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Rebel Heart

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Varric wasn’t sure when it happened, but one day he realised that Aevalle Lavellan had become his friend.

                He knew when he liked her—the first thing she’d said to him was to compliment Bianca. Even before she turned back to Solas and then simply never stopped looking at him. He knew he respected her when, at the wreckage that had been the Temple of Sacred Ashes, she had seen a lone Dalish bow sticking out of the mass of skeletons, had fallen to her knees, and even as Leliana’s forces arrived she sang with a voice low and sweet and wracked with pain.

                “I have led the songs for all my fallen clansmen since my father died,” she said at the end, still on her knees. “At every funeral.”

                He pitied her when she emerged from her shack at Haven to a crowd of people calling her the Herald of Andraste—there was panic in her eyes, and the way her fingers clutched at the scarf at her neck said but I don’t believe in the Maker, see, I’m Dalish. Even more when, as Haven fell apart around them and Varric was walking out the Chantry doors, he heard her ask Solas, “Will you come back when it’s safe, and sing the songs for me? It doesn’t—matter what songs, mine or yours or—”

                Solas had hushed her. “I will, Lethallan.”

                Then she’d bowed her head and said, softly, “I just wanted to go home,” and Varric remembered how young she was.

                He had felt awful leaving her there to face something worse than a demon. Had hated himself as she yelled for them to run—at twenty five, she was barely older than a child. Nothing like Merrill but the way she said his name was the same, and as they fled the mountain he heard it ringing in his ears.

                Varric knew he believed everything they said about her when she appeared out of thin air, frozen near to death and clinging to that sentimental Dalish scarf like it was a lifeline, some elven song on her lips. He remembered that she wasn’t just the Inquisitor when some Dalish hunters came to Skyhold to see what all the fuss was about, and she’d sung what was apparently an immensely popular and equally scandalous Dalish drinking song about dancing all night with the Dread Wolf and then returning safely to the clan in the morning.

                (It could be heard whistled all throughout Skyhold for weeks after, and Varric had resigned himself to the fact that he was never going to get it out of his head.)

                But the longer he thought about it, he couldn’t quite pinpoint when all the approval and the pity and respect had turned into introducing her to his closest friend, then to the other Bianca, inviting her to play wicked grace, worrying when she and Solas went off somewhere without telling anyone but still covering for her anyway because the girl needed a break, and finding the best spots where he could listen to her singing from her various haunts around Skyhold because he liked to hear her sounding happy for a change.

                Checking up on her after everything that had happened at the Winter Palace, and smiling when he saw her dancing with Solas on the balcony, laughing. Or lingering in the hall outside Solas’ study, where she strummed absently on a gitar she’d won in a bet and hummed along, usually while Solas painted. Once he peeked in, and Solas was taking the instrument from her hands, kissing her forehead to wake her up. “You can’t sleep on my couch every night, ma vhenan.”

                “My bed is so far away,” she’d complained, stretching. Looking up at Solas with an expression that Varric knew was trouble.

                Oh, he worried. Worried his way all through her unlikely friendship with Dorian and her rocky—whatever it was—with Vivienne, when Blackwall stood on the gallows and proclaimed himself a murderer, when Sera got her tipsy and then convinced her to prank people, with Cole, with Bull, with Josephine and Cassandra—

                All the way through the Temple of Mythal, he worried. She sang a song as she walked the steps to open the way forward, something low and holy that she said she could hear—couldn’t he? No, he couldn’t, neither could Morrigan or Cassandra. Solas never said, so maybe he could and it was an elf thing. Varric tried to pretend it was an elf thing, but that didn’t work when their guide through the temple reached out to touch Lavellan’s face, the vallaslin on her cheek, and mimed for her to sing.

                He thanked Andraste seventeen different ways every morning that she hadn’t drank from the well. For once, she had the good sense to just let something be someone else’s problem.

                He was really looking forward to having a solid day of not worrying about anything at all when Solas and Aevalle left, hand in hand, and Solas returned alone. When Aevalle returned, it was to be cornered by Sera, and they fought about what had happened in the Temple of Mythal for half of the Inquisition to see before she went up to her room and did not come back out.

                He put a good show of pretending he wasn’t worried. But the next evening, Josephine cornered him in a hallway and said, “I’m running out of excuses and people are beginning to suspect.” There was a rope tied to the balcony in her room that went down to the war room, where she must have snuck out in the night. On her desk was a note that said, I’m coming back, I promise.

                Reading that note, he knew that this Inquisition thing hadn’t just been business for a long time. So he sighed and said, “Alright, Kid, where is she?”

                “He didn’t say the right thing,” Cole said, suddenly behind him. “Hand on her face, she’s so warm and alive, she’s everything he wants to save and nothing he deserves. There was another meaning where his touch lingered, but the Dalish are good at making something beautiful out of suffering and they’re familiar in the mirror so she kept them.”

                “Kid.”

                “She saw his fear on a stone in the fade but she never told him, why does he keep trying to make it happen? He fears it because he chose it and he knows it is coming.”

                “Cole,” said Varric. “I don’t want to know all this, just tell me where she is.”

                “She doesn’t want to be found.” Cole almost sounded sullen.

                “Either you come with me or I freeze to death trying to find her.”

                When they found her she had built a fire on the edge of a river, butchered an August Ram and was cooking the meat over it. In the shadows he saw someone move, and he reached for Bianca. But the firelight flared up, and Varric saw their figure as they left. Elven, small, cloaked, armour shining impossibly close to the skin. A sentinel from the Temple of Mythal, vanishing into the night.

                “Okay,” he said. “Again with the weird shit.”

                She laughed at that, just a little, and Varric felt a touch of the heaviness lift from his shoulders. She still wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, but she stood to greet them. “Hope you’re hungry for ram,” she said. “It’s all I’ve got.”

                “That’s it?” Varric exhaled. “Shit, you scared me half to death, you know that right? And why are those ancient elves following you around?”

                “They asked her to sing in the Temple, he wanted to know if she was what they said. If a relic from their rebellion still lived on. He was helping her unravel the songs her father wanted her to sing,” Cole said, softly. “They’re all jumbled with his blood in the clearing, the heat of the sun through the trees and the eyes of the wolf that watched from the shadows.”

                “Kid.” Varric sighed. “Look, I’ve told you before, I don’t really want to know everyone’s dark secrets.”

                “I can’t tell you if the wolf was real, if it was the wolf or just a wolf,” Cole said, to the Inquisitor this time. She watched him with a sharp expression Varric hadn’t seen before. “It was the same one on the frozen lake. He showed you where the bubbles made the ice too thin. He left because your keeper was angry and scared of what she’d dreamed. She didn’t know it’s like the statues in the woods; you feel safe around them.”

                They stared at each other for a long time.

                “It’s not because you kept them,” Cole said. “He meant what he said.”

                She said no more of running away. Not a damn thing about Solas, or the elf who had been there. Or her footprints that lead to the river, the long and deep cracks that all spread from one point. They made their way back to Skyhold in the dark, Varric trying to forget everything Cole said and wishing he had a ball of twine to follow his way back out of this mess.

 

She had teasingly loaned Solas the scarf as they scouted ahead of Haven’s masses. He was blowing air into his hands to warm them, and it had seemed the thing to do at the time.

                “You’ll catch your death, Lethallin,” she said. She wasn’t sure she was imagining the blush on his cheeks when her hands bumped into his. She tried not to be delighted as he put the scarf on—had liked seeing him wear it from time to time, on the coldest nights in Skyhold.

                Two months after he’d left, she found it in a drawer of his desk, wrapped around a book.

                She was going through Solas’ things, sparse as they were, because Cole complained the room was lonely and Dorian told her it was time. She was leaving the next day to visit her clan, and her nerves were all over the place about it—she had left them as one of them, and was returning to them as Inquisitor, and worse, Herald of Andraste. She wanted to keep busy, but had little to pack and for once the day was quiet. Even Josephine and Cullen had nothing to do, so instead they were there, arguing about the best use of the space. More bookshelves? Would cover up the murals. Greeting room? The murals were too elven, it unnerved their noble guests.

                Removing the murals had been stricken off the table. No one had argued, but Aevalle hated that she’d even had to say it.

                The scarf had been too Dalish. Never mind that she could close her eyes and still smell the halla when she brought it up to her face, the herbs the keeper used. In the early days of the inquisition, that had kept her sane. At the end of the day, when she hid in her little shack from everyone calling her the Herald of Andraste, she would smell the scarf and pretend she wasn’t there. That she was singing songs with the other hunters, that someone teased her about that Fen’harel song within earshot of the Keeper and she was getting an earful for it all over again.

                Never mind that she wanted to leave and never come back. The scarf was too Dalish, and the Inqisition’s allies were unnerved by such things—after what Solas had told her about the orb, she knew she had to play the part. Giving it to Solas had been a way of keeping all the things that were precious to her in one place, safe.

                She removed the scarf from the book and, crouched behind the desk where no one could see her, she smelled it. It no longer smelled of the forests and plains where clan Lavellan roamed. It smelled like Solas—like his sweat and a bit of musk she could never really place and it drove her mad, the smell of the fade (to her, the nettle tea her mother used to make, the hint of an oncoming storm in the air), the tang of his paints and charcoal and his smile appeared in her mind.

                The book was hand-bound expertly, and the first page was a charcoal sketch of the breach, prior to its closing. On the next, sketches of her hand, the mark there. Notes on its growth—she had to squint there. His writing was atrocious. There was a strand of her hair tucked between the pages—that was a bit weird. Notes on the plants he guessed (correctly) she used for her hair dye. Then there were sketches of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, destroyed. One of her kneeling in the debris, from behind.

                She settled into the chair and kept flipping through. There were drawings of what she could only assume was the Fade—places she had never seen, places that could never be. Figures that were twisted and warped but overwhelmingly beautiful. Then, drawings of Haven, the architecture, some of the crowds but no details on the faces.

                Then there was a drawing of her, in the tavern, her head bowed over a lyre she’d borrowed. Then one of her seated—in a spot in Haven she tended to hide—leaning against a building and looking off at the breach. He had paid such attention to the hook of her nose, the particular curve of her valaslin against her cheekbones, precisely where her head was shaved and where she kept her hair long and it fell across her face.

                There was a bandage on one of her arms, and she knew which day this was. More and more of the Inquisition’s flock was arriving—she had just come back from scouting with Varric, had hurt herself falling off a ledge and was embarrassed about it. He teased her like the older hunters used to, which at once had made it better and worse. Some nobleman had instructed her to run a message for him and there had been an argument when she refused. Some mystery woman had appeared and seemed to be resolving the matter—this person she would find out was Josephine—when she took off, angry and barely able to stop herself from telling that nobleman where he could stick it. She was hiding and looking pensive, and a little melancholy if the drawing was to be believed.

                “Even I have heard rumours of clan Levallan’s famous Songbird,” Solas had said, coming up behind her. “But I had not expected she would be sent to the Conclave. I assume you were part of the escort for your Keeper’s First?”

                She turned to look at him, startled. Then she remembered the song at the temple, and said, “Oh,” stupidly, because he had a warm smile and he was not asking her to put away luggage, and she remembered his hand on her arm when she closed that rift.

                “May I?” he asked, and she shifted over so he could sit beside her. He settled next to her easily, leaning against the building. Not quite touching, but very close. “This is an excellent hiding spot,” he said. “You can see most of the camp from here, but it is difficult to be seen by observers.”

                She couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, and didn’t know what to say.

                He continued, gently, “If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to make use of it myself. I have had some trouble avoiding menial labour, although pretending my staff is for walking seems to have worked a bit.”

                She laughed, then, and it wasn’t the laugh when she’d tumbled off the hill, a deflection for pain. It felt real. “Tell me about yourself, Solas,” she said, smiling up at him.

                They used to spend hours there, talking about the Fade and the things he had seen there. She felt deflated when he called her da’len, encouraged when that changed to lethallan. 

                She kept turning the pages. More and more the drawings were of her. Some were of Varric, usually with some vague marks instead of any real attention paid to his chest hair, one was of Sera but it had been horribly defaced and another attempt had not been made. Vivienne appeared once or twice with a sour expression, Josephine with a pleasant smile and Leliana in a moment where her face was soft, feeding one of her ravens. Bull and Cassandra locking weapons in the practice yard—Cassandra kneeling in prayer.

                There were so many of herself—as the book went on, Solas seemed to draw little else. There were drawings of her asleep on the couch, an instrument falling from her hands, and Spirits swirled above her head, inspecting her dreams. One of her on the balcony at the Winter Palace, turning and smiling. Her and Cole under one of the great wolf statues in the Emerald Graves, sleeping, their heads resting against each other. At the Temple of Mythal, with their guide who had asked her to sing.

                There was nothing else after that. She flipped through the few empty pages left in the book until the last, where a note had been tucked in. Frowning, she pulled it out.

                Ma vhenan, it started.

                “Well what do you think, Inquisitor?”

                Aevalle slammed the book shut, startled. Cullen and Josephine were frowning at her, and they tried to hide it but there was concern on their features.

                “I’m sure you’ll both come to the correct conclusion,” she said, trying her best to smile. She left them there, retreating to her room without speaking to anyone, the book and the scarf and that letter clutched to her chest.

 

“I didn’t know you get seasick,” Varric said to the Inquisitor as she leaned over the railing for the fifth time that morning.

                “I didn’t even eat carrots,” she grumbled. She wiped her mouth with the back of a shaking hand.

                “It turns round all funny when she thinks they’ll call her Inquisitor.” Cole said behind them. “Or worse things.”

                Aevalle sent him a sour look, but said nothing.

                “You’re wearing your scarf again,” said Cole. “But that’s not the smell it used to have.”

                “Kid,” said Varric, “she’s not feeling too great right now, maybe later, hey?”

               “It’s not going to get better just sitting on it,” Cole said, like a sullen child, but then he was next to one of the sailors, saying, “She does love you but she’s scared, she’s never loved another woman before, she wants you to promise you’ll protect her.”

                Varric exhaled. The Inquisitor put her back to the railing and sank down until she was sitting on the deck, her eyes closed. He was still unused to seeing her in anything but that grey hunter coat she’d worn for so long—after the Temple of Mythal, she’d taken all that dragon skin and had proper Dalish scout armour made. Cole said it was because her faith and her culture had taken a beating and she was angry, but she wasn’t sure at whom.

                Varric had thought about asking her why she was wearing all that armour on a nice trip home, but then he supposed Cole had answered that for him. Even ill as she obviously was, she was all blue vallaslin against dark skin, dyed red hair and that moss green scarf she had never let go in Haven; undeniably Dalish. The sharp lines of her nose, her jaw, the intensity of her eyes, cutting a proud profile. Half her hair long, half of it shaved to expose an ear and where the vallaslin ran through her hairline, and to make no apologies for it.

                He sat next to her, ignoring the looks the crew were giving them. “So,” he said, “am I going to have the pleasure of learning any new Dalish drinking songs while I’m visiting? I liked that one you sang in the tavern that one time, are they all that catchy?”

                She grimaced, but it was followed with a laugh. “My Keeper hates that song,” she said, smiling.

                “What? A song about dallying with the Dread Wolf? I can’t imagine why.”

                Aevalle was still smiling, looking a little embarrassed. “Well,” she said. “She hates it because I wrote it.”

                Varric couldn’t help it. “What?” he exclaimed, and pulled her back down when she tried to stand up. “Oh no, you can’t just tease me with that, there’s a story and I want to hear it.”

                She laughed again. “I was sixteen,” she said, “and we had come across another clan in our travels. And—oh, there was this hunter in the other clan, and she had the prettiest hair. White like a halla. Eyes like leaves in the sunshine. Painfully shy. So I wrote this stupid little song and I made my friend sing it with me around the fire.”

                “Wooing a fine lady with song. I may write that book about you yet, Inquisitor.”

                “Oh, no,” she said. “She was horribly scandalized by the whole thing. That was apparently the last thing I could have possibly done to impress her, and she made sure to tell me that. And her Keeper. Who told my Keeper—and the worst part is, everyone else loved it, thought it was... edgy, and it spread to every single clan within a year and I didn’t even think it was that good? And every time someone even brings it up I get a new lecture from my Keeper about propriety.”

                Varric was crowing. “Can’t write this shit,” he said.

                She was looking at him strangely. “Varric,” she said, “why did you come with me?”

                “It’s on my way,” he said, which was less of a lie than he pretended it was. There had been many more direct ships, and many perfectly acceptable times to call it quits and go back to Kirkwall. But since the end of it all—since Solas had left—she had seemed so lonely. If one could be lonely with a spirit of compassion hovering over their shoulder, trying to make it better.

                When she looked like she didn’t believe him, he said, “Hey the least I could do is escort you home, after everything.”

                She smiled at that, at a shred of honesty, and said, “Thank you, Varric.”

                “You should come visit me in Kirkwall when you’re done,” he said. “Maybe without your, uh, lovely entourage.”

                They both peered around the mast at the gathering of Inquisition soldiers in question. Cullen had picked the most no-nonsense looking soldiers Varric had ever seen, and that was saying something.

                “I don’t think they’ll be up for any detours,” she said. “But I think I can ditch them. They don’t look like they’ve ever chased a Dalish hunter through the woods.”

                “That’s my girl,” Varric said, patting her knee. “Oh look, Cole’s asking a few too many questions, let’s go steer him away from the captain, hm?”

                “You go ahead,” she said, “I don’t trust myself to stand up ever again at this rate.”

                Varric managed to pry Cole away from a very baffled ship captain—Cole someone needs to steer the ship we can’t fix her childhood trauma right now—and sent one more look toward his seasick friend. She hadn’t moved, true to her word, but she had pulled a many-times-folded letter out of her armour and was reading it for what must have been the hundredth time since they got on the ship, her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed.

                “Yes,” said Cole.

                “What?”

                “You were going to ask if the letter is from Solas.”

                From the look on her face, Varric knew it didn’t answer any of her questions.

               

One minute, Solas was rubbing paint off his hands with a wet rag, contemplating his depiction of the destruction of Haven. The next, Dorian had him by the arm and was dragging him across Skyhold’s courtyard to the tavern.

                “This is ridiculous,” Solas said. “I don’t even drink.”

                “You’re right,” said Dorian, “this is ridiculous. You’re no fun at a party and I have no idea why Aevalle wanted you to come so badly.”

                Solas ignored Dorian’s significant eyebrow waggling. He never understood the Inquisitor’s friendship with the Tevinter mage—he’d heard them arguing about slavery one minute, then chatting about which material she should use for her armour the next. Solas was grateful for the air at least, and the chill of the grass on his toes as they walked. He did feel himself growing nervous as they grew closer to the tavern—he could hear that godawful song about Sera carrying through the open windows, and cursing in elven.

                “Who is that?” he asked.

                “Oh,” Dorian said, “some hunters from some Dalish clan came to visit—where are you going?”

                Solas had turned on his heel and slipped out of Dorian’s grasp. Dorian caught up to him again and tried to gently turn Solas around again.

                “No, that won’t do, our dear Inquisitor specifically asked me to drag you down here when you were finished.” Dorian still somehow managed to sound both scolding and perfectly amicable at the same time. “Begged me, practically. In fact, I am not allowed to attend this soiree without you.”

                “Then she will be disappointed on two fronts,” Solas said, but Dorian would not allow him to turn around.

                “Look,” said Dorian, “just make a show of being there. Stick around for a drink and a song, and you’re still happy in bed or wherever you sleep at a decent hour. And our Inquisitor is happy. Everybody wins.”

                The interior of the tavern rank of ale, sex and vomit. The lighting was dim and the music loud—although it was less accompaniment and more shouting than true music. But he picked out the rich, sweet sound of the Inquisitor’s voice carrying over them all, perfectly in tune, and he saw her at a collection of tables pulled together at the center of the room. She was surrounded by a handful of Dalish hunters in various states of inebriation, seated next to Sera who was doing her best to look grumpy but seemed to be enjoying herself regardless.

                “She’s a rogue and a thief and she’ll tempt your fate!”

                The crowd erupted in laughter as they finished the song. Sera was flushing bright red.

                “Yeah yeah,” she said, “you’re all hilarious. And you!” She pointed a finger at the Inquisitor’s face—leaning in very close and then leaning back. “You know I’ve heard that song a million times. It’s still not funny.”

                Aevalle grinned at Sera and took a swig of her ale. The Dalish man across from her was playing something like an Antivan gitar, but even in the poor lighting Solas could make out a particular shine on the strings. Ironbark for sure, he thought, and from Aevalle’s expression when she looked at the thing he knew she wanted it.

                Aevalle’s eyes shifted to the door, and her expression brightened immediately. “Solas! Dorian! You made it!”

                Sera seemed to take advantage of Aevalle’s distraction and vacate the table—Solas didn’t even see her leave she managed it so fast. He saw her sitting at a corner table with Blackwall, where the Grey Warden seemed to be teasing her. Dorian was cramming Solas onto the chair beside Aevalle’s while she attempted to give him a whirlwind of names he didn’t bother to remember.

                “And everyone... Solas.” She leaned close to him, and he could smell the alcohol on her breath—and right after it the smell of the sweat on her neck in the heat of the room.

                “Thank you for coming,” she said softly. “I know this isn’t your thing.”

                Solas couldn’t help but smile. He knew she had some measure of affection for him, and that didn’t help the knots twisting in his stomach. He was trying to figure out what in the fade would compare to the colour of her eyes as he said, “It is my pleasure, Lethallan. It is a welcome change from routine.”

                 Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dorian’s dramatic eye roll as he went to sit at a table with Varric and Cole.

                “Your instrument is fascinating,” Solas said to the man across the table, deciding to be polite. “The strings are ironbark, I presume?”

                “A good eye for one not of a clan,” the man said, and instantly Solas didn’t like him. His fingers strummed the instrument absently, and the sound was pleasing to the ears—louder, brighter than what Solas was familiar with. “It took some convincing, but now even our crafter is pleased. I may yet convince her to help me make another one.”

                “Would you consider parting with it Rennan?” Aevalle asked. She leaned forward and sent Solas a conspiratorial glance, but he had no idea what she was thinking.

                He seemed to consider, giving Aevalle a long look up and down that Solas didn’t like. He felt suddenly possessive, and then embarrassed about it because she was not his to claim possession.

                “So you’re a mage, Solas?” a Dalish girl asked, and his attention was diverted while Aevalle and Rennan debated the benefits of giving it to her. “Were you raised in the Circles?”

                A large figure leaned over his shoulder and he saw the Iron Bull wink at him (or possibly just blink, how would anyone know) as he placed a large tankard of ale on the table in front of him.

                Solas should have known then that the night would not end with him happily in bed, but instead he took the great tankard in his hands and had a long, surprisingly pleasant discussion with the girl next to him.

                It turned out the hunters were on their way to visit an Orlesian clan because the girl—her name was Nimae—had an older sister she’d never met. The sister had shown magical promise, and the only clan who could take her at the time was halfway across the world. She had many questions about magic and the Fade—claiming her sister would not answer them in her letters. He found he enjoyed talking with her. She was quite young for such a journey, her vallaslin dark and fresh on her face, and she seemed eager to listen to what he had to say.  

                They were in the midst of discussing what corrupted Spirits and turned them to Demons when Rennan slammed his hands on the table and shouted, “It’s a bet!” He stood and began to strum some simple melodies, smiling coyly at Aevalle. “I will go first, dear Inquisitor, so you may see how it’s done.”

                Solas looked at Nimae.

                “Yeah,” she said, “he’s always an ass.”

                Solas chuckled.

                “Name the song, and I will do my best to outshine you,” he said. “And though I have much skill for playing, I doubt my voice can compare to clan Lavellan’s famous Songbird. I would be delighted if you would accompany me.”

                Aevalle leaned back in her chair, making a great show of how much serious thought she was giving it. Solas knew from the look in her eye that she was really considering the best way to knock him down a peg. It was the same look she gave anyone who challenged her in battle—slightly amused, with an intense focus on the chinks in her opponent’s armour.

                She opened her mouth and her voice rang out, sweet and rich like an iced cider.

                “I am young, headstrong and many things
                but wise and shrewd I cannot be.
                I cannot hunt or craft or clean
                I’ve no magic to be of use to me,
                Oh Keeper do not worry for me
                for my heart does wander freely!”

                Rennan picked up the tune almost instantly as there was a lull in the chatter from the rest of the bar, and all around him Solas could see heads turning. The song picked up beat instantly, and Aevale sang about a Dalish youth without a clue in his head who left his clan to seek his fortune. The other Dalish in the room picked it up immediately—and the rest of the tavern’s patrons quickly figured out when the appropriate time to yell or to drink was.

                The song was pleasant, and in spite of his dislike for the man Solas had to admit he gave a skilled performance. He bowed for a smattering of applause when the song ended, and Aevalle stood to accept the instrument from him—a little too quickly, Solas thought. She was excited to hold it. As she slipped the strap over her shoulders, he knew she would be loathe to let it go.

                She strummed it once, twice, and then her fingers flew up and down its neck in a series of chords and notes that made Solas’ eyebrows rise. Someone in the back whistled. “It’s been a while,” she said with a laugh when one of her fingers slipped. “Any requests?” she asked, looking at Solas.

                He held up his hands. “You will find me vastly unacquainted with Dalish drinking songs.”

                She smiled at him, her fingers still flying through a number of scales. “I didn’t say it had to be Dalish. You must have something you’d like to hear,” she said. Her voice was low, and she still looked only at him. “You can’t tell me there are no songs in the Fade.”

                “Oh!” Nimae exclaimed. “The one about the shy halla!”

                “Nimae,” someone warned, “that’s hardly a song for polite company.”

                There was something about Aevalle’s expression that Solas thought odd—she looked almost embarrassed, but a little pleased at the same time. He was suddenly very curious what sort of song this was.

                Nimae pouted. “But she would sing it so well! And it’s my favourite.”

                “I can’t resist such a sweet request.” Aevalle quickly changed the tuning of the strings, her head bowed over the instrument. “Although I believe the song is a duet. Do you know the words, Solas?”

                “I have no idea what song you’re talking about,” he said, and took a drink of his ale so no one would argue with him about it. He could not say the flavour was improving, but the more of it he drank the less of it he could taste.

                He couldn’t read Aevalle’s expression, but he had a suspicion she was secretly pleased with something he’d said.

                She finished tuning and began to play the song—it was bright and quick and airy, and her fingers flew across the instrument’s strings with practiced ease. She sang as sweetly as before, watching Solas with hooded eyes as she did.

                “Ma vhenan, love and darling sweet
                how kindly you do shelter me
                but shelter’s only good for sleep
                and I long for you to dance with me.

                For all I love you sweet and shy
                and there is no one else for me
                I hear a song that summons me
                to the veilfire lit in the deepest night.”

                Rennan joined in then, his tenor a good match for Aevalle but clearly outshined by her. He made a good show of approaching her from around the table, and Solas had the impression this song was frequently acted out around a bonfire.

                “Your love is truly kind and sweet
                but timid like the halla you keep!
                So leave him sleeping with the sun
                a better match waits in the deepest night

                Will you dance all night
                in Fen’harel’s arms
                and not return til daylight?
                And will you come along with me?
                For the Dread Wolf wants you dearly.”

                Solas had chosen a very inopportune moment to take a drink from his tankard. It was pretty much all Solas could do not to spit his drink all over the table. He looked around quickly to see if anyone had noticed.

                Aevalle seemed to have, because her lips turned up slightly in a secretive smile. She broke his gaze to play the part and continue the song. She and Rennan began to circle one another slowly, their pace picking up with the song’s rhythm.

                “Your arms are warm and broad and strong
                Your smile so wild and daring!
                The fire is bright but the stars can’t shine
                as brightly as his gleaming eyes.

                An offer more tempting
                could never have been made to me!
                But the Dread Wolf is a fool to think
                I’d leave my halla sweetling.

                I will dance all night
                in Fen’harel’s arms
                and not return til daylight!
                But no further will I go with he,
                for I love my halla dearly!”

                The song kept speeding up as Aevalle and Rennan danced around each other, Rennan pushing the rhythm faster when he was singing to make her fingers fly ever faster along the strings. Aevalle matched his pace with ease, and she played as beautifully as she sang.

                The song ended with the singer returning to her lover, and Fen’harel letting her go with a smile and no sadness between them. Rennan collapsed onto a nearby bench and exclaimed, breathless, “Inquisitor! You have outplayed me.”

                She seated herself onto the chair beside Solas again, equally breathless but looking smug.

                “I don’t suppose,” he said, leaning forward in his seat, “you might be willing to consider that kiss even though I lost?”

                Solas bristled, but Aevalle only laughed and shook her head, strumming a pleasant little tune on the instrument.

                “Don’t be a sore loser Rennan,” Nimae said. “Inquisitor, that was the best I’ve ever heard! Thank you so much!”

                “My pleasure, Da’len,” she said, her voice breathy. Solas found he liked the sound of it, liked the brightness of her eyes and the satisfaction in the smile that lingered on her lips. He couldn’t stop staring.

                Solas could hear someone across the room humming the song.

                “Great,” Rennan grumbled, “I’m going to have that stuck in my head for weeks now.”

                The conversation went on, and Solas found an opportunity to quietly excuse himself and head outside. The air was bitterly cold, and he shrugged his clothes closer to him, feeling the heat of the alcohol in his stomach and in his cheeks. He found a nearby fence and gripped it with both hands, leaning against it. He could feel it creak under his weight—it was makeshift at best, to keep people away from fallen rubble.

                “Seriously though.”

                He turned. Aevalle had the instrument in her hand and was closing the tavern door behind her. “What kind of idiot bets a kiss against a treasure like this?”

                “If you were any other woman I might be inclined to agree with you,” Solas said as she approached.

                “Oh?”

                “I’ve said before, none among our people have been raised so high by the humans, Lethallan.”

                She stopped a respectable distance away from him, frowning. “Did the song upset you, Solas?”

                He wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that. “I just needed some air,” he said softly. “Do not concern yourself with me.”

                “Lethallin.” She perched herself on the fence beside him and set the instrument on the ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you. I know you’re uneasy around us, and your dealings with the Dalish have not always gone well. I just thought that maybe if some of the people got to know you a bit...”

                He almost scoffed. “I am not as shy as you seem to think I am.”

                She laughed, suddenly. “Solas! Is that what this is about?”

                He stared at her. “What?”

                She hopped off the fence, grinning. “You—It’s just a song, Solas. I don’t think you’re some timid halla.”

                He opened his mouth to explain to her that he was not taking offence to the song in any way, it was the alcohol and that he couldn’t sort out how he felt about the possibility of her kissing that Dalish man, or why he was so distressed by it when he had no right to be, or how the smell of her sweat and the alcohol had made him feel, but she took his hands from the fence and pulled him away from it, swaying back and forth as she began to sing.

