Chapter 1: Prologue: Ostwick
Her first encounter with inevitable occurs when she’s eight years old, her velveteen dress frayed at the hems and her elbows coated in scabs. Her older siblings are exploring the marsh, just outside of the tree line of the family orchards and therefore just outside of where she is permitted to play. And it’s an ordinary enough day, except that their governess has chosen to spend a few extra minutes praying in the family cloister, reflecting upon what she has called a “test of resolve” and what Yvain had said was actually “the new blacksmith.”
“You can’t do that, Lynette!” Her brother cries, his stick brandished high above his head in the pantomime of a stave, “I have a barrier!”
“I can do whatever I wish, Yvain,” her older sister shouts back, her hands still folded, “Because I was able to dispel it-“
Evie watches from the shore, as her brother scowls and throws the imaginary stave against the ground, “Why am I always the Apostate? It isn’t fair-“
“Because I’m the eldest,” Lynette states fairly, nearing ten and already having the bearing of heir apparent in the tilt of her chin and the set of her shoulders, “Now, I dispelled, so you need to fall over-“
“Why do I need to fall over?”
“Because that’s what apostates do when they’ve lost their magic, don’t you ever listen to anything Tutor Kaye says?”
Yvain shot his twin sister a poisonous look, before his eyes dart to where Evie sits alone, “Evie, you decide! Do I have to fall over?”
Lynette snorts, her dark eyes landing on the youngest Trevelyan expectantly. As eldest, she was quite used to getting her way, “Well, Evie? Does he have to fall over if he’s dispelled?”
Evie’s gaze moves between the two of them. She didn’t really want Yvain to fall over, into the muck of the bog. It was bad enough that he stained his good trousers, as they had just left the morning service in the chantry Bann Trevelyan housed within his hold for his family and servants alike. But she thought of Great Uncle Owain, and how sometimes he was lost in his head, but when he wasn’t, how she would sit and listen to him talk about his time serving at Ostwick’s circle. How all of the mages in his stories, at least, fell down every time. How when her cousin, Kendrick, returned from training he had showed them all his abilities with no small amount of pride. Surely no mage can stay standing when a Templar bows to the Maker?
And, truth be told, even at eight Evie understands that Lynette is a far worse enemy than Yvain could ever hope to be.
“You have to fall down,” she judges gravely, picking at the edges of her dress so she wouldn’t have to meet either sibling’s expression.
“Evie!” Yvain protests, betrayed.
“You heard her,” Lynette calls smugly, crossing her arms over her dress made of sea silk and smirking, “You’ve been vanquished.”
Yvain glared, but got down on his knees, sighing mournfully before falling all the way over.
The bog water made a soft plopping noise at his defeat. And Lynette cheered, raising her own stick above her head, “Take that abomination-“
“Get on with it,” Yvain mumbled sourly into the mud.
“Blessed are they who-“
Yvain’s quick, sharp yelp of pain rendered Lynette’s jeers short. And both sisters turned to the prostrate figure in the muck.
“What is it now?” Lynette sighs, but Evie stands and tries to brush off the grass from her dress.
“Something bit me-!”
“What could’ve bit you?” The eldest Trevelyan demands, hands on her hips.
Instead of answering, Yvain only attempts to stand, his hands on his knees and his breathing coming in ragged. Mud slithers trails down his face, onto his chest, but Evie sees the markings on his neck: bright and red and two, twin puncture marks. And her eyes widen. And she runs.
(Years later, when she is old enough to look back on this day, and see it as one that is life-changing, Evelyn wonders why she chose to move. What was it that made her think she could make a difference? What makes an eight year old run through a marsh as though she has a plan? She comes up with many solutions—fate, Divine intervention, impulse, fear—but none of them are ever entirely satisfactory)
The water of the bog is thick and muddy when she rushes into it, and the reeds wind around her ankles like sodden fingers. She thinks about the puncture marks on Yvain’s neck, and snakes, and wants to scream when something brushes past the exposed skin of her leg. But snakes are secondary to brothers she made fall in the mud, and so she bites down on her lip and pointedly Doesn’t Cry as her small, chubby feet sink into the muck, the effort of moving them exhausting her as she runs closer to where Yvain falls over again. In the background, she hears Lynette start to cry and shout that she’s going for their governess, but Evie doesn’t notice that so much as she does her brother.
He’s wheezing, neck and face swollen to twice their usual side as he grabs at his stomach and groans in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Evie asks, shaking him, heart thrumming in her chest and somewhere, far away she hears singing.
Yvain doesn’t answer. He can’t, as his body starts to convulse and foam dribbles out of the corner of his mouth. Tears sting her eyes, and Evie tries to count, tries to remember what Yvain’s favorite verse from the Chant of Light is, in case it might help.
She puts her brother’s head in her lap, and sinks into the mud with him, eyes searching the skyline as she sees Lynette becoming a smaller and smaller blur as she disappears into the orchard. It’s just her, feeling her brother’s breath come in pants underneath her hands.
And she doesn’t know what to do. So she closes her eyes and the singing becomes louder. It matches the pitch of the rush of blood in her ears, the tempo of her thudding heart. The song becomes clearer, and it reminds her of the hymns in the chantry and the sounds of Lynette and Yvain’s practice swords being taken out of their sheathes and the lullabies their governess would sing to her at night, when she was small and saw things too clearly in her dreams.
She hears the song, and Evie follows it and pulls. She takes from it, this place strange place beyond her body that she somehow knows just as well as the stone halls of Caer Lyds, and she puts what she takes somewhere else: into the veins of her brother, into the darkness that is trying to make him sleep.
When Evie opens her eyes, her brother is breathing easier underneath her hands and her sister and governess are staring at her like she’s a stranger.
(She finds out that what almost killed her brother was a spider bite. Years later, when she is old enough to look into the Fade and be brave enough not to falter, her nightmares take on the shape of the same creature and she is reminded of the day that changed everything)
They write her every week, her first year at the Circle. Letters come mostly from her siblings and her Great Uncle Owain, though his are more difficult to follow. Lynette’s are bored, talking about her training in finance and trade and languages as she prepares to take the mantle of heir. Yvain’s are more colorful, describing his training and how he is going to be leaving for the Templar Order soon.
Her mother’s letters come much later, nearly two months after Evie has left Caer Lyds. In them, she apologizes for the delay, and explains that she has been spending the silent time between missives in prayer and reflection.
Bann Trevelyan’s letters are cordial. They are always signed with Andraste’s blessing.
Her first year at the Circle, Evie feels, more than anything, alone. She hates studying, she hates stillness, and Circle Ostwick has both in abundance. At night, she goes to the chapel and recites the Chant of Light by herself, trying not to forget the word. And also believing, in vain, that saying them might mean that someone is listening, and that maybe she will be forgiven for the sin of hearing a song she was never meant to listen to.
