the Chargers.  They'd become a family of sorts, messy, rough, but still a family unlike anything he'd seen under the Qun.  The eye he’d given up that day at the tavern had been well worth that in Bull’s opinion.

He couldn’t help but wonder though if the little mage, or Ranger as she called herself, would ever settle.  If she’d be able to find comfort in anyone other than that great beast of hers and the old one.

“We have to go back for her.”  The Vint, Dorian, rasped from his side.  Bull could practically hear the wood of his staff creaking from his tight grip, could see the tension in his shoulders and his intent written in every line of his admittedly appealing body.  “We can’t leave her there.”

Oh, and him of course.  The Vint had become unexpectedly close to her after all.  Bull couldn’t help but wonder about that sometimes.

Bull looked back down at the scene, aware of Solas on his other side as well.  All three of them were of the same opinion then, loathe to leave their little Boss behind.

But then Bull saw her move, saw her lunge for the trebuchet, and knew it wasn’t possible.

Moving on instinct he wrapped an arm around each of the mage’s waists.  In one rushed move he picked them up, tucked them against his sides, and pivoted on his heel to run.

Let me go!”  Dorian snarled at him harshly.  Bull could feel the magic building beneath the mage’s skin but he ignored it.  “I won’t leave her there.”

“She triggered the avalanche.”  Solas was the one to answer and while his voice was calm Bull could feel the tension in him.  He was a deceptive little thing too.  “It would be our death to try for her now.”

“I should have never left her.”  Dorian seemed to deflate just a bit then and his next words came at little more than a whisper.  “She’s my friendI should have never left her.”

Bull hummed low in his throat even as he plowed through the snow.  Avalanche or not he wasn’t ready to count the little Boss out yet.  She was made of stronger stuff than most gave her credit for.  She was fragile in a lot of ways sure but so were some of the deadliest things Bull had come across in his life.

Delicate packaging often held the biggest forces he’d long ago learned.

She wasn’t any different.

~~~

Rysgil woke in stops and starts.

Her body ached like an old wound, sore and red around the edges.

She was also cold, cold in a way she normally never was.  She could feel the ice and stone beneath her, could feel the way it chilled her to the bone through the cuts in her clothes.

It was tempting to stay there, tempting to relax into the cold and just … drift.

But she couldn’t.

Rysgil knew she couldn’t.

There were people waiting for her.  Atlen, Harel, Dorian.  There were people she needed to get back to.

So she gritted her teeth and rolled onto her hands and knees.  She coughed roughly and then pressed the palm of one clawed hand against her side, aware of the way her ribs groaned with the move.  Red splattered out onto the snow covered stone beneath her and the taste of copper bloomed fresh in her mouth.

Fenedhis.”  She hissed the curse out between gritted teeth as she gathered her strength and pushed her way up onto her feet.

She took a moment to take stock of her situation.  She was in a cave or a tunnel of some sort that much was obvious.  Her armor was ripped, shredded in places from the rocks and debris that had hit her as well as her earlier battles.  Fear and Deceit hung ever faithful at her sides but she knew she was in no shape to use them at the moment.  More worryingly was the way her magic flared weakly just beneath the surface of her skin, drained in a way that surprised and worried her.

Most of it, she could tell, was going to keeping her warm, or at least not freezing to death yet, or was turned inwards towards the injuries she’d sustained.  Obviously they were far worse than she’d first realized.  The rest pulse inside her weakly even as the Anchor ached.  That, she suspected, also had something to do with things.

Corypheus had tried to take the Anchor from her but he’d failed.  Rysgil had a feeling that her magic might have had something to do with that, that it had fought the invading taint of his aura and rejected him.

It was something to ponder later perhaps, when she was in a better situation.

For now all Rysgil needed to concentrate on was putting one foot in front of the other.

~~~

She made her way down the ice covered tunnels, one arm wrapped around her stomach and the other dangling by her side.  The Anchor pulsed rhythmically, painfully, but it was of little concern by that point, just one more ache to add to her collection.

