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Splinter and Spite

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He finds her atop the ramparts, curled up on a bit of rubble not yet cleared away. She is drawn in upon herself, her legs folded up against her chest, her arms wrapped tightly around herself.

She looks small and lost, looking out over the frozen waste. It is strange - he does not think of her as small, does not think of her as lost, but to find her up here like this -

Vhenan,” he says, softly, and she looks up. A hand brushes hair from her face; her eyes are red. He can see the corners of her lips trying to pull back into a smile; the expression nearly forms, wavers, then falls away.

“You know, it would be so easy for Corypheus to attack us right now,” Eaving says, the cold making each word tangible in the air around her. “The bulk of our army in the Arbor Wilds - he could practically march right up to our door and we’d be able to do little to stop him.”

Solas steps lightly across the ground; this tower is one still left to restore, and there are bits of old masonry strewn about. He knows this is where she comes to think when she wants none of her advisors to find her.

“Unless he has found a faster way to travel, it will take Corypheus time to reach Skyhold.”

Eaving looks away from him, wrapping both her arms around her knees once more. Her head dips, spine bowed, and she looks -

Lost.

He sits down beside her, close but not touching. They have not yet spoken about what happened in the Arbor Wilds, about what happened in the temple. He has a thousand words on the tip of his tongue - as many truths as lies.

“I would not have thought to find you up here, hiding yourself away. Not now. What is wrong?” he asks instead. Eaving’s lips part; he watches the slow change of expression upon her face.

“I…” she begins, but nothing more comes forth. Again, she reaches up and brushes hair behind her ear; her movement slows, fingers brushing over the white lines of her vallaslin. Mythal’s mark, etched into her flesh. She touches her cheek, her nose, then her mouth, and the breath she inhales shakes.

“You don’t believe in my gods, do you?” she says, and he should have expected this. His heart catches, the anxious feeling of a truth that he wants to tell.

A truth that forms as a half a lie upon his tongue.

“I do not believe that they were gods, no.” He watches the way her cheeks pull in, how her lashes sweep downward. “Mages, spirits, or something we don’t understand - but I do not deny that they existed.”

Her mouth works again, silently. She is searching for some word, for something. The icy air has turned the tip of her nose red, the tip of her ears.

“If…” she says again, and stops. She seems to shudder, seems to shake herself. Tilts her head up to the sky. She does not look to him. “If a god were to exist through all of this, through everything that has happened to my people, and they did nothing, then what is their worth as a god?”

Something runs cold through him. This is not what he had expected, not at all. She does not know - cannot know - but it stops him cold. Truth curls under his chest, painful and raw.

Solas does not speak, but now Eaving does. Like the start of it has broken through confusion, made words run like liquid.

“I spoke with Leliana once, about the Maker. More than once, of course.” She gives a small laugh, nervously tucks her hair behind her ear once more. “When a god is absent, you can believe so many things. You have faith that they are there, or that they were there, once. That if they were there, truly, things would be better. It’s so strange, the similarities between what we both believe.”

“The similarities?” he asks her then, careful about what he says, where he looks. The quick patter of his heart - what does she know, what has she uncovered? “I would scarcely call your faith and Leliana’s the same.”

Eaving gives a small snort of laughter, though not in true humor. “No, not the same. But we both believe in the absence of our gods. Those who follow Andraste believe the Maker has turned from them. The Dalish believe our gods to be locked away. I believed they were locked away. I had such faith that it was true, that if they were here things would not be as they are...But faith only stretches so far, and when it is shattered -” She uncurls then, brings both hands up to press them to her nose. Her fingers fan out until she has covered her vallaslin. “It was easier to believe when I was uncertain.”

It is unease that creeps up on him, unease and a nervous sort of anticipation. Her words dig at the truth, pick away at his lies. “Believed? You speaks as though you no longer believe that. You saw many things at the Temple of Mythal - did something there shake your faith?”

Again, that sad little laugh. Eaving’s fingers fluttered by her face, then her hands fall to her sides. She looks to him, and he thinks that the redness in her eyes is not from the cold and the biting wind.

“I met Mythal,” she tells him, and he feels shock and relief and - oddly enough - disappointment. Disappointment that she has not pieced together yet what he hope she both will and will never discover. “Not at the temple, of course, but after. I went through the Eluvian and...and I met Mythal.”