                “I will dance all night in Fen’Harel’s arms.” Her voice was slightly hoarse from alcohol and use, and the sound of it made his heart quicken its beat.

                The sudden movement and the warmth of her hands were making his cheeks warm. “Lethallan,” he said, softly.

                “And not return til daylight.”

                “You’re drunk,” he said, his own breath hot with the burning of alcohol that lingered in his throat and his proximity to her.

                “Oh, very!” She giggled. She began to maneuver them back towards the fence, and she continued singing. “But I’d like to take him home with me.”

                Solas felt the fence on the back of his legs, and stopped. She pressed forward and stood on her toes, the only points of contact between them their hands.

                 “For I love this Dread Wolf dearly,” she sang, her voice rich and breathy as she leaned in, and Solas realised she was going to kiss him.

                Many things happened at once. His breath caught in his throat and he forgot everything but the fact that she was drunk and could not possibly want this, his heart hammering as he realised that he very much did, and he tried to take a step back but the fence was there, and the weight of the two of them caused it to break and they went tumbling down with it.

                She landed on top of him, their foreheads banging together.

                “Fenedhis!” she swore, laughing, and she immediately sat up and scrambled off him. “Solas, are you alright?”

                “I am unharmed,” he said, because he was feeling a thousand things and not one of them alright.

                He took her offered hand and she helped him up as she laughed.

                “I am so happy no one saw that,” she said, and she put her hands to her cheeks as if trying to cool them. “I’m starting to think my Keeper was right, that song is plain bad luck.”

                He busied himself with brushing off his clothes. “What do you mean?”

                She looked at him wide-eyed. “Did I say that out loud?”

                Solas couldn’t help but smile. “I think we’ve both had enough,” he said. “Let’s get you to bed, hm?”

                “But it’s so far away—can I sleep on your couch? It’s so comfy.”

Chapter Text

Varric had expected to be largely ignored by clan Lavellan—how could he possibly compare to their beloved Aevalle returned home? And at first that seemed to be the case. A small group of hunters met them at the docks—some of Aevalle’s friends, apparently—and a skinny young man about sixteen years old with fresh vallaslin on his cheeks embraced her, sobbing, while she was clapped on the shoulder and the back and her armour was complemented and hair tugged at by two women about Aevalle’s age who were probably twins.

                “It’s gotten so long, Lethallan!”

                “Well half of it anyway. When are you going to give that look up?”

                “Never,” she told them, and Varric saw tears in her eyes.

                They pestered her for stories the whole way to Wycome—what were the humans like on the other side of the Waking Sea? Had it been terribly cold? Was it true she’d killed a hundred High Dragons? How many other clans had she met? What were the city elves like? What was the new Divine like? Was she pretty? Had she met anyone? No not like that, met anyone!

                Varric had never heard her stumble over so many answers before. She got better as the conversation went along—but he noticed she was careful not to answer anything that she didn’t want to. And she certainly glossed over all the elven ruins they had been exploring. (The things she learned there still itch at her skin, according to Cole.)

                Wycome itself had clearly seen better days—there was an awful lot of repairing going on. But Varric hadn’t quite seen anything like it. Landships were scattered throughout the village, situated in between houses and next to streets like comfortable neighbours. An elven woman and a human man argued at a forge with the practiced ease of an old married couple, and a young Dalish girl with a staff was healing a scrape on the knee of a crying boy dressed like a city elf. An aged Dalish woman with white hair and olive skin, almost short enough to be a Dwarf, was speaking with a human woman, peeking into the bundle in her arms and smiling.

                “He cries for colic,” the woman was saying as they approached. “I have a tea for that, it will soothe his throat and he will sleep. It must be very weak, or it will make him ill. Come to my aravel and I will show you how to brew it.”

                “Hahren!” one of their guides shouted, and the townsfolk turned as one.

                The children swarmed Aevalle first, tugging at her clothes and calling her name, all of them begging her to sing for them. Some of them held up precious treasures and claimed they were presents for her—three shiny rocks they’d found in the river, four bird feathers and one live frog.

                The hunters managed to move the children away as the Keeper approached, saying nothing. Varric watched as she reached up and touched Aevalle’s face, her hand slowly cupping her cheek. The old woman studied Aevalle for a long moment, and then something softened in her dark eyes.

                “Da’len,” she said, her voice cracking with age, sorrow, relief.

                Aevalle said, “Hahren,” and something in her expression broke. The Keeper embraced her, and Aevalle buried her face in the old woman’s hair.

                The entire clan seemed to surround her then, people appearing from around corners and from inside buildings. They dropped whatever they carried and came to greet her, and through the crowd Varric could see her wiping her eyes and laughing at some joke, then taking a feather and holding it up to the light.

                After the initial welcome home, clan Lavellan was thrilled to meet famous author Varric Tethras—although not for Hawke, as he’d thought at first. They all begged to hear about Merrill and Fenris.

                “Let me get this straight,” he said to a large gathering of Dalish hunters. “You have all read my books?

                “Our favourite is the Tale of the Champion,” one of the twins—Methani, because she had the vallaslin only on one side of her face—said.

                “We never traded much with humans, so at first we could only get one copy for the whole clan,” the young boy from earlier (Endril) said. “But we like that one the best because it’s the only book we’ve ever read where the elves aren’t just servants.”

                “Let alone Dalish,” Methani chimed in.

                “We’ve bought your Hard in Hightown novels since we’ve been staying here.” The other twin (Ersane) said. “But there’s not enough elves in it so not everyone’s read them.”

                Varric felt as if his eyes had been opened to a whole new market he would never be able to convince his publisher was worth it.

                “I like Swords and Shields,” Endril said shyly.

                “You would be the second,” Varric said, making a mental note to squeeze Merrill for every bit of information on Dalish and city elf culture she would give him.

                “Do you have any more stories about Merrill?” Methani asked.

                Ersane said, “We were at her Keeper’s funeral—they asked if Aevalle could sing. It was so sad! And then we read the book and we knew the whole thing was so awful. She was trying so hard to help.”

                Varric blinked. “Wait—they asked Aevalle to sing for her?”

                “Oh, the closest clans ask her when a Keeper or wise person passes. She sings for our funerals too—well before she left, she did. At any gathering or celebration really—it’s not the same without her.”

                “They said the same when her father died,” Cole said over his shoulder. “But she sang so prettily when she lit his pyre they called her a bird and not a person.”

                Varric tried not to react to Cole, knowing the others couldn’t see him. He looked around for Aevalle and saw her following a dark-haired Dalish woman about her age up the path away from the village. She glanced back his way and mouthed an apology—she looked overwhelmed.

                Varric smiled and nodded, just slightly. “You know,” he said, “I never did write about the time Merrill had to trick the Templars away from the alienage.”

                Their eyes lit up—like children, he thought with a smile, and more Dalish and humans gathered around to hear the story as Aevalle slipped away.

 

“You didn’t have to come with me,” Una said as she opened the latch of the halla pen.

                Aevalle hoisted her bushel of oats higher on her shoulder and tugged on her scarf with her other hand. “It’s no problem,” she said. The late afternoon light was filtering through the leaves in the trees around them, and the air around them was all green and gold. The musk of the halla was on the air, the stench of their manure, the sweetness of honey and the buzzing of a beehive somewhere nearby. She forgot herself for a moment, and almost put down her load to go steal from the bees so she could dip sticks in the honey and let the halla and the children lick it off.

                The fence creaked open, and the sound of it jarred her back into her dragon skin armour.

                Una slipped into the pen, and Aevalle behind her. She was soft as ever, in voice and movement as she approached the halla, murmuring to them. “They’ve missed you,” she said, between soft reassurances. “Come closer. I bet they’ll be happy to see you.”

                Aevalle emptied her bag into the feeding trough while the halla gathered around her friend. “They miss the salty rocks I used to bring back for them.”

                “That too,” Una said with a gentle chuckle. “Though they are harder to groom without that song you used to sing them.”

                One of the halla moved to Aevalle—a familiar doe with flecks of blue in her eyes. When Aevalle moved to let it sniff her hand, the halla darted away, snorting.

                She tried not to let it show, but Una said, “They need to get used to your smell again, Lethallan.”

                “I reek of human,” Aevalle said. “And blood, and—”

                “Lethallan.”

                Aevalle closed her eyes. She rubbed her fingers along her vallaslin.

                Una was so quiet, Aevalle didn’t hear her approach until she felt a touch on her hand, pulling it from her cheek.

                “Was it so awful,” she said, “you cannot bear to look at us?”

                She didn’t want to answer that question. “It wasn’t all bad,” she said, unconvincingly.

                “Your writer friend seems nice.” When Aevalle didn’t respond, she continued, “Lethallan, here we have only heard what is said about you by the humans. But it has all seemed so fantastical and far away to us—we’ve worried. And you return to us with a broken heart—”

                Aevalle broke away from her touch and moved to the edge of the halla pen, her back to her friend and her face to the woods.

                “Am I so easy to read, now? You can’t just coo at me like your halla and expect me to behave.” She regretted the anger in her words the moment she spoke them, but her mouth was dry and she could say no more.

                Una’s voice was low and gentle. “Ir abelas,” she said. “You may have wandered, Lethallan, but you are my childhood friend. I know when you’re hurting.”

                Aevalle was silent for a time, her own shame stinging her more than her friend’s apology. Eventually she reached into her armour and unfolded the letter Solas had left her. She held it out for Una without looking at her.

                Una took it and unfolded it gingerly—it had been folded so many times that light could be seen through the creases in the paper.

                “Ma vhenan,” she read. She looked up at Aevalle, who gestured for her to continue.

                “I dreamed last night of a different world, as I have most every night since I told you of the vallaslin. I have had many regrets in my years; the only such moment with you is the one in which I left. Know that I wanted to tell you everything, to confide in you as I have no spirit or mortal creature; understand that I could not, because you would have forgiven me. Hate me if you must; I will remember your touch when the world has turned to ash. Ir abelas. A thousand times and more, ir abelas. Ar lath ma. Solas.”

                Una read it again, and again, her brow more furrowed as she silently mouthed the words.

                “Fenedhis,” she swore. It sounded like a kitten sneeze—Aevalle had never heard her swear.

                Aevalle took the letter back and folded it delicately.

                “I don’t understand,” Una said finally.

                “That makes two of us.”

                “What did he want to tell you? And if he was going to write a letter like that, why wouldn’t he just tell you anyway? Why does he call himself pride?”

                Una started pacing, showing outward signs of irritation for what was probably the first time in her life.

                It took some time for Una to calm herself down. Then she went to check over the halla for burs or signs of illness as Aevalle stood, waiting at the edge of the enclosure. She found herself humming that silly halla song her father had taught her, the one they all seemed to like. She tugged at her scarf with one hand, the other in her pocket as she stood, lost in thought, and didn’t notice when the same halla as before was nudging her pockets, looking for salt-covered stones from caves by the sea.

                Without thinking, she pulled her hand out of her pocket. The halla sniffed it, discovered nothing, and settled to graze at some grass at her feet.

                Aevalle frowned, her fingers on a stray thread in the scarf. She pulled it closer to her face and smelled it—it had grown fainter, tinged with ocean spray, but she could smell Solas on it still.

                A number of things came to mind in rapid succession—Solas’ behaviour at the temple of Mythal, his refusal to try and convince Abelas they meant no harm, his horror when she had asked him about drinking from the Vir’abelasan, his obvious relief when she did not, his expression during that silly song she’d written about the Dread Wolf. His comfort at the Winter Palace, his laughter when she’d said our people. The flash of anger in his eyes when she asked when he had been at court.

                She pulled the scarf from her neck and held it out to the halla. She snorted and ran away from it, as she had before.

                “Aevalle?”

                Her heart was hammering in her chest.

                “The Dread Wolf had nothing to do with Mythal’s murder,” she whispered. “Why would he just say that, out of the blue. I thought it was to throw off Morrigan but...”

                There was an old tree stump behind her. She slowly sat herself down on it, clutching the scarf to her chest. She could distantly hear Una approaching her, then grabbing her shoulders and shaking her. Panic and dread and understanding and a wave of regret hit her, and she buried her face in her scarf and she knew that musk Solas had about him, the one she could never figure out, knew it in her bones like she had known the wolf she saw on the ice as a child wasn’t really a wolf at all.

                “I’m sorry,” Cole said behind her, his voice snapping her back to the present. “I didn’t know. But you have frightened your friend.”

                “I’m fine, Lethallan,” Aevalle said to Una. “Sorry to worry you. Just a moment of dizziness.”

                “You’re lying,” Una said, softly. “You’re frightened—you’re shaking.”

                She tried to laugh. Una’s expression said she didn’t buy it. “I’m—I just realised something, is all.”

                “I could make her forget,” Cole said behind her.

                “No,” she said, so quickly that Una recoiled a little.

                Behind her Cole wouldn’t stop murmuring. “She’s never looked this frightened, not since she came back without her father covered in blood, not when shems attacked me not when she pulled me out of the ice—hands are clammy what’s wrong with her scarf—”

                “Lethallan,” Aevalle said, smiling. “I’m sorry. It was a moment, it will pass.”

                Una was clutching her hands. “Talk to me,” she begged. “Please. What happened to you? You used to tell me everything and now you’re all closed up and you’re scaring me. You can trust me, just don’t shut me out. You don’t have to be alone.”

                Aevalle’s smile became a grimace, and Una started to cry.

                “Come back to us, Lethallan,” she begged. “We’re your family, we can keep you safe. You don’t need to be the Inquisitor anymore, you can’t possibly owe them any more of your life.”

                “It’s alright,” Cole whispered to Una, kneeling beside her. “You can cry now. Things have changed for you and your clan, and Aevalle has changed too, but she still calls you sister, doesn’t she? The steps are different now. Healing takes time.”

                Una slowly began to calm, until her breathing slowed and she could wipe her eyes with the back of a shaking hand. “I’ve missed you so, Lethallan,” she whispered. “So many things have changed—we are so many now, and the halla have had a hard time adjusting. We’ve all been adjusting. I can only imagine what you’ve been through.”

                “She hid in her aravel for a day when she heard about Haven,” Cole said softly. “She was so worried for you. What had you become, that you could walk away from a crumbling mountain.”

                Aevalle touched her forehead to her friend’s, like they had when they were children and they had a secret plan. “I missed you,” she said. “And I am sorry. I... suppose I have to learn to share my burden again.”

                “Will you tell me what’s wrong?”

                Aevalle hesitated. “I can’t,” she said. “Not yet.” Then she clenched and unclenched her hand.

                “Aevalle?”

                “I... can I trust you with something? Promise you won’t tell the Keeper.”

               

The celebration was long and the food was plentiful—Varric told so many stories about Merrill and Fenris he had to start making most of them up. Then he had to tell Aevalle’s story, which was complicated because he didn’t want the whole thing to sound as dangerous and, frankly, weird as it actually was. He told them about Sera and her bow, although he didn’t mention how she felt about the Dalish, instead of time travel Aevalle and Dorian helped Fiona trick Alexius into giving up the amulet—which was far more plausible and he thought Fiona got too raw of a deal in the whole thing—and he made sure to tell them about Dalish and her “bow,” which had the Dalish youth slapping their knees.

                The whole crowd was hushed when he spoke of Haven, of how nobly Aevalle had protected the people there, how she had outwitted Corypheus and returned as if from death. They cheered when she was named Inquisitor, when she emerged from the Fade with Hawke they mourned Stroud a little, and in general were pleased she recruited the Grey Wardens, heroes even here where the Blight had not touched.

                He told them about Solas and his spirit friend, and Aevalle’s expression across the fire was blank as he talked about the elven artifacts that stabilized the veil, and about the fresco Solas had painted in the rotunda. He told them of the Winter Palace and reinforced Briala’s importance in the rise of Gaspard, but he did not tell them that Solas and Aevalle had danced on the balcony where no one would see them—right after she made him take off the hat he was wearing.

                “What happened in the Arbor Wilds?” someone asked, and Varric coughed.

                “I think my throat’s gone dry,” he said, making his voice sound especially scratched, as he reached for the offered wine.

                There was a familiar sound, and looking up he saw that Aevalle had retrieved that instrument of hers—Josephine said it was similar to the Antivan gitar, aside from the strings—and she was playing a quick tune on it, smiling at the woman next to her.

                “Oh Keeper you have scolded me
                a hundred times this very week
                but I have thought the whole thing through
                and given all the time required
                so today I can safely say:
                I’ve got it all figured out this time!”

                The girl next to her started laughing when Aevalle elbowed her, and the Dalish children among the crowd shouted, “If we paint the halla green and brown no poacher will cause them to frown!”

                Varric shook his head and settled into his seat, enjoying the warmth of the wine and another helping of those honeyed sweet buns a pretty elf girl kept pushing on him.

                Other performers quickly joined in, and soon there was something of a band surrounding Aevalle: a city elf girl with a polished brass flute, a Dalish woman with an old drum and a human boy with a tambourine and a sweet tenor voice. The night went on and the people of Wycome danced, drank, and ate, and wherever Varric saw hands touch by accident and flushed cheeks or sly smiles there was Cole, just on the edge of his vision.

                “You tell a good story, ser Tethras,” the Keeper said as she approached him.

                “Keeper,” he greeted. “Or is it mayor now? Take a seat.”

                She smiled, but did not answer his question. She sat next to him, and she watched Aevalle as she sang harmony to that human boy’s melody, smiling.

                “You make her trials seem easy,” she said, finally.

                “Well,” Varric said, “I never told Hawke’s mother about the really awful stuff that happened to us, why would I do any different here?”

                She didn’t respond to that.

                “If I may ask,” Varric said, “why did you send her to the Conclave?”

                “Planning on writing a book about her?”

                “She asked me to,” said Varric, “but I’m not sure. Way too much weird shit for me in her story. If you’ll pardon the language. Besides, I wouldn’t dare go against Inquisition word, and their story’s a little boring for me sometimes.”

                The Keeper nodded, thoughtfully.

                They were silent with each other for some time. Varric watched Cole repair the relationship between a brother and sister, adjust a hand to be just where someone wanted to be touched, and direct someone away from Aevalle who was looking at her with longing. She is not for you, Varric read on Cole’s lips. But that man there has been watching you all night. You should say hello.

                “She received her vallaslin so young,” the Keeper said suddenly.

                Varric looked up at her. She was staring at Aevalle with sadness in her eyes.

                “So young,” she said sadly, “to be able to take that pain. But she was a remarkable hunter, and the younger ones always looked up to her. And she was ready, even if I did not want her to be. We had not many dealings with the humans then, but she showed such patience with them—much more than the others. I sent her with my First because she had a more level head than hunters ten years her senior, and she would not slip up and call the humans shemlen to their faces. The others would defer to her judgement with respect. My First could be arrogant at times. He was not the best choice for a spy in such a delicate matter.”

                She closed her eyes. “We lost our best hunters that day. Our cleverest youth. My First. I thanked Mythal we had not lost her as well, but...”

                Varric looked at Aevalle again. There was a lull in attention towards her, and she was looking off into the distance, lost in thought. Her jaw set and her lips pressed into a thin line.

                “The humans have claimed so much of what was ours for themselves, but they are still unsatisfied. Now they take the greatest among our children for their own.”

                “She still loves her people,” Cole said over the old woman’s shoulder. “The world has rested on her shoulders. Being here has lifted it a little. But the dreams were right—she is meant for greater things. Birds have wings so they can fly away. She is not her mother or her father, and you could never keep her here.”

                Varric frowned at Cole—hard to tell the kid off when he was too busy being invisible to everyone else—and said, “Keeper, you don’t look so good.”

                She exhaled. “No,” she said, softly. “I suppose I do not. My apologies, Ser Tethras. Enjoy the rest of your night.”

                He watched her leave, and looked back over to the band—but Aevalle had vanished. He glanced around until he saw her, slipping in between two aravels and disappearing into the dark.

               

Da’len,” she heard behind her, and Aevalle swore through a mouthful of apple as she tried not to drop everything she was holding on the kitchen floor. Her Keeper was standing in the doorway, her arms crossed.

                Aevalle dumped her armful on the table next to her—a loaf of bread, a chunk of cheese and some fruit—and turned to greet the old woman.

                “Hahren,” she said after removing the apple from her mouth.

                “You’re leaving us so soon?”

                “I just—” She looked down at the rations she’d gathered. “I just wanted to go hunting. I thought if there was going to be a time to shake off my escort, it would be tonight.”

                She knew the look on her Keeper’s face and what it meant, so she turned around and busied herself with stuffing the items in her sack.

                “What happened in the Arbor Wilds?”

                Her back stiffened. “I can’t talk about that.”

                She knew it was the wrong thing to say, but she said it anyway.

                “You never used to lie to me,” her Keeper said, softly. “You never used to hide things from us. If you found a ruin or a relic you would come running to me, even if it was the smallest treasure from our past”

                She approached Aevalle, like she was a frightened halla—a treatment she was getting a little tired of—and she took Aevalle’s hand in her own. “Da’len,” she said. “This... Solas. Was he there with you?”

                She yanked her hand away. “What did Una tell you?”

                Her Keeper frowned. “Nothing. You seemed upset during Ser Tethras’ tale.”

                She gave a half-laugh. “Someday, someone will summarize the awful parts of your life so quickly,” she said.

                “Da’len, I did not mean...”

                Aevalle kissed her Keeper on the top of her head. “Hahren,” she said, “do not worry. It’s my burden.”

                She slung a quiver of arrows over her shoulder, hung a borrowed Dalish bow across her back, and picked up the satchel of supplies. “I’m going hunting,” she said. “I’ll be back in a few days.”

 

“Varric’s the one who usually does the book signings,” Hawke was saying, laughing a little. Then she turned the book over in her hands. “Why does this have a hole in it?”

                “It is... a long story,” Cassandra said. “Thank you again, Champion.”

                “Please,” she said, tugging the hood of her distinctive armour further down her face, “just call me Hawke. We dragged our asses out of the Fade together, remember? I think we’ve reached that point.”

                “Serah Hawke,” Josephine said, approaching. Cassandra thought she looked a touch rattled, which was as unusual as it was alarming. “Your letter. I apologise for the delay—I would like to show you something, if you please?”

                Cassandra and Hawke looked at each other.

                They followed Josephine to the room Varric had occupied, where one of the Inquisition soldiers was standing guard. “Let no one through,” Josephine reinforced, and Cassandra thought he stood a little taller when he saw Hawke.

                The room was a disaster. Papers were strewn everywhere, Varric’s great desk overturned, and an entire bookshelf tipped over. Cassandra heard the crunching of broken glass underfoot and the cold breeze before she realised the window had been broken into from the outside. Cullen was leaning out the window, and he turned to greet them when they entered with a grim expression on his face.

                “When did this happen?” Cassandra asked.

                “This morning, most likely,” Cullen said. “Someone happened to look up and they saw an elven woman trying to climb up to the Inquisitor’s room. When she saw she was discovered, she... let go. I’ve sent soldiers to retrieve what remains off the cliffs.”

                “Shit,” said Hawke. “What could they have wanted from Varric’s things?”

                “I do not know,” Cassandra said. “He took his belongings with him when he left with the Inquisitor. All he left behind are letters that were addressed to you on your return, or whatever business he was ignoring from the merchants’ guild.”

                Hawke frowned. “You said he was returning to Kirkwall. Does the Inquisition have business there?”

                “Clan Lavellan has been situated in Wycome for some time,” Josephine explained. “Varric decided to visit with her before heading to Kirkwall.”

                “That’s out of the way,” she said, finally opening the letter Varric had left for her. “He must like her more than he let on.”

                “There’s more,” Cullen said. “It appears that the storage room we’ve moved Solas’ things into was also ransacked. There was even less for them to go through, so I doubt they took anything, but I have some scribes going through everything as we speak.”

                “Did they infiltrate anywhere else?” Cassandra asked. “You are sure it was just the one?”

                “Commander,” a soldier said from outside.

                “Let him in,” Cullen said, and everyone moved aside to give him space—the room was cramped with all the mess.

                “Ser,” he said. “We’ve identified the... body. She was one of the Nightingale’s agents. Joined the Inquisition shortly after we came to Skyhold. Very highly regarded by her peers—Archer says he thought she was loyal as anyone else. Looked up to the Inquisitor as a hero for elves everywhere.”

                “She threw herself off the wall when she was discovered?” Hawke asked.

                “No, Serah. More like... simply let go. She had this on her—we don’t know what it is, or used to be.”

                The man held out his hand, and in it was little more than a collection of fine glass shards. The larger ones had some sort of copper engraving, but as to their nature Cassandra could not guess.

                “Bring them to Morrigan,” Josephine said. “She may have some idea.”

                “There’s more, ser. She seems to have sent a Raven to Wycome before attempting to climb the tower. No one knows the contents of the message it carried.”

                “Cullen,” Cassandra said, “how well do you trust the soldiers you sent with the Inquisitor?”

                Cullen ran a hand through his hair. “I—They are among my best, Seeker. But... what could make one of Leliana’s spies turn? And what could they want?”

                “I have an idea.”

                They all turned to look at Hawke. She was folding the letter and putting it away in a pocket.

                “Varric’s letter says that Merrill wrote him not long ago saying that some elven children were taken from the alienage in Kirkwall. The last information he has points her and Fenris tracking them in the direction of Wycome. You said Varric gave you this letter personally, Lady Montilyet?”

                “Yes,” Josephine said. “He said he didn’t want Cassandra going through it. Do you think this is the information they were after?”

                “Why would an elven spy for the Inquisition be helping someone taking elven children in Kirkwall?” Cassandra asked, ignoring her. “We are an awful distance away.”

                “But you said Solas left the Inquisition some time ago. Wasn’t he a scholar?”

                “A mage with special interest in the Fade and ancient elves,” Cassandra said. “Again, that does not match up. Something very strange is going on here. I do not like it.”

                “I’m heading to Wycome,” said Hawke. “Nothing Varric said indicated he thought there would be trouble.”

                “We should send some Inquisition soldiers with you,” Cullen said,

                “No.” Hawke removed her hood and shook out her dark hair. “We can’t tell if there was blood magic at play or if you have traitors in the ranks. Besides, someone might notice me if I have a hoard of Inquisition soldiers at my command, hm?”

                None of them pointed out her glowing mage staff or the custom armour of the Champion she still wore everywhere.

                “Then I will accompany you,” Cassandra said, crossing her arms. “It is likely no coincidence that they have chosen to act when the Inquisitor is absent.”

                Hawke grinned, and Cassandra had a feeling that she didn’t like what that meant. “Road trip!” Hawke exclaimed, slapping Cassandra on the back. “Get packing! We have a long road ahead of us.”

                “My dearest friend might be in danger and you’re leaving me out?” Dorian’s voice floated in from the doorway. “Cassandra, I’m offended.”

                “Knew I should have gone with her,” Bull’s grumbles came from somewhere further outside. “Krem, get the Chargers. We’re marching.”

 

It was the night before they were going to close the Breach, and Aevalle couldn’t sleep. Cullen had told her to leave the war room and get some rest, but she hadn’t even been able to convince herself to get into bed. Instead she took her knives, slipped a bow and quiver over her shoulders and snuck out of Haven, her scarf tucked over her nose to keep it warm.

                The snow was fresh under her feet and the air sharp at the tips of her ears. The moon was bright, and if it weren’t for the faint tinge of the breach it would have looked pristine. She tracked a few foxes and when she found them, climbed a tree to watch them play. Haven’s food stores were full, and she wore a new coat made from fennec fur, so her bow stayed on her shoulder.

                She tracked a ram to a small clearing full of elfroot, and she took the time to harvest all of it in spite of the cold biting at her fingers. She found the tracks of a pack of wolves, and she watched them from a safe distance for a while. They were unlike the wolves in the Hinterlands—their eyes glinted when they caught wind of her, but then ran from her scent. She watched them leave through the puffs of ice her breath made on the air, thinking of her childhood.

                Aevalle climbed a rocky outlook and stood on its edge, watching the mountainside fall away in front of her. The breach was overhead, swirling, and her hand itched looking at it. She wondered, not for the first time, how could someone so small as herself have become tangled up with something so great? What would her parents have thought?

                She closed her eyes. She could imagine what her mother would think. She could almost see her frantic expression, the way her hands would shake as she signed. Leave these humans to their problems. Come home, emm’asha. Her father, she was not so certain.

                I once believed I could make the world a better place for our people, he had told her, once. But now... Da’mi, this world does not want to change. It is all we can do not to be dragged down with it.

                She tugged on her hair. Then she let her hands fall to her side and she sang.

                The song was long, slow, and it swept up and down, pleading, always pleading. It was all in elven. She hadn’t sang it in years, hadn’t given its melody or its rhythm much thought, but her voice glided over the highest notes and deepest drops with ease, over Fen’harel’s name without hesitation. Her chest felt tight as she began, but she felt herself open up by its end, like being greeted by an old friend.

                The song ended, and for a moment she was still held in its spell, the air around her still as glass.

                Then she heard footsteps behind her, and in one motion the bow was off her shoulder, an arrow notched and she turned to face—

                “Solas,” she said, lowering the weapon.

                He looked mildly shaken, but he smiled. “My apologies, Lethallan. I did not wish to disturb your singing.”

                “No I—didn’t even hear you coming. I was lost in thought.”

                He did not approach her. She thought he had an odd expression on his face.

                “That song,” he said. “Where did you learn it?”

                She hesitated, which was silly because she had come to trust Solas, but there were times she still followed what her Keeper said like a child.

                “My father taught me, when my mother grew ill,” she said.

                Solas’ shoulders seemed to fall, just a little. “I see,” he said. He looked relieved.

                “We sang it to her every night, at the worst of it,” she continued, because she had started and suddenly she couldn’t stop. “He said we were asking Fen’harel for help, because the other gods couldn’t help from where they were, and it was only a song to sing if you were truly desperate.” She closed her eyes. “I was ten. She died.”

                Solas said nothing.

                “He told me never to sing it again. That it was foolish to ask the gods for help, we were the only ones who could look out for ourselves. But when I was thirteen, we were scouting for the clan and we came across a ruin. We decided to take a look around, we’d done it a dozen times. The Keeper didn’t approve, she said I was too young. But I wanted to impress my father, so I never argued with him.”

                She clenched her hands into fists. “I—I was supposed to check the room to our left. But the hall was dark and I was frightened, so I came back and said it was clear. But something followed us. He told me to run, and I kept running until I was in the sunlight and—and I turned around and he wasn’t there.”

                She hadn’t heard Solas approaching, but she felt his hands on her shoulders.