Maybe, if she says the words long enough, the Maker will let her go home. Away from tomes covered in dust and out of the barracks she shares with the other young apprentices—the ones who do not say the Chant and the ones who cry nearly every night.
Her first year at the Circle, Evie has faith that this is all a mistake.
Three years after Evie arrives at the Circle, the letters come every other month from her siblings and not at all from her mother, and she is allowed to go to the upper floors of the Circle for lectures. There, they have the older apprentices train. And Evie’s tutors think it’s a good idea for her to watch them practice, to see what mages are capable of. To inspire her.
(Evie is mediocre in her studies at best, her reluctance at practicing her magic only matched by her fervor for praying in front of statues of Andraste. Her boredom at reading her manuals matched only by the zeal in which she rereads old letters from Lynette and Yvain)
Instead, Evie does the unthinkable and makes a friend.
(she is shyer than the other apprentices, aloof and introverted and these are not boons for a new mage who would rather pray with the laysisters than make fire and ice dance around the barracks with her classmates)
On the fifth floor, when Evie sneaks away from the lecture on primal magic and instead finds the store rooms, where she meets Adelaide.
She does not know how they begin talking, but Evie quickly discovers that there is something not quite right with Adelaide. Her voice is too measured, her replies too succinct. She is older than Evie, and should therefore be wearing the robes of a Harrowed mage, but instead she wears the dark blue of an apprentice. When Evie looks up, Adelaide stares at her, but through her.
She knows the word in her head, but it’s not until she asks and her instructors say Tranquil with that tone of pity that Evie really understands.
(that night, when she prays before the image of Andraste she wonders what it would be like, to say these words and feel nothing in them, and at the justice of having something else stolen from her for a sin she did not mean to commit)
Her third year at the Circle, Evie begins to doubt.
Her fourth year at the Circle marks a quiet change. Letters come twice a year, on her nameday and on Wintersend, and Evie starts to spend more nights talking with Adelaide than looking into the visage of the Bride of the Maker. Adelaide, at least, always answers her. Even if it is with a toneless voice and a stare that makes Evie think about the tomes on her desk that she has not yet read.
Her fifth year at the Circle, Evie is thirteen and her instructors spend a day explaining the Harrowing for the first time.
She finds the statue of Andraste, and she sits in front of it and wonders about paths and lights in the dark and she closes her eyes and allows herself to listen for the first time to the song, to try and understand it the way she did the day she saved her brother’s life, and when the day breaks she understands that if she is going to survive, she will have to first change.
Her fifth year at the Circle, Evie is afraid.
Her sixth year at the Circle is marked by a move. The children apprentices are given new dormitories, split by gender and affording more privacy. She shares quarters with three other girls, and with them she spends less time looking at old letters and more time gossiping and some nights she even tosses back the white, purple-hot strands of energy when they entertain themselves in their free time.
(Great Uncle Owain dies that summer, and with his death so ends the frequency of the letters she writes. Because there are only so many ways to dance around her lessons, to pretend that what she is is just an unfortunate injury that will one day be healed with enough reflection and will, to act like her family are not growing into strangers)
With their new dormitories come Templars posted outside their doors. It’s at this age, they say, that mages are more likely to experiment with the things they shouldn’t, to go to bed as one thing and wake up as something else.
They remind her of summers spent talking to cousin Kendrick, of stories Great Uncle Owain spins when his pupils were focused. The younger ones make her wonder about Yvain, brandishing his stick and not wanting to fall into the mud. Their presence make her less afraid of what she is, because she knows how they can stop her. When she reads her tomes or practices her duels, she feels their presence like a sinkhole in the room, drawing in reservations and doubt.
Her sixth year at the Circle, Evie starts to accept that she is a mage and that this is the only home she will ever have.
She starts going by Evelyn at fifteen. And Evelyn writes letters twice a year (on namedays and Wintersend), spends her evenings between visits to the storage rooms and studying in the archives with her dorm mates (her Harrowing is less than five years away, and somewhere between summoning energy and barriers, Evelyn has forgotten the time spent playing in bogs and instead has learned the value of stillness, the escape of a good story in a book), and makes friends far easier than she ever did as Evie. Evelyn develops a dry sense of humor, a talent in herbalism, and an interest in arcane history.
She is no longer a mediocre mage, and as her talents grow she gains the mentorship of Senior Enchanter Lydia, who is held in far higher esteem than most.
She has her first encounter with love at sixteen. His name is Cenric. And her infatuation with him is a phenomenally stupid idea. Least of all because he is among the newest Templar recruits meant to monitor the apprentices.
He’s not even attractive, at least not in the traditional sense. His nose is offset, broken too many times and slightly hooked. He is constantly pale and nervous, always fidgeting either with his gauntlets or his helm. But he looks at her, at her, and when the apprentices make deliveries of healing poultices to the Templars’ training grounds he always flushes and sincerely gives his thanks.
Her friends ridicule her, of course. Tease her, for going through her “Templar phase” later than the rest of them, who have already moved on to the roguish apostate phase like reasonable apprentices. But she thinks the teasing is worth it, for the small smiles he gives to her in the hall, and the notes he leaves in her room while she and her dorm mates are attending lectures. Sometimes, when he is standing guard in the library and she is finished with her studying, they play chess together through the bookshelves, his back to her as he recites off squares on the board with an alarmingly good memory. Once, he even leaves dried flowers, pressed together under her primer on spirit healing.
It’s a mockery of courtship for something that will never be, and over before it begins when a Senior Enchanter spots them exchanging their first and only kiss in the greenhouse. But her friendship with Cenric reminds her that not only the mages feel lonely in the Circles.
After Cenric, there were others: fellow apprentices, later fellow mages, and once even a Senior Enchanter. Quick dalliances behind bookshelves and experiments in silence and secrecy after hours in the dormitories. The longest relationship was between her and an older, Harrowed mage named Geraint, who had a ponytail and a single bone earring. It lasted nearly a year and consisted of Evelyn being educated in her own oppression and the necessity for mage rights and foolish, detailed plans of escaping and becoming apostates on the run. It ended when he offered to take her with him when he fled and she informed him that she would rather stay put. He left anyways, and they found him less than a day later, trying to figure out how to trade Fereldan sovereigns for drinks at the tavern.
Even at eighteen, Evelyn understood something about Circles that many of her fellow mages did not: they were all any of them knew. And they were the only place to receive training without the fear of becoming killers. They were what stood between them and a destiny of ordering storage houses and reciting prayers without feeling, or dreaming and never truly waking.
They were restrictive. But they were safer than whatever was beyond their walls.
Evelyn becomes Harrowed at nineteen. She does not speak of it to her friends, or to Cenric (who asked her about it when he helped her move to the Mages’ Quarters—nervous once again with that still too-sweet smile), or even to Senior Enchanter Lydia. She does not tell them of the demons who wore the faces of her siblings, still eternally ten because she hasn’t seen them since. Does not tell them about the vision of a black city, of a castle being torn asunder in the sky. Of a desire demon who whispered promises of returning to the Maker’s favor in her ear.