Solas makes a noise of disdain, of disbelief. A lie, that sound. He remembers the touch of Mythals’ presence as he slept, as he dreamed - he has known she lives for years now. “And what made you believe you met Mythal? Would you know a god, if you saw one?”

She stares at him, wide-eyed, and he can see the upset written all over her face. “I believe I met Mythal. I know what I saw and what she said and what I felt. I wouldn’t have even dared to believe it could have been possible, but for what Abelas said. That she had been murdered, not imprisoned. And she said the same - her story was the same, Solas.”

“Anyone can tell a tale,” he says, even as his heart thuds in his chest, fills his throat. “She may have told you lies instead. But if you believe then I suppose I cannot sway you.”

A muscle jumps in her jaw, and in one fluid motion she stands. Walks to the wall and looks out over the battlements.

“I don’t want you to try to sway me,” she says, placing her palms flat against the stone wall. “Not in this. I know what she said, I know what I saw. I know what I felt. She was Mythal.” There is utter conviction in her voice, and no, he will not challenge this, not when she has found a piece of truth among everything.

Solas rises from where he sits, but he does not move to her side. Arms crossed, he stands. He can see the side of her face, the curve of her cheek, the way her jaw clenches tightly. “So you have met one of your gods. Isn’t this what your people wanted?”

“Not like this.” Her fingers curl on stone. “I did - I did want to meet her. I had thought - maybe - when everything was through with Corypheus, maybe I could find the gods within the Fade. Maybe I could make everything better. But now? To know that Mythal is alive, that she is Asha’bellanar, that she has walked the world for years uncounted and has not aided us?” Laughter chokes its way up her throat, like pain, like poison. “What good is a god when they do nothing while those who believe in them suffer? We needed her. We needed all of them. For thousands of years of years, we have needed them while our culture and homes and our people were destroyed over and over again. We needed her, and she said - she said there was nothing that could have been done and that is such bullshit, that is such fucking bullshit.”

Her fingers scrape against the stone now, nails scratching, her body taught. He has not seen her this angry, this upset. All the softness, and the kindness, it is momentarily gone. He remembers this, the moment of his own shattered faith - though what he had once believed was nothing like what she believes now.

“We always believed one god still walked free, but no one ever thought that Fen’Harel would aid us,” she says then, and that cuts, that hurts, it twists like a knife that she does not know she holds. “To find another god alive - alive and powerful and in the body of a human? And to hear Mythal, of all gods, say that she could find no way to help? How dare she?

There are things he could say, things that he knows. That Mythal was murdered, thought dead, only a remnant of a god’s soul left. That they tried, so long ago, but two against the whole world was not enough, it was never enough. That the Dread Wolf had sought to aid the People but that the world changed in ways he had never intended, that he shattered what he meant to fix.

But here she stands, this mortal elf who will never have more than the briefest flicker of life, and she is angry and she is strong and she has surprised him in so many ways. She does not know that she holds the magic of a god in her hand, or that she has walked pathways traced by those she has upheld as divine.

She does not realize she is beloved of one who was once called a god himself.

He steps to her side then, as her shoulders shake and her chest rises and falls in anger. He takes one of her hands, pries it free from where she grips the stone - she has torn gouges into her fingernails, worn then rough.

Vhenan,” he says, and he draws her attention to him once more. The coiled tension he feels in her hand eases, just a bit. “You have every right to be angry. There is little that hurts more than to be betrayed by someone you believed in.”

Hah.” She breathes, a large hurt made smaller, caught in her throat. Mythal’s markings are like scars upon her cheeks. “I believed my whole life. I believed in Mythal so deeply. I needed that faith, through everything. But now...” She turns her hand over, curling her fingers with his. “I think I do not want any gods. Not if they are gods who cannot, will not help.”

“That,” he says as he smoothes his thumb over the back of hand, “is a far wiser thing to say than most would realize.”

An angry little laugh spills from her lips once more. “Of course you’d say that. You don’t even believe they were gods.”

“One does not have to believe they were gods to have their faith in them shattered,” he tells her, and maybe she hears the truth in what he says, maybe she understands how much of himself he has just revealed to her. She looks up at him with her red-rimmed eyes and her expression changes; anger melts to confusion and that touch of compassion that always lingers in her.

“Oh,” she breathes, as though something has clicked into place for her. Then a small smile blooms on her lips. “Did you find a god through a mirror once, too?”