She was only grateful that the tunnels seemed empty besides her because she was in no real position to fight.

Which is, of course, the very moment that two rage demons ripped themselves out of the ground in front of her.

She couldn’t fight them, didn’t have the strength, but then the Anchor flared and the Veil ripped itself open on her command and devoured the demons before they could advance upon her.

When it was done Rysgil stared down at the sickly green light of the Anchor, horror and dismay swirling in her chest.

What was she?  What had this thing turned her into?

~~~

It seemed to take forever to get out of the tunnels only to find herself in the middle of a snow storm.

Rysgil trudged forward unrelentingly, unhindered by the dark but slowed by the snow that blasted against her every move.

She found an abandoned fire pit and then set herself forward from that position.  Exhausted, in pain, and utterly frustrated Rysgil couldn’t help but grumble to herself, her complaints helping to keep her attention off her situation and to help her concentrate on moving forward.

“I am still alive.”  She mumbled even as she stumbled over her own feet.  “But I’m freezing.  Is this what shem feel like all of the time?  No wonder Dorian complains so readily.”

She took a moment and leaned up against a nearby tree.  She took carefully shallow breathes do as to not upset her ribs.

Herald for a god that I have not pledged to.”  She spit more blood out onto the snow at her feet as she forced herself forward again.  “Martyr for their cause.  How the clans will laugh.”

The wind whipped around her and Rysgil suddenly froze, head tipped to the side to better hear.  On the wind was a familiar sound.

Howling.

Wolves.

A wolf.

Harel.

He called for her she knew.  She’d known he was alive, his presence was gentle but agitated flutter in her chest, but she’d been too weak to press their connection, to reach out to him.

But now she could hear him on the wind, guiding her forward.

Rysgil tipped her head back and tried to howl to him in return.  The noise came out strangled, a chocked off sound from where she was unable to get enough breath to do it properly.  She coughed sharply, a ragged and painful jolt to her body, and pushed herself forward with a new burst of energy.

If she could not call out to him then all she could do was keep pressing forward.

She wasn’t sure how long she walked before she stumbled passed another fire pit, this one still vaguely warm with embers and felt hope raise its head in her chest anew.

“To the pits with these shem.”  She hissed angrily.  “To the pits with them and their burnt bride.  With their Herald and their causes and their stupidity.  I want no more of any of it.”

Her eyes drooped heavily with fatigue but still she pushed on, determined to get back to Harel, back to Atlen and Dorian and out of the fucking snow and wind.

She stumble forward a few more steps and this time when she went down onto her knees Rysgil could not force herself to stand.

Get up.”  She whispered at herself.  “Get up Ranger.”

She pushed herself up a few inches before her knees collapsed out from underneath her again.

Rysgil wanted to cry in that moment, wanted to indulge in the weakness, but she didn’t have the strength to.  Instead she stared down at the snow in front of her, at the steadily growing collection of crimson dots that stained its surface.

She was so very tired.

“There!”  A familiar voice suddenly called out.  “It’s her!”

Cullen, Rysgil mouthed his name silently but couldn’t muster the strength to say it aloud.

“Thank the Maker.”  Cassandra’s voice sounded out only seconds later.

There was a rush of sound and movement around her then.  Rysgil felt familiar fur and a large, warm body press up against her side, heard a familiar whine.  Harel.  She tried to reach out to him but all she could manage was to slide sideways in the snow against his side.

There were arms around her then, and the smell of elderflowers and oak moss as she was lifted up off of the ground.  She moaned slightly, the movements hurt and the first feel of the heat of the arms holding her was almost too much against her chilled skin.

Easy.”  A warm, deep voice rasped against her temple.  Rysgil could have sworn she felt the soft and familiar brush of lips against her forehead before her face was tucked into a warm if prickly neck.  “I’ve got you.  You’re safe now.  You’re safe.”

Rysgil, too tired to fight it, too tired to care, just curled into the warmth, into the comfort, of those arms and let sleep take her.