Evelyn becomes a mage at nineteen. So does one of her dormmates. The other is killed not even ten minutes into the trial, and the youngest of them elects to be made Tranquil. Of the children she grew up with, only a dozen become adults without losing something.
For the next few years, before Evelyn’s next encounter with inevitable, she spends her time reading. Studying. Training. She hones her knowledge of the arcane to the best of her ability, and practices her summoning well into the late hours of the night. She is Harrowed now, officially one of the members of the Circle of Magi, and it has become more of a home to her. She has become responsible, for the apprentices, for the Tranquil, for her own training to prevent the creation of abominations.
Her tenth year at the Circle, Evelyn truly finds her home.
(it doesn’t last)
Uprisings are never truly surprising, not really. And when Evelyn wakes to smoke and fire, of Senior Enchanter Lydia telling her to get the children, she moves as if this is a performance she has long been rehearsing for. The halls of the Circle are littered with corpses—she trips over the body of Adelaide trying to reach the apprentices’ quarters and doesn’t have time to register grief.
She gets out the children that she can. She is unable to find her other friends, or Cenric. She doesn’t have time to try, really, as Templars massacre mages and mages massacre each other. She thinks of her Harrowing, of the broken down kingdom, of the stones flying in the air, and she imagines that the black city must be like this—it must be a sanctuary razing itself to the ground. It must be the echoing song, as veils lift and darkness comes from them.
Evelyn doesn’t ask for the Maker to save her. Doesn’t ask for Andraste’s guidance as she brings lightning down on those she once called family. She runs.
(Months later, when she is safe enough to look back on this night, and see her actions from a distance, Evelyn wonders why she chose to escape. Could she have made a difference, if she stayed? What makes a twenty-one year old run through a ruined sanctuary as though she has a plan? She comes up with many solutions—fear, survival, panic—but none of them are ever entirely satisfactory)
In less than ten hours, the Circle of Ostwick is disbanded, and Evelyn Trevelyan is officially an apostate.
(when she’s running, deep into the woods she has not seen for so long, she thinks about her brother. About the stick he waved above his head, about how it was never fair that he had to lose every time because he was always stuck being the apostate in their games)
They band together, what’s left of them. They hide. Sometimes, she steals from villagers—small things: clothing on the line, grain and flour from their stores. Then bigger things: coins in purses, bracelets and pendants left in trunks or vases. She learns how to hunt with magic, how to rip the skin from animals to make leather or furs.
And as they make their homes in caves, in woods, in abandoned huts, Evelyn thinks about the warm walls of the Circle, of never having to worry about her next meal. Of never having to scavenge through the pockets of a corpse for gold in order to buy food at the next market.
If this freedom, rash and dangerous and desperate, is what they were after when they broke apart their homes, it’s a freedom she doesn’t want. It’s a freedom she didn’t get to choose.
Because living in the wilderness is very romantic until people—children—start to starve. Until those who lived in seclusion and shelter are thrown into elements they never fully understood. Until it becomes open season on apostates who, until a few months ago, followed every letter of Chantry law.
(A group of rogue Templars kill ten of their own. And she knows for certain that it can never go back to how things were. But what she doesn’t know is if that’s progress or damnation.
Until she finds out, she decides to no longer say the Chant. There is no use in praying to a Maker who has already decided to doom them.)
Evelyn doesn’t know how long she has been in hiding when it is Geraint, of all people, who finds her with the news. He is weathered, ponytail shorn and bone earring nowhere to be found, and when he mentions attending a Conclave between Templars and Mages, headed by Divine Justinia herself, she knows his relief matches her own.
He tells her that Senior Enchanter Lydia is dead. That the name Trevelyan still means something in some circles, even if it belongs to an apostate. That this might be the only chance for them to reach an accord.
So Evelyn agrees to accompany him to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. And begins her third encounter with inevitable.
Chapter 2: The Temple of Sacred Ashes
hi! it's been awhile since i played the game so please bear with me if anything's a little off <3
In all honesty, he doesn’t know why he’s here.
His exhales leave his body in short puffs with the winter cold, and Cullen shrugs his furs closer to his neck. The horse underneath him trots at a comfortable pace, allowing Cullen to take in the insane circumstances of his arrival.
The trees part in a path, and up ahead he sees the congestion of caravans and travellers and diplomats as they all begin to meet on the single, narrow path that leads from the outskirts of Haven to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. He supposes the fact that they’re here at all is a miracle, one he doesn’t quite understand his role in yet.
“You’re quiet, my friend.”
Cullen glances to his side, where the Right Hand of the Divine rides beside him. For all external purposes, Cassandra is unaffected by the convergence of these disparate people, but Cullen sees the way her fingers tighten in the reins of her own horse. The stubborn tilt of her jaw. She is unsettled, just as he is. Though admittedly bearing it better.
“I never thought to see this day,” she muses out loud when he has nothing to say to her observation. “Chantry, Templars, nobles, and apostates under one roof.”
“And Circle mages,” he adds.
His eyes search the treelines, where more pilgrims are emerging from behind the pines. The disparities are clear--some wear rags and patched furs and hides, others are in full regalia. They filter toward the crowd that is beginning to surround the Temple.
“It’d be better to proceed on foot,” Cassandra suggests, once the press of bodies becomes too thick; once their horses start to emit low, worried whines.
He nods, swinging his weight to the side and dismounting. As he takes the reins to guide his horse, Cullen starts to observe the people that crowd them more carefully.
There’s what can only be called apostates. Their robes, those that still wear them, are threadbare, frayed, or stained beyond launder. Their manner desperate, and in some cases, near feral. In opposite groups, mages who still belong to some shape of Circle run counter--robes still neatly pressed, staffs fastened securely on their back instead of in-hand. These mages, Cullen notes, stand somewhere in the middle between the rogue templars and apostates--uncertain.
The templars are, unsurprisingly, what hold his attention. They come in two groups--those still in the full plate, and those that aren’t. He finds himself staring at his former brothers and sisters of the Order without the plate more intently than the others. They wear mismatched pieces of armor, their bodies thinner.
A few, he notices with some discomfort, are talking to empty spaces beside them. No doubt lyrium is more difficult to come by, when one no longer has a Circle to supply it. His eyes catch on one who accosts a young mage couple, taking a vial forcibly from the man’s hand and spitting on the boots of the woman before storming away.
Cullen’s palms sweat within his gauntlets, and a hand goes to his hip. His kit is still there, secure and safe from pickpockets--of which, he is certain, there will be many in this crowd. Even the thought of lyrium, of seeing other templars who clearly thirst for it, makes his mouth stick to the roof of his mouth.
He looks back to the retreating mage couple. And sighs. He has seen the likes of this before. In Kirkwall. At Calenhad. He knows that the outcome here is not meant to be one of resolution. Not truly.