                “The clearing was so bright and quiet—I couldn’t hear a single bird, or even the wind. I was still so frightened, and I remembered that song, so I started to sing it. Then there was a noise behind me. I turned around, and in the entrance to the ruin there was a wolf. At the time, I thought—well, I was thirteen and so scared. But the wolf looked at me, and he turned around and went back into the ruin. I saw his eyes glowing from inside, and I followed him.”

                Solas said nothing, but she felt no judgement from him either so she kept going. “I didn’t see the wolf again, but I found my father. It was dark, and I thought for sure he was okay, even though he kept saying to just leave him, to run, I dragged him out anyway. He’d almost made it out on his own, it wasn’t far. But in the sunlight there was—there was blood everywhere.”

                She could feel him squeeze her arms, reassuring her, but he did not interrupt.

                “I tried—I tried singing it again. But the wolf didn’t come back. My father shushed me, and he said he had so much more he had wanted to teach me. Then he put his thumb on my forehead and—everything just rushed in. It was a mess. There were bits of songs and things he had said, but it was all... mixed up. Then he died. All because of me.”

                She started crying then, but she suddenly found she didn’t care, because Solas embraced her and hushed her, pressing his forehead to hers. “Lethallan,” he said, “you were a child. He had no business taking you to such places. If you had gone into that room both of you would be dead.”

                “I know that,” she said.

               “The veil was thin in the ruins,” Solas said, “and a spirit was moved by your song and your desire to help your father. It took a form it thought you were expecting. But it could only drive the creature away. It could not have healed him.”

                She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and pulled away from him. “I’m such a mess,” she said, softly. “I’ve never told anyone this. At the time I was too numb and then... too ashamed. I’d never thought my father was a mage, so I don’t understand how he did what he did.” She sighed.

                Solas frowned. “Lethallan,” he said. “The ancient elves had such songs. Most of them have been lost to time—I had not thought any existed with the memory of them. I have dreamt of those who were skilled with such songs, and spirits with all manner of intentions were drawn to them. Your father likely had some skill with manipulating the veil, even if he was not a full mage.” He hesitated. “They are dangerous songs. I would advise against singing them in the future.”

                She smiled, and Solas’ expression relaxed. “Ma serannas,” she said.

                “What for?”

                “Well, not running away screaming, for one?”

                They both laughed at that. Her cheeks felt warm.

                “For listening. For telling me about that spirit. I hope it was okay, after all that.”

                His hand clasped her shoulder. “I’m sure it was. We should head back.”

               

Chapter Text

The next morning, Varric woke to the sound of screaming.

               He had fallen asleep in his clothes—he was remembering a conversation with Solas about fermented fruit juice as his head rang—so he pulled on his boots and grabbed Bianca before he ran to the door of his room in the inn.

               Someone beat him to it—a human he’d never seen threw the door open, sword raised. Varric fired a bolt through his stomach and the man fell.

               “Cole!” he yelled, but he received no answer from the kid. He swore and charged down the wooden stairs, where the waitress was hiding behind the bar, her wide and frightened eyes glinting in the dim tavern light.

               “Ser Tethras,” she said. “You—you have to help them!”

               He looked at the tavern floor. Their Inquisition escort lay dead on it, their eyes rolled back and mouths bared open in their final screams.

               “Stay here,” he told her. “I’ll figure out what’s going on.”

               Outside he saw no one but an elven woman clutching a wound to her leg in the middle of the street. He went to her immediately, and tore part of his shirt for a bandage.

               “Doesn’t look too bad,” he said as if he knew what he was talking about.

               “My girl,” she begged. “Forget about me, they took my girl.”

               He clenched his jaw when he looked at the panic in her dark eyes. Blood had matted her black hair and it shined on her skin.

               “Keep pressure on it,” he told her, standing, “and get your head looked at.”

               The streets rapidly became crowded with panicked elves and confused city guards—Varric wanted to yell at them all, but he charged on as best he could, yelling for anyone to move if he needed them to. He must have sounded like he knew what to do for a change, because he heard footsteps following him and saw the crowd ahead of him parting.

               Around him, more panicked elven parents were yelling.

               “They have the Keeper!” someone yelled, and Varric felt his stomach drop. Where the hell was Cole? Where in Andraste’s name was Aevalle?

               One moment, he was running by himself, and the next Cole was beside him.

               “There are too many,” Cole said. “They have hostages.”

               The crowd broke, suddenly, and Varric stumbled to a stop in one of Wycome’s many squares, where he saw a line of Dalish hunters with arrows to bowstrings drawn taught. He followed their gaze, where a gathering of fifteen or so human mercenaries stood, elven children of varying ages in their arms, knives to their throats. Their leader was standing before the Keeper, that Dalish girl who could heal with a knife to her throat in front of him. She was doing her best not to cry.

               “I will ask you one more time, knife-ear,” the man said. His accent was thickly Fereldan, but he wore armour popular with Kirwkall mercenaries. “Where is the Inquisitor?”

               “No matter how much blood you spill, it does not change the fact that she is not here,” the old woman said. Her voice was a hot blade thrust into cold water. “And I can promise you that you will not leave this place to obtain your promised gold if you harm one hair on the head of those children.”

               He only grinned at her. “Oh,” he said, “how do you know I won’t take my chances?”

               Varric heard another scream,  and his head jerked round to the other side of the square—he saw Aevalle’s dark haired friend from the night before being dragged in by a group of five more mercenaries. Some of the hunters trained their bows on them, but Varric could see in their eyes they knew they were likely outnumbered.

               “We’ve found the Inquisitor’s friend,” they yelled.

               “Una,” the Keeper said. “Let her go. She has no knowledge of this.”

               She had a black eye and a broken nose, the poor thing, but she still looked defiant with a knife held to her throat. “You’ll never find her,” she said, and she spat blood onto the ground in front of her. “She’s long gone. It doesn’t matter what you do now, she’ll come for you, and she’ll make you bleed a thousand times what hurt you’ve given us.”

               Her captor hit her in her stomach, hard. She crumpled, and the Dalish hunters all jerked forward as one, like they were going to attack.

               The Keeper held up her hand, and they stopped.

               “It hurts,” said Cole, “the knife is cold and his hand is shaking. If he shakes much more he’ll cut me—how deep does it go?”

               “Kid,” he said, “I have a plan. Follow my lead.”

               “Gentlemen,” Varric said, lowering Bianca and stepping out into the square. He felt all eyes on him at once. “You must have great numbers if you plan to make enemies of both the city of Wycome and the Inquisition. Not to mention certain parties in Kirkwall who have established strong trading relationships with the people here. Or the soon to be Divine, whose spies are likely recording this whole thing.”

               “I assume the men who went to get you are dead,” the mercenary leader said.

               “Never send amateurs after a dwarf such as myself,” Varric said with a smile. He kept walking until he stood next to the Keeper—and ignored the look she was giving him. “But I’m feeling magnanimous. That means forgiving to lesser beings,” he clarified.

               “I know what it means,” the man snapped. “Talk faster dwarf. You’re making my hand tremble.”

               “Ser I assure you, I am about to make you a genuine offer. But I will make it quick: myself as a hostage, in exchange for the children. I don’t think you were planning on such a public exit at this juncture, and I’m guessing by the way you just twitched at that my assumptions are correct. Now I think you would make a much easier getaway with just one compliant dwarf than a gaggle of crying children, don’t you?”

               “It’s not going to work,” Cole was saying, “he needs the children. Hand on my neck grows tighter, it’s getting harder to breathe but I can’t cry Hahren will be worried—on the rooftops!”

               Varric looked up, and he saw archers on the tops of the buildings, slipping out of hiding, bows drawn. He counted twenty, easy—who the hell needed this many people to kidnap some elven kids?—and one glance at the Keeper beside him said that they were now thoroughly outnumbered.

               “Thanks for giving yourself up, dwarf,” the man said, smiling. “You and these knife-ears are coming with us. Maybe you can use your quick talking to keep them from crying at night.”

               Varric worked his jaw back and forth. He thought as hard as he could, Stick near us, Kid. We’ll get out of this yet. He kept thinking it until Cole said, “I will follow you,” just as a mercenary shoved him in the back.

               “Move it,” she said.

               “Yeah,” he grumbled, hands up. “I got that part.”

 

The late afternoon sun was filtered through the thick woods when Aevalle’s horse rounded the corner and she saw a cloaked elven figure standing on the narrow path.

               It took her a moment, but she recognised the cloak. Abelas, she thought, but the figure underneath it was too narrow-shouldered, and just too short even though he clearly hunched over to mask this.

               She did not slow the horse’s gait, and she tried not to give any outward signal that she had noticed. The horse snorted as they drew closer, and Aevalle caught the smell of dried blood when the wind shifted.

               The man in the cloak moved, and she kicked the horse hard just as he pulled something glittering from behind him. The horse thundered past him and he took a swipe with his knife, catching her leg as he went. It slipped through the mail there that wasn’t protected by dragon skin and stuck there long enough to cause her to yell as she felt it yanked from her leg, leaving a long gash in the leather of her saddle. The flash of pain was followed by the more alarming burning of poison. She pulled the reigns tighter and yelled, urging the brown and white Dalish mare off the path and into the woods.

               She was small and well-ridden, and although she huffed she leapt every fallen log they came across, her hooves hammering the soft earth as they fled. Aevalle listened to the crashing of horses and soldiers behind her—she picked out five separate voices, and she knew that their horses were balking at the terrain from the sound of their cries.

               But the burning was spreading up her leg, and she could feel the muscles in her foot seizing up. She pulled a healing potion from her belt and downed it, cursing herself for not bringing any tonics. She threw the bottle to the ground behind her, the sound of its crashing urging the horse ever faster. The potion did nothing to help her leg—the pain had grown so much she felt like her leg was on fire, the muscles had completely seized up and she could feel her left side growing gradually more useless to her. She leaned as far down onto the horse’s neck as she could, clutching its reigns and praying she wouldn’t fall.

               The horse thundered onto another road—wider, more well-travelled—and there were men waiting for them there. The horse reared, startled at their wall of shields, and Aevalle was in such pain she could not keep her seating. Thrown from the horse, she managed to roll into a position not unlike standing, although any weight she put on her injured leg made every muscle in her body twist with pain. She grit her teeth and bore it—it was no worse than the anchor had been when she first received it.

               Her dual blades crackled like lightning when she drew them, the red glow from the corrupting rune on one and the white shimmer of the demon-slaying rune on the other. She reached for a flask at her belt when they came at her and they fell back as she was covered in flames, her blades whirling, keeping them at bay.

               One came at her on her left, and she kicked up her foot to knock the shield he held into his face. She made a run for the gap it made, but another came up from behind her. Her wounded leg finally gave when she whirled to parry his sword, and she fell even as her blade caught and turned his away with a flick of her wrist.

               They were on her then—and though she fought and kicked and yelled, she was disarmed when her arms began to stiffen, and her body gave up on her with such reluctance she couldn’t blame it. She was tied up and dragged onto the back of another horse just as her pursuers crashed out of the undergrowth.

               “Where’s her horse?”

               “Gone off. Wolves’ll get it.”

               She listened carefully. Their accents were Fereldan, but the tanner’s mark on the saddle was from Kirkwall. Expats from the Blight?

               “Fine. The boss is waiting at camp.”

               Someone mounted behind her, and she saw she’d managed to make quite a gash in his leg during the struggle.

               “You know,” she managed to say through the haze of pain, “you hold that shield like it’s an Orlesian fan. Your right side is completely open when you fight. I feel bad for all of you; have to cripple a lady in order to beat her five to one.”

“Fucking knife-ears don’t know when to give up,” he said. Then he hit her on the head and she was out.

 

Dagna was waiting at the door to Cullen’s office when he returned there, and he found he did not like the expression of glee in her eyes. Every time the Inquisitor left Skyhold, Dagna came to him to announce all her brilliant breakthroughs—few of which Cullen understood and the ones he did made his head hurt.

               “Dagna,” he said. “I am impossibly busy. Perhaps this can wait until morning.”

               “Look!” she said, grinning. She held up the Orb Corypheus had carried.

               He tried not to jerk back from it in complete horror. “Maker, woman, what are you thinking?” He glanced each way before ushering her into his office, quickly.

               “The Inquisitor asked me to fix it,” Dagna said while he closed and locked the door behind them. “Oh, I wish she was here to see it completed again. It’s so beautiful. I wish it would glow like it’s supposed to.”

               Upon closer, less panicked examination, the Orb she held in her hands was lifeless. It seemed little more than a solid stone with intricate carvings all across its surface. His stomach still turned with dread at the sight of it.

               “Well,” he said, his mouth dry, “it might be for the best that it does not. Why on earth did the Inquisitor have you repair it?”

               “She said it’s an ancient elven foci, and its power might be useful in closing the rest of the Rifts.” Then she winked at Cullen. “But I think she was just trying to convince Solas to come back.”

               Cullen’s mind whirled—Corypheus’ Orb was elven? And the Inquisitor knew? How? But he remembered her following Solas off into the night, after the survivors of Haven had sung for her. He’d thought she had panicked in the face of such blatant Andrastian faith and that Solas had noticed it, removing her from it before she said something she regretted.

               It was not the first time Cullen had questioned Solas’ motives for joining the Inquisition, but in that moment they seemed to ring blatantly false. Solas must have told her, then. Perhaps played off her worries about being Dalish. He was angry about that for a second, but it only simmered—if it had been public knowledge that the source of Corypheus’ power was elven, the reputation of the Inquisition with an elf as its head would have crumbled. All the same, Solas’ sudden departure after the defeat of Corypheus was beginning to make more sense to Cullen.

               “What else did she tell you?” Cullen asked.

               “Not to tell Morrigan. Or Leliana. Or Josephine.” Dagna paused. “She didn’t mention you for some reason, but she was wrapping her feet up and running out the door so maybe she just forgot.”

               “So you’ve repaired it. But it is still dormant?”

               “It just... seems like all the power’s gone out.” She turned it over in her hands, scrutinizing it. “I asked Fiona, and she said it felt like it’s locked away somewhere safe. It still hums a bit—feel it.”

               He held up his hands. “I trust you in this, Dagna,” he said. He wanted nothing to do with the thing. “Please, keep an eye on it. And let me know if anything changes.”

 

“You know, I think I’ve seen this stump before.”

Fenris squinted into the darkness past the edge of Merrill’s veilfire torch. “I told you we should have taken a right.”

               “You said no such thing,” Merrill said. Even irritated she still sounded saccharine.  “Their trail was clearly leading this way—” She made a muffled noise of discontent.

               The Mabari huffed and leaned against Fenris where he stood, holding the reigns of their horses with one hand. He found himself scratching at the dog’s ear absently while Merrill puzzled over the mystery stump. She sighed and rubbed her face with her free hand, swearing softly to herself in elven.

               “I’m sorry, Fenris. You offered to help me and I keep being so sour.”

               He tried to smile. “You are just concerned,” Fenris said, weakly. The Mabari wandered over to Merrill and pushed his face into her leg until she smiled and pet his head.

               Fenris crossed his arms, scowling. The months since Hawke had left had been trying, at best. She had been adamant he wasn’t allowed to follow her; there was a rumour of a Tevinter mage somewhere in their ranks. All the more reason I should be at your side, he had argued, but she had been firm. Someone needed to look after the dog, and besides, didn’t he have more slavers to hunt down? The Venatori had been worse than the usual sort of Tevinter, and their activities were too much for Fenris to keep up with for a while. So she had kissed him and left, and then word had come back from Varric that had made him break a few pieces of furniture. She’s gone to Weisshaupt, it said. Why the hell would she go there? What business could she have with the Grey Wardens? She should have just let her idiot brother handle it.

               He was floundering without word from her when Merrill came to him, panicked. Someone’s taken children from the alienage, she said. Aveline can’t help me and Isabella and Varric aren’t here and—”

               So there he was. Lost in the dead of night with a mabari and a witch. Stranger places, you said. Was this what she’d had in mind?

               “Oh how silly of me, of course I’ve seen this stump before! It means that... you know who is nearby. Maybe we should go get him and ask for help.”

               Fenris scowled. “No.”

               “You’re right. It’s a terrible idea. He hates me anyway.” She began to pace. “It’s been weeks since they were taken,” she said. “I hope they’re alright. Are they being fed well? Are they scared?”

               “There is no point in tormenting slaves that have yet to be sold,” Fenris said. “They are in good health, Merrill. As well as they can be.”

               She smiled, and was about to thank him when they heard a horse approaching up the road at a trot. The Mabari’s ears stood up and he tilted his head, but gave no indication of a threat. They stood and waited for the horse to come into their light—a brown and white pinto mare, small and riderless. She stopped next to Merrill and nosed at her clothing as if looking for a treat.

               “Friend of yours?” Fenris guessed.

               “This leatherwork is Dalish,” Merrill said. “See? The mark on the bridle... it’s the mark of clan Lavellan. They’ve settled in Wycome now—what’s this poor thing doing out here on its own?”

               As Merrill coddled the creature, Fenris inspected the saddle. “It has been cut,” he said. “Bring the light here.”

               She obeyed, and there was dried and clotted blood on the saddle—and the burn of a poison along the mark the knife had made.

               “Elgar’nan,” Merrill breathed.

               “Fasta vass,” Fenris swore.

               “Fenris,” she said, “do you think—”

               He used his gauntlets to cut the bloody part of the saddle off. He knelt down next to the dog, who sniffed it and then barked twice.

               “We will find out,” he said, going back to the horses.

               They ran the horses hard after the dog, riding hard down the road for a few hours before the dog gave a soft woof and they slowed. They tied all three horses up, extinguished the veilfire and followed the dog on foot, weapons drawn, through the trees. Fenris felt a familiar tickle on his skin and the hum of the lyrium under it as Merrill cast a silencing spell, and he tried not to stiffen too visibly. Hawke’s magic had been gentler, but Merrill’s was different still from the magic of Tevinter. Older, and it came with warmth. Still made his skin crawl.

               She sent him an apologetic look that was borderline pity, and Fenris pretended he didn’t see it.

               It wasn’t long before a campfire came into view, and they approached more slowly. The camp was quite large, and it had a number of cage wagons by which stood armoured guards. They appeared vastly undermanned for the space they took up, but Fenris counted fifteen mercenaries. They were mostly human, though he spotted one Tal-Vashoth and one elf who seemed to be in charge.

               Merrill grabbed at his arm and pointed. At the far edge of the camp were the peering, frightened faces of the missing elven children, all five of them crammed into one wagon. They clutched at the bars and stared at a figure at the fire in Dalish clothing, tied up, gagged and slumped over. Her body shuddered and twitched as if she was in great pain.

               The elf approached her, and she raised her head. She had red hair, half shaved to expose one long and slender ear, dark skin and blue markings that spread up her skull, a hooked nose and fierce green eyes. Her jaw was set in a line of intense anger, but her eyes were alert and focused.

               “Finally awake,” the elf said. He had the thick accent of a city elf from Orlais, pale skin and white hair. There were wrinkles forming on his face that gave him the look of perpetually frowning. “Inquisitor.”

               Merrill elbowed him hard. He gave her a cross look.

               “Don’t look at me like that,” the man said. “I was a friend of your father’s, you know.”

               She didn’t react.

               “Of course he never wrote to tell me you were even born. Or that he’d gotten soft and run off with some Dalish savage. We’d had a falling out by that point. You might not be surprised to hear I left him for dead in the middle of some forest to the north.”

               He had something small and shining in his hands. He turned it over and over again, as if he was considering it. Fenris couldn’t make out what it was. Too small to be a weapon of any kind—was it made of glass?

               “I apologize for the poison. I imagine you’re in all kinds of crippling pain. It won’t kill you if I give you the antidote within the next day or so—your poor heart can only take so much of the strain, after all. So I’ll make this simple: you know a little song. I imagine your father taught it to you. Or, rather, I should say I tortured your little friend until he told me that yes, he gave you what I am looking for. I’ve already taken all the guesswork out of the equation.”

               Her eyes were moving rapidly, taking in the camp, the strange man, the thing he was holding. Fenris saw her fingers moving, as if she were testing them.

               “You show such concern for a creature so unlike us,” he said. “They left us to rot while they guarded some rubble, just like you Dalish leave us in the cities to starve and scramble for the scraps of a better life.” His expression softened, in the way a predator pretends to let its guard down. He knelt beside her. “I know you’re not like the other Dalish,” he said. “You care. I understand that, truly. So I want you to believe me when I say I’m trying to make a better life for our people, Inquisitor.”

               She glanced at the cage full of elven children.

               He smiled. “What is it you people say? The healer has the bloodiest hands? I cannot be so high and mighty as you, Inquisitor. I have to take what pieces I can get in this game. But now I do not have to settle with pawns, for very soon I will have the Queen.”

               He reached up and touched her face. She did not recoil from his touch, but the disgust was evident in her eyes and the curling of her nose.

               “Your eyes are the thing,” he said. “You look nothing like him. You look like a wild animal with these things—” he flicked her markings and she winced. “I can’t imagine how you charmed the court of Orlais so. Must have worn a wonderful mask. But your eyes—they look exactly like his. They’re what gave you away, when my agent saw you. Shame for you he didn’t just die with his secrets, like he was supposed to.”

               Then he laughed. “Where are my manners! You may call me Sunil. Not the name your father knew me by, but I doubt he ever told you about me, did he?”

               He examined her for a time, then, and smiled. “All I need, Inquisitor, is the song your father taught you; a simple little thing. Just sing it for me, and I will have all I need. You can run back to your Inquisition and chase me all over Thedas if you like. But ah,” he said when he saw her look at the wagon full of children again, “they come with me. So, let me hear it. I’ll be glad if we both part as friends.”

               He took her gag from her mouth and she spat on his face. “Ma halam len’alas lath’din. [P1] You’re on borrowed time. Whatever thugs you have, I have a thousand more, and they will make you regret the fear in those children’s’ eyes.”

               He wiped the spit from his face. “I thought you might say that,” he said. He gestured to one of his men, and they went to the cage. They pulled a boy out and he cried out softly, but was quickly silenced.

               “Don’t you touch him,” she snarled.

               The boy was brought over, too terrified to struggle. Sunil took a knife from his belt.

               “The song to summon Fen’harel, Inquisitor.”

               Merrill grabbed at his arm again, and Fenris pulled her close. “Get as close to the cage as you can,” he whispered. “When I distract them, get the children out.”

               “What about—”

               “I’ll get the boy. Go.”

               “There’s no such song,” the Inquisitor said.

               “I was there when your father received it. Do not lie to me.”

               Her eyes flicked up and down Sunil, taking in his probable weak spots at a glance. “What makes you think you can control the Dread Wolf?”

               Sunil used the knife to prick the little boy’s finger. He winced, but did not cry. Fenris’ skin crawled at the sight of it, but still he waited. Merrill wasn’t in position yet.

               “I always cursed that I was not born a mage,” Sunil said. “My struggle would have been that much easier had I been able to force people into doing my bidding. But I should count myself lucky—the ancient elves thought of everything, it seems.” He took the small shining item up in his hand—it was an orb the size of his palm, made of something that shined like glass—and squeezed the boy’s finger until a drop of blood fell onto it.

               The boy’s eyes glossed over and his expression became blank. Sulin put the dagger in the boy’s hand and he held it, unblinking.

               “It doesn’t have the finesse I was hoping for,” Sunil said. “For instance, I can’t make him say a word. Apparently the throat closes up as all the muscles in the body fight against my control. I can’t read into his thoughts. I have found rather creative uses for it—for example, I know from prior experience he can hear everything we are saying. He’s screaming inside, unable to control his own body, poor thing.”

               The Inquisitor was watching the boy with pity in her expression.

               “I will not be so stupid as to spell it out for you, Inquisitor. The song.”

                “It’s alright, da’len,” she said, softly, smiling at the boy. “I’m sure your mother and father are looking for you. You’ll see them soon.”

               Sulin scowled and the orb in his hand flared up. The boy raised the knife and turned it toward himself.

               Fenris looked up. Merrill wasn’t close enough yet. He hesitated.

               Then the Inquisitor, with a grimace of great pain, shoved herself into the boy. She collided with him and fell on top of him, and knife slid through the gap in her armour and into her side.

               The mabari snarled and leapt into the camp, and Fenris ran in behind him, the lyrium markings flaring up and glowing white in the night.

               He cut down the first one to come at him with a snarl—the second he stepped aside to dodge a desperate overextended sword thrust, then grabbed the sword and yanked it from his opponent’s grasp. He ran the man through and the next was upon him, cleverer than the last and they locked blades before Fenris reached forward, lyrium flaring up and down his arm, and phased his hand through the man’s chest.

               He pulled the man’s heart out and that sent three of the soldiers running—it’s the Champion’s elf, they screamed—and he whirled to face the rest. Then the trees themselves rose up from the earth, their great roots wrapping around the soldiers and pulling them under. Their mighty limbs reached after the ones that scattered, snagging a few more, and Fenris moved between them, casting one glance at Merrill—the children huddled behind her, safe in her soft blue barrier.

               Sulin had gone, but the Inquisitor was still slumped over the now sobbing boy. The orb he’d held was lying on the ground beside them, cracked down the middle. Fenris crushed it under his foot before he reached down to pull the Inquisitor off the crying boy.

               She had bled all over him, but the boy was unharmed. “It is alright,” Fenris tried to say, but the boy was screaming. The gauntlet he had offered was covered in blood.

               “Fenris! They’re regrouping!”

               He hoisted the Inquisitor over one shoulder and the boy over the other. The dog ran around him barking, and Fenris yelled, “Follow me!” and plunged into the woods.

               He heard Merrill say, “Come along children,” and they all crashed through the woods, Fenris slowed by his burden, Merrill slowed by the children. The dog ran ahead and back and all around them, whimpering, as if they weren’t aware of the urgency themselves.

               They made it to the horses with the crashing of soldiers in the forest behind them. Merrill put down the children she was holding and sent a wave of power back into the woods. Fenris registered the cracking of ancient wood, the rumbling of great roots overturning ground they had stood in for decades or more, and the screams of the men. Fenris dumped the Inquisitor on his horse and the boy next to her, then began to lift the other children onto the other two horses.

               “Oh Fenris, that’s a lot of blood.”

               The boy was crying. “I’m sorry,” he said through snot and tears.

               The Inquisitor stirred with a groan. “... not your fault, da’len,” she wheezed.

               “She needs a healer.”

               Fenris felt his lips draw back into a snarl. “No,” he said again.

               “Fenris!”

               The Inquisitor coughed, and the boy’s screaming intensified.

               “No problem,” she managed. “I’ll sleep it off.”

               “Fine!” he snarled. He pulled himself up on the horse behind the boy and the Inquisitor. His horse was snorting and stomping at the smell of all that blood.

               “Hold on, children,” Merrill said.

               Fenris kicked his horse and they sped off down the path. Merrill sent a ball of veilfire ahead to guide their way as they raced down the road.

 

Varric had not expected his night to end in a crowded wagon with a dozen Dalish children, a Keeper and a halla caretaker.

               “Good news?” Varric said when the children had fallen asleep. “I know for a fact that Fenris and Merrill are looking for these guys too.”

               “That’s a comfort,” Una said. In a strange turn of events, it sounded like she actually meant it. The little Dalish girl had healed the worst of her wounds, but there was still a purple mark over her eye. She was five, and just the broken nose had exhausted her.

               “And Aevalle will come back from her hunting trip and murder everyone who ever crossed us,” Varric added. “Trust me, she’s good at that.”

               Una bit her lip, then looked away hurriedly.

               “Da’len,” the Keeper said, her voice level.

               Una muttered something Varric couldn’t hear in elven.

               “Da’len,” the Keeper repeated, firmly this time.

               When Una again didn’t answer her, Varric said, “I’m going to throw out a wild guess here and say she didn’t actually go on a hunting trip, did she.”

               Una rested her head on the wall of the wagon. There were no windows, and the heat had been stifling all day. It was beginning to cool down now, but all the bodies inside still kept it unpleasantly warm. “No,” she said.

               They waited for Una to say something in utter silence. Varric drummed his fingers on the floor beside him until the Keeper glared at him.

               “Look,” said Varric, “I’m sure at this point she wouldn’t mind if you spilled. Extenuating circumstances and all.”

               Una still wouldn’t look at them. “I’m worried,” she said, softly. “She was so frightened.”

               She told them the whole thing—how the halla had run from Aevalle, the letter from Solas, then her panic attack that came out of nowhere.

               “Then she said she had to go find Solas. She made me promise to tell you after a week, she wanted a head start. And she didn’t want the Inquisition to know. She wouldn’t say why.”

               Varric was rubbing his head. There was that worrying again.

               The Keeper was looking at him quite strangely. “Tell me everything you know about this Solas,” she said.

               “I—what’s to tell? He showed up when the breach opened, he helped nurse her back to health when the anchor almost killed her. He was the one who figured out that the mark on her hand would close the rifts. He was an apostate, said he used to spend a lot of time in the Fade so he was something of a scholar of elven history.”

               “He seduced Aevalle,” the Keeper said.

               “Okay.” Varric raised his hands. “Look, I was there, and she was definitely the one showing all the interest at first. Trust me, she had eyes for the guy the minute she saw him. Besides, when we got back from the Arbor Wilds he called it off, never told her why. She was heartbroken. Then when we beat Corypheus, one moment he’s there and the next he’s gone. No one’s been able to find him.”

               The Keeper buried her face in her hands.

               “She would have died without him, and we would have never been able to close the breach,” Varric said. “I don’t know why he joined the Inquisition or where he is now, or what made her run off like that, but that at least is the truth.”

               The muffled voice of Cole came from the roof. “She was never yours to keep. Know that she loves you still. A grandmother she never had, the only comfort after the clearing, chest swelling with pride when you told her she was ready for the vallaslin, that she would accompany your First to the conclave. Through all she has learned and has been told is wrong, she keeps what you taught her close, for it is precious.”

               The Keeper pondered this for a while, and they rode in silence. Una eventually nodded off, curled up on the floor with the children, and the Keeper and Varric shared a comfortable silence.

               The Keeper suddenly said, “I had...” She exhaled. “When she was young, I had a dream. I saw her kneeling before the Dread Wolf, a woman grown. She sang to him the stories of our people, and the words he spoke to her were filled with lies and half-truths as he tried to twist her away from us. And still she embraced him, and sang to him, and told him of our kindness, our perseverance, how we did our best to honour the old ways. At the end of the dream, his eyes softened, and she kissed his fur and went away with him. I called to her, and she turned and smiled, but she did not come back.”

               Varric stared at her. He tried not to look up at the roof, but he was rapidly thinking, Kid this is exactly what I was talking about when I said no more weird shit.