She says it as a joke, but the words hang on him heavily. And yet he sees humor in this that is not that which she intended - she skirts the line between his truths and his lies, and all it would take is the smallest push, the littlest fall. All he has to do is tell her.

Lies are bitter and rotten and too easy to tell.

“Nothing as poetic as that,” he says. “I’m afraid my life does not make quite as good a retelling as yours. But I know what it is to believe in something and find it to be false.”

Ah.” She looks down, at their joined hands. “It’s good to know you understand. Though I suppose I didn’t find one of my beliefs to be false, exactly. Just...the truth wasn’t what I wanted or needed to hear. It’s so silly - my brother and I spent so much time trying to learn what we could of our history, and here I am, learning so much, and I don’t like what I find. ”

“Surely it cannot all be bad,” he says, and there is a small little smile that tugs at the edge of her mouth.

“Oh, no,” she tells him, and her fingers squeeze his. “I found you. A regular old relic of the past.”

She cannot know how right her words are. Solas is not certain if he wants to laugh or simply tell her that she is right. Tell her the truth.

He does neither.

“A relic? What curious phrasing.”

Eaving must see something on his face; she tilts her head to the side, eyebrows drawn together and up. “Would artifact sound better? Though neither truly works.”

He pretends to consider this. He could suggest remnant, but even that does not encompass it.

“I do like the sound of artifact,” he says, and that brings a brighter smile to her face.

She is so bright. Like life, like living.She makes him think that, even if everything has gone wrong, even if everything has failed, maybe…

“What will you do?” he asks her, and the suddenness of the change makes her start. Her head tips up, confusion writes itself across her face.

“With what?”

“After Corypheus is defeated. What will you do, with all the knowledge you have now? You are one of the most powerful beings in Thedas, at the head of what is one of the most powerful forces. What will you do, with that power?”

Eaving blinks; her teeth scrape over her bottom lip, and the crease between her brows deepens. And then, like a breath, the tension in her is gone.

“I’ll try to change things,” she says, like it is a simple question. Like it is easy. “I’ll try to make things better.”

He looks at her like he cannot believe her; in a way, he cannot “And what if you can’t? What if you wake one day to find the world worse than it was before?”

She smiles, lips pressed together, and all that confusion, all that doubt from before - it is all gone.

“Then I’ll try again,” she says. “For as long as I am able.”

Something breaks. Something gives. There is truth in what Mythal had told Eaving - nothing could be changed. They tried, and things broken ever more. Every time he has tried to change things he has been met only by failure and unforeseen consequences. Now, the weight of it all presses down again, made new by the revelation of why Corypheus had survived, and Solas sees that there is little chance that this will end happily.

A thousand years, two thousand - she does not understand what it is like to try for so long and to only see failure. For nothing to ever go right. But he remembers still what she said, on that mountaintop what feels like only a moment ago. She knows that this will crash down, she knows that this will fall back upon the elves, she knows that the world will try to tear her down. And yet she still says this, with the confidence that she will try, and he believes her.

Well. Not for him. But.

But.

She makes him want to hope again, and he cannot tell her what that means to him.

Eaving shivers then, ice on the wind that blows from the mountains. He barely feels it, but she does. Red eyes and ears, cheeks stung with cold.

He pulls her to him, wraps an arm around her waist. Her skin is cool where it touches his, her cheek against his neck. She sighs like letting go, leans against him like he is safe, like he is stability.

Everything is but a flicker; everything is fleeting and intangible. Years are but moments, and yet centuries weigh upon him. He woke, and everything was wrong. It is in these brief moments that he can almost pretend. That the world is different, that he is different. That light and laughter and Eaving are enough.

He should tell her. Who he is, what he has done. But that will lead to questions, it will lead to upset, it will lead to things he does not want to discuss. If she knows, she will draw his plans from him; if he tells her one thing, all the rest could spill out, and that would be disastrous. He has broken the world before, and he will do it again. She would not do that, she would not break everything. But he thinks she could take what is left and reshape them.

She rests her head against his shoulder, her hands clasped at the small of his back. She breathes away her anger at one god, broken faith that clings, and will continue to cling. He feels the rapid beat of her heart slow and easy where her chest presses to his, and it is so easy to pretend that this is enough. And it could be, if the world were entirely different than it was. If he was someone else.

He should tell her. But for now, he will keep his truths for another day.