He turns, seeing Cassandra’s brows drawn. “Yes?”
Cassandra looks like she wants to say something, but visibly swallows it down. “Let us make camp.” Her eyes dart to his, hold them. “Stay close.”
He doesn’t need to be told twice, and his hand never leaves the kit.
Having spent most of her life around the same hundred people, and then the last two years in the woods in rotating settlements never large enough to draw attention, the crowd around Evelyn is so much. She tries to keep herself steady as people push and pull around her, all of them clamoring to see something as they grow closer to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Or, maybe, it’s the need to appear to be someone.
Which she apparently is, in this delegation. Or so Geraint continues to remind her. Her companion’s grip on her elbow is firm, driving her closer and closer to the perimeter of the Temple. As if he knows her first instinct, in this place with so many strangers (so many templars ) is to run, and run quickly.
“We’re almost there,” he says, in what Evelyn assumes is meant to be a reassuring tone. She doesn’t share his optimism or idealism, something that explains why he did the running and she did the staying for most of their time together in the Circle.
She’s exhausted, every inch of her feeling weary. Geraint, despite his bravado, is not much better off than she is. His dark hair--once a point of pride in its rogueish ponytail--is loose and braided at the temples in a failed attempt to prevent matting. His plain, unassuming trousers and tunic are frayed and patched over so many times it’s impossible to tell the original colors. For her part, she’s no better, wearing an old mercenary uniform that she collected off the corpse of someone sent to collect her. It still, unfortunately, smells of him and the ozone from the lightning chain she unleashed to end his life.
And she’s noticing the stares.
Evelyn makes the mistake of meeting one, a figure standing about ten feet from her left. Her blood rushes in her ears as she takes in his demeanor. His perfect posture, though slightly slumped as if more accustomed to wearing heavier armor. A deep, waxy scar across his cheek--one that looks like it caught the edge of a fireball. The stranger stares at her, then sneers as he looks at the staff in her hand.
Evelyn swallows, juts out her chin. She won’t be afraid of them. Not here, when she’s sure fear means a swift target on her back. Not when Geraint wants her to address Divine Justinia of all people on this sodding earth.
“Don’t look at them,” Geraint mutters low in her ear. The hand on her elbow goes to wrap around her waist protectively.
“He looked first,” is all she offers in return, stiff in his hold.
“ Evelyn. ”
She reluctantly looks away. And feels five more stares trained on her back for it. Around her, the crowd continues its noise.
“Amulets!” A voice calls out. “Blessed Amulets of Andraste! Two sovereigns-”
“Holy water used by the Divine! Two silvers-”
“Sigils for travelers-”
Evelyn closes her eyes. Tries to recenter herself in the sensory overload. Geraint’s hold on her just another pressure. To think, when she was a girl, she had thought leaving the Circle would be exciting.
“Apostate!” And, damn it all, she turns. Just to see that the templar, the one with the scar on his cheek, had been following them.
“I’m here for the Conclave,” she says shortly, her fingers on the staff flexing.
“Like hell,” the templar has a slight manic look to him, eyes unfocused. His eyes scan her, taking in every inch of her body as though searching for something-
Geraint seems to understand before she does, because he pulls a slim vial from the sleeve of his tunic. Evelyn can hear the dull song of the lyrium within it over the roaring of the crowd. “There, off with you.”
The templar takes the lyrium, spits on the top of Evelyn’s boot, and storms off.
She exhales. “Remind me why we’re here again.”
“Something about peace,” Geraint says, eyes warily tracking the templar until he’s out of sight. His hold on her tightening.
“Peace,” she echoes. Trying to be hopeful as someone’s elbow catches her ribs.
There’s no hope for the Conclave, but Cullen knows better than to voice his skepticism to Cassandra.
Who is currently wearing a tread in the earth as she walks from one side of the tent, to the other.
“She should be here by now.”
Cullen doesn’t look up from the sword he is whetting just to have something to do with his hands. “It’s possible she’s already arrived.”
Cassandra’s eyes dart to him, her lips pressing together tightly. “That crowd out there is a fuse ready to catch fire at the slightest provocation.” She bites her lip, says what Cullen suspects she really wants to say. “I should be with the Divine.”
“We have her orders,” is all Cullen offers, knowing it’s an empty platitude. He knows, better than most, what it means to not have the power to be where he’s most needed.
“The talks will begin soon,” Cassandra continues, deliberately ignoring him. “Nobles are already arriving. Several representatives from the Free Marches are already here. Including-”
“Well if it isn’t my favorite Seeker.”
She lets out a hiss between her bottom teeth. “Kirkwall.”
Cullen turns, watching as Varric enters their makeshift command tent. The dwarf looks remarkably unphased by the world crumbling around him, but Cullen supposes that’s to be expected from Hawke’s most constant travelling companion.
“Hey Curly,” Varric greets good-naturedly. “Long time no see.”
“Varric,” he returns. His hands have a slight shake to them, which he covers by sheathing his sword.
“You’re late,” Cassandra declares, eyes pinning Varric to the spot.
Or attempting to, anyway. Instead, he merely comes to the table and takes a swig of the nearest unattended cup. Cassandra’s wine, as it turns out.
“Figured I’d take in the sights.” He digs around in the pack by his side, pulling out a flimsy tome. “They’re selling the most interesting interpretations of the chants out there-”
Cullen coughs, rubbing the back of his neck as he moves to a stand. “I...believe now’s a good time as any to start checking in with the soldiers.”
Varric lifts a hand. “See ya.”
“Make sure you return in an hour,” Cassandra presses. “Leliana is due-”
He takes a deep breath, and walks out into open air.
By the time they reach the entrance, Evelyn is sore, tired, and they both have lost whatever stores of lyrium were on them. There are several lines, guards checking credentials and writs before allowing entrance into the Conclave. Evelyn begins to worry that her lineage, estranged and threadbare as it is, isn’t going to be enough to grant her--and by extension, those she represents--entrance into the Temple.
“We’re almost there,” Geraint says with rare softness as they wait to meet with the guard.
Evelyn looks up at him, and his blue eyes are intent. After a beat, he gives her that half smile that later got her into so much trouble with the Senior Enchanters. For a moment, she’s almost eighteen again. Fondness, an emotion she hasn’t experienced in some time, hits her. She never thought he’d be here playing diplomacy.
But she’s not eighteen anymore. And there’s too much at stake to be nostalgic for a time when extra shifts in the storage room were her biggest concern.
“What if we’re denied?”
Geraint shakes his head. “If anyone can make an appeal the templars will listen to, it’s you.”
“Next!” Booms out the voice.
Evelyn takes a deep breath, and steps forward.
He watches the gate from a safe distance, keeping tabs on everyone as they come and go. His breathing is easier after he snuck a draught of lyrium, his shaking hands and sweat subsiding. Cullen watches as horns sound, as noble representatives begin to stream into the Temple.