               “I... ignored it. For a time. But she began to see things that weren’t there—the children were out playing one day, when the weather was strangely cold. They were on the ice, and she was singing some song her father had taught her. Then she stopped and looked off into nothing—the other children saw nothing—and the ice cracked under Una. The girl would have drowned if Aevalle hadn’t pulled her out. Afterwards, she said a wolf had shown her the bubbles under the ice, told her it was thin. She said he called her Da’len, and she thought he was friendly.”

               The Keeper licked her lips, which were cracked and dry. “I think the gods sent me that dream, so I might be warned to keep her safe, close. To reinforce in her the old ways. She was always meant for greatness, Ser Tethras. I understood that. I raised her after her father’s death as my own. Forgive me if I do not want the world to have her. She has given enough.”

 

“Forgive me if I am not impressed by your complete lack of explanation,” Cassandra said to the guard as the morning sun blazed overhead. “But you allowed them to be taken.”

               The guard was trying his best not to look small under Cassandra’s gaze. “They had hostages, Seeker. And archers on the rooftops. They lit fires across the city—we were spread thin by the time they acted.”

               Wycome was a city in shock when they arrived. Behind her Sera, who had contacts even here, was talking with some scullery maid and her face was twisted into a scowl. Bull and the Chargers stood around looking menacing while Dalish spoke in quiet conversation with several elven parents whose children had been taken. Hawke was busy looking the least inconspicuous someone had ever looked, drumming her fingers on her staff and leaning against a building. Dorian stood next to her, ignoring the obvious stares of hate from the elves who walked past. Amazingly enough, they were too busy glaring at Dorian to even notice Hawke. They had found the secret to helping Hawke hide in plain sight, Cassandra thought with annoyance. Vivienne had her fingers pressed to her lips, considering the inn where their soldiers had been found from afar. The stench was awful.

               Beside her, Blackwall asked the guard, “What can you tell us about these mercenaries?”

               “As far as we can figure, they were Fereldan expats from Kirkwall. Besides that, we don’t know anything. There wasn’t a Vint among them.”

               “So they were not looking for slaves.” Cassandra muttered. “Then why take the children?”

               “We—don’t know. We think Ser Tethras, the Keeper and the other Dalish were taken to track down the Inquisitor, but the children might have just been so they could escape the city.”

               “No,” Blackwall said, “their plan almost failed because taking the children drew too much attention. It would have been easier to take Varric on his own.”

               Cassandra asked, “And the Inquisitor was not here? You’re sure of that?”

               “We didn’t know she wasn’t in the city until after the mercenaries left. The Dalish horse master said she had bought a horse from her, claimed she was taking it to go hunting, would be back in a few days at most.”

               “She bought the horse?” Blackwall said. “Didn’t borrow it?”

               “Insisted on paying for it, apparently.”

               Cassandra and Blackwall shared a look.

               “That’s all we know. I’d say ask the Dalish but all their hunters took off after the mercenaries as soon as they had all gathered. All that’s left are the ones who don’t fight.”

               The guard left, and Vivienne approached them.

               “This,” she said, “is an utter mess.”

               “Agreed,” Cassandra said, rubbing her temples.

               “I feel no sign of our dear Aevalle’s pet demon,” she said, “so I think we can assume he has either followed Aevalle or Varric.”

               “Aevalle only took the one horse,” Blackwall said. “Cole would have needed one too.”

               “So a wagon full of hostages is being followed by a demon that thinks it’s helping, and the one person who has ever shown the ability to control its urges is missing,” Vivienne said. “That’s wonderful. I can’t believe I was worried in the first place.”

               “There is a ship sailing this afternoon to Ostwick,” Cassandra said. “We should split up—some of us on the ship and some of us following the Dalish.”

               “We might be able to head them off on the road if the ship arrives fast enough,” Blackwall said. “A good plan. The weather seems fair. The ship may make good time.”

               “I have contacts in Ostwick that I may call to rally to our cause. I am loathe to admit it, but Sera might as well.”

               “I doubt we might convince Hawke of any path but the direct one, and the Chargers will be more of use in the chase.” Cassandra glanced over at Dorian, whose sour expression told her he had similar sentiments. “Blackwall, you go with Vivienne and help Sera rally what help she can. Dorian, Bull, the Chargers and I will accompany Hawke and follow the Dalish.”

               “What about the Inquisitor?” Vivienne asked. “We have no way of contacting her?”

               “Unfortunately, none,” Blackwall said. “But she has a nose for trouble. When we find these kidnappers, we’ll find her, of that I have no doubt.”

               Vivienne sighed. “Almost makes me miss Solas,” she said, with a tone that said the opposite. “He always seemed to know exactly where she’d gone off to.”

               They relayed the plan to the others, and split off immediately. They found a stable where they bought horses—with Dorian enduring some snide comments with little more than an eye roll, to his credit—and as they mounted up, what supplies they could buy over their shoulders, Cassandra looked to the sky and saw a bird flying about the rooftops.

               Be safe, my friend, she thought.

Chapter Text

Varric and the elves spent most of the next day crammed in that awful wagon. Someone opened the back briefly to give them a water flask. They passed it around until it was empty. Then it was taken away and the back closed up again.

               They were allowed out once and Varric, blinded by the sun and the heat of the day, tried to take in as much as he could about their captors. They must have met up with another group somewhere, because he counted forty-five before he was ushered back in, and still more remained. Their leader had Bianca on his back, which made Varric’s skin crawl. He caught sight of Cole sitting on the roof to their wagon, swinging his legs back and forth rhythmically, bobbing his head. Cole had been whispering to the children almost constantly—Varric could hear every word. The Keeper said she was proud of how calm they all were, and Varric was thankful for the first and only time that Cole was invisible.

               The little Dalish girl healed Una’s black eye that day. And she perspired for the effort, but she smiled and embraced Una when she was done. Cole told the little girl how proud everyone was of her; she would make a great Keeper one day. Going from second to first hadn’t been such a scary thing in the long run, had it?

               Varric wanted to say out loud: at least we will all be the most well-adjusted kidnapping victims at the end of all this. He had to laugh at his own joke, but could not explain what to Una what was so funny.

               By the time night had fallen and Varric knew they were all ravenous with hunger, he felt Cole’s voice like a breeze in his ear, muffled as always by their wooden prison. “Horns pointing up. We’ve caught up to them but there’s so many shems. The Dalish hunters have been following, know their numbers. Too frightened for the children to attack. Cassandra has a plan. You will need to make some noise. You will need to make it now.”

               Varric nodded very slightly. Una was looking at him with an odd expression, so he winked at her.

               “Okay kids,” said Varric, and they all stirred as one to look at him, quizzically. “Who wants to play a game?”

               Varric thought to himself that, should he survive this mess to write about it all later, he would use these exact words: “The mercenaries were busy congratulating themselves on their luck; they had never had a group of such quiet and obedient captives. They were toasting one another to their success when, as one, the children that had been silent as death the entire journey all started screaming at the top of their lungs.”

               The door to the wagon was flung open not anywhere near quickly enough, Varric thought with his hands pressed to his ears. The Keeper and Una were looking at him like he was insane when Cole dropped down off the roof of the wagon, landed between the man and the children so they wouldn’t see, and spun the mercenary’s head right around on his neck.

               “Quickly!” he said, and they all followed him out. “Just follow me. Don’t look up, it’s not nice. Follow me.”

               The children followed Cole out of the wagon and down the road as fast as their cramped legs would take them. Una, Varric and the Keeper ushered them all out, and they followed behind, Varric taking up the rear. He turned long enough to see Dalish climb to the top of their wagon and a wall of ice erupted from her “bow” to cover their escape.

               He hurried to catch up, but there was a soldier in his way. Varric went to reach for the knife in his boot, but Cassandra rammed into the man with her shield like he was nothing, turned and snarled at him to run and went on.

               “Get Bianca for me, would you?” he shouted, but received only an exasperated yell as a response. He started following the line of children again, now having to dodge attacks from everywhere at once, running Dalish with swords and bows. He saw Bull at least twice, somehow, and at the end of it all the children were being scooped onto horseback by Dalish hunters. He almost breathed a sigh of relief—but then that little healer girl looked to her right, and she started running into the thick of battle.

               Una yelled. The Keeper followed her, wielding a borrowed staff. Varric veered to follow them—he was closer anyway—and then he was really dodging and weaving and thanking everything he was short enough to go mostly unnoticed. Miraculously no one seemed to notice the little girl—Cole again, he thought—and he and the Keeper raced after her.

               She finally stopped by a fallen Dalish woman and started healing her. As Varric drew closer, that knife from his boot out now and bloodied, he could hear her crying ”Mamae,” over and over, the fallen woman hushing her, petting her hair, smiling in spite of the absurdity of the whole thing.

               The Keeper arrived behind him, and she gave a sigh of relief before she went to the little girl’s side. She spoke softly and pressed her hand on the child’s shoulder—Varric could see a glow as the Keeper began to give the girl some of her energy to use.

               Then Varric heard a familiar click behind him.

               “Of fucking course,” he said, raising his hands as he turned.

               The mercenary leader stood ten paces from him, Bianca loaded and aimed right at Varric’s chest.

               “I was told to take you alive, Dwarf,” he said. “But it’s just not going to happen.”

               The man pulled the trigger. Varric blinked. The man blinked. The bolt stayed firmly in Bianca.

               “You uh, forgot the locking mechanism,” Varric said helpfully.

               “The what?” The man shifted Bianca in his grasp so he was looking directly down her line of sight.

               “By your finger there,” Varric said.

               The man’s thumb breezed over a small, inconspicuous lever. The bolt fired through his head and lodged itself there. His body stood there until Varric took Bianca from him and shoved it to the ground.

               “I missed you too,” he crooned to her, checking her over for any nicks or scratches. He stopped long enough to grab the bolts slung over the dead man’s shoulder, load Bianca properly, and went back to where the Keeper and the girl were healing her mother.

               They had finished, and the woman was slowly standing. Her girl tried to stand but she fell, so she picked her daughter up and carried her, singing an off-key song in elven.

               Cole was behind them, then. “We will have to follow the Chargers,” he said, softly.

               “Where were you when I was about to get shot in the face?”

               Cole’s expression was baffled. “Bianca would never hurt you,” he said.

               “Does it sound that ridiculous when I say it?” he wondered.

               “The Dalish had to pull back to safety. They have the children. We will be heading for Ostwick, leading them the other way. Look, horses.”

               Krem was driving a stolen supply wagon, the top of which had been blown right open. Dalish and Dorian stood in the back, the magic from their staves lighting up the night. Krem pulled the wagon up to them and reigned the horses in, yelling, “Get in!”

               Dorian offered Varric a hand up. “I was under the distinct impression you said you were heading home and never doing anything like this ever again,” he said, sweating in the night’s heat. Varric had never met a person whose sweat could actually be called gleaming and anything other than gross and disgusting but Dorian had to take the cake on that one. Varric had no idea how he did it.

               “That was the plan,” Varric said as he was hoisted into the wagon. “But you have been told how well my Deep Roads expedition went. I have a history for this sort of thing.”

               They helped Cole, the Keeper and the Dalish woman with her child into the wagon, Krem snapped the reigns and they were off again. Varric made out the rest of the chargers following them on horseback, torches lit—then Cassandra, bloodied sword held out and a scowl on her face. Bull was not far behind on the biggest horse Varric had ever seen. A familiar hooded figure raced up behind them, staff held high and that familiar laugh crowing from her lips, and Varric couldn’t help but smile.

               “Hawke, where the hell have you been?” he yelled. “No word for months? I was worried sick!”

               “Oh you know,” she shouted back. “Someone needed a shirt ironed and it was all downhill from there.”

               He had to laugh.

               “Won’t they follow us?” the Keeper shouted over the din.

               Cassandra pulled her horse up to match their pace. “Their horses are scattered, wagons burned.”

               “Leader dead,” Varric added helpfully.

               “By the time they have recovered enough to follow us, we will have reinforcements from Ostwick,” Cassandra continued.

               “Have you seen Aevalle?” Varric asked her.

               She only shook her head.

              

When morning came they finally stopped for water by a stream, letting their exhausted horses rest. After they had all stretched and drank and ate from the supplies, they decided to walk beside the horses awhile, changing out the ones who pulled the wagon. Cassandra filled Varric and Cole in on the break ins at Skyhold as they walked. She explained about the elven spy, the strange glass fragments found with her body.

               “Explains why you didn’t come in numbers,” he said.

               “Yes. It worries me that we do not know what it is for, but we haven’t been in one place long enough to receive word from Skyhold, unfortunately.”

               “Look!” the little Dalish girl shouted suddenly, leaning out of the wagon and pointing ahead. “The trees were angry!”

               Cassandra and Varric shared a look, then ran ahead to where the girl pointed—part of the path had been overturned by overgrown trees and their roots, hanging suspended in the air. The wreckage left a straight line through the forest, and Varric saw a number of rotting corpses suspended in branches and tree roots. They wore the same armour as the men who had taken them in Wycome.

               “Looks like Daisy’s handiwork,” Varric said as Hawke jogged up next to them. He turned to Cassandra, who was looking at the ground.

               “There was an awful amount of movement here,” she said. She knelt down and touched the tracks. “There were children here. Their tracks have been disturbed, it is hard to say how many or if they were with anyone. Where are you going?”

               Hawke was making her way through the path the disturbed trees made. “Obviously they were being followed. Let’s see where they were coming from.”

               “Stay with the horses,” Bull said to the Chargers. The rest of the Inquisitor’s Inner Circle followed.

               It wasn’t long before they came upon a camp that had been completely trashed. Someone had gone in with a great sword and slashed quite a few mercenaries right in half, which seemed to him like Fenris’ work—then he saw one man on the ground with a hole in his armour where his heart used to be.

               “Hawke,” Varric called. She joined him in staring at the corpse.

               “How strange is it that seeing this just gets me excited now?” she asked.

               Varric looked up at her. “That’s disgusting.”

               “Over here,” Cassandra called, and they followed her. Merrill had convinced nearly every tree in the vicinity of the camp to uproot itself or to twist and reach—there were at least six soldiers dead just in the one area. Cassandra was kneeling on the ground near what had clearly been a lot of blood—it had congealed and dried up in the heat.

               “How long has that been there?” He asked.

               “Two days,” she said. Then she frowned. “What is this?”

               Inside a very neat footprint was a collection of glass shards. Cassandra picked up the biggest of them, frowning.

               “Let me guess,” Varric said.

               “It is the same as at Skyhold,” she confirmed.

               “Oh no,” said Dorian on the other side of camp. They turned and saw him standing over a small cache of weapons. He bent to pick something up, and Varric recognised immediately what they were.

               “Shit,” he managed to say. Dorian turned and held them in front of him.

               Two dragon bone dual blades. In Dorian’s hands they burned with a corruption rune and a demon slaying rune.

               “So she was here. And if we can assume from the carnage that your allies found her here—if that’s her blood there...” Cassandra paused. “They would have gone to find a healer, correct?”

               “Where would they find a healer in the middle of nowhere?” Dorian said. Varric could hear the panic rising in his voice, as much as the Tevinter mage tried to control it.

               Varric and Hawke shared a look.

               “Dwarf,” Cassandra said.

               Varric felt himself smiling sheepishly. “So uh... how well can everyone here keep a secret?”

 

“I am not grumpy,” Fenris said for what was possibly the hundredth time in the past two days.

               The little girl made a farting noise with her tongue. Then she giggled and ran to Merrill, who picked her up with a laugh.

               “Oh Fenris if the wind changes your face will stay like that,” Merrill said. She picked her way over to the table where he sat through a large number of mewling kittens. “But he does have an absurd number of cats,” she said as she did.

               “It’s not my fault they followed me here,” Anders said, coming in from the stairs up to the bedroom. He had dark bags under his eyes, and he sort of wobbled as he closed the door behind him. He opened his mouth to say something else, but Merrill grabbed an apple off the table and stuffed it in his mouth.

               “Eat first you silly man,” she scolded him. She put the elven girl back on the floor to play with the kittens. They immediately swarmed her, and she giggled at their whiskers tickling her face.

               The tower was well hidden by the woods and hills, and long forgotten by any map. Anders had only been at this particular hideout for about a month, but he had settled in quite nicely if the cats were any indication. There was an assortment of books, a desk full of papers that were crumpled and tossed aside, and only one bed in the other room, up the stairs. As it was currently occupied with the patient, everyone had been more or less living and sleeping with the cats for the past two days. Fenris would never be clean of cat hair again.

               The older children were entertaining themselves with the books or the cats, scattered across the tower room. The oldest was the girl who was putting logs in the stove and had a pot of soup on the go. The dog sat nearby, begging for and receiving the occasional scrap from her cutting pile. The boy who had stabbed the Inquisitor sat by the window on his own, his knees tucked up close to his chest and his head resting on them. He moved little.

               “I was going to say,” Anders continued through a mouthful of apple, “that the poison has cleared her system, her breathing is normal, and her muscles are no longer strained. She’s going to be fine.”

               “Has she woken up at all?” Merrill asked.

               Anders frowned. “No,” he said. “It’s like she’s... wandered off. In the Fade, as it were. It’s not uncommon for a mage to sort of, vacate so to speak when there’s been severe trauma. I expect she’ll be back within a day.”

               Fenris and Merrill looked at each other.

               “She’s not a mage,” Fenris said. “Varric was very clear on that in his letters.”

               Anders chewed on the apple for a while. “Hm,” he said. Then he took Merrill’s offered goblet of water. “Well then this is extremely strange, isn’t it.”

               “You don’t look particularly alarmed,” Fenris said.

               “You’re right, I don’t.” Anders sat in the remaining seat at the table. “Sorry I’m—exhausted. I don’t know what it means, Fenris. I mean every human and elf has a connection to the Fade, and some have a strong one without being considered mages...”

               The girl took the pot from the stove and put it on the table.

               “Supper,” she said, and she grabbed the rough wooden spoons Fenris had carved for them all out of a drawer.

               All five of the children plus two mages and Fenris all crammed around the pot and started to eat out of it as best they could. There was some scuffling with elbows but by this point they had figured out who was left handed and where to stand.

               “Didn’t Varric say in his letters that she went into the Fade physically?” Merrill asked between spoonfuls.

               “Twice,” said Fenris. “Perhaps that mark of hers has something to do with the... wandering.”

               He wasn’t entirely sure how it had come to this—peacefully sharing a cramped pot of soup with two apostates. Since the events of Kirkwall, Fenris had found it difficult to stay angry with Merrill for very long. She was annoying, yes, but she also refused to leave the alienage in the chaos after the battle with Meredith. She helped the elves bolster themselves and defend from attackers and looters, and the alienage stood at the end of it all relatively whole. Even when Sabastian’s forces came marching, the elves and the city guard worked together in tandem to fend them off until Inquisition reinforcements arrived.

               Anders was a different story. Out here the abomination was relatively harmless, he supposed, and the cats kept him happy. His continued safety meant a lot to Hawke, which meant Fenris had to be invested whether he liked it or not. Magic still made Fenris’ skin crawl, and he distrusted the demon in Anders’ body, but he supposed, seeing him here after all this time, Anders had done the damage he could. There was nothing left to be done about it.

               “I suppose someone with a strong emotional connection to her could pull her back out,” Anders continued. “But considering she is pretty much a stranger to each of us I don’t think that will happen any time soon.”

               “Will she come back?” Merrill asked.

               “The whole thing looked and felt exactly like a mage who had retreated into the fade to escape the pain in their body,” Anders said. “My gut says yes, she will come back, but I have no experience in this particular realm.”

               The dog’s ears pointed forward, and the dog went to the window, nearly knocking everyone over in the process. They all yelled at him, and the dog began to jump in place, barking and whining.

               “What’s gotten into him?” Merrill said. She went to the window—and gasped.

               “Fenris,” she said, “it’s Hawke.”

               He was out the door and down the stairs in a heartbeat, the dog hot on his heels.

               The dog got to her first, and he bowled her over when she kneeled to greet him. She baby talked and crooned at the creature until Fenris stopped before her, breathing heavily. His heart was hammering in his chest, and a thousand things he wanted to yell at her were sitting on the edge of his tongue, but there she was, her dark hair messed up from her tumble with the dog, a smile on her face, and light in her eyes at seeing him.

               “Hawke,” was all he managed.

               “Fenris,” she said, and the dog got off her long enough for Fenris to pull her to her feet. Their mouths met and his hands rested on the back of her head, and they didn’t stop until Varric coughed politely—for the third time.

               Hawke embraced Merrill, and they spoke some words to each other that Fenris didn’t hear. Then there was Anders, standing awkwardly some distance away. Hawke took one look at him and smiled, though Fenris could tell she was upset with how thin the mage had become.

               “You need to shave,” was all she said.

               He rubbed the stubble on his chin. “The cats like it.”

               She pulled him into a warm embrace while Merrill fussed over Varric’s hair and the opening of his shirt. Fenris allowed a few jokes at his expense because Varric had clearly been saving them up, although he had a hard time not rolling his eyes.

               “Blondie,” Varric called as Anders hung back, still, “get over here, there’s some people I’d like you to meet.”

               That was all it took—Anders was pulled into the circle of introductions.

               “Alright, so this is Dorian—Fenris I promise he’s not a spy—the lovely Seeker Cassandra Pentagast, The Iron Bull—who used to be a spy but he was upfront about it so that’s all well and good—and uh, if you can see him Cole is over there...”

               A boy with a large hat said, “It still burns but you like it when she kisses them, you don’t have to feel guilty about that. It’s her making you happy, not the marks.”

               “... Kid, what did I say.”

               “... Not to do that in the middle...”

               “This is Keeper Deshanna Istimaethoriel Lavellan, Muriel Lavellan and her daughter Inah, and the Chargers, Krem, Dalish, Skinner, Rocky, Stitches, and Grim.”

               “Someone’s been practicing,” Hawke said.

               “And everyone else, this is Fenris, Merrill and Anders.”

               “And Justice,” Cole added, which made Anders bristle.

               “Where is the Inquisitor?” Cassandra asked. She was glaring at Anders suspiciously.

               “Sleeping,” said Merrill. “She was poisoned with something awful and... wounded. She’s been recovering.”

               “Take me to her,” the Keeper said, pushing through the crowd.

               There was no way they would all fit in the tower, so the children from inside all went out to play with Inah and the Chargers—Fenris peeked out the window to see them climbing and swinging from The Iron Bull’s horns while Krem carried two around on his back. The little boy who had stabbed the Inquisitor stayed inside, and one moment he was alone but the next Cole was sitting next to him, murmuring things that Fenris couldn’t hear. Merrill stayed in the room with them to clean up their lunch dishes, and Dorian’s offer of help was gladly accepted. Maybe it was the look Fenris was giving him.

               Anders’ bedroom was crowded to brimming with Cassandra, Fenris, Hawke, the Keeper, Varric and Anders, all pressing themselves around the lone bed where the Inquisitor lay, sleeping peacefully.

               The Keeper went to her and pressed her hands to the sleeping elf’s face. Then her hand wandered to the bandages wrapped around her torso.

               “Ma serannas,” she said softly. She took Aevalle’s hands and held them, kneeling beside the bed. “Thank you.”

               Fenris wasn’t sure who she was talking to.

               “Shit,” said Varric. “What happened to her?”

               “It was a paralysis poison,” Anders said. “Locked up most of the muscles in her body—Fenris and Merrill got her here just in time, her heart was almost at its limit. And...”

               Fenris didn’t like Anders’ hesitation. “There was an elf in charge with some orb he said belonged to the ancient elves.”

               “This?” Cassandra said. She pulled a shard of the thing he’d stepped on out of her pocket.

               “Yes.”

               “We found one like it at Kirkwall, on the body of one of our spies after she tried to sneak into the Inquisitor’s room.” Cassandra blinked. “Do you know what it did?”

               “It allowed him to use blood magic to control one of the children taken from Kirkwall. He tried to have the boy stab himself to get something out of her. She... got in the way.”

               “What did he want?” Cassandra asked. “If this orb can control someone, then why couldn’t he just use it on her?”

               Fenris scowled. “He said—he needed a song from her, and the orb apparently cannot force someone to speak. He was looking for a way to control the Dread Wolf.”

               The Keeper’s shoulders stiffened.

               “When will she wake up?” she asked.

               “I’m not sure,” Anders said. “She’s... wandered into the Fade. I’ve seen it with mages, when their bodies are in too much pain. Now that she’s healed, she will probably come back on her own. Or, someone she trusts can follow her and bring her back before she wanders too far.”

               “I have some experience in this,” said the Keeper. She stood and went to the head of the bed.

               “Shouldn’t we let her rest?” Varric suggested. Anders was pulling a chair up for the Keeper to sit on.

               The Keeper gave Varric a look as she sat, which made Fenris wonder what they had spoken of. Without another word, she placed her hands on either side of the Inquisitor’s head, closed her eyes, and slowed her breathing to match the woman on the bed.

 

She exited the tavern to find Solas with his back to the door, leaning on a fence. She held her prize loosely in one hand as she looked him up and down with a smile.

               “Seriously though,” she said, not wanting to startle him. He turned around—it was dark, she couldn’t quite make out his expression. She closed the tavern door behind her.  “What kind of idiot bets a kiss against a treasure like this?”

               “If you were any other woman I might be inclined to agree with you,” Solas said as she approached.

               “Oh?” She tried to hide her excitement at that statement—she hadn’t been imagining the jealous looks after all.

               “I’ve said before, none among our people have been raised so high by the humans, Lethallan.

               She stopped at a distance she hoped was comfortable for him—there was something about his manner that told her maybe she’d gone a bit too far in the tavern. “Did the song upset you, Solas?”

               “I just needed some air,” he said. It came across a bit standoffish, but she knew him well enough to know he didn’t mean it. “Do not concern yourself with me.”

               “Lethallin.” She perched herself on the fence beside him and set the instrument on the ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you. I know you’re uneasy around us, and your dealings with the Dalish have not always gone well. I just thought that maybe if some of the people got to know you a bit...”

               He was scowling. “I am not as shy as you seem to think I am.”

               He sounded like such a sullen child she had to laugh. “Solas! Is that what this is about?”

                “What?”

               She hopped off the fence, grinning. She wanted to leap for joy—she felt dizzy. This meant something, didn’t it? Her mind was reeling and she had to form words when all she wanted was to grin at him and never stop. “You—It’s just a song, Solas. I don’t think you’re some timid halla.”

               He opened his mouth, but he hesitated a moment so she took his hands from the fence and pulled him away from it, swaying back and forth as she began to sing.

               “I will dance all night in Fen’harel’s arms.” She tried not to wince at the sound of her own voice—she sounded rough.

               Solas was blushing. “Lethallan.”

               She could still not make out his eyes in the dark—why? Everything else was clear. “And not return til daylight.”

               “You’re drunk,” he said.

               “Oh, very!” She giggled—giddy on the smell of him, the chill in the air and the blush that was spreading all the way to the tips of his ears. She began to maneuver them back towards the fence, and she continued singing. “But I’d like to take him home with me.”

               Solas stopped at the fence. She pressed forward and stood on her toes, the only points of contact between them their hands.

                “For I love this Dread Wolf dearly,” she sang, leaning in to kiss him.

               The fence did not collapse. He kissed her back, his lips hot on hers, and she pressed closer to him with a moan. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer still, and Skyhold around them was shifting rapidly—the spring, Haven, the Emerald Graves, the Temple of Sacred Ashes...

               She released the kiss, but did not pull away from him. His expression had changed, gone unreadable.

               “Is this your dream or mine?” she whispered. She still couldn’t see his eyes—was he hiding them? What would be worth hiding there?

               “Mine.” He reached up to touch her hair, then stopped himself. “What are you doing here? How are you here?”

               She frowned as she tried to remember. “There was...”

               Then she felt something wet on her side. Her hand went to it, instinctively, and she pulled it away bloody.

               “Right,” she said.

               Solas caught her as she fell, and he lowered her to her knees.

               “Ma vhenan, no,” he blurted, like the pet name had been shocked from him, and she smiled at it like an idiot. Every question she wanted to ask, the terror she’d felt when she’d realised, her anger and hurt and shame all vanished with his words, at the panic in his voice, and she cursed her own heart as it leapt through her chest for joy.

               Somewhere in the distance, her Keeper was calling her name.

               “Tell me where you are,” Solas said. His voice was rising in panic and rage. “Tell me who hurt you.”

               She brought her hands up to his face, smearing blood all along one side of it. “You can’t come for me,” she said. “He’s after you.”

               “I can’t let you—”

               “No,” she said. “Solas, ma lath, I know who you are.”

               The fog that covered his eyes lifted as his expression tightened, and she stared into his eyes as she held his face. She was lost there for a moment, feeling the raw power roll over her—and, as she watched the hard lines of his face falter, the sadness that lingered there.

               “I won’t let him have you,” she breathed, and she kissed him again.

               He broke the kiss, and he let his forehead rest against hers.

               “I will not let you die,” he said, like it was a warning. “I will find you.”

               Her Keeper’s voice was much closer. “Da’len!” she shouted, horrified.

               Aevalle turned her head, frowning. The scene had shifted again. She was crouched on the ice—could hear it shift and crack underneath her—and her Keeper stood at the bank.

               “Da’len, get away from him!”

               She frowned and looked back—Solas was no longer Solas, but a great white wolf, her blood smearing his fur, and she held his head in her hands. But there were his eyes—bright and wild and shining with power and secrets she did not understand, and filled with sorrow.

               She kissed the fur between his eyes.

               “Dareth shiral, ma vhenan.” she whispered, and the ice collapsed underneath them.

 

Aevalle woke with a yell and launched herself out of bed, her hand reaching for Solas and failing to grab him. Instead she grasped empty air and almost fell right on her face, would have if someone she didn’t recognise hadn’t been there to catch her.

               “Easy does it,” he said, and she fought against him instinctively—blinking rapidly, why was everything so bright—and stopped when she heard Varric’s voice.

               “Aevalle it’s us!”

               “You are safe now,” Cassandra said—wait, Cassandra?

               She allowed herself to be eased back onto the bed. Her sight was adjusting. She was in a room, presumably in a tower—she could hear children playing outside. Was that Bull laughing?

               Cassandra and Varric were in her immediate field of view, with the blonde man lowering her onto the bed. Hawke was nearby, with an elf she didn’t immediately recognise but he had pale markings on his skin and the pointiest clothes she’d ever seen so he had to be Fenris.

               From below them, Dorian yelled, “Is everything alright up there?”

               “She just woke up,” Hawke yelled back down.

               At her head of her bed her Keeper was rising from a chair. Her hands were clenched. She would not look at Aevalle.