“Maker,” he whispers, hand going to his sword. “Let this go well.”
The halls of the Temple are poorly lit and cold, and Evelyn finds herself moving the grey scarf to cover her nose and mouth as they walk further in. The guard had let her in, apparently a comrade of her brother’s, who was stationed somewhere in Orlais. He had offered her a congratulations. Her elder sister had just had a son. Named after their great uncle.
Truth be told, it had been so many years since Evelyn had thought of her siblings as people, as adults with their own lives that she had faded from, that it was hard to register any emotional attachment to the news. But she had faked it, as she had grown so comfortable doing over the years, and had smiled and said she was very proud of the nephew she would likely never meet.
And the guard had let her in the door. To meet Divine Justinia.
Geraint walks next to her, far too smug with his hands in his pockets. She has no doubt that he’s enjoying feeling important.
Evelyn tries to think of what she can even say, to make this...better.
We didn’t all want to leave
The rational: The Circle was our home, too
The compassionate: Children have died while we fled from templars
Or, the unhelpful: I lived out of a cave for eight months. I’m wearing the clothes of a dead man who wanted to trade me in for a few sovereigns.
She twists one of the rings on her fingers, biting the inside of her cheek. Geraint nudges her with a shoulder as they approach what’s serving as the main hearing chamber.
“I can do the talking.”
Of course he can. Evelyn takes a step forward into the chamber-
A low pitch hums in her ears.
-and something feels wrong.
She frowns, hand absently sliding her staff back into its holster between her shoulders. The pitch grows louder, joined by other disjointed chords.
Geraint’s arm is on her forearm. He’s mouthing something at her, but she can’t hear him through the loud, keening noise. The one that’s telling her to move without words.
“I’ll…” She frowns. Her boots take a step back from the threshold of the room. Geraint’s arm falls from her. “I’ll be right back.”
Without another word, she turns and begins to run. If Geraint follows her, she doesn’t care to see. The noise is loudloud louder in her ears. Like a siren. Or a cry. As she runs down the stone halls, it becomes clearer. It reminds her of the hymns of the chantry and the sound of the templars’ plates in the corridors and the faint crackle of electricity as she summons from beyond the Veil.
It grows to a crescendo just as she reaches a set of double doors. Beyond them she hears the cry of a woman:
“Someone help me!”
Evelyn doesn’t think, in that moment. She only pushes--the doors swinging open. And the sight before her is one she can only register in short glances.
A woman suspended in the air, surrounded by mages.
The mages wearing unfamiliar silver and blue armor.
A...creature, extending his arms out with something in his hand.
The ringing grows louder, until she thinks she’ll become deafened by it.
“What’s going on?!” She demands, to both the display in front of her and the music that guided her here.
The captured woman moves, swinging her hand to knock out the orb from the creature’s hand. Evelyn watches, bemused, as it rolls toward her. On impulse, she bends down to pick it up-
-and then there’s only agony and green, terrible light.
The ground shakes under his boots. Cullen braces himself against a nearby tree, watching in horror as the Temple of Sacred Ashes becomes engulfed in green, otherwordly flame. As the sky becomes torn asunder and his breath shortens in his lungs.
Chapter 3: The Valley | Part 1
“There was a survivor.”
Cullen doesn’t bother to look up from the plans in front of him, eyes narrowed in thought as a non-committal, “Hm,” escapes his mouth.
It’s the hesitance in the soldier’s question that makes Cullen finally look up from the table. No, not hesitance. Fear. He doesn’t know the woman in front of him, her face has a deep scar across the chin that he would have made a point to remember.
He tries to remember all of their faces. In case…
Cullen clears his throat, giving her his full attention. “Yes? What is it?”
She looks away. “The Lady Cassandra thinks that this one’s important.”
He frowns. “How so?”
“Well, uh…” The soldier rubs the back of her neck. “This one’s glowing.”
He sighs. “Glowing.”
“Yes, ser.” She gives a solemn nod.
After a moment she follows up: “Green.” As if the color makes a critical difference.
Cullen looks up at the sky, where a few yards away the sky shines poisonously and decides that maybe it does.
“It’s unlikely she will survive the night.”
Cassandra is ever the optimist.
Cullen approaches the healers’ tent, eyes trained ahead. On the far side of the tent, a figure covered in a blanket lies. He sees nothing about them other than their hand, engulfed in green light and held by an elf.
No. Not an elf.
“An apostate?” He asks brittlely, hand gripping the pommel of his sword.
Cassandra doesn’t look at him, but her lips press tighter together. “I recognize that this is not ideal.” She crosses her arms. “But we need to keep the survivor alive long enough for answers.”
He eyes the apostate again. “Where did you find him? Which Circle?”
Cassandra clears her throat. “He claims to never have had one.”
“So we invite him into what’s left of the Divine’s stronghold.”
“The world is changing, Cullen. Has changed. You above all others should understand this.” She frowns at the survivor’s hand, the elf hovering above it tirelessly. “And so far, he is the only one slowing down the Mark.”
Mark. He takes a deep breath, barely fighting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose as he hears a significance to the word that will no doubt give him a terrible, terrible headache . “Tell me what we know.”
“Little.” Cassandra’s stare flickers to the face of the survivor--the only survivor--tensely before she steps away from the threshold of the tent. As she begins walking, Cullen follows. “They say she…” she sends him a quick glance, as though she’s afraid of sounding foolish. “Fell from the Fade.”
He wishes, more than anything, that such a statement was more surprising to him. “After the explosion.”
“Yes. Some claim a woman pushed her out of it.”
A long, tense silence.
“What sort of woman?” He ventures. Because the situation is already damning and blasphemous, and he has an idea of where this may go.
“No one knows for certain,” she hedges.
The pair continue to cross the camp, where the Divine’s forces sit around fires--grim faced and angry. A few, Cullen notices, are sending dangerous looks at the healer’s tent. He has an idea of what dark intentions their thoughts are heading toward.
“It would be a good idea,” he begins, voice level with a calm he doesn’t deserve in light of the sky tearing with Fade, “To post sentries for our guest.”
Cassandra follows his gaze, sees the disgust and anger on the faces of those in camp. The need for a target after the collapse of the Temple.
He sees the hand in his mind again. Slim, suspended, and unworldly. It doesn’t frighten him (very little can do that, these days), but it is beyond a doubt unsettling. “What do we know of her...Mark?”
Cassandra shakes her head. “Only that it almost killed her, whatever it was.”
“I’m not certain.”
He frowns. “I’m assuming it can not be dispelled?”
That, too, is concerning. Cullen tries to think, to move them forward. “I’ll take soldiers and establish a perimeter around what remains of the Temple.”
Cassandra nods. “Leliana has already begun interrogations.” She breathes, the pair of them stopping to look up at the broken sky. “We will find the cause for Divine Justinia’s death.”
Cullen does not know if he shares her optimism. But still, he nods. “Maker willing.”
“There is something you should know,” she continues.
“The woman who survived...she is a mage.”
Cullen absorbs this information. Watches the clouds darken and swirl toward the gap in the sky in a slow pinwheel. His mind goes to Kinloch Hold before he can stop it. Of children hiding under tables and screaming and blood staining the walls, the floors, the stairs. Of what terrible, dark power would be necessary for something like this.
“Then the sentries should be prepared to defend themselves,” is all he says shortly, hand gripping his pommel and fully prepared to use it. “There will be demons.”
She’s dreaming. The ground underneath her is porous and soft, ground that it’s been sometime since she’s touched. Almost seven years, in fact. After her Harrowing.
Evelyn manages to push herself to a knee. Just as she is about to brush off her pants and adjust to her surroundings, a painful crack emits from the palm of her hand--all lightning and thunder--and she falls back down with a gasp cut short.
She breathes, gripping her wrist with the opposite hand and extending it out. In her hand there’s a split, a green light spewing from it.
“What is this…?”
It cackles again, and she doubles over.
Concentrate. She hears from far away, a voice she doesn’t know. It is part of you now, let it anchor you.
She licks her lips, and tries to get a hold of herself. Her mind is distorted and weak in the Fade, and she has no memory of how she arrived. She doubts she has the power to fully enter like this on her own-
She remembers...leaving the Fade. Running from spiders and bats and seeing a woman enshrined by white light…
There will be time for such recollections later, the voice instructs--patient, but with an edge that implies he’d rather not be-- For now, you must wake up, Evelyn.
Wake up. She grits her teeth, looks down at her toxic hand. “Easier said than done,” she mutters to herself.
With weak knees, she attempts to stand again. This time, she manages. She looks up, but this Fade is not the same as the Fade of her Harrowing or of her recent memory. Instead it’s a series of rooms and halls, all spiked with green. It looks like a hold or a castle.
Her boots make soft thumps as she walks forward. In the shadows, something moves. White, quick flashes. Just out of sight.
“Who’s there?” She asks.
Ignore it for now, tis only a spirit.
“Who are you then?”
A slight pause. A friend, I hope. But we’ll be meeting soon enough.
“Once I wake up, you mean.”
Evelyn runs a hand through her hair, winces when the green light causes a strange sensation against the skin of her scalp. “I am open for suggestions for leaving, by the way.”
A moment. I will create a door.
She doesn’t know what to think of someone who has the power to create doors in the Fade. Clearly a senior enchanter. Possibly a First, somewhere.
Her eyes trail around the corridors, the doors. She hears voices that are muffled in the distance, undecipherable. “What is this place?”
….I am not certain.
She thinks her friend is lying. But it’s not one that matters. She lifts her hand up like a torch, following its small casts of light as she tries to find a door.
What is this?
Evelyn stumbles in her step at the voice. It is deeper, stronger than that of her mysterious benefactor’s. She lifts her hand higher, overhead.
“Show yourself!” Her other hand goes for the staff at her back, dismayed to find that it’s no longer there. She’ll have to improvise.
There’s movement in the shadows once again. Pale again, but different. Larger, faster. She gets the impression of long, long limbs.
She inhales through her nose. A demon. The hand that is not marked begins to warm, cackling with primal energy more familiar to her. The smell of ozone fills the air, the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
What... is this? The demon has not shown itself yet, but she hears its excitement. It makes something curdle in her stomach.
“What do you want,” she bites out from behind her teeth.
There is a movement in the shadows, and then it is Geraint coming from them. His hair long again, held in a ponytail. His robes the same ones he favored in the Circle, lined with fine furs.
His eyes are green. They never used to be green. They stare at her hand, the one glowing the same color as its eyes, hungrily.
Geraint, who is not Geraint, looks up at her. His skin cracks, light shining through. He runs his tongue over his bottom lip--teeth suddenly serrated and oversized for his mouth.
Oh, yes. You. I will know You.
Evelyn raises her arm, the electrical summoning in her palm a border between her and it. She hears the verses in her mind, drilled into her from years among the Chantry Templars and Laysisters: The first of the Maker’s children watched across the Veil. And grew jealous of the life. They could not feel, could not touch. In the blackest envy were the demons born.
“Stay where you are!” She cries, bringing her hands out together-
Wake up, Evelyn!
-and a portal opens under her feet. She cries out, spells going wide, as she falls through it. Her last image before waking that of a demon smiling down at her with Geraint’s ruined face.
“DEMONS!” A scout screams, running through to their makeshift perimeter from closer to what was left of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. “DEMONS FALLING FROM THE SKY!”
The camp comes to life in an instant. The soldiers at his disposal are not well trained, nor well armed, but they have courage. Cullen withdraws his sword as he tries to think tactically. “I’ll take a forward guard to the Temple!”
Cassandra withdraws her own sword. “And what of the survivor?”
“Stay behind and wait for her to regain consciousness. Leliana will be returning soon.”
Cassandra narrows her eyes. “You will need more than a guard -”
“The survivor will continue surviving,” a soft voice interrupts.
Both Cullen and Cassandra turn to the intruder. Cullen meets the gaze of the elf apostate, his face a study of calm. He addresses only Cassandra when he speaks.
“I have guided her from the Fade. She will awaken in a few minutes.”
“Finally, some good news.” Cassandra grimaces. “I hope.”
The elf nods. “Indeed.” He turns to Cullen. “I will join you in addressing the demons. Perhaps my knowledge may be of some service.”
Or something worse. Cullen stares at him, the staff on his back, for too long. Eventually it is Cassandra who accepts his services in his stead.
“There is no time to waste, and no forces to spare. Maintain the perimeter, and I will escort the survivor to the Rift, then we will meet at the forward camp. We will decide there what the next course of action is.” At seeing his still critical stare on the elf, she bites out: “ Now. ”
A chuckle emerges behind them.
“All of you need to lighten up,” Varric states as he moves forward, lodging a bolt into his crossbow. “It’s not like the sky’s falling.”
Eyes on her have never meant anything good.
She stumbles, awkwardly, after the woman--Cassandra?--her wrists tied together tightly in front of her. They walk past rows of men and women, all of them glaring. All of them glaring at her. Their looks conjure up those of the villagers whenever Evelyn would risk going to town for supplies. She’s guilty of something. Again. She’s always guilty of something, under the eyes of Andraste.
“They mourn the Divine,” Cassandra offers, but it’s not something Evelyn cares to acknowledge. In truth, she’s been keeping her words close to her chest, mind racing as she tries to puzzle out what it is exactly that they want from her. What they think she can do. What they think she did.
She can’t remember. That’s what’s frustrating. She doesn’t remember beyond going through the gate with Geraint, of falling out from the Fade as she climbed.
Her wrists turn. She closes her eyes. Geraint is dead, according to Cassandra. There’s no time to think about it now, but that grief settles on her chest in wait for a quieter moment.