               “Hahren,” she said. “I—”

               Her Keeper left the room without a word.

               “What happened?” Cassandra asked.

               Varric was giving Aevalle an odd look

               “It’s nothing,” she said, looking down at her knees. The mage busied himself with checking the wound at her side, unwinding the bandages about her stomach to look at it.

               “You didn’t open it up again,” he said, sounding relieved. “Name’s Anders,” he said, wrapping her back up again. “A pleasure to meet you, Inquisitor.”

               She blinked at the name. “What?” She looked up at Varric.

               “At what point did I fail to mention to everyone here that I am a liar?”

               She smiled, and Dorian arrived at the top of the stairs.

               “Your Keeper looks positively livid,” he said as he approached. “I’m afraid the only advice I have to give on that matter is absolutely terrible and not worth listening to.”

               She took the mug of water he offered. “So, what exactly did I miss?” she asked, looking again at everyone assembled.

               Everyone was introduced, ending with Merrill who came up with a makeshift plate with some bread and cheese on it. She ate while they filled her in, interjecting only to ask the necessary questions.

               At the end of it all, Cassandra looked at her pointedly. She sighed and put her empty plate aside.

               “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t planning on running off. It just—happened.”

               “You could have sent a raven.”

               She tugged her hair. “It was... something I had to do alone.”

               “Hey,” Varric interjected, “you didn’t know some weird guy looking for elven gods was after you. Everyone has their moments of running off into the wilderness alone—yours was just poorly timed.”

               “Thanks, Varric.”

               “But that man,” Merrill said, “that Sunil, is there actually such a thing? A song that can command Fen’harel?”

               “No,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck where Solas had held her in the dream. “My father taught me a song when I was a girl that he said was about asking Fen’harel for help. But it’s just a song.”

               “Where would he have learned such a thing?” Hawke asked.

               She shrugged. “I don’t know. He was from Kirkwall’s alienage, he joined the clan shortly before he married my mother. He never told me about his past.”

               The conversation continued around her for a time, but she kept looking at her hands. She wished she remembered how she had wandered off and found Solas—she had a feeling he was going to do something reckless. The anchor burned as she thought of it.

               After a time, Anders took the cup from her hands and pressed the back of his hand to her forehead.

               “She needs rest,” he said, softly. “We’ll have another healing session in the morning, but for now you need to get some of your energy back.”

               Everyone filtered out of the room slowly, with Varric and Anders staying behind. Something unspoken passed between them, and Anders left first, closing the door behind him.

               She tried to smile at him. “Does this make it into the Inquisitor Lavellan story or is this the sequel?”

               He actually laughed a little at that.

               “Varric,” she said, “I’m sorry I got you wrapped up in this mess.”

               “I think it’s been my destiny to be wrapped up in whatever mess is fashionable since asking Hawke to be a partner for the expedition.”

               She looked away, smiling.

               “Come on, any other day you’d laugh at that.” He sat on the chair next to the bed. “I know you ran off looking for Solas—Una made a valiant effort but we were locked up in a wagon together and that tends to break people down.”

               She rubbed the back of her neck again.

               “Are you still going to look for him? I have contacts, you know. Not as many as our Nightingale, but I want to help. Clearly it means a lot to you.”

               “No,” she said, softly.

               Varric frowned. “Why not?”

               She looked up at him. “It falls into the ‘more weird shit’ category.”

               “I’m hardly surprised.”

               But she said nothing. She didn’t feel she had the right to tell Varric—he and Solas had been close. She didn’t think Solas wanted anyone to know.

               “What was in your dream that the Keeper didn’t like?” he asked her.

               She held her breath—and let it out. She tilted her head to the side and looked at Varric—really looked at him, his weathered features and worried expression, that scar across his face.

               “An old argument,” she said.

Chapter Text

Aevalle awoke to someone bursting through the door. She reached for her weapons—which weren’t there—and tried to see in the pitch black who it was.

               “We’ve been found,” Dorian said. “Fenris and Merrill are getting your things. Come on, I’ll help you down the stairs.”

               “How many?” she said. She hissed with pain when Dorian helped her out of the bed.

               “Easy,” he said. “We’re not sure. The Chargers are holding them off while we get you going—they’ll meet us on the road ahead. We’re heading to another of Anders’ safehouses. You’ll have to ride with the kids in the wagon.”

               Dorian helped her down the stairs in an effort to keep her from reopening her knife wound, which was a process that was equal parts painful, slow, and frustrating, and at the next level down Merrill was shoving kittens into a sack.

               “That... is an absurd number of cats,” was all Aevalle could manage to say.

               “We are well aware,” snapped Fenris, whose arms were full of angry adult cats. His markings were glowing, providing them with the little light available in the tower.

               “Down we go,” Dorian said, lighting the tip of his staff with veilfire and approaching the next stairway.

               Aevalle was loaded into the wagon with the elven children and Cole, who was with the little boy who had been made to stab her. Dorian climbed on horseback and thundered off down the path ahead of them to scout it.

               “See?” Cole was saying. “She will be fine.”

               She smiled for the boy, and he smiled back.

               “I’m sorry,” he said, softly.

               “Me too,” she told him.

               “Are you going to get him back?”

               “I won’t let him hurt anyone else,” she said. Then she added, “And then I’m going to punch him in the face,” and the boy smiled.

               The Keeper climbed into the wagon, a large and fluffy black cat lying across her shoulders.

               “Hahren,” she started to say.

               The Keeper ignored her.

               An absurd number of cats were loaded into the wagon, along with Aevalle’s gear, which she had the children help her into while Merill and Fenris followed Dorian on horseback. It hurt, but she felt better wearing it. She felt even better with her weapons strapped to her back, and a borrowed bow in hand.

               Then Varric jumped in the wagon behind them, yelling, “Go go go!” and Murial, sitting at the head of the cart, snapped the reigns. The horses snorted and set off down the ill-used path, and Varric levelled Bianca behind them, looking for pursuers.

               Dorian came racing back to them, staff raised and fire pouring from its tip. “There’s more ahead,” he shouted, turning the horse expertly and keeping pace with them. “Merrill and Fenris are trying to thin them out, but there’s too many.”

               Aevalle tested the string of the bow. It hurt her side to pull it, but she could ignore it.

               “Give me the horse,” she said, and Dorian balked. “They’re after me—maybe I can distract them long enough to get the kids through.”

               “Yes because you running away from them alone on horseback worked perfectly well last time,” Varric said.

               “I’m not alone,” she told him. She held out her hand for Dorian. “Do it now.”

               He took it and they stood, he on the saddle and her in the wagon, and they switched positions—Aevalle swore she would apologize to Master Dennet for all her complaining during this drill—and she sat herself in the saddle, reaching down only to adjust the stirrups with a deft hand.

               She untied the reigns from the horn.

               “Da’len,” her Keeper said.

               She spared a glance sideways. The Keeper was clutching her staff, an expression Aevalle couldn’t read on her face.

               “Ar tal’len Hahren,” she said, and she kicked the horse into a full gallop.

               It didn’t take long to find Fenris—behind him in the night he left a trail of blue light and the blood that shone under it. Merrill’s staff lit up and soldiers fell from their horses, clutching at their faces as if something were there, or pulled from their saddles by the trees they passed.

               She raced past them, firing arrows into the dark mess of mercenaries on horseback. She slung the bow over one shoulder and drew her blades, and the runes began to glow in the night.

               “There she is!” she heard some of them yell, and many began to follow her.

               “Perfect,” she said to herself. Her side felt like it was burning. “What was step two?”

               She was riding a well-rested horse in medium armour, and most of the mercenaries were riding tired horses in heavy armour—it was no chore to stay ahead of them. They were hot on her heels, and she led them down the road without pause, urging her horse onward, faster.

               She passed over a bridge, and she felt a rush of air and heard something bounce off the armour on her arm—an arrow. She swore and pressed the horse harder, wishing she could plunge into the woods to lose them.

               She turned a corner in the road and then she could see lights ahead—a camp of soldiers? As the soldiers behind her rounded the corner she heard a horn blow, and she thought the banners could be of the Inquisition, but it was too dark to tell.

               She steered the horse onto a game path and into the woods. She heard some of the mercenaries following her, their horses crashing through the undergrowth.

 

The way for the wagon was clear by the time the old thing rattled onto the main road, and Fenris and Merrill were finishing off some stragglers when they met up.

               “Where is she?” Dorian demanded.

               Fenris gave him a foul look. “She went on ahead. Whose idea was that?”

               “Hers,” Varric said.

               The argument was interrupted by Hawke and Anders riding up from behind them. “Bull’s sounded the retreat, the chargers can’t hold them back any longer.”

               “Where’s the Inquisitor?” Anders asked.

               “Gone off as a distraction,” Fenris said.

               “Well,” said Merrill, looking around, “it certainly worked.”

               Then the sounds of battle approached them from the road ahead. Varric barked out a laugh.

               “Reinforcements!” he exclaimed. “Blackwall always had an impeccable sense of timing.”

               “Yes, but now we are stuck between two halves of an enemy force with nowhere to go,” Fenris said.

               “There’s a bridge ahead,” said Merrill. “We can hide under that if we hurry.”

               “Have to warn the Chargers,” Cole said.

               Hawke drummed her fingers on her saddle. “Fenris and I will ride with them. We’ll pull up into the woods when we get to the fighting. We’ll circle back and find you.”

 

Aevalle crouched in the trees, petting the horse’s nose to keep him calm and listening to the mercenaries swear their way through the dense undergrowth looking for her.

               “There is no way,” one of them hissed, “she got that horse through this mess.”

               “Why was there a fucking army camped in the middle of the road? How did the Inquisition find us so quicky?”

               “Because we spent two days stomping around in the forest getting our asses kicked, that’s how. You know what, I’m hiding this out and heading back to Kirkwall. You coming?”

               “I’ve been waiting for someone to say that since trees started attacking us.”

               She shook her head with a smile as she watched them walk away. “At least someone has to good sense to get out while the going’s good,” she told the gelding.

               He bobbed his head and snorted, so she fed him another sweet root she’d dug out of the ground. She stood, clutching her side, and leaned on the horse’s side for a moment, feeling dizzy. She didn’t want to pull off her armour and the bandages to check, but she had a feeling that that her wound had reopened during her ride.

               “I’m going to punch that asshole in the face,” she said to the horse, “so hard.”

               The horse only tossed his mane.

               “Dorian would pick a pretty little thing like you,” she said to him, turning to climb into the saddle. But something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention when she moved, and she froze in place. She turned back, slowly, reaching for her knives.

               It was a wolf, standing fifteen paces away in a patch of moonlight. Its fur was grey and white, its eyes gleaming green like the Fade. Its tail was lowered and its ears forward. Alert, but not aggressive.

               She narrowed her eyes, and slowly took her hands from her weapons.

               “Solas?” she asked.

               The wolf cocked his head to the side.

               “No, you’re a spirit,” she said. “You... you helped me when I was a child. The wolf at the pond—in the ruins?”

               She had the impression of a voice in her mind, like a long forgotten dream. Garas da’len.

               Aevalle had to lead the horse on foot, the woods were so thick. The wolf kept ahead of them, but he paused to let her catch up when she needed it. When the incline grew too steep she let the horse’s reigns lie loose on a tree branch, in case something came upon him, and continued, her side burning and her breathing growing laboured as she climbed.

               The wolf waited for her at the top of the hill and allowed her to catch her breath. Then he padded off again and she followed into a dark cave—she saw marks of a bear’s kill, but they were bleached with wind and rain so she did not worry.

               The cave was dark and cold, so she had to pick her way through it slowly. Even her elven eyes couldn’t make out anything in the blackness. She found herself wishing she had taken Dorian with her, just for the light—but he wouldn’t have wanted to follow a spirit wolf into a forest, let alone into an abandoned bear den.  Where she touched the walls to regain her balance they were smooth, and though strange plants had taken hold and overturned them there were cobblestones at her feet—this had once been a road. As she walked her fingers brushed over places in the otherwise smooth stone walls where something had been attached—then her hand touched a torch. She left it unlit.

               She could hear the soft padding of the wolf’s paws on the stones ahead of her, and she followed him as the darkness in the cave grew deeper, and the air grew stale and suffocating.

               They must have walked for an hour before she heard him stop, and she followed the sound of his panting until her outstretched hand touched something slick, metallic and cold. She felt around until she found a seam, and determined it was a set of doors. She tried pushing, but it did not budge.

               She heard the wolf move, then a scratching sound at the cave wall. She followed him and felt around until she noticed a hole just big enough to crawl through. She hesitated—since Haven had been attacked, she really did not like tight spaces—but he huffed at her, and she got on her stomach and followed, pulling herself forward on her arms.

               It wasn’t long before light began to pour into the little tunnel, and the smell of fermenting bread and some sort of porridge wafted in after. The wolf emerged first, shook himself and trotted out. Aevalle approached the edge of the hole and saw that there was a table over where the tunnel met with the room. She slipped out of the hole and made herself as small as possible while her eyes adjusted.

               “Oh you scared me there, Fluffy.” It was a female voice with the thick accent of the Val Royeax alienage. “You’re up awful early. Here’s a bone you can chew on, silly thing.”

               She could see the wolf sitting near a woman wearing no shoes and a well-worn dress with many odd stains on it.

               “Not hungry today? How odd. Alright, I’ll keep one aside for you if you change your mind. And don’t wander too far, the guards have been in a foul mood lately. I’d hate to have to close up that hole because someone saw you again.”

               Aevalle watched the woman turn and resume chopping something up on another table, humming to herself. The wolf stood and padded over to where Aevalle could see a door. He looked both ways, then turned back to Aevalle.

               She crawled out from under the table as quietly as she could manage, taking a quick glance around the kitchen as she did. Nothing out of the ordinary—a stone oven for making bread, a pot over a fire full of porridge.

               He followed the wolf into what she assumed would be a deserted hallway—and stopped, mouth agape.

               The whole place looked like it had been a mine or a quarry once—a mountain hollowed out from the top down. Above her was the night sky, with hints of dawn kissing the edges of the great stone circle that enclosed the place where she stood. The wooden walkway she stood on had a railing, and she could see more levels further down. She went to the railing and leaned over it—she counted twenty levels in total, all with more doorways than she could have imagined. There were countless rope and pulley systems to move goods between levels, and a number of platforms big enough to carry a horse were suspended in air, held up by lengths of chain. She could see elves standing near or on them, chatting or snoozing against the railing. Not one of them bore vallaslin, and most of them wore a uniform she didn’t recognise.

               The wolf huffed at her, and she pulled herself away from the railing to follow him, pulling the borrowed bow off her shoulder and slipping an arrow into her fingers.

               They wound their way down the stairs, pausing at each flight to make sure no one was coming or going. They quickly settled into a rhythm—he checked ahead while she listened behind, arrow notched loosely to her bow but not drawn.

               At the bottom they had to wait for a guard to leave before proceeding down. The ground was covered with a soft layer of lichen that dulled the sound of their footsteps, and looking around she only saw sparse wooden doors and nothing to indicate windows. It had the look of a prison, and it made her skin crawl. In the center there was a half-formed rift—it was weak, and she could only really see it out of the corner of her eye, but it sang to her, a discordant humming just on the edge of her hearing, like all the rifts. It made the anchor hiss and spark, and she clenched her fist against the familiar pain.

               The wolf led her to one of the doors, which was not locked. She followed him down a dark hallway lit by the occasional torch, trying not to gag on the suffocating smell of dried blood, excrement and mould. She could make out the sound of people breathing, sniffing—children crying? She quickened her pace, scowling.

               They rounded a corner and the wolf padded up to a cell full of elven children—there must have been twenty of them, at least. They stared at her with wide, frightened eyes, but those closest to the cell bars reached out to touch the wolf’s fur, as if it was a comfort.

               “Well... shit,” she said.

               “You are not a guard,” the oldest said. She was a girl of about fifteen with wide eyes, olive skin and a thin mouth. She spoke with a well-manicured Tevinter accent, her words sharp and clipped. “You have markings on your face. That means you are Dalish?”

               “Yes,” she answered. “My name is Aevalle.”

               “Did puppy bring you here to save us?” a five year old boy asked. His accent was the same, and he had the same olive skin and wide eyes.

               The wolf looked back at her.

               “Yes,” she said, softly.

               The wolf turned back to the children and put his nose through the bars, allowing them to pet his face and scratch his ears. There must have been a dozen tiny hands touching him all at once, and he closed his eyes and allowed it.

“Where did you all come from?”

               “We were bought,” the girl said, “brought here, and we have not been allowed to leave. They have not hurt us—yet.”

               “But we hear screams,” another girl said. Her accent was different—still Tevinter, lower class. Her skin was darker than even Aevalle’s, and darker still freckles dotted across her nose.

               “Do you have the key?” the boy asked.

               She approached the cell and inspected the lock—it would be a joke to pick it.

               “In a manner of speaking,” she told them, “but I have no way of getting you out of here safely. Yet.” She added that last when she saw many pairs of eyes widening.

               She heard the door down the hall opening and closing.

               “You’re not going to let us out?” one of the children asked.

               “I will, but not yet.”

               The wolf shook himself and moved to continue down the hallway.

               “Don’t leave,” another whispered.

               “Hush,” the oldest said. “They’ll hear you.”

               Aevalle reached into the bars to put her hand on the little boy’s head. “I’ll be back, da’vhen,” she promised. “Be brave for just a little longer.”

               She followed the wolf away from the sound of approaching footsteps down another hall. They twisted around several corners before they arrived at another long hallway, and at its end a simple iron door. The wolf trotted up to it and pawed at it.

               She had to pick the lock this time, and she was glad her tools were still secured in a hidden pocket in her glove. The door made an awful noise when she opened it and she winced, but the wolf slipped in and she followed him, shutting the door behind her.

               There was one torch flickering on the wall, but it cast enough light for her to see what was in the room. She didn’t need to—it was the smell of old blood and sickness, and her stomach turned at the unclean tools on the table. There was the sound of someone breathing, and a groan as they stirred.

               “Come to finish the job, shemlen?”

               She felt her heart fall. “Abelas,” she said.

               There was hesitation, then a pained cough. She went to his side—he was chained to the floor on his hands and knees, much like she had been in Haven, and he was covered in wounds old and new. Most of them would not heal properly. She didn’t want to admit it, but the rank smell of death was all about him.

               “Da’len,” he said. “You must leave.”

               She grabbed at her belt for a healing potion.

               “No,” he told her. “This is not the place I die. You are in danger.”

               “Story of my life,” she said. “What happened? How did they capture you?”

               His features twisted into something of a pained smile. “I was a fool. I have spent centuries hardening my heart—and for what? To fall into a trap at the first sign of a crying child.”

                “We all make mistakes. Not all we can be so proud of.”

               He leaned forward and let his head rest on her shoulder. “I would ask you to release me from these,” he said, and she saw the hum of magic suppression about his chains, “but that would alert them to your presence. They are after you, you must leave.”

               “I’ve had the good fortune of meeting with them already,” she said. “There are children here. Captives. I can’t leave without them—or you.”

               He sighed. “Your good intentions...”

               “... will get me killed one day, I’ve been told.”

               “They are after Fen’harel. They need his power.”

               “Well too bad because he’s not coming.”

               “The one you call Pride...”

               “I know.”

               “Do you? He is more than the trickster your tales paint him. I have seen him rip apart the world at the seams in his rage, I watched the blood drip from his white fur while he led his rebellion. Da’len, this is no folk tale your people tell around fires. There is knowing what he is called, and knowing what he is.”

               She thought of the dream.

               “I saw him in the Fade,” she said. “I told him not to come.”

               Abelas coughed. “He will come. It will be bloody.”

               She heard footsteps in the hallway behind them.

               “Hide,” he breathed.

               The wolf ran to a corner and crawled into a hole there. Aevalle looked around until she saw a dark corner with a pile of boxes. She used it to climb up into the rafters and huddle there where she couldn’t be seen.

               The door was unlocked and in walked Sulin, visibly fuming, followed by two guards.

               “That’s the last time I ask a shem to do a job I should do myself,” he spat. He grabbed something long and made of iron off the table as he stormed past it, heading right for Abelas.

               Aevalle clenched her jaw. She would have reached for her weapons, but she knew there would be a bloodbath. And she had no escape plan for the children yet. So she watched.

               Sulin stood beside Abelas and used the poker to lift Abelas’ face.

               “I presume,” said Abelas, “that your plans have gone awry.”

               Sulin smacked his cheek with the flat end of the poker. Abelas had a long red cut on the side of his face for it, but she could see him smirk.

               “Tell me,” he said, smoothly, “did clan Lavellan’s Songbird slip from your grasp?”

               That earned him another hard hit with the poker.

               “Fool,” said Abelas. “You cannot hope to wield the power of Andruil if you fail to keep hold of a single elf.”

               “I’ve heard your cautionary tale before and I’m not interested.” Sulin pressed the point of the poker against Abelas’ chest, just hard enough to draw blood. “Fen’harel sealed Andruil away and his power is the only thing that will free her. I have made offerings at his temple and spilled more blood there than would fill an ocean, and he will not come.”

               Aevalle felt a wave of dread wash over her, remembering Solas’ words in the Temple of Mythal. Andruil, Goddess of Sacrifice, mad with the things she had seen in the Void, hunting elves and beasts alike.

               “The Dread Wolf is fickle,” Abelas said, like some people said he’s just not that into you.

               Sulin went back to the table and returned the poker. He picked up something much smaller, and in the darkness Aevalle couldn’t make it out.

               “Let’s see if you’re still this helpful with fewer teeth,” he said.

               Aevalle did not let herself look away.

 

“Maybe she just ran off again,” Sera was saying, fiddling with her bowstring.

               “I highly doubt that.” Cassandra was crouched on the ground in the forest, looking for signs of a trail. Cole walked right over the spot she was inspecting, and she gave an annoyed grunt as she stood.

               “She was hurt,” Cole said, pacing back and forth. “She came this way. Hurting and happy to help but it all still hurts and she told him not to come, it hurt because she can’t explain what it all means, it would hurt them to know it all like it’s hurt her, and it all comes out wrong, Ar tal’len Hahren, I’m not a child anymore Elder, she’s learned too much...”

               “Kid, maybe you should take a break from the helping thing for five minutes, you’ve been at it for three days now.”

               There was a haze over the forest as the rising sun rapidly evaporated the dew that had collected on the plants in the night. Even this early in the morning the heat was approaching stifling—it was going to be hot. Varric had forgotten what not being perpetually cold felt like, he’d been gone from the Free Marches for so long.

               Vivienne moved a hand to delicately swat at a fly buzzing near her ear, the move looking as calculated as anything she was capable of. She had given one long look at Anders when he hadn’t quite gotten out of sight fast enough, but had happily ignored him since.

               “Darling,” she said to Sera, “my understanding is that the Inquisitor sustained a serious knife wound that was not quite healed. More like it reopened while she was trying to be heroic and she’s passed out from blood loss somewhere in these trees.”

               “If this were any other person we were talking about, I’d agree with you,” Blackwall said. He was making his way back down the sloping woods. “But Aevalle probably stumbled across someone who’s missing a shoe.”

               “And as we speak she’s trying to trade four apples for a fox skull,” Varric said.

               Hawke’s voice came trailing down from further up into the woods. “Everybody makes fun but it happens sometimes okay?”

               Varric swore he could hear Fenris say, “Stranger places, Hawke,” in a way that was simultaneously disgruntled and amused.

               “Boss,” Varric heard behind him. He turned around and saw Krem approaching Bull. The rest of the Chargers were standing around the Keeper, Murial and Inah. The Keeper was standing with her arms crossed over her chest and Inah was squirming in her mother’s arms, whatever argument she was trying to make unintelligible through her crying. For the most part the Chargers had blank expressions forced onto their faces, except Dalish, who kept rolling her eyes at the whole affair.

               “The Keeper won’t leave without the Inquisitor,” Krem said to Bull.

               “Of all the—” Bull made an exasperated noise in the back of his throat. “You can’t just… carry her or something?”

               “She said she’d make us regret it if we tried.”

               “I’m starting to see where she gets it from,” Bull grumbled. “And the girl?”

               “She says she won’t leave without the Keeper. Her mother’s not hearing any of it.”

               “At least someone has sense.”

               “She seems to like you, Varric,” said Krem.

               Varric said, “Where in Andraste’s name did you get that idea?”

               Krem gave him an exasperated look. “Talk to her, please.”

               Varric sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Alright,” he said.

               The Keeper looked thoroughly unimpressed when Varric approached her.

               “Walk with me?” he asked, smiling up at her.

               She relented. As they walked up the road in silence, he thought that the way she set her jaw in determination was exactly like Aevalle’s.

               “What was she dreaming about that’s gotten you so riled up?” Varric asked when they were out of earshot of the others.

               She did not look at him. “It is none of your business, child of the stone.”

               “You know,” he said, “a few people have been calling me that lately, but I feel the need to point out that I have never actually set foot in Orzammar and have an intense dislike for the whole underground thing.”

               “I am aware you think yourself very clever. It is still none of your business.”

               Varric sighed in a way that he thought would make Cassandra very proud.

               “Look,” he said. “I get that you’re worried about her, and that she’s changed since she left for the Conclave. Of course she has, I watched most of it happen. But you gave her the tattoos, right? Doesn’t that make her an adult? Making her own decisions?”

               “I grow very tired of those who are not of the people using the one thing they know about my entire culture against me in an argument,” she told him.

               He remembered Aevalle saying something like that to Vivienne. They hadn’t spoken for a week afterward. “Yeah, I get that. The point I was trying to make was... well she’s been through a lot. And there were a lot of things we learned, or found out about the past that upset her...”

               She stopped in her tracks.

               “What did you learn about Arlathan?” she said.

               “I... oh man. It’s not really my place because I was a little overwhelmed by the weird shit and the ancient elves running around...”

               Her eyes widened, and Varric felt a sudden urge to ask Dorian to cast that time travel spell for him. “The people from the ancient days are still alive?”

               “Shit,” Varric said. “They were guardians in the Temple of Mythal, and they were a little cranky and I think Aevalle should really be telling you this and not me?”

               He watched several emotions flit across the Keeper’s face at once—shock, confusion, despair, and then a cold, seething anger. “Elgar’nan, how she has been twisted to hide our history from us.”

               “Hide? Who said anything about hide? There was some pretty upsetting shit, I think she was just figuring out how to tell you—”

               “Emma shiral him hellathen. Thank you for your information Ser Tethras.”

               “Uh... you’re welcome?” Varric said as she walked off the path and into the woods.

               Vivienne approached him. “Forgive me if I’m wrong, my dear, but weren’t you supposed to convince her to go home with the Chargers?”

               “I... fucked up,” said Varric. “Keeper, wait!” he shouted, running to catch up with her.

 

When she was six years old, her father had taught her a song about the Emerald Knights and their wolf companions, how loyal they were, how they protected one another against the might of the humans. She’d loved it so much she kept asking him to find her a wolf and bring it back when he went hunting, so she could have a companion of her own. Her mother was furious. Her hands shook when she signed, when they thought Aevalle was sleeping. What were you thinking? She’s going to go up to a wild wolf one day and expect it to act like a dog! Teach her to be wary of Fen’harel like a normal father.

               He had laughed. “If you wanted her to have a normal father,” he said as he signed back, “you would have chosen a Dalish man, and not a thief from Kirkwall.”

He had kissed her, then. She liked watching her parents best when they thought they were alone—she liked watching their eyes light up when they saw one another even from just across the camp, and she liked how her father would trace his hand, lovingly, on the parts of her mother’s face that honoured June.

               He had never been given vallaslin; the only one among her clan who was an adult and barefaced.  He was from the city, and though he did not give any honour to Andraste or the Maker, he seemed not to care for the Dalish gods either. Perhaps there had been comments, but she was too young to have remembered them.

               She was six and the weather had been strangely cold—there were flakes of whiteness in the air her father called snow, and they were cold on her toes but it was exciting. The Keeper told them the pond was frozen over, and they were to be good da’vhen and stay away from it, because the ice was thin.

               They were children. They nodded and smiled and promised to be good; they snuck away the moment backs were turned.

               The ice was cold on their feet, but it was fun to chase the bubbles of air trapped under the surface. Aevalle sang the song about the Knights and daydreamed about finding a wolf to be her friend—one that would kiss her mother’s cheek as if to say, see? I am friendly.

               Una was finally convinced to come onto the ice, complaining about the cold on her feet. The others helped steady her as she slipped—they dared not tease her for being afraid around Aevalle, for the last time they did she had whirled on them with a fury that rivalled her mother’s.

               “Lethallan, look!” she cried. “I’m doing it!”

               Aevalle was smiling, but there was something out of the corner of the eye—something dark and large. She turned, frowning, and to her surprise there was a wolf sitting on the ice. His fur was white and grey, his eyes a gleaming green and his expression seemed to be a smile.

               Da’len, he said. He certainly sounded very friendly. He said some other things that she could not repeat, but she understood their meaning because her heart seemed to know it. You have a sweet voice.

               “Thank you,” she said.

               But this is not a place to sing so sweetly. The veil is thin here.

               “Who are you talking to?” one of the boys behind her asked.

               “What do you mean, the veil?”

               Da’len, you are very strong and brave, but I am not the only one who can hear you singing. It’s like the ice. See where the bubbles are trapped? They weaken the ice.

               He lifted one of his paws and pressed it delicately against the ice in front of him. She saw it begin to crack as he put his weight on it.

               “We should get off the ice,” she said. But her voice came out very quiet, because she felt very afraid.

               “Aevalle?” Una called. “Lethallan, what’s wrong? Woah!”

               The wolf’s eyes darted over Aevalle’s shoulder. Aevalle turned in time to see Una sliding towards her on unsteady feet, laughing. Before she could shout a warning, the ice gave way and Una was under without so much as a yell.

               The wolf moved faster than she did, although when he arrived at Una he wasn’t a wolf, he was something like a person—strong and he reached into the water and grabbed Una before she slipped away. Aevalle landed on her stomach and grabbed Una by her clothes, and as the wolf that was not a wolf pulled her out she pulled too, because Una was her lethallan and she wanted to help.

               They didn’t stop pulling until Una was safe on the bank, coughing and cold.

               Keep her warm, the wolf said, I will get help.

               No one said they saw a wolf—they had been searching for the children, thinking they were playing a game. Then someone remembered the pond, and they came running.

               All of the children had gotten a fierce lecture—none more than Aevalle. The Keeper had kept her so long she’d started crying, and she never cried, especially not in front of the Keeper. Her mother intervened, finally, signing so fast Aevalle’s blurry eyes couldn’t keep up. Then her father had picked her up and sung to her all the way back to their aravel, which had seemed very far as a child.