A gate opens up ahead of her. Evelyn looks at the Templar woman (no, not Templar. Seeker. And Maker, what has she gotten into this time?) and wonders if she is just sending her to die.
The carefully stoic look on Cassandra’s face makes Evelyn think she’s still deciding.
Demons are not new to Evelyn. Many of her friends became them. But after they fall from the bridge onto the frozen lake, she sees a small Rage demon and a few wraiths and her mind wanders, unbidden, to a few months ago.
It had been raining, and she had been alone in the Hinterlands. The group of apprentices ( apprentices , unHarrowed) she’d been traveling with were ambushed by rogue Templars. They’d split ways, and she had no idea who had made it out. There’d been a small cave she’d sought refuge in, trying to avoid the worst of the storm.
After a few hours, she’d found the pile of rags. Torn cloth, burned at the edges. She pilfered through them, as was now habit, and found nothing but a pair of iron rings and an apprentice’s pendant. When she finally made the cognitive leap that she was rifling through the corpse of an abomination, that her hands were covered in ash and not dirt, she’d already pocketed the rings and thought about how much they would fetch in trade. If it’d be enough for the flasks she needed to make more poultices.
Now, the demon is staring right at her, no host needed to cross from one threshold to the next. She scrambles back, one hand colder than the other against the ice, as she searches for a knife, a branch, anything to defend herself.
Something is finally working for her today, when she sees a staff lying across a shattered crate. Without thinking, she grabs it.
In truth, combat magic was not something she had much experience in. A Circle mage, such spells were typically reserved for Enchanters or Senior Enchanters. Not Mages barely five years’ out of their Harrowing that wanted to specialize in lore and herbs . But she could do her best, when survival was on the line. The last two years of being an apostate had taught her that much, had taught her how to summon bolts of lightning quick enough to stab a mercenary, how to set fire to a Templar’s armor.
Evelyn summoned a crude blast of lightning, aimed it at the Rage demon, and tried to stand her ground.
Chapter 4: The Valley | Part 2
After, she resists the urge to sink to her knees. Rags and embers of demons lay in a perfect circle around them, some of them still smoking that terrible, electric green.
The same green that rests in her palm, aching but...sated. Evelyn stares at it, unsure of what to do or say. She had just sealed a hole in the Fade. By raising her hand to it. Such things were not possible.
Shakily, she looks to the elf who had grabbed her wrist, who is staring at her far too expectantly. “What did you do?”
“ I did nothing. The credit is yours.”
This entire day has been running too fast for Evelyn to dig her boots into it. First she falls from the Fade. Then she’s lightly interrogated. Then demons, a rift-
-and this glowing thing in her hand.
“At least it’s good for something,” she mutters, turning her hand over. The glow to it fades after its absorption of the Fade magic, a muted light that could be easily hidden by glove or even wrapping.
“Whatever magic opened that breach in the sky also placed that mark upon your hand,” the elf explains, and slowly Evelyn thinks back to the Dream. The pale monster in the dark, the fleeting spirit, and…
She looks up and meets the elf’s calm, blue eyes.
...The friend who had guided her out of it.
He smiles at her, his tone becoming remarkably more friendly as recognition dawns on her face. “I theorized the mark might be able to close the Rifts that opened in the Breach’s wake. It seems I was correct.”
Her jailor, for lack of a better word, steps forward. “Meaning it could also close the Breach itself.”
“Possibly.” He smiles at her again, and Evelyn feels her heart crawl up her throat. “It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”
Her mouth feels dry. Evelyn meets the apostate’s eyes, and something horrid sinks in her stomach. She’s marked, in more ways than one. There will be no opportunity to run, to slip away like she had intended before the trial Cassandra had promised her.
“Good to know. Here I thought we’d be ass-deep in demons forever.”
Evelyn turns at the new voice, a dwarf with a deep-v in his armor who is fiddling with his gloves. He introduces himself as Varric, a fellow prisoner, and despite Evelyn’s preoccupation with her own problems, she doesn’t missing the wink the dwarf throws at the Seeker.
Next, the elf introduces himself as Solas, and her suspicions of him aiding her in the Fade are confirmed.
“Thank you,” she manages, unsure of what else to say. It seems as though his efforts have merely prepared her to be a sacrifice somewhere else.
“I am pleased you still live,” he returns, and she is thrown when it sounds like he means it.
At Cassandra’s urging, the party she’s now found herself with charges forward toward the Breach, which Evelyn assumes is located somewhere in the heart of the Valley. Her palms sweat as she takes in the carnage that surrounds her. The dead from the explosion still lay on the ground. Out of habit (out of necessity), she gathers what belongings of theirs she thinks she can salvage for later.
Solas keeps pace with her, watching her actions with evaluating eyes. “I did not think to find another apostate with the Chantry,” is all he says.
She bends down, scooping up some loose sovereigns from a fallen templar’s satchel. “I didn’t expect to be neither apostate nor so aligned.”
“You are here against your will?” His brows furrow toward the middle. “You would not close the Breach?”
She smiles at him, wane and thin. “I am here as a prisoner.” Evelyn stands, pocketing the gold in her own satchel. “To fix a tear I am apparently to blame for.”
Solas watches her expression for a moment, then his gaze drifts to her hand. “You are inexperienced with the Fade,” he concludes.
“I am a mage,” she replies, somewhat testily.
“From the Circles.”
“Until they tried to kill us all, yes.” She hears the bitterness in her words and wishes she could stop it, but she cannot. So instead she sighs, looks up at the boiling sky, and snorts. “You know I was a specialist in herbs?”
Solas smiles, bracing his staff by the side of his head. “No combat experience, I take it?”
She thinks of the rogue templars, the mercenaries, and the bandits who pursued her and her kind in the Hinterlands. “Not officially, no.”
Solas casts a slow eye over her, then the felled demons on the ground. “Well. It appears you are of quick study, Evelyn.”
She does not remember giving him her name. But the comment makes her feel at ease for the first time since setting foot on these cursed, sacred grounds. “...I suppose that will have to do.”
He nods. “Come. Let us get you to the breach, and you may survive to see another garden.”
Reluctantly, and too tired to be afraid, she follows him.
The runner from the base camp is covered in blood and clearly exhausted when he approaches Cullen.
He hangs back from the front line, but only barely, as his soldiers attempt to hold the demons at bay and clear a path to the Temple. Around them, it’s clear to see the burned husks of those who attended the Conclave, frozen forever in grotesque statues. They appear to grow in deeper concentration the closer to the heart of the Temple, where the main rift spews demons faster than their meagre forces can slaughter them.
“What is it?” He barks at the man.
The runner pants, hands pressed against his thighs as he hunches over and attempts to catch his breath. “The survivor will charge through the pass with the soldiers,” he rasps, “We are to hold the line and escort her to the Breach.” The runner looks up at him, wide-eyed and bordering on the fanatic when he says his next report. “They say...they say she can seal the rifts.”