               Her mother stayed behind to argue with the Keeper so late that Aevalle didn’t even wake up when she returned. When she did wake, she peered outside their aravel to see her mother signing to her father, furious, her eyes red from tears and lack of sleep, and he stood in front of her and watched her as she did, never interrupting her, and if she moved he followed, so he could see in every moment what she was saying to him.

               How dare she scare my little girl like that, she signed most frequently of all. How dare she.

               When she was no longer grounded, her friends, who had all witnessed her mother’s fury, asked why her mother wasn’t a hunter.

               “There wouldn’t be any animals left for anyone else to hunt,” Aevalle answered. She had thought her father was making a joke when he’d told her that.

               “We would be well fed,” someone else said.

Chapter Text

“Leliana,” Cullen was saying, “you cannot put off leaving any longer.”

                Leliana was seated at her desk, her elbows propped on its surface and her fingers pressed to either side of her forehead. She had a slight frown on her features as she read, mouthing the words slightly. She was reading a report for the fifth time, and was ignoring him for the hundredth. The ravens around her sensed her agitation, and they were silent as death, watching Cullen with beading eyes. The sun was shining through the windows, but there were clouds on the horizon that signaled a fierce storm blowing in. Not leaving now meant being trapped for a week or more, depending on how long it took to clear the roads.

                “My people in the mountains send disturbing reports,” she said.

                “That girl of yours can handle it. What’s her name...”

                She pulled a stack of similar reports out of her desk drawer. “Every time I receive them, they become increasingly baffling,” she said. “Read them. Tell me they make sense to you.”

                Cullen gave her a look. “Fine,” he said, “I’ll indulge you.”

                “Aloud, please,” she said. “I need to know I’m not losing my mind.”

                He started to pace as he read. “... something bandits something... Leliana, this is not my area of expertise.”

                “Keep reading.”

                “Hmm... villagers report seeing an unusually large white wolf last night. Bigger than a horse. Passed right through the middle of town, running like the wind, in the dead of night. Bothered no one.” He lowered the papers and looked at her. “They were drunk,” he said.

                “I thought so too. The next one.”

                He rolled his eyes. “Last night, had very strange dream. The last time I saw the Inquisitor—nothing special, it was months ago. Felt something very angry, very strong. Heard breathing. Woke up. Found nothing but wolf tracks. Very big wolf tracks. Don’t know why I’m writing this, had to tell someone. Might be going mad. Requesting leave.” Cullen sighed. “These are ghost stories, Leliana.”

                “Read another,” she said.

                “This one,” he said after skimming, “is just vexed he’s not as good a shot as he thinks he is, and should be disciplined for wasting good paper on this nonsense. A wolf raising a barrier, what a load of shit. This one? The villagers need their well checked.”

                She pushed the one on her desk forward.

                He took it. “Fen’harel came for me in the night.” He lowered the paper and scowled at Leliana. “Really? I think a Dalish scout might be a little biased.”

                “Keep reading,” she said.

                “I begged him to spare me. Prostrated myself before him. He told me that I looked foolish and he had no patience or time to clarify the finer points of my own history with me. Seemed like an ass. Shouldn’t be a shock I guess. He demanded to know where the Inquisitor was, who was with her. I confess that I told him the truth; she was gone across the Narrow Sea to visit her clan. I told him that I saw her leave myself, that Ser Tethras and a small escort had gone with her. Then he said something very strange—he asked me how she had become injured, who had attacked her, what were they planning to gain. Many other such things. His many eyes burned with such a fury, Sister Nightingale. I told him I had no knowledge of such a thing, but I was too frightened to ask how he did. Then I awoke—I had not thought myself to be dreaming, truly—and there were the footprints of a man leading away from my camp, and then as if mid-stride they were the footprints of a great wolf, running very fast, and in the direction of Skyhold. The Dread Wolf is headed your way, and he is angry. Be wary.”

                Cullen put the paper down on the table. “You clearly need to give your spies more time off,” he said.

                Leliana gave him an odd look. “That doesn’t sound familiar to you?” she asked, softly.

                “No,” he said. “Clearly some mage has been trying to cause terror in our ranks. Leliana, there is nothing to be done. I cannot send an army into the wilderness looking for a magic wolf, and I cannot spread panic in our forces by suggesting that the Inquisitor may be injured and an elven god is asking why.”

                She took the report back and looked at it again. “He told me that I looked foolish and he had no patience or time to clarify the finer points of my own history with me,” she read aloud.

                “You think Solas is back,” Josephine said, approaching the top of the stairs.

                “You were eavesdropping?” Cullen asked.

                “No, you are just very loud,” she replied. “We have word from the Duke of Ostwick.”

                “We have some forces stationed there, dealing with bandits in the area. Why did it come to you?” He took the letter from her. “And what have they done now,” he added under his breath.

                “The Duke is complaining to me that some bearded man, a well-spoken mage and a, and I quote, ‘snot nosed knife ear,’ came and took the soldiers we had stationed there. He is furious and demands we discipline all involved as well as compensate him for the... inconvenience.”

                “Blackwall, Vivienne and Sera,” Cullen said, reading the letter. “But not the others.”

                Leliana gave him a significant look. “And certainly not the Inquisitor.”

                Cullen glanced at her over the letter. “And how,” he asked, “pray tell, would Solas—hypothetical Solas—have found out about the Inquisitor’s hypothetical injury when we don’t even know if it exists?”

                “They would meet in their dreams, sometimes,” said Josephine.

                Both Cullen and Leliana looked at her, shocked.

                “What?” she said.

                “You never thought to bring this up?” Cullen said, eyes wide.

                “I—it was girl talk.” Josephine looks embarrassed. “She was terribly lonely after he left. She asked if we could talk about it. I thought it would be... indecent of me to repeat what she told me.”

                “Josie,” Leliana said, “this could be a catastrophic breach in security. If Solas is capable of seeing the Inquisitor’s dreams...”

                “... She was distraught,” she said, defensive. “She said he had not even visited her dreams since he called it off. She had no idea why.”

                “... And now we have someone who can peer into dreams and asking about the Inquisitor heading to Skyhold.” Cullen rubbed his face with his hands. “That sounds ridiculous.”

                “My agents have found no trace of Solas since Corypheus’ defeat,” Leliana said. “And suddenly he might be returning to Skyhold—apparently in a fury.”

                “You think he’s coming for the Eluvian?” Josephine asked.

                “Undoubtedly. Now he knows her relative whereabouts; it is quicker to travel by elven mirror than by boat, especially if one is an apostate.” Leliana gathered the reports on her desk into one neat pile. “The rate at which these reports suggest Solas is moving leads me to believe he will arrive sometime after nightfall, at the earliest.”

                “I will increase the number of men on the wall,” Cullen said. “Was Morrigan able to determine anything else about the glass shards?”

                “Other than that they are of elven make and used to control their victims, not truly.” Leliana pushed her chair back from the table. “She says they can be given to someone to control them from a distance, as long as they give them a list of commands to follow the orb will activate at the appropriate time. But if something happens that deviates outside those commands, its power fails.”

                “So that poor woman fell to her death because her orders did not tell her what to do if she was caught.” Josephine shook her head. “How... awful.”

                Leliana took one of the Ravens from its perch, whispering softly to it and petting its feathers. She took it back to her desk and began to pen a message.

                “Leliana,” Cullen said.

                “I will not leave until the Inquisitor is found safe and sound,” she said. “They cannot revoke the decision—it will seethe at them, but my crowning will have to wait.” She tucked the coded message into the container on the raven’s leg, and went to the window to release it. “I owe her that much, at the least,” she added, so softly it could barely be heard.

 

The wooden walkways of the old quarry were filled with elves from all walks of life—Orlesian, Fereldan, Tevinter, and from all over the Free Marches. They went to and fro, their children played with wooden toys and carried skinny mousing cats in their arms, begging to take them home. Still none bore vallaslin—whatever strange haven this had become, it was for the elves of the cities only.

                She had stolen some clothing and a hat from a storage room and they itched. It lacked the perfect fit of her Dalish clothing, although she guessed most of her discomfort was missing the protection the dragon hide offered, the comfort her scarf had been. She was still shaken by Abelas’ torment, at his refusal for aid. The wolf had laid his head in the wounded elf’s lap, and Abelas had quieted some.

                She ate an apple and kept to herself, a sack of pilfered food and supplies at her feet. She had found an infirmary earlier and wrapped herself back up again, stolen a few things there she thought no one would miss. The wound was bad, but she’d slapped a poultice on it and hoped for the best. The heat of the day made the bandages unbearable and slick with her sweat, but she ignored it as best she could as she moved about the elves of this strange place, her head down, hat covering her vallaslin and her bright and distinctly Dalish hair style.

                It took her some time to find where Sulin stayed, on a middle level amidst a number of merchant businesses and two guards posted outside the door, looking impossibly bored. When she was sure he was out, she waited until the walkways were bustling full of people, and she lifted something that gleamed from a storefront when the owner was busy.

                It didn’t take long for the cries of a thief to start up, and both guards immediately left their post—this was probably the most action they’d seen ever, as far as she could tell. With the crowd distracted, Aevalle picked the lock—she felt blessed that whoever built this place hadn’t felt the need for expensive locks—and slipped inside, closing the door behind her.

                It was dark, but there were gaps in the rock allowing for some light to come through and her elven eyes adjusted quickly in the partial light. The room was full of trinkets from the days of ancient elves, almost all of them broken in some way. On the desk was a crystal, so black it seemed to be a void in her vision. Some small part of her wanted to pick it up, take a closer look, but her hand itched and she decided not to. Next to it was a letter, and she leaned over the desk to read it—surprised to find her father’s name there.

                Sulin,

                You were right, the demon is still sealed in that ancient place. Amazing that Terim’s idea with that rune still lasts nearly thirty years later. The thing was more than happy to give us the information we wanted in exchange for a vessel—only one of my men objected to the use of the child in such a way. He has been silenced.

                The demon claimed that it stole the power from a Dalish girl, as Terim suggested all those years ago. Apparently her song pulled it across the veil, and it took her gift from her then. Its glee at remembering it was... unsettling. The song it would not say—but it confirmed it is useless without the gift.

                The demon was delighted to see your gem—it offered more information if I gave it back upon its release. It claimed to have heard the song again in the years since—and that the stolen gift was passed along some years ago. It would not clarify what passed along meant. It confirmed what we suspected about the gem. But—it called Andruil a Goddess of Sacrifice. I don’t know much about Dalish lore, but that’s not what those painted faced freaks say, is it?

                Regardless, it said the power of Fen’harel was the only thing that could release Andruil from her prison. Then it offered something else; it claimed the leader of the Inquisition might have some knowledge of Fen’harel and how to find him.

                You need not worry; the poison worked. The demon died with the child.

                I am headed for the Winter Palace now. This Inquisitor is bound to make an appearance there sooner or later. It seems Talim’s treachery all those years ago will yet bear fruit. I will keep in touch.

                She snuck back out but did not take the gem. It made her skin crawl, like the Well of Sorrows had, and its absence would be missed. She knew in her bones it was elven, or even older, and impossibly dangerous because of its link with Andruil. She felt nothing but malice coming from it, a rage that had simmered for eons, and she worried about Sulin having it but she could not take it with her.

                She returned to the children and ignored the twisting in her stomach. She picked the lock of their cell and slipped inside, in spite of their protests that they escape right away. She gave them some of the food she’d stolen to placate them while she changed back into her armour, and thought on all she had seen. The wolf, who had stayed with the children, put his head on her lap as she sat, and she scratched his ears absently.

                Na lin ir dirth, he told her. Na lin him.

                “My blood had secrets indeed.” She smiled, and wondered what sort of spirit she had befriended this time. She knew she could trust him, and she felt herself begin to drift off, her exhausted body finally giving in.

                “Wake me up when it’s dark out,” she murmured.

 

 

They had—somehow—managed to convince the Keeper to rest for the night. The Inquisitor’s Inner Circle had followed her, and somewhere as they stumbled through the heat of the day they’d bumped into Hawke, Merrill, Anders and Fenris again. Merrill had looked at Hawke with her wide eyes and Hawke had relented, so they all sat with each other in the night around a little campfire. Varric sat with Hawke and they joked about the old days to amuse Dorian, while Cassandra looked up at them from the book she was reading with a wistful smile. Fenris and Bull spoke of Seheron and the Fog Warriors while Sera listened on, her eyes wide with delight at the old war stories. Vivienne and Blackwall poured over maps of the area and contemplated where exactly they were on it, Vivienne’s veilfire their reading light. Anders and Cole were a little set apart from the others, deep in conversation. Sometimes Anders’ face twisted up in anger or in hurt, but sometimes he smiled, too, and Varric was actually curious, for once, what Cole was telling him.

Merrill, sitting next to Fenris, wasn’t really speaking to anyone—at length she stood and approached the Keeper, her expression pained.

                “Hahren,” Merril said at length, and the conversation died.

                She did not look at Merrill. “I am not in the mood to speak with you, harellan.”

                Varric just about stood up and yelled at her right then and there, but Merrill gave him a look as if she’d anticipated him, and he settled down again, scowling.

                “Well then you can sit there and listen, because I have something to say.”

                The Keeper looked at Merrill then, her eyes narrowed. “Keeper Marethari died because of your actions. Your words fall on ears that will not hear you.”

                Merrill’s face twisted in pain at the Keeper’s words. “I will not pretend I am innocent in what happened with my Keeper, but I cannot sit by and let you walk the same path she chose in the last days of her life.”

                “I have no intention of dying here.”

                “But you have decided already that whatever Aevalle says about her reasons for leaving, you will not hear them, haven’t you? You saw something in her dreams that frightened you, but you gave her no chance to explain. You are angry that she has learned something of our past but she has not revealed it to you—maybe it was painful. Or dangerous.”

                The Keeper said nothing, but the expression on her face was still unkind.

                “I want to restore what we can of our history too, Hahren. But if I have learned anything—I have learned that we cannot do it alone. I did not listen to my Keeper—but she did not have to let the demon possess her to protect me. She could have gone to Hawke, who had helped us before, she could have—” Merrill’s voice broke. “I could have listened. So I’m asking you to tell us what you saw in Aevalle’s dream. You are not alone in this—we want to help.”

                The Keeper closed her eyes, but did not respond. Merrill went back to sit by Dorian, who immediately tried to cheer her up with stories of Aevalle walking right off of cliffs in the Hinterlands.

                After most everyone had gone to sleep, Varric took first watch with Merrill, and they spoke with each other softly while Varric looked around at this strange assembly. Hawke and Fenris slept like a tangled knot, so close that in the dark it was hard to tell where one of them began and the other ended. Cole didn’t sleep, but he sat in the trees above them and rocked as he sat, dangling his legs. Varric could hear him humming a song he used to ask Aevalle to sing for them as they wandered. Anders seemed to truly be sleeping for a change, Sera mumbled in her sleep, Bull, Blackwall, the Mabari and Vivienne all snored at varying noise levels, and Cassandra seemed to have fallen asleep into her book.

               Varric took the book from her, closed it neatly, and tucked her bedroll higher about her shoulders. Across from him, the Keeper was still awake, staring into the fire.

                “You should try to get some sleep,” Varric offered.

                “It was Fen’harel,” she said, so softly he almost didn’t hear.

                “What?”

                “Fen’harel was in her dreams. I could feel it—his power. It was...” She closed her eyes and shuddered.

                Varric watched her as she composed herself again, his mind reeling through all the things Solas had said about the Dread Wolf—God of Rebellion, not of betrayal. What did that mean? And from what he had learned of the Elven Pantheon in the Temple of Mythal, was Aevalle’s sudden attention from a god a good thing?

“It was like the dream I had when she was a child. She held his face and kissed his fur, and whispered things to him I could not hear.”

                “Elgar’nan,” Merrill whispered.

                “He will not have her,” the Keeper whispered. “He will not have her.”

               

She felt she had only just drifted off when she heard Solas whispering her name.

                She looked up and there he was, his hands wrapped around the bars.

                “Solas!” she hissed. She looked around—the children were sleeping, the wolf was gone. How long had she slept? She stood and made her way through the children on the ground, in her hurry almost tripping over them. “How did you find me?” she said. “You shouldn’t be here.”

                “I had to make sure you’re alright,” he said. He reached through the bars and held her face, and she held his hands there, staring up into his eyes.  They had changed, she had not imagined it. She was so familiar with their stormy hue, but there was something bright and shining in them now, and she was trying to figure out where she’d seen it before.

                “Ma vhenan,” she told him, “you can’t be here. You’re in danger.”

                “No more than you.” He moved a hand down to her side, where her injury was. She winced as his hand passed over it, the pressure on her armour enough to cause pain, she was still so sensitive there. “Quickly, pick the lock, let’s leave this place. You go first, I will make sure none follow.”

                She hesitated. “How did you get in?”

                He was caught, then. She saw it in his eyes—the smallest of flickers in his gaze.

                “A way we cannot leave, not with so many.”

                She clenched her jaw and felt around for the corners of the dream, like he had taught her. Then she ripped it up at the seams, and they stood at the spring where he had left her, the great halla statues towering overhead.

                A number of emotions flashed across his face—pride at her discovering his trick, shame for having tried it, overwhelming worry for her, and anger at her refusal to let him help.

                “How dare you,” she said.

                 “You would not tell me where you were! I had no choice!”

                “How dare you,” she repeated. She was shaking because a part of her understood, but she was tired and angry that he would use this thing they had shared between them.

                “Do you not trust me anymore, now that you have discovered who I am? Or are you just so determined to show me how I have hurt you by getting yourself killed?”

                “I’m trying to protect you!”

                “Why?” he snarled, and she saw his dream form shifting in his rage—the shape of the wolf flickering around him like the light of fire against dark shadows. “Because I am part of your beloved Dalish pantheon? Because you pity me? Do you think me weak?”

                She grabbed the front of his tunic, yanked him down to her and kissed him, because she was too angry at him to form a coherent sentence. There was a moment where he hesitated, where he balked at her touch, but then he gave in, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her closer.

                When they stopped, she let her forehead rest on his shoulder while he breathed against her neck.

                “Tell me,” he whispered against the place where her jawbone met her neck. He voice broke just a little when he added, “Please. Na din tu ma hellathen banal hima.

                She balled her hands into fists on his chest.  “Ma lath,” she murmured. “Na isala.”

                “Then tell me. Tu enna’an na.

                She shook her head. “Din. Na tel’lana,” she whispered.

                Solas breathed against her. “I will come whether you allow it or not,” he said, softly. “I will not let you die for me.”

                She opened her eyes to the wolf’s cold nose pressing into her face. She put her hand to her neck, where she had felt Solas’ breath moments ago in the Fade, but her skin was cold from the damp of the dungeon. A sigh escaped her, then, and she felt impossibly lonely, for just a moment.

                The wolf pushed his head into her hand, and she allowed herself a moment to pet him until she felt better.

                “Dal’vhen,” she said, softly. Those who were sleeping woke, immediately alert down to the youngest of them. The sight of their eyes gleaming in the half-light broke her heart.

                “I have a plan,” she said. “From this moment on, you listen to everything I say. If I tell you to run, you run and you don’t look back, even if I am not following. Say nothing unless you are in danger if you do not. Look out for each other. And,” she added, unable to resist a small smile, “say a small prayer to Fen’harel. Ask him for a clever mind, quick feet and a strong heart. You will need all three.”

                If they were familiar with the Dalish pantheon, they said nothing. As one they closed their eyes, and she saw a few mouths move.

                She wondered if Solas could hear them. She wondered what he would think of it, if he could.

                “Now,” she said. “I have to go get my friend. Then I will bring him here, and we will all leave together.”

                She slipped out of the cell again and locked the door—the sound of it alone twisted in her chest, and she made the ridiculous promise to herself that the minute she got back she was going to use the Inquisition to storm Tevinter and free every slave there. She didn’t care how ridiculous that sounded, in that moment.

                It took no time to make it back to the room they were keeping Abelas in, and less time to oil the hinges of the door, liberally. The door made almost no noise when she opened it, and she slipped back into the room, using her scarf to cover her nose.

                Abelas seemed to be sleeping. He did not budge until Aevalle started to pick the lock on his restraints. They hummed with magic at her touch, but the lock began to yield like any other.

                “You should not be here,” he hissed.

                “Don’t worry,” she said. “I have a plan.”

                “And yet I worry.”

                He hissed with pain again when she yanked the chains off his wrists and feet. She helped him stand, and he wobbled uncertainly on his own—but stand he could. She found herself wondering how the hell he did it.

                They moved back down the hallway to the children, and she picked the lock again—she and that lock had rapidly become as old friends—and this time when she opened the door, she put a finger to her lips and gestured that they follow her.

                All twenty-three of them followed her, their bare feet padding like the wolf’s on the stone floor.

                At the end of the long, winding hallway, Aevalle poked her head out the door.

                “Follow the wolf,” she told the children. “He will take you to a way we can all sneak out. Move when he moves. Say nothing.”

                They all exited the jail and onto the lichen-covered earth in a line, their bare feet sinking into the green softness up to their ankles. She counted them as they passed her, and ignored the look Abelas gave her as she gestured for him to go ahead. He obeyed, limping. She followed him with an arrow to her bow and her eye on the platforms above them, ignoring the noise the rift made in her ears—it was louder than before, and it was a chord played and left to hang on an instrument that was just out of tune. She had been stunned when she had learned no one else could hear it; it was the most aggravating sound in the world.

                The wolf led the children up the stairs, waiting at the top for the first guard to pass. They moved quickly, although to Aevalle the sound of their feet on the wood was a waterfall of stomping and she had no idea how they weren’t immediately detected.

                They all followed the wolf—Abelas acted as middle scout, halting the line halfway through if there was another guard coming, and Aevalle trailed behind, trying to keep as many of the children in her line of sight as possible.

                They only had three more levels to go when they were spotted.

                The guard in question seemed to have forgotten something, because Aevalle heard the footsteps over her head stop, scuffle a bit, and then the sound of him turning. She charged up the stairs and whirled about to loose an arrow—that did not hit, as the man made a quick dive for the wall. Her second arrow hit, but not before the man yelled, “The prisoners are escaping!”

                The guards on the other levels ran to the railing and looked up, shouting when they saw them. She saw some load onto one of the platforms and begin to crank themselves up—and fast.

                “Run!” she yelled, and the children with her obeyed just like she told them.

                Abelas leaned over the railing and called energy to his hands. He hit the great chain with a lance made of ice that broke it clean through, and the guards fell to the ground below. But she heard the footsteps of more above, so she yelled, “Abelas, protect them!”

                “What will you do?”

                “I have an idea,” she said.

                She fired arrows at the top level opposite her, but the bow was only for hunting in the forest and not for distance, and her shots fell short. With a snarl she threw the bow at a guard approaching her from behind and drew her dual-blades. They shone in the dark as she cut him down, then the next.

                She fought them off there until she heard the sound of Abelas’ magic further above, and then she leaned over the railing, apologised to the people who lived in this place, and he reached to the rift at the bottom and forced it open.

                Solas had asked her once what it felt like—she had told him that closing the rift was tuning an instrument, making the discord into harmony. Opening a partially formed one was like taking the chord so out of tune her stomach turned, and then there was a crackle and snap as reality simply bent until it broke, and out of the newly opened rift spilled demons.

                She turned on her heel, cut her way through the stunned guards and ran, ignoring that awful cacophony and the screaming of a despair demon as it froze everything in sight. SHe stooped only to grab a fallen bow and sling it over her shoulders.

                Aevalle reached the top level where Abelas was opening the main doors. The wolf led the children out into the cave, and Abelas turned and leaned over the railing.

                He raised his arms over his head, and Aevalle felt static cling to her skin, and when he flung his arms down a thunderstrike went with them. Aevalle had to cover her eyes—and she heard nothing for a full breath, then her ears started to ring, then she heard Abelas yell, “Close it!”

                She leaned over the railing and the anchor reached out, a line of power drawing out from her body and to the rift far below. She heard the chord corrected, and the song that was the veil, secure, just before the rift vanished.

                Abelas turned and fled down the cave. Aevalle stayed to examine the carnage—most of the guards were dead. Those who remained cowered, or struggled with the demons that had slipped through the rift without being bound by it. The lichen at the bottom of the old quarry was charred black or burning.

                Across from her, Sulin had emerged from his rooms, holding the gemstone and grinning. Instead of that inky blackness, it was sparking green, dying as the anchor on her hand grew still.

                Aevalle grabbed a bottle from her belt and upended it on the platform around the door. Alchemical flames fell out and caught to her clothing, to the wood at her feet, and she turned and ran after the children, the flames on her armour lighting up the cave around her as her mind whirled.

The orb had belonged to Solas. And the anchor had the power needed to free Andruil.

 

The music died down inside, and Aevalle and Solas’ dancing slowed until they halted, holding each other on that balcony. The moonlight shone on the metal jewellery he wore on his face, and she liked the way it caught the colour of his eyes.

                “I have been searching for answers as to what you are,” Solas told her.

                She laughed a little. He was warm and she was giddy with success and the closeness of him. “Right now,” she said, “I’m not anything.”

                He smiled. He leaned in to breathe against the place where her neck and jaw met. She felt his words on her skin as he whispered, “We have seen what the humans consider Halamshiral... now that you have appeased them, would you like to see her heart?”

                She exhaled when he kissed her there. She felt his teeth on her neck, the most gentle of sensations as they scraped across her skin. She had no idea why he did that but it felt dangerous and it drove her wild, every time.

                It was nothing to sneak out into the city, to leave that uniform and that awful hat behind and to change into something more comfortable. She went barefoot in public for the first time since she had been given that warm Inquisition uniform. The city of Halamshiral held no alienage, because the vast majority of its citizens were elves. Many were even Dalish who had left their clans for whatever reason, so she was not alone in bearing vallaslin, only outnumbered. Solas held her hand as he led her through the crowded streets, the heat of bodies celebrating the death of Celene who had once ordered the city to burn, the ascension of Brialla, another night alive in this human world.

                The streets were lit by candles in colourful jars on strings high above, by the flickering of lanterns with coloured glass panels instead of clear and by bonfires where streets met. Solas’ bare head was seven colours at once, and she loved it. This place was far away from the hills where the human nobles lived, but the streets were relatively clean, there were water fountains that caught the coloured lights and shimmered, there were vendors hawking elven wares and children running underfoot, laughing. She had not seen so many elves at once since the last Arlathvhen, and she was dizzy thinking of the next one that would be here. Would the elves of Halamshiral be allowed to join? She suddenly wanted it with a longing she’d never felt before.

                Solas bought her a flower from a dark-skinned, freckled girl with a basket full, and Aevalle braided it into her hair. He whispered its name in elven in her ear, and she committed it to memory. Then she heard music, and she pulled Solas into a dance far different than the one at the Winter Palace, and when she sang along he leaned into her ear and joined her, softly—and she felt smug at knowing she had guessed right, he had a lovely singing voice. Unused, but warm and strong.

                They found a vendor who was selling Dalish festival food, and Aevalle was so struck with homesickness and delight that she bought one of everything. Solas rolled his eyes but helped her carry it all, and behind her people were saying how the Inquisitor didn’t seem so bad after all. They sat on a low wall and ate, and drank mulled wine, while Solas told her in a low voice the elven for light, for glass, and for dancing. She repeated each slowly, dutifully, around mouthfuls of honeyed yeast cakes and warm glances at his lips.

                “I have dreamt of those who sang for the gods,” Solas said to her as she finished her last bite of food—a layered pastry made with honey, herbs and nuts. “Elgar’sulen. Spirit Singers. They were tasked with bringing the gods’ word to the people. Their voices would pierce the veil, would summon spirits to their aid.”

                She loved it when he talked like this of their history, of the things he had dreamed. The way his eyes lit up when she asked to know more, the rhythm his voice took on, as if he were reciting poetry. She leaned into him as he spoke, and she brushed her lips against his neck.

                “In the days following the fall of Arlathan, they were voices of rebellion. They sang of injustice and it sprung into the hearts of the elvhen, and their battle cries rallied spirits of Justice, Loyalty, and Courage to their sides.”

                The mulled wine and more made her cheeks warm, and that warmth was spreading. She began to kiss his neck as he spoke, feeling his throat move beneath her ministrations. Feeling his flesh grow warm, tasting his sweat.

                “Ma vhenan,” he murmured, his smooth voice lowered into something more primal—she smiled against his skin at the sound of it. “People are staring.”

                She trailed her fingers down his back, slowly. “Then maybe,” she murmured into his neck, into his growing blush, “we should find somewhere private to continue this discussion.”

                He hesitated, as he always did when she suggested this, but she started to nip at his neck ever so gently, and his breathing grew ragged as he grabbed her hands and took her from the wall and led her away from prying eyes.

                She teased him the whole way out of the city. She slowed down and tugged at his clothes, toyed with that wolf jawbone he wore, dragged her fingers along the collar of his shirt and walked on her toes to whisper in his ear—what’s the elven for lust, for heat, for the flush on your skin, for the places I want you to touch me. She watched the light in his eyes grow and the pace of his step quicken, a smirk growing at the corner of his mouth and he looked so much younger at a certain angle, she wondered about that cocky youth he spoke of.

                Outside the city, with the heat of its people clogging the streets, the air was cold and a cacophony of forest noises followed them—crickets, the sweep of nocturnal wings, the rush of leaves in the wind. She split from Solas then, laughing at his confused expression, and she darted through the trees. He followed her with a low laugh; something about it was predatory and the sound of it chased away the chill in the air. She was hot, her clothes were constricting, but she led him on a chase through the woods, her feet bare as they had been when she lived with the Dalish still, her heart light, and the mark on her hand was not burning, for once not bringing her back to who she had become.

                He caught up to her in a clearing where a river ran through, the Fade Step he had used to catch her still crackling on his skin, and when he kissed her neck his teeth dragged across her skin and a moan escaped her lips. As they pulled off each others’ clothes he told her the elven for the subtle flush all the way up to the tips of her ears, for the colour of her skin, the shapes of her scars, for the way he shuddered when her nails dug into his shoulders, for the look in her eyes when his whispered words against her skin wandered down, further down. She repeated each with a voice shaken with desire, and then his smile turned wicked and he did something with his tongue that made her incoherent and so very loud.

                She begged him for more, and he complied. They moved together under the light of the moon, and when she was almost there he bit her shoulder, hard, and she was over the edge, her body pulling him with her as it responded, and at the end of it all they lay with their limbs tangled under a pile of their clothing, a whispered spell from him keeping the air around them warm as they drifted off.

                In the Fade, Solas took her hand and led her down the streets of Halamshiral in the days of the Emerald Knights, and she leaned into his touch and allowed herself to feel warm, safe, and loved.

Chapter Text

The sound of lightning came out of nowhere in the middle of the night.

               “What the hell was that?” Varric said, waking from a restless sleep and grabbing for Bianca.

               Bull, who had been on watch, already had his broadsword off his back. “Sounds loud enough to be the boss.”

               “That,” breathed Anders, “was an alarming display of magic.”

               The Keeper immediately began to run up the hill in the direction of the noise.

               “Does someone want to tell the crazy old lady that we have been walking all day and almost all night? No? Just me?” Sera made a strangled noise at the back of her throat. “Thought so,” she grumbled. “Shit she’s fast, though.”

               “Does anyone hear a horse?” Merrill said.

               They all paused. The frantic whinny of a horse drifted through the woods. Hawke’s mabari snarled and ran after it, and they were all forced to follow.

               “Violet!” Dorian exclaimed at the sight of the poor frightened thing when they’d caught up to it. “Never thought I’d see this beautiful thing again!”

               “Of all the names you could have given that horse, you chose Violet,” Blackwall said.

               Dorian ignored him and pet the pretty gelding’s mane, cooing his flowery name and searching him all over. “Where did you last see Aevalle, my pretty friend? Hm?”

               “I don’t think I’ve seen him this enamoured since the last time we saw a mirror,” Vivienne said.

               “Hah!” Sera snorted. “Good one.”

               “The noise frightened him,” Cole was saying, “but the wolf didn’t.”

               The Keeper gave Cole the strangest look.

               “She followed the wolf,” Cole said, and he pointed up into the treeline where the noise had come from. “There are many frightened people there.”

               “Many frightened people?” Dorian said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

               “That’s what they want you to think.”

               Everyone stood and waited for Cole to explain, but he didn’t. He hummed and rocked back and forth where he stood. They all watched him until Hawke began to walk up the hill, Fenris hot on her heels, and one by one they followed.

               It took them a couple hours to reach the top of the hill, and they hid in the trees at the sight of a large number of elven men in armour exiting the mouth of a cave—in a hurry.

               “Where did they go?” one of them asked in a Kirkwall accent.

               “Their footprints lead this way,” the other said. His accent was Orlesian.

               Another, hanging back from the group, said softly, “Why did the boss have a bunch of kids in the dungeon?”

               “I’m sure he had his reasons,” the first said. “I mean, he’s never failed us before, right?”

               “A rift’s never been opened in the middle of our home before. I’ve never seen a mage summon a lightning bolt like that before. How are we supposed to fight something like that?”

               “Relax, boss just wants us to figure out where the Inquisitor’s gone and to follow her. Reinforcements will follow, we are not to engage.”

               “But she’s—she’s one of those Dalish. We’ll never find her.”

               “All we have to do is track the kids. She can’t possibly hide twenty kids. No Dalish savage is that good.”

               The soldiers left, and they all retreated back into the trees a little.

               “Kid,” Varric said, “how many people are in there?”

               “Many,” Cole said. “They are frightened. They did not know she was there, but she opened a rift and lit a fire from a bottle that burned the wood but not her clothes. The baker knows she must have come in through the hole she left for the wolf, and she is afraid they will find out and punish her.”

               “We have to follow them,” the Keeper said. “They’ll lead us to Aevalle.”

               “And they will search the nearby forest for more clues once the panic subsides,” said Bull. “So we can’t stick around here.”

               “All this sneaking around in the woods is growing tiresome,” Vivienne said. “Why don’t we storm the place and make them tell us what we need?”

               “Yeah, great idea,” Sera interrupted, “except from the sounds of it there’s not just an army in there, but you know, people? Who don’t do weapony things? Hardly a good idea to go threaten them when the person we’re looking for has clearly run in the other direction.”

               “Yet we can’t ignore this possible enemy force that has been operating without the Inquisition’s knowledge,” Blackwall said. “If we come back here with reinforcements, we may be able to keep them off the Inquisitor’s tail.”

               “Alright,” said Hawke. “I’m heading after the Inquisitor.  Fenris, Merrill and Anders are coming with me; she’s likely still injured and those children might be, too.”

               “I’ll go along with our dear Keeper here,” said Varric. “You in, Seeker?”

               She grunted.

               “I’m coming too,” Cole murmured, shifting closer to Varric.

               “Blackwall and I will head back and gather our forces,” Vivienne said.

               “I’ll stick around,” Sera said. “I’m curious about this place. I’ll tell everyone what I find out, yeah?”

               “Well someone needs to keep you company,” Bull said at length. “Tell Boss I said hi. Dorian and I will look after Sera.”

               They parted ways once again, Varric running in the dark after the soldiers who had gone ahead of them, led by the mabari and the faint light of Hawke’s staff.

 

Aevalle and Abelas were carrying two of the smallest children each, and they were deep into the woods before they stopped to catch their breath. Aevalle wasn’t sure where they were—blindly following the wolf, they hadn’t gone the way he had led her. Their path had been erratic, as well—maybe he didn’t have a destination in mind?

               Abelas let the children go and fell to his knees—when Aevalle tried to help him, he waved her off, gasping for breath. “I had not the strength left for such magic,” he said. “I need to recover. See to your spirit.”

               She found him pacing not far from the children, his hackles raised and his tail rigid. He saw her and paused, and she noticed he was panting heavily.

               “I’m sorry,” she said. She approached him with her arms out, visible. “I must have frightened you terribly.”

               He allowed her to kneel beside him and bury her face in the fur at his throat, to embrace him. “I’m sorry that happened to those spirits, ma falon,” she said in a whisper. “I won’t send you back.”

               She stayed like that with him until he was calm again, petting his fur. When he nuzzled his face against her shoulder, she knew he had forgiven her, and she let him go and stood. She searched around until she found a fallen branch that would serve as a crude walking stick. She brought it to Abelas and he used it to stand, shakily.

               “We need to keep moving,” Abelas said.

               Aevalle looked over the assembled children, mentally counting them as she did. “I don’t know if they can.”

               He followed her gaze, his expression unreadable.

               “Then we must find somewhere to hide,” he said. “Where are your people?”

               She exhaled and squinted up at the sky. It was too cloudy to see the stars. “I’m not sure—I honestly didn’t even know where we were headed. They’ve probably dropped everything and now they’re trying to find me, which means they’re somewhere behind us.”

               He looked to the north. “My people were supposed to meet me at Andruil’s temple,” he said. “We were investigating disturbances there. They might still be there. We could be there tomorrow, if we hurry.”

               She frowned. “I didn’t know Andruil’s temple was in this area,” she said.

               “It was covered by a rockslide after her battle with the Dread Wolf.” Aevalle blinked—battle?—but he did not explain. “The grounds have likely fallen into disrepair over time—little but the basement would remain. There is a chance the elluvian remains intact.”

               “If it could be opened...”

               “... then we could use it to get the children to safety while we deal with this Sunil.”

               She smiled. “You’ve had quite the change of heart since I met you, Abelas.”

               He gave her a withering look that made her laugh. He looked strange without his cloak—and even stranger without a shirt. Less ancient, less hostile.

               The wolf led them to some sort of abandoned hunters’ cabin, with a water pump that still worked and walls that were still standing. It was enough for the exhausted children, who all immediately curled up on the floor and slept. Aevalle sat with her back to the far wall, her bow hanging loosely in one hand and three arrows tucked into her other, one of them half-notched. Abelas sat beside her with a sigh of pain and relief, and their shoulders touched as they leaned, in their exhaustion, against one another. The wolf lay his head in her lap and gave a sigh himself, although for what Aevalle didn’t know.

               “I’ll keep watch,” she said, her eyelids falling.

               “Of course,” Abelas said. “Lethallan, wake me halfway through the night.”

               “Sure thing,” she said. And she meant to only close her eyes for a minute, but she was asleep almost instantly.

 

Leliana had been wrong about Solas—she waited up all night for him to arrive, but a runner came for her at morning light.

               She had half expected a great white wolf like the reports had described. Solas looked much as he had the day he left as he stood before the gates of Skyhold, which they had closed, and waited without saying a word. Unarmed. When Leliana leaned over the ramparts to get a look at him, she could almost feel waves of rage coming off him.

               “He looks same as always,” Cullen said. “I think we should let him in. If he tries anything, he is outnumbered regardless.”

               “Something seems different,” Leliana replied.

               He looked up at her as he waited. From this distance, she could not tell what was unsettling her so—only a feeling at the bottom of her spine.

               “He has gained much power since he left us,” Morrigan said from behind her. “I question where he has so fortuitously stumbled across such strength, and why this source was not available to him when he aided the Inquisition.”

               “You don’t trust him?” Josephine asked.

               She leaned over the railing to get a look at him herself. “He is masking its nature, but it feels... familiar. I am not certain what has changed, and I suspect I will not know for certain until he wants me to. He was spiteful in the Temple of Mythal, and I question his knowledge of its relics.”

               “Maker forbid an elf knows more about his own history than you,” Cullen grumbled under his breath.

               “We should let him in. If he meant us harm,” Josephine said, “he would have killed your scouts in the mountains, Leliana. He let us know he was coming.”

               “How courteous of him,” Leliana said to herself. Then at length she added, “Let him in.”

               The gates opened and Solas walked through them, and all four of the Inquisitor’s advisers came down the stairs to meet him. He stood with arms crossed, and Leliana could not shake that awful feeling she had—her spine itched. There was no other way to describe it.

               “Where is she?” he asked.

               “We do not know,” Josephine answered, honestly. “We received word from Blackwall late last night that she had left Wycome to go hunting, and the next morning mercenaries came and took Varric, the Keeper, another Dalish woman and a number of elven children from the city. They assumed Cole followed them. We know that Blackwall, Vivienne and Sera took Inquisition troops stationed in Ostwick and attempted to head off the mercenaries on the road, but we have no more recent news.”

               Leliana watched his face carefully as Josephine spoke. He kept his expression passive, but his posture was stiff. He was attempting to keep up an outward display of patience and civility, but his jaw tightened just slightly as he waited, and his eyes flashed when the information was not sufficient. He was impossibly angry, although at what Leliana couldn’t say.

               “Then I must take matters into my own hands,” was all he said in response to Josephine, and he made to move past them and head up the stairs.

               “Hold on,” Cullen said.

               Solas paused, but did not look happy about it.

               “You were gone for two months with no word, and suddenly you show up demanding to know where the Inquisitor is without offering any information about where you have been, or why you suddenly need to know where she is? That doesn’t seem strange to you?”

               “Strange is the least of my worries,” Solas said. “The foolish woman has gotten herself badly injured and refuses to tell me where she has gone under some fantasy that I am in danger if I follow her. I can tell you that she was recently in a dungeon with no small number of elven children, and I could tell you the colour of the stone and the smell of death that clung to it but I could not tell you even what corner of the world she is in. If she was near Wycome then I will start my search there.”

               “There are many Elluvians that once led to that area,” Morrigan said. “They are all damaged beyond repair.”

               Solas scoffed. “And who do you think built them?” he said, sneering at her. Leliana felt something flare up from him, like an aura of barely contained rage—she saw nothing, but it was like there was a shadow of a wolf around Solas that raised its hackles, snarling.

               Morrigan’s vision seemed to cloud over, and she staggered backwards a step. Solas breezed past her and up the stairs as she recovered. She brushed away Cullen’s attempt to support her, her eyes wide with fear.

               “Well,” she said. “That was... not what I expected.”

               “The Well told you something,” Leliana said.

               Morrigan turned to watch Solas go up the stairs.

               “Yes,” she said, her voice shaking. “It certainly did.”

 

She could see how no one would know the Temple of Andruil still stood—where she saw a gently sloping hill with some lovely trees, Abelas led them down a game trail and into a narrow cave. Aevalle had to hunch over as she walked through it—it looked to be little more than an animal den. Her eyesight failed her as they went further in, and Abelas lit veilfire in his hand as he stood before her. He held it high above his head, and Aevalle could just make out the roots of the trees on the ground above them.

               She whistled. The sound echoed back at her.

               “I don’t see the other sentinels,” she said, softly, because there was something about the place that made her feel small.

               “They were here,” he said, inspecting the ground. “They must have assumed I was delayed and moved on to examine Dirthamen’s temple.”

               “They will find it suspiciously void of demons and the walking dead,” Aevalle told him. “So much for reinforcements.”

               “We may yet find the Elluvian,” he told her. He found a brazier for the veilfire and lit it. Aevalle lit a couple of torches, and passed one to the eldest of the children—Myrah, her name was. She accepted it with unease.

               “Abelas and I need to make sure it’s safe. Stay near the entrance, da’vhen,” she told them. “Blow out the torch and hide if you hear anyone coming. Don’t touch anything, there might be traps.”

               “Yes, mistress,” Myrah said, and a number of the other children chimed in.

               “What? I’m not—please, call me Aevalle.”

               Myrah gave her an odd look. “You would steal us but not make us your own? Where do we go from this place if we are not your slaves?”

               Aevalle felt intensely angry at that moment, and she did her best to hide it. “Once we are safe,” she told them, “I will see to your futures. My clan might take you in. The Inquisition might shelter you. You have options, I promise you. I will find them.”

               The girl had a confused expression on her face, but said nothing further.

               The wolf watched her, his eyes glowing green in the veilfire.

               “Keep them safe,” she said.

               He turned and trotted to the entrance. With him there, it would look precisely like the den of a wolf.

               The air was cool and fresh, and as they made their way over the rubble she saw the scars of ancient magic on much of the stone. It came away like dust on her hands, and she found herself wondering which belonged to Solas and which to Andruil. Knowing he was Fen’harel was one thing—reminding herself that he was physically as ancient as the rubble around her was another.

               “You said Fen’harel levelled this place. Why?”

               “Concerned for your lover?” Abelas said.

               She bit her lip, unable to respond. All this time, and she still had no clue what she and Solas were to one another. They called one another my heart, my love, and that night in the forests around Halamshiral had been their first but not their last—but a name for what they were, she did not have.

               “Fen’harel lead a rebellion of the slaves, incited by your ancestors.”

               “Ena sal?” she said, startled from her recollections.

               “He did not tell you? There was a woman kept as Andruil’s slave whose voice was said to be heard across the Veil. It is said she sang to Fen’harel of the plight of the slaves, softening his heart for them. After Mythal’s murder, Andruil killed her to spite Fen’harel. Her children all received her gift, and they used their power to warp the veil, to call the people and spirits alike to arms, and they aided Fen’harel in overturning the gods who enslaved them.”

               “He... tried to tell me,” she said, thinking back to that night in Halamshiral. She hadn’t been too interested in a history lesson at the time—and he had likely thought himself unable to tell her without the discussion of slavery in the ancient elven empire.

               “My people heard your singing in the temple, and brought it to my attention after the battle. I sought you out at Tarasyl’an Te’las to see for myself if they were correct.” He seemed to be watching her face, and she wondered if she imagined the way his eyes lingered on her vallaslin. “There is honour in your bloodline—we thought it had vanished centuries ago.”

               She didn’t know what to say.

               They continued through the temple, examining the walls and the stones around them for anything useful. She had to steady him from time to time as they climbed over the rubble—he was still not well—but they pressed on regardless.

               “Why do you wear the vallaslin?” she asked at length, because he had been staring and it got her thinking.

               “You are aware of their meaning.”

               “Solas—Fen’harel told me. After the Temple of Mythal.”

               He studied her a moment. “I presume he offered to remove them.”

               “He did.”

               He tilted his head to the side. “Why did you not?”

               She touched her face without thinking. “Because—they are a part of me. The Dalish are not what Arlathan was, but—I’ve realised recently that we don’t have to be. We can be better than that. I keep them to remind me of what we were, so we do not return to it.”

               He lowered his eyes. “A noble purpose,” he said.

               “You still have not answered my question.”

               “I was born a slave to a noble affiliated with June. He... was not kind.”

               “I’m sorry,” she said.

               “When I came into Mythal’s service, I was angry. I carried it with me. Working with her... changed how I viewed the world. When I became leader to her Sentinels, I asked her to mark me with her vallaslin, to honour her, to remember my past and to carry it with me without the anger.”

               “How did she die?” Aevalle asked at length, because he looked pained.

               He smiled at her, but there was pain in it. “That is not a story for this place, Lethallan.

               The temple itself was not as grand as Mythal’s had been—but they were looking at the basement, she reminded herself, not where Andruil would have resided. There were bars of ironbark sticking out of the rubble, and as they moved through the main chamber and into another, she could see what remained of the walls and the supports—it looked like a prison. Or worse.

               The further in they went, the more the veil hummed at the edge of her hearing. Its melody was weak—in tune, still, but the harmony wavered. She couldn’t hear any rifts, but she felt the anchor begin to pulse and burn. She clenched her fist and ignored the pain.

               “How is your wound?” Abelas asked at length.

               She gave him an odd look.

               “I saw you checking it this morning. It does not look well.”

               “It’s fine,” she lied. She had opened it further in the fight at Sulin’s base, but the bleeding was slowed again by morning. She was keeping it as clean as she could, given the circumstances, but she had noticed some pus and signs of infection. She moved slower than she liked with it—it was frustrating, but there was nothing to be done about it. Abelas was obviously no healer, or he would have made his own pain less by now.

               “With luck,” she said, “we can pop into Skyhold and have someone take a look at both of us by the end of the day, and then we’re ready to come back out swinging at Sunil and call it a day, Lethallin.

               He shook his head with that half-smile of his that was becoming familiar.

               They wound their way through the increasingly-complicated maze of what had been the temple’s dungeons. They passed through places where she felt the veil was about to break, its song a cacophony in her ears, but it always faded behind her without incident. It was the sound she had heard that had called her away from her kin at the conclave—just a moment, my head aches, I need to go somewhere quiet. No matter how many times she heard it, it still rattled her.

               They passed a circular pool that was twice as wide as she was tall, its waters turned black as old blood and something quivering under the surface—a power that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She almost asked Abelas what it was for, but his face held such an expression of loss when he looked at it that she chose not to.

               “I received a boon from Falon’Din in the ancient past,” he said at length. “I called his name before I began my slumber, and I asked to know my end.”

               “I don’t know if I could have asked that,” she said, softly.

               “Mythal had died. Old anger was resurfacing.” He stared into the depths of the corrupted pool and closed his eyes.

               He was silent for so long, she said, “Lethallin?”

               His head jerked up as if awaking from a daydream. “Do not fret,” he said, “His answer was cryptic, as I should have expected. I feel I have just unravelled some small piece of its puzzle. Garas, Lethallan.

               She followed him away from the pool and they wound their way through the temple, the veil growing so thin she could hear the Fade on the other side—but it held. They passed through a set of double doors that looked intact, and remarkably heavy. She had a feeling slaves were required for its opening and closing.

 

Sera sat in her perch high up in her trees in the morning sunlight, scowling into the distance as she tried to see what was going on.

               “Any luck?” Dorian hissed.

               He heard her swearing quietly to herself.

               “Figures,” he told Bull. “Not a damn thing. Bet she’s too scared to climb back down.”

               The Qunari turned his head to look into the woods around him. “Did you hear that?” he said.

               Dorian listened. He could hear Violet snorting, but there was a stillness in the air, the absence of birds and other forest creatures.

               He moved for his staff, but there was a hand clamped over his mouth and another with a blade to his throat. He grunted against it, but froze.

               Bull was surrounded by a number of those elven sentinels from the Temple of Mythal—what were they doing all the way out here? Each had their weapon trained on him. A quick glance at Sera up in the trees told Dorian she was oblivious to their ambush.

               “Ar’din nuvenin na’din,” the elf holding him said.

               “Like we understand what that means,” Bull said. His arms were still crossed.

               “Vir’an Abelas?” the elf continued. His voice was low and throaty. He held the knife closer to Dorian’s throat. “Vir’an Elgar’sulen?

               Dorian was regretting not paying more attention to Aevalle and Solas’ elven language lessons in the rotunda. He had found their impossibly slow circle of flirtation too nauseating to listen to. He tried to remember at least a little of what they had discussed...

               “Again,” said Bull, “I don’t speak Elven.”

               Didn’t an mean place? Dorian’s mind was whirling. He tried to speak against the hand on his mouth.

               The hand moved, and he gasped for air. “Abelas? Did he make that lightning show last night?”

               Bull looked at Dorian thoughtfully. “If he did then he’s gone with Aevalle.”

               “Elgar’sulen,” the man repeated at the sound of Aevalle’s name.

               “Oh, right—they went together, that way,” Bull said, miming two figures walking with his fingers and gesturing in the direction they figured she’d gone.

               “Shit!” Sera swore, loudly.

               Everyone looked up.

               She practically slid down the tree in her haste to be out of it. “Shit cocksucking tits,” she said when she landed, and froze when she saw the elven sentinels.

               “... Fuck?” she added for good measure. No one moved.

               “Well?” said Dorian.

               She blinked at him. “There’s—there must be a hundred of them. They’ve all started marching out that cave, yeah? Looks like they’re following Varric and the others.”

               “We don’t have the numbers to deal with that many,” Bull said, “even if they did arrive on time.”

               Another elf seemed to appear from thin air behind them. She spoke in a low voice to the one holding Dorian captive.

               Dorian was released as suddenly as he was grabbed. He rubbed his neck, cursing.

               “Apologies,” the woman said. Her Trade was clumsy and her accent thick, but they could understand her and Dorian supposed that was a bonus. “Your scout is right, an army leaves this place. It seems Abelas was held captive here, and the Elgar’sulen freed him. We assume they are still together. Abelas would have led her to the Temple where we were supposed to meet. We know a quick way. We request your aid in this matter.”

               “Uh,” Dorian said, rubbing his neck. “I don’t see why not?”

               “Excellent. Follow us.”

 

“There,” Abelas said, turning a corner. She followed him, and there, standing flush against a wall at the back of the complex, was the outline of an Elluvian, ancient and tall. But as they drew closer, Abelas’ veilfire lit up the many cracks in the glass, the shards on the floor, and how the frame was slightly bent.

               They stood before it, and Aevalle rubbed the back of her neck. “Ir abelas, lethallin,” she said at length.

               He shook his head. “No,” he said. “It was but a chance.”

               She knelt down and picked up a fallen shard. It was warm in her hand. “Could we repair it?”

               “I... have not the knowledge or the skill. Fen’harel guarded the secrets of his elluvians closely.”

               There was a humming just at the edge of her hearing that was not the veil. “Do you hear that?” she asked, looking around.

               Abelas crouched beside her in the rubble, leaning heavily on his makeshift staff. “Describe it to me,” he said. Which was markedly different than just looking at her like she’d lost it—the usual response.

               “It’s—far away.” She closed her eyes and tried to focus on it. “But it’s—like voices far away. The crossroads? I think I can hear...”

               Abelas said nothing, but her heart sank when she realised it. “Solas,” she said, softly. Of course. She had thought when he was following her it was on foot; he had gone to Skyhold first.

               She could almost make out what he was saying, and she opened her mouth to call to him, foolishly. Then it faded, as if he had walked away.

               She put her piece onto the empty spot it seemed to fit in the mirror. Nothing happened. She reached for another, but they heard the dull echo of barking trailing its way back from the entry.

               They ran, following their earlier footsteps back with relative ease. Aevalle ignored her injury and leapt over the obstructing rubble, swung off protruding iron bars to gain momentum. Abelas fell behind her, slowed by his much more substantial injuries, and she felt the whisper of his magic fall into place around her body, allowing for faster movement, quicker steps, greater leaps.

               She ran until she was back at the entrance, her veilfire torch abandoned for her dual blades, and as their runes glowed weakly in the darkness she realised the wolf made no more noise, and there were footsteps making their uneasy way down the slope into the temple.

               “Aevalle!” Varric yelled once he reached the bottom. She saw him in the light of the veilfire brazier, squinting around him into the darkness, the wolf leaving its light and trotting right over to Aevalle. “Shit this place is big. Aevalle!”

               “You’ll frighten the children,” Cole said, sliding down behind him with Cassandra hot on his heels. He looked into the darkness where the children must have hid. “We’re friends,” he called to them. “You like the sunlight, it’s warm on your skin. We won’t make you go back to that place.”

               “I’m over here,” she yelled back, picking her way through the stones to them. She paused only to pet the wolf’s face, and then he followed her back to her friends. “Come on out, da’vhen,” she called. “These are my friends.”

               One by one, the children’s’ gleaming eyes appeared out of the rubble. They began to approach slowly, emboldened by her return, but they moved to hide behind her and peer around her at this strange assembly coming down the path. Myrah stood at her side, her hands folded in front of her, the perfect picture of composure in spite of the dirt on her cheek.

               Fenris and Hawke slid down the hill, holding hands, and Merrill and Anders were not far behind. Her Keeper was last, her eyes wide as she surveyed what they could take in. When her eyes settled on Aevalle, they narrowed. She felt a pang of guilt, but kept her expression even.

               Varric looked at the assembled children, the wolf at her side, and his gaze turned over her shoulder to where she could hear Abelas approaching from behind. “Let me guess,” he said. “Weird shit?”

               She couldn’t help herself. She grinned. “The weirdest,” she said with a laugh. Then a wince as her side ached.

               Anders went to her side, but she waved him off. “My friend—he’s hurt worse,” she said.

               “I will survive,” Abelas said, coming up beside her. “You require more immediate aid, Lethallan.”

               She opened her mouth to argue with him, but Anders rolled his eyes and said, “Both of you sit down.”

               Aevalle griped all the way through Cassandra and Myrah helping her out of her armour, tried to deflect that it wasn’t that bad—but when the pressure of her armour was gone from it she let out a groan in spite of herself. Her side was swollen and painful to the touch, and it was not just blood that marked the bandages.

               “I’m sorry,” she managed under Cassandra’s fierce stare.

               “And yet you continue to run off into danger on your own without a care for what could happen to you,” the Seeker replied sharply. “I have chased you halfway around the Free Marches, my friend, and you seem to make irresponsible choices at every turn. You will get yourself killed one day.”

               “Relax, Seeker,” Varric said. “You can now officially say ‘I told her so’ in her eulogy.”

               “You assume there will be anything left to burn,” Cassandra said, dryly.

               “Cassandra,” she said. She hissed when Anders began to clean her wound. “I didn’t mean to disappear again. I promise.”

               Cassandra scowled at her, but Aevalle could already see the beginning of a worried smile working its way onto her face. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Hawke bouncing one of the youngest children on her knee.

               “I’m going to name him Charlie,” she said.

               “Hawke,” Fenris said, and Aevalle could have sworn he was smiling. “No.” He was standing next to her, carrying a small girl on his back, her arms wrapped around his shoulders and her legs around his torso.

               “Hawke yes,” she answered. He bent down and kissed her and the little girl on his back squealed with delight at the movement.

               Aevalle began the long process of filling everyone in on what had happened—how the wolf led her to the children, then to Abelas, but then she hesitated, looking at her Keeper.

               “What could he be planning?” Cassandra wondered aloud.

               “He plans to release Andruil from her prison in the void,” Abelas answered, ignoring Aevalle’s pointed looks. “He has since learned that the power of the anchor will be enough, and as such we are all in danger the longer we linger.”

               “But—Andruil?” Merrill whispered, coming closer. “Could he truly do it? Bring Andruil back to us?”

               Abelas met her gaze with a blank expression. “She is not what you think,” he said to her.

               “And what do we think?” her Keeper asked, and Aevalle continued her attempts to force Abelas to read her mind and stop talking.

               “Hahren,” she said, “this is not the time.”

               “Then when is, da’len?” She hissed the last word, almost with spite, and Aevalle clenched her jaw at the sound of it, rising to the bait like she had so many times before.

               “Why did you follow me? Can I expect another lecture? My mother isn’t here to stop you, you could go on forever if you like.”

               It was an old wound, and some small part of her regretted picking at it.

               “You chase a dream and know not what it means, da’len. Fen’harel has hounded your steps since your youth and all I have done is to protect you from him.”

               Abelas snorted. “The Dread Wolf has been too weak for eons to be hounding anyone,” he said.

               “Lethallin,” Aevalle said, “not now.”

               “Tell me, da’len, who is it that told you Andruil’s revival was not a thing to desire? Your friend the Dread Wolf?”

               “It’s not what you think,” she said. Her stomach twisted—the magic at her side made her feel dizzy, the memory of Solas’ touch in the dream, his rage when she would not relent to him. The sadness in his eyes—how could she explain all Solas was and what he was not?

               “I’m sure he has twisted you with other such lies. And now at his command you find yourself wounded, separated from your clan yet again—he sent his emissary to lead you here, no doubt.”

               The wolf at her feet tensed.

               “He’s a spirit of loyalty,” Cole said, standing behind Aevalle. “He came first on the ice because her song was pretty, then in the clearing because she could not leave her father, and he came to Sorrow because of his love for Mythal as they tortured him, because even the smallest thing he gave up was a knife in her back, and the wolf wanted to help him. Then he found the children, and could not leave them.”

               The Keeper balked at him. “Your demon friend intrudes on a conversation it does not understand.”

               “Like you intrude on my dreams, hahren?”

               “You’re hurting each other!” Cole snapped, and Aevalle quieted immediately. “She hid it because it hurt, because she loves you, the scarf doesn’t smell like home anymore even that comfort is lost to her now, it smells like him and it scares the halla—it’s an answer but it’s so many more questions—he follows her dreams but she will not tell him where she is, he’s angry because he’s scared she’ll die and he wanted her to forget him and grow old, to have children and to never mark them, to teach them to smile at his name, not to lose her with her blood on his hands and his name on her lips.”

               “Cole,” she said, softly, “that’s enough.”

               The Keeper said nothing, but her expression had changed. Aevalle would not look at it—she knew it was confusion and pity, which she did not want.

               “Hahren,” she said. “I will tell you what I have learned. But for now, we need to find a way to repair the elluvian, and get these children to safety.”

               The Keeper looked at her. “I do not have the knowledge of such things,” she said.

               Merrill’s soft voice piped up from the shadows. “I do.”

 

The song her father had taught her died on her lips, but when she opened her eyes Aevalle was still alone in the vast forests outside Skyhold. Her heart still ached, her face still burned with shame and her vallaslin, which she hated one moment but could not imagine herself without the next.

               She had poured every question into the song Solas advised her not to sing. No answers came on the wind. No spirits emerged from the veil to steal her away. The river before her was frozen.

Aevalle had thought she was all alone out in the wilderness when she stepped onto the ice, so when she heard a voice she looked up, puzzled.

               Abelas was standing on the bank, wrapped in his cloak.

               “Da’len,” he said. “Step off the ice.”

               She stared at him. Her hands were stuffed into the pockets of her hunter coat, her feet planted flat on the frozen river beneath her. She heard it groan and crack under her weight.