Cullen’s lips press together. They will lose men holding the line, but the survivor would be accompanied by Cassandra. Perhaps there is a chance, no matter how small. His eyes glance at the corpses, burned hollow, and he decides it is a risk worth handling.
“Very well,” he says, slamming down the guard of his lion’s helm. “Let us hold the line!”
“Up ahead!” Cassandra cries out, “Demons!”
Evelyn is near out of breath by the time she and the others reach the summit to the Temple. She hears the battle before she sees it--swords clashing and demonic magic causing shrieks and explosions. The pull on her hand intensifies, growing back into an ache. As though it hungers. The thought makes her shudder.
“These are Cullen’s forces, we must help him!”
Evelyn doesn’t know who Cullen is or why he has forces, but Cassandra is already charging forward before she can ask for further elaboration. Varric shrugs at her, as though he’s decided they’re commiserating friends in their shared, chantry prisonhood, before he follows.
It is only Solas who pauses long enough to give her a reassuring pat on the arm. “We will be at the end soon enough.”
She nods, her unmarked hand gripping her staff as she moves forward.
The scene before her is not a happy one. She catches men and women in dulled armor, fighting with subpar weapons against rage demons, wraiths, and shrieks alike. Their foul, noxious smell hits her nostrils and she tries to breath. Her eyes land on Cassandra, who has taken a forward position and is charging ahead with her shield. Varric covers her to the side with his crossbow. She can feel Solas’s magic in the air, not attempting to attack but to heal and revitalize the weary, failing contingent of soldiers before them.
Evelyn closes her eyes. She knows two combat spells. She can be of use aside from the force in her hand. She charges forward, somewhat recklessly, bringing her staff over head, then to the side in an attempt to build momentum. She swings, calling the electricity of the Fade as a bolt of lightning lashes out and hits a shriek square in the back.
It turns, snarling at her. Evelyn flings a simple arcane bolt at it as she musters power for a fire summoning. The shriek gives her no such window, as it pivots and begins to charge at her.
Evelyn tenses, bending her knees and preparing to dodge as she also tries to control the elemental magic at her disposal. The shriek charges faster, until she can see its rows of teeth, its unwordly long claws-
A heavy shield is slammed into the ground in front of her. Her eyes widen, as a red blur launches himself over the makeshift barricade and brings his sword down into the shriek’s throat. Shaking herself, and not wanting to miss an opportunity, she arches her staff overhead and brings it down--a blast of fire emanating from it and engulfing the demon.
Her ally doesn’t send her another glance, instead effortlessly grabbing his shield from the dirt and crashing it into the face of a rage demon. Evelyn watches him fight, perhaps stupidly, for a moment. His defenses, his strikes. They are familiar to her, but she can’t place why.
Deciding to leave it alone for now, she instead bares her teeth and aims another bolt of lightning at a different wraith.
The mage Cassandra has brought with her is careless on the battlefield. He would say inexperienced or untrained, but there is a desperation to her casts that he recognizes--the type of spellcraft practiced by most apostates forced from their towers.
He keeps an eye on her throughout the battle, taking point as a last line of defense against the caster. Though she does not keep similar attention on him, he guards her from deflected spells and demons’ claws, knowing she is the survivor they are counting on from the slight glow to her hand. He does not pay attention to her features or mannerisms--only enough to stop her from being killed. She is their last gamble, one that cannot be killed on his watch.
After a few moments, and a few more felled demons, he realizes they are not going down in number; no longer responding. It is then possible that Cassandra has found a way to seal one of the rifts, and relief fills him as he jams his sword into the center of a final rage demon, holding it there until the monster dissolves around his blade.
There is an awkward moment where his party and Cassandra’s surveys the area, realizing there are no longer targets. And then a collective wave of relief between his soldiers and the strangers they are meant to protect.
He takes a step toward Cassandra, who is addressing one of her party, back to him.
“Lady Cassandra,” he starts, “You’ve managed to close the Rift. Well done.”
She turns, shielding her sword. “Do not congratulate me, Commander,” she informs him, still slightly breathless from the battle. She turns to reveal the woman, the reckless mage, standing behind her. “This was the prisoner’s doing.”
He takes stock of her for the first time. She is wearing what looks to be scouting equipment, the staff in her hand of poor make. And she is younger, than he anticipated--possibly a few years’ his junior. Her dark hair rests slightly above her shoulders, cut jagged as though its length was sacrificed for practicality. Her eyes are a warm brown, her chin and nose outlined in tattoos.
He recognizes her, he realizes. One half of the mage couple who were robbed of their lyrium outside the conclave. He glances behind, and does not see her male partner with her. It is no small deduction to assume what has happened to him.
Cullen looks at the hand not holding her staff. It is ungloved, and glowing that sickly green of the sky.
He does not know if she is threat or savior in that moment. Rather, he is committed to an intense and unshakeable feeling of unease.
“I hope they’re right about you,” he says with perhaps a little more force than he intends. “We’ve lost a lot of people getting you here.” And maybe cleaning up the mess you’ve made.
She eyes him, her expression tired but resolved. As though she is used to having those around her expect the worst. She leans against her staff, fingers tightening around it.
“You’re not the only one hoping that,” she states, and he doesn’t think he is imagining the slight edge in her tone.
His lips press together. “We’ll see soon enough, won’t we?”
Cullen watches the prisoner for a moment longer, before he turns his attention to Cassandra and does his best to remove himself from his paranoia. “The way to the Temple should be clear. Leliana will try to meet you there.”
“Then we’d best move quickly.” Cullen notices how Cassandra looks to the survivor, as though this is a collaborative endeavor and not a situation where one is a prisoner and one is a jailor. “Give us time, Commander.”
“Maker watch over you,” he sends another, final look at the prisoner. The mage is trying and failing to hide a wince, as her glowing hand flexes and unflexes at her side. She meets his look with one of her own, cool and unimpressed. “For all our sakes.”
With another, quick look back (as though he could warn her, as though he could send her a warning), he falls in line with his retreating soldiers. Connleth, he notices, is limping and so he offers his own shoulder as support.
As they make their way back to camp, he thinks about her stare, her visible exhaustion--not just physical, but one that seems to be aimed at the world--and hopes they have not placed faith in the wrong woman.
Evelyn watches the Commander leave, and it finally dawns on her as to why his fighting style, demeanor, and suspicion are so clearly familiar.
“That man is a Templar,” she states, crossing her arms over her chest.
Cassandra sends her a sharp look. “He is a fine Commander, one who risked his life for a path to the Breach.”
Evelyn does not have investment in this Breach one way or the other, beyond hoping it’s not about to kill her. The palm of her hand crackles and hisses, demanding more magic to feed it and she frowns.
“Let’s get this over with, then.”
It does not matter, after all, who commands the armies if she’s not around to be tried by them later.