               “When I was a little girl,” she said, “I met a wolf on the ice.”

               It cracked again, long and broad, going almost all the way to the bank.

               “What are you doing?” he hissed.

               “My Keeper thought he was Fen’harel, come to trick me to walk where it was not safe, but he saved my friend instead. I met him again, when my father died.”

               Abelas made to step onto the ice, but the cracks spread again and he moved back to the bank.

               “Solas said it was a spirit. So I have questions for this spirit—what happened to my mother when she died? To my father? To my clansmen who died at the conclave? Where have their souls gone, if not where Falon’Din would take them? Why would we keep the vallaslin of all things? Why are we to blame for losing so much when there were wars between gods, Exalted Marches, years of slavery—”

               Her voice broke. The ice held. Abelas said nothing.

               “Am I to be considered a fool, to have clung to what we thought was the truth? What would I have seen if I drank from the Well of Sorrows? Am I a traitor to my kind? If I was not afraid of it, would I have been able to better my people? Or would it have changed me? Would I too have scorned them for even trying?”

               She pressed a cold hand to her brow. Her hand shook as she did.

               “Why are you here?” she asked. “To mock me?”

               He hesitated. “You sang at the temple,” he said, slowly.

               She lowered her hand. “I sing everywhere,” she snapped. “It does me little good. You should leave before I quicken your blood.”

               “Come off the ice, da’len” he said again. “I will build you a fire.”

               She did. Abelas left her long enough to return with wood, then left again, this time returning with an August Ram slung over his back. It had an arrow still in its side—she doubted he’d shot it. Probably one of the sentinels. She wondered how many were watching her.

               “You have the gift,” he said after she had butchered the animal and set about cooking its meat, “but it seems... tangled with someone else’s.”

               “My father tried to give me something when he died. It’s jumbled.”

               She was not looking at him, not listening to him, but she felt his thumb on her forehead and sucked her surprise in sharply.

               “Here,” he said.

               She did not answer him. He was so close, and she could make out the details of his vallaslin as he scrutinized her eyes, or whatever was behind them. You are not your eyes, she remembered Cole saying once, and she shivered.

               “It was not his either,” the ancient elf whispered. “But yours is honestly come by.”

               He closed his eyes and she felt something strange—like a piece of her soul was unwinding, and the parts that had been twisted together shivered, suddenly exposed for the first time.

               “What did you just...” she breathed.

               “That may help,” he said, standing. He moved out of the firelight, and then Aevalle heard Varric and Cole approaching, arguing with one another. Abelas vanished, and she thought she would probably never see him again.

Chapter Text

Merrill stared at the broken elluvian with a bittersweet expression.

                “Merrill,” Hawke said. “Are you sure...?”

                Merrill produced a small, thin knife from her belt.

                “You still have that thing?” Fenris said. “I thought you were done with this nonsense.”

                “It is the last thing I ever received from my Keeper,” Merrill said. She sounded so sad that Aevalle had to resist the urge to embrace her.

                The going was slow—Abelas was nearby and watching the whole thing with attentive eyes, being healed bit by bit by Anders, who was working out the worst of what had been done to him and trying his best to make sure no further infection spread. Varric kept the children entertained by telling them stories—of Hawke, the Inquisition, whatever—while Cassandra and Fenris went about moving whatever they could to reinforce the doors that led to this chamber. They had managed to close one of them, though it was an effort, but the other they left half-open so there could be coming and going.

                Aevalle grew tired of waiting and pacing—was she thrilled that Solas was on the other side of that mirror, or terrified?—and she left to go watch the entrance with Hawke, the mabari and the wolf. Hawke was leaning against the wall when she arrived, yawning and scratching the ears of the mabari.

                “All quiet here,” she said as Aevalle approached. “Have I mentioned I like the new armour?”

                She remembered the hunter coat she used to wear and smiled. “I was homesick,” she said, softly. “I think it was a bit of a statement, too.”

                That make Hawke laugh. “I’m all about making a statement,” she said. Looking at her armour, Aevalle felt that could have gone unsaid.

                She sat on a nearby toppled pillar, and the wolf padded over to her to place his head on her lap.

                “Alright kid,” Hawke said. “Shoot.”

                Aevalle looked down. “If I’m what Sunil is after,” she started.

                “I’m going to stop you there.” The Champion of Kirkwall sat beside her. “That exact thought process is why we are all crowded in some dusty elven ruin instead of kicking our feet up and drinking beer while your soldiers take care of this mess.”

                “Abelas would still be in a torture room. Those children would still be locked up.”

                Hawke sighed. “And who’s to say we would never have found that place any other way? Your wolf friend might have come and found you in a camp of soldiers just as well as the middle of the woods. And we could have stormed the place without almost losing you.”

                  Aevalle looked at her hand. “Would that be such a bad thing?” she asked.

                “Other than the fact that you would be dead and that would be awful because you seem like a pretty nice kid, you’re the only one who can close the rifts.”

                “Most of them are gone. I’m sure someone else would find a way.”

                “And this fatalist attitude is because...?”

                Aevalle pet the wolf’s head.

                “I don’t want to be the Inquisitor anymore,” she said.

                Hawke said, “Of course you don’t. Varric’s told me what you’ve been through—you’ve given enough.”

                “That’s not it. That’s part of it, but...” She closed her eyes. Her shoulders fell.

                She felt Hawke’s hand on her shoulder.

 “I need some air,” she said, standing abruptly. Hawke’s hand fell from her shoulder. She climbed back up into the crevice without looking back.

                When she emerged into the daylight, the wolf followed her. She tugged at her scarf and sighed.

                “I’m a mess,” she told the wolf.

                He pressed his face into her hand.

                She allowed a small smile. “At least you’re here, ma falon,” she said.

                The wolf looked into the distance, and his ears pointed forward.

                She followed his gaze. Through the winding trees that led up to the demolished temple, she could make out movement—someone weaving through the trees on horseback.

                Her hands went for her weapons, and paused when she saw it was Sera on Dorian’s pretty gelding.

                “Sera?” she yelled. The elf waved, and Aevalle ran towards her.

                Sera reigned the animal in as they drew closer—cursing, “shit shit shit shit,” as she yanked hard on the reigns. The horse stopped, but it pranced in place.

                “There’s a huge fuckin’ army headed this way,” Sera said. “We think Blackwall and Vivienne are following behind but it’s too big. Those freaky elves from the Temple Mythal stayed behind to try and hold them off, and Dorian and Bull decided to help them for whatever reason.”

                “Give me the horse,” Aevalle said.

                “You’ve got to get out of here,” Sera said, dropping to the ground. She handed Aevalle the reigns.

                “There’s a hole in the hill—the others are inside. There’s an elluvian in there, Merrill’s repairing it. Tell them I’ll buy them some time. There’s kids in there, protect them.”

                “Are you serious? One day we’re gonna jump through one of those things and we’ll wind up on the moon. Is there air on the moon? Do you even know?”

                “Sera,” she said, pulling herself up onto the horse. “There’s air everywhere, why wouldn’t there be air on the—just get going!”

                She turned the horse and kicked it back into a gallop, the wolf falling into stride beside her with a snarl.

                “That is toward the people trying to kill you, you stupid shit! You are too frickin’ elfy for your own good, you know that?!” Sera yelled after her, and for once it brought a smile to Aevalle’s face.

                She found the scene of the battle by following the flash of magic, the clash of steel and Bull’s yelling. She dropped off the horse and slipped into the shadows the trees cast, moving her way towards the battle with the wolf hot on her heels.

                The elven sentinels were there, slipping in and out of the shadows, fighting the soldiers with smoke bombs and clouds caused by their magic. They moved trees like Merrill had, they fired arrows from the shadows. The soldiers wore the uniform of Sunil’s forces, and Aevalle glanced around the battlefield for him. She could not see him, but the anchor burned, and she gripped her weapons tighter.

                “Are you ready?” she hissed.

                The wolf growled, and he leapt into the fray.

                They bumped into Dorian first, as lightning flew from his fingers and his staff blade sliced the throats of any who came too close with his usual flourish. Arrows bounced harmlessly off his barrier, and when he saw her he allowed her within its protection. She saw Bull nearby, fighting fifteen at once and laughing.

                “How good of you to drop by,” Dorian said. “But clarify one thing for me; aren’t you the one they’re after?”

                “Oh you know me,” she said.

                “This seems like precisely the same plan you had before,” Dorian said.

                “I have a wolf this time!”

                “Yes he’s very charming. I promise to scratch his belly for you if you get yourself killed.”

                She slipped away and, blades whirling, charged her enemies. They rallied, expecting her to come at them with force, but she dropped and slipped through a gap in their defenses at the last moment, uncorking the bottle filled with flame as she stood. Their exposed backs never stood a chance, and those she didn’t fell before they turned around never saw her—Dorian took care of the rest as she ran, full-tilt, through the woods.

                With her side free of pain and her mark pulsing, she ran and ducked and slipped through the battlefield, cutting down what she couldn’t avoid. The wolf followed, he charged ahead and leapt at the faces of their enemies, he pulled men to the ground that Aevalle distracted. They worked as a team, one circling behind while the other kept the front busy. All the while the anchor burned stronger still, and she knew they were getting close.

                Sulin was gutting a sentinel when they found him, and she gave him no chance to see her—she lunged from behind while his blade was buried in the elf’s stomach, and he only deflected with a wrist guard at the last moment. He pulled his blade out in time to block her other, but the small second blade on the hilt caught his face, dragging a long cut across the length of his cheek.

                He snarled and jumped back. The wolf ran behind her to defend her back from attackers, and Sunil charged her.

                She brought the weapon in her left hand up to deflect his strike and lunged forward with her other. He threw himself to the side to avoid the attack and she had to twist to avoid his second knife. She rushed him as he recovered his footing but again he leapt back and she was forced to chase him.

                The wolf cried out a warning, and she threw herself to the right just in time—an arrow nicked her cheek and landed behind her in the ground. She charged Sunil again and he met her fury backed into a tree. She disarmed him easily and moved to cut his throat—

                She was overwhelmed by the feeling of something dark, strong and pulsing that wrapped itself around her bones and forced her to stop. The strangled noise in her throat was cut short as it closed off, and she froze in position, the tip of her blade just piercing Sunil’s neck. Her mind screamed and her muscles strained against whatever held her, but her body would not budge.

                Then, the magic that held her began to worm its way into the anchor at the palm of her hand. It fought back brilliantly—it burned, and the pain shot up her arm like a flame, like arrows splitting her veins in two. Her body tried to scream but her jaw was held locked as if by a clamp, and everywhere was nothing but pain as she tried to move but could not.

                “Cutting it a little close, weren’t you?” Sunil snapped at someone she couldn’t see, who presumably held one of those orbs.

                She heard the wolf cry as something struck him. She wanted to look, to scream for him to run, but she couldn’t even scream for herself.

                Sunil breathed heavily, looking up at the anchor. “Shit,” he said, digging in his pockets.

                It burned—it burned so hard and so fast as it spread to her core, to her heart, and the pain was worse than when she’d woken up with it—it burrowed deep into her soul and pulled something out from wherever it was, and every inch of her screamed for release. The anchor burned so brightly it was white like Fen’harel’s fur.

                Sunil drew the stone out of his pocket and yelled, “Now!”

                Whoever held her in his thrall directed her hand to grasp the stone. Her muscles screamed as they fought it, her mind reeled from being unable to control her own body, and the anchor burned with a rage she had never known it could.

                When her hand closed around the gem, she had the feeling of everything—the anchor, her soul, her life, her breath—being sucked out of her, held somewhere far away for one beat of her wretched heart, and then being forcibly thrown back into her.

                The shockwave blew her away, and suddenly she could scream again, could feel her limbs flailing about her. Every muscle hurt, her mind ached and her soul burned as bright as the anchor. Whatever power it had dug up was with her still, crackling about her as she hit the ground, cushioning her fall. The wolf was with her in an instant, a wound on his side but otherwise unharmed, grabbing her clothes by the teeth and trying to pull her up.

                She managed to raise herself up on her elbows to look at the damage.

                A tall, thin elven woman uncurled herself from the center of the blast. Sunil lay on the ground nearby, his neck at an angle that spoke to its snapping. Something black and oozing fell from her as she stood, clinging to her hair and to her clothes before it dissipated—the void, she thought.

                Her shining armour was tainted, once gold but now blackened by years spent in the void. Her hair was grey and frayed, unkempt. She clutched a bow in her hand, but no arrows. She surveyed the damage around her with wild eyes until she settled on Aevalle, lying in a heap on the ground. Her face twisted into a snarl.

                She spoke in flawless elven. “You are not Fen’harel.

                “Well... shit,” Aevalle managed, scrambling to her feet.

                “Yet you are full to brimming with his power.

                She blinked. Full to brimming? The anchor was pouring power out over her skin, and it rippled all over her body like a mage’s barrier. She tried to step back, slowly, but Andruil was upon her before she could blink, that awful, beautiful face ravaged by her hate hovering by Aevalle’s as her back slammed into a tree, a hand on her throat.

                “Tell me, slave of Mythal. Who sent you? Where is he?”

                Din,” she spat, because apparently previous evidence with gods had made her think this was the correct thing to do. “Ar tel’dirtha.

                There was a wrenching feeling inside her skull as she felt Andruil begin to dig around. She screamed, clawed at the hand on her throat, and struggled as she felt her soul laid bare, every intimate moment in her life sorted through with all the grace of gutting a dead fish—she saw flashes of her childhood, singing at her mother’s deathbed, the blood in the clearing, the lights in Halamshiral, closing the Breach, falling into the Fade, Solas kissing her, killing Corypheus, the orb’s destruction, Solas telling her the word for what he was about to do with his tongue and her voice shaking as she repeated it, and when she kissed the fur between his eyes in the Fade.

                Then it was gone, but the hand was closing about her throat.

                “You dare,” Andruil hissed. “You could not even see what he was and you dared. Your death will be slow, impudent slave.”

                A bolt of lightning hit Andruil from behind. She turned, slowly, scowling, and Aevalle called upon the anchor in a desperate act.

                Its power was greater than she remembered. It let out a white bolt that made Andruil drop her, and she hit the ground running. The wolf fell in step beside her, ears flat against his skull.

                “What the hell is that?” Dorian yelled as he fell in behind her. “And why are you glowing?”

                “One: Andruil,” she said. “Two: don’t know.”

                “You mean the one who actually hunted elves not animals, right?”

                “Yep.”

                “Shit Boss,” Bull shouted from her other side, “aren’t you tired of pissing off Gods yet?”

                “Not my idea!”

                Andruil was screaming in rage behind them—and it turned to laughter as they heard the sounds of slaughter behind them, the cacophony of her decimating what was left of Sunil’s troops.

                “Abelas’ friends took off the minute that blast happened,” Bull shouted. “We went looking for you. They might have been smarter!”

                “Shut up and run,” she told them, the anchor burning white on her palm, raw power pouring out of it and covering her skin.

 

Cullen, Morrigan, Leliana and Josephine all watched Solas as he moved from one elluvian to the next, listening at their broken surfaces, closing his eyes and almost meditating—his lips moved as if he spoke, but they could not hear him.

                “Sister Nightingale,” said a voice behind her.

                Leliana scowled and turned—then looked down. Dagna stood there with two huge gloves on, holding something glowing behind her back and a huge smile on her face.

                “Have I got a surprise for you!” she exclaimed. “Remember Corypheus’ Orb that was smashed in the final battle?”

                “Yes Dagna,” Cullen said, as if he was speaking to a particularly odd child, “we remember. It was a big deal.”

                “Well the Inquisitor secretly asked me to get it working again, and I managed to put it back together but it was like all the power was gone from it so I put it on a shelf and things sort of accumulated and it was on the back burner—but like ten minutes ago the shelf blew up and look!”

                She pulled the Orb out from behind her back. It was glowing white, her gloves smouldering where she touched it.

                “Let me see that,” Solas said, panic rising in his voice.

                They moved aside for him and he grabbed it in both hands. It sparked at first, and he winced, but the tendrils of magic seemed to explore his arms, his face, and then it accepted him, still burning white.

                His eyes were wide.

                “Its power did not return to you when it was destroyed?” Morrigan said.

                “The Orb is yours?” Josephine said.

                “I... was mistaken,” he whispered. There was horror in his expression.

                “It went to the Inquisitor,” Morrigan concluded, the colour draining from her face. “That means...”

                “What?” Cullen asked when she did not finish. “It means what?”

                “The power of the Orb entered the Inquisitor when it was released from the Orb via the anchor,” Morrigan said. “The anchor probably locked it away, she could not control that much power at once. That it has been called on now has awoken the Orb, but...”

                “That means she’s in danger,” Leliana said. “Solas. There must be one—”

                But he was distracted. He turned to look at an elluvian he had already passed, as if he had heard something.

 

They were back at the Temple and down the hole in a matter of minutes, and Dorian used a wave of magic to collapse the entrance behind them. Aevalle led them through the maze of rubble, following the fleeting figures of the elven sentinels as they went.

                They came upon the door mostly closed, and Cassandra yelled for them to hurry. They all slipped through and then turned and helped push it closed. Bull and Cassandra began piling up everything they could in front of the doors.

                “Why are you glowing now?”

                She turned. Varric was standing with the children, Bianca at the ready. His tone was incredulous. Hawke and Fenris were standing with him, Hawke looking slightly amused by the glowing.

                “Weird shit,” was her only answer as she scanned the room for Merrill. She and her Keeper were standing with the elluvian. Aevalle went to them immediately.

                “Progress on the escape plan?” Aevalle asked.

                The cracks in the mirror vanished, and its surface grew dull.

                “It’s not—open,” Merrill said. “I don’t have a key for it, it’s not responding—by the Dread Wolf, you’re glowing!”

                “Da’len,” her Keeper exclaimed. “What—”

                There was a mighty blow against the door. Bits of earth fell from the ceiling, and the doors rattled under the blow.

                “Lethallan,” Abelas yelled.

                She reached past Merrill and placed her left hand flat on the mirror. She took a deep breath and began to sing the song that would summon Fen’harel to her. She dug down and found the part of her soul that Abelas had touched, those months ago at the river, and the voice that came from her lips was laced with a power that felt warm, inviting. It was different than the power of the anchor but they swelled together as if they were old friends, harmonizing.

                Before her, the elluvian sparked to life. The glass glowed bright, and the familiar hazy pattern began to shift across its glass.

                “Come da’vhen,” she called. “Through here. You’ll be safe I promise. Hahren, go.”

                The children ran through the mirror, eager to escape whatever was on the other side of the door. Myrah ushered them through, and she hesitated to look up at Aevalle.

                “Go!” Aevalle told her, pushing her through.

                “Aevalle,” her Keeper said, “what’s going on?”

                “If I survive this, I will explain, I promise. But please trust me, just—”

                Solas stepped through the mirror, the Orb in his hands. It burned white like the anchor and the power it was spewing all over her body.

                “Vhenan,” he breathed. His hand reached out to cup her cheek, to touch his thumb to the cut there, and hers to hold his without even thinking. The power the anchor was pouring all over her body wound about his wrist, calmed by his presence. “What happened?”

                She opened her mouth to answer, but the doors imploded.

                Aevalle grabbed her Keeper to shield her from the flying debris, but she heard the crackle and hiss of the stones hitting a barrier. She turned, squinting into the dust. Solas stood facing the door, his face impassive all save for his upper lip, which curled distastefully.

                Andruil stood between the wrecked doors, grinning. Sunlight shone in behind her—she must have ripped open what remained of the hill to get to them.

                “Fen’harel,” she said, and Aevalle could feel her Keeper’s panicked gaze turn from the Goddess and back to her.

                His jaw clenched, but he did not respond.

                “Take this,” he told Aevalle, his gaze never moving from the elven goddess in front of them.

                Aevalle took the Orb he more or less shoved into her arms. It was warm, and calm, like an old friend. Not at all like when she had taken it from Corypheus. The strange magic the anchor had pulled from her swirled around it and into it, and it began to glow brighter. “Don’t you—”

                “It will protect you,” he said, walking towards Andruil, bearing no staff, no weapons of any kind. But power was rolling off him in waves—not his own, she realised. Something else. Something... familiar.

                ”How good of you to show yourself. I thought you’d sent your whore to do your dirty work.”

                Aevalle pointedly avoided her Keeper’s gaze.

                “Trickster. Thief. Betrayer. You come to face me with borrowed power. A seth’lin like that suits you.”

                “It was not my words that led the elvhen against you, Andruil,” Solas said in elven. ”Your cruelty was enough.”

                Andruil’s face twisted into a snarl. “I thought on this during my centuries in the void; I made a mistake when I killed my Elgar’sulen. This time, I will make you watch. Then I will hunt your beloved people to the last crying infant, and only then will you have my permission to die like the mongrel you are.”

                Out of the corner of her eye, Aevalle could see the sentinels in the shadows, raising their weapons, arrows pointed at Andruil. She could see Abelas, the branch she had found for him still in hand, eyes narrowed as a spell sizzled on his fingertips. Waiting. Varric was crouched behind cover, giving Aevalle a look that said, this falls into the weird shit category we talked about. Fenris, Hawke, and Merrill were with him, weapons ready. She could make out Bull, Dorian, Sera—oh the look Sera was giving her defied description—and Cassandra, weapons at the ready.

                She clutched the Orb in her hands. It shone and pulled more from the anchor, building a shining barrier around her and the Keeper. She put it on the floor next to her and unsheathed her dual blades.

                Solas glanced back at her. Stay out of this, vhenan, that look said.

                She set her jaw and shook her head.

                Andruil raised her bow and brought her drawing hand to it—as she drew the string back an arrow of light appeared between her fingers.

                She fired at Solas, and the sound of his barrier deflecting it rang out like a bell, and the weakened veil tore open.

                Aevalle cursed, and turned to the elluvian behind her. The anchor reached out and closed it, and then she scooped the Orb up and grabbed her Keeper by the arm. “Run!” she hissed. A rage demon threw itself against the strange white barrier, but the Orb maintained it.

                With a glance she saw Andruil and Solas battling—Andruil’s hauntingly beautiful features twisted and her shrieking laughter piercing through the noise of the shattered Veil and the battle with the demons that spilled out of the rift. Solas was no longer himself—he was the great wolf she saw in her dream, bigger than a horse and snarling, power rippling off him in waves as he lunged after her.

                She hid her Keeper behind a pile of rubble. “Stay here!” she said, leaving the Orb on the ground with her. The anchor ached for it as she walked away, pining like a jilted lover. But she ignored it like she ignored her Keeper calling her name, her hands on her weapons and the glow of the demon-slaying rune making them wary. She reached for her potions belt and took a frost-dusted flask from it.

                The rage demon came for her first, and she smirked as the ice spread from her armour up its arm, freezing it in place. Out of the corner of her eye, the wolf circled and dragged down a Despair demon with his teeth around its frail ankle.

                She caught up with Varric briefly as she tried to keep an eye on the fight between Solas and Andruil. There was a wraith at his back, so she leapt on it and it extinguished into a cloud of smoke as her blades passed through its core.

                “You might have failed to mention you were sleeping with an ancient elven god,” Varric yelled over the din.

                “I only recently became aware of that myself,” she said.

                Varric fired three more bolts into a pride demon’s face. It snarled and turned, and Fenris used the distraction to find the weak spot in its armour and drive his blade through it, the lines on his skin burning bright.

                Hawke was to his back, raising a wall of ice around them. Merrill was hard at work dispelling, keeping more demons from coming in.

                “Stranger places, Hawke!” Fenris yelled, smiling.

                “You love it,” she yelled back.

                She almost ran through three rage demons that Dorian had turned, and a flurry of arrows from Sera drove a Despair demon right into Aevalle’s blades. Bull and Cassandra circled a Pride demon, cutting at its legs with the precision of teamwork honed in ten fights against High Dragons. Abelas and two of his sentinels were cornered by another pride demon, and Aevalle saw a hole in its defences and leapt for it with alchemical flames leaping from her armour.

                The demons fell, as they always did, although they were many. The rift was large but it stabilized, and the anchor leapt from her hand—different now, but the motions were the same. That power welled up in her chest and the anchor crackled and burned, and the harmony in her ears that was the veil wasn’t righted but, for just one agonizing breath, it was completely silent.

                Through the rift she could see a great expanse of nothing, arms reaching upward and glowing eyes peering out, whispering in tongues she couldn’t understand.

                Then the harmony snapped into place, and the rift was shut.

                Aevalle looked at Abelas.

                “The void,” he said. “Lethallan.”

                She smirked. “Garas, Lethallin,”she said, turning on her heel.

                She ran back to her Keeper, her friends following behind her.

                “Okay,” said Varric, “I have questions.”

                She took the Orb up in her hands. It was warm and the power in her body reached for it, and it enveloped her like a lover’s embrace.

                “... That being one of them.”

                “I’m going to send her back to the Void,” Aevalle said.

                “Shouldn’t your boyfriend who was secretly the Dread Wolf this whole time take care of that?” Dorian asked.

                She looked down at the Orb in her hands. “I don’t think he can.”

                The cackling laughter came closer, and someone yelled, “Run!”

                They scattered and one of Andruil’s arrows hit the ground where Aevalle had stood. It shone brightly, then blew out like a candle, vanishing as if it was never there.

                ”You can’t run from me,” she snarled, and Aevalle skid to a halt so fast she almost tripped when Andruil landed on the ground in front of her, bow drawn.

                Solas collided into Andruil from the side, slamming her into the wall. The force was great enough to dislodge more stone from the ceiling, and Abelas yanked her aside as one came crashing down where she stood.

                “Vira!” Solas snarled, his voice warped by the wolf form he took. Abelas was pulling her along even as she hesitated—there was blood on his fur, his body shook with great heaving breaths, his eyes were pleading. He was losing the fight.

                “Vhenan,” she breathed as Abelas pulled her arm harder.

                He tried to snap his great jaws around Andruil’s head, but she planted her hands in his mouth and held it open. She kicked him away from her, and Solas went tumbling. Aevalle followed Abelas as Andruil recovered, not looking back.

                “How did he lock her away before?”

                “He tricked her,” Abelas said. “He could not best her even then.”

                A shadow passed over them.

                “Look out!” she yelled. She threw her weight against Abelas and they hit the ground and rolled. Arrows of magic hit the ground where they had been, and more followed as they scrambled to their feet and kept running.

                Andruil paused in her pursuit to turn and raise her arm. Several arrows hit her gauntlets and bounced away. She raised her bow to attack and Aevalle heard Varric and Sera say, at once, “Oh fuck.”

                There was the flare of Fenris’ lyrium and he was behind Andruil, his blade coming down on the gap in her armour that covered her arm. She moved just in time to deflect the blade, and Cassandra came charging in from the other side, then Bull, lightning from Dorian, ice from Hawk and fire from Merrill and there was Cole flitting in and out of the shadows, his blades darting towards her weak spots, trying to make her bleed.

                “Now,” Abelas hissed.

                The Orb pulsed in her hands.

                “They’ll be sucked in,” she said.

                “Enough!” Andruil howled, and a pulse of energy sent those who surrounded her flying. Solas came tearing in, and with a leap he was sinking his teeth into Andruil’s armour, crushing it while she screamed in rage.

                With a heave of her back she threw him over her shoulder, and he hit the floor hard, tumbling across the ruined stone floor. His wolf form began to fall apart, like a dandelion in a breeze, and it was Solas whose back hit the rubble, not the wolf’s, and Solas who cried out in pain, whose blood was smeared on the floor.

                Andruil drew back her bowstring, and the arrow flickered to life in her grasp.

                It struck her with a sudden clarity what she had to do. Like at Haven.

                Aevalle dropped the Orb.  It bounced once on the ground, but remained solid. The anchor burned with want for it, but she ignored it. She shook out of Abelas’ grasp and ran like a lovestruck fool, throwing herself in between Solas and Andruil.

                “No!” she yelled. One arm in front, supposedly pleading, the other reaching for her potions belt.

                Andruil allowed herself a wicked grin, and then she let the arrow fly.

                Aevalle popped the cork out of the flask.

                Lightning sprung from it to her clothes, all but her seemingly frozen in time, and she swung her hand around. The anchor pulled at the Orb and it was in her palm, the power the anchor had stored inside her surging out of her, burning hot. The Veil beneath Andruil tore open, and then the Fade behind it swirled away and there was the Void, its darkness burning a hole in her vision.

                The lightning dissipated, and Aevalle felt the arrow hit her chest, right through the dragonskin she wore and lodging itself deep in her body. A hand reached out from the Void and grabbed Andruil by the arm. Aevalle watched her struggle, for a brief moment, and horror creep across her face, and then she was pulled in. Aevalle didn’t so much let the Void close as she felt the Orb fall from her grasp, the instant it was free from her touch the Void winking out of existence.

                She was falling, falling. Someone screamed her name. The arrow dissipated from her chest, little diamond sparks of magic flitting away into the air.

                She closed her eyes before she hit the floor.

 

When Varric got to Aevalle, the wolf was standing beside her, his head lowered, and the Keeper was crouched over her body, touching her face, shaking her. The strange glow that had surrounded her body had vanished. Near her body the Orb was burning so bright it was hard to look at.

                “Da’len.” She was weeping. “Da’len, wake up.”

                Solas was pulling himself up onto his arms. He turned and saw Aevalle, and the look on his face made Varric’s heart fall.

                “No,” Varric breathed.

                Solas scrambled to his feet. He took several shaking steps towards her.

                The Keeper recoiled from him. “Don’t you touch her,” she spat, pulling Aevalle’s limp body closer, away from Solas. “In my dreams I saw you corrupt her, I saw you take her away from us. Are you satisfied, Dread Wolf? You have ruined the best of our children, you have stolen her from this world.”

                Solas recoiled like he’d been struck. But for once Varric saw no rage in his features—only the most complete and utter loss.

                “I can’t make it stop,” Cole said beside Varric, his voice low. “I can’t help her. It hurts, it burns but that’s fading now, it’s colder than at Haven, is everyone safe, where is...”

                Aevalle stirred. “... Solas?” she moaned, weakly.

                Her Keeper turned to her. “I’m here, Da’len,” she whispered. “He cannot hurt you again.”

                Aevalle smiled. “Hahren,” she said, warmly. “Let me see him.”

                “Da’len.”

                “Please. He needs me.”

                The Keeper hesitated. The wolf gave a whine, and then the Keeper let Solas hold her in his arms, and she stepped away.

                “Ma vhenan,” Solas whispered. “Why?”

                She reached up and held his face, smearing her blood on his cheeks, and the smile she wore physically hurt to look at.

                “Because my people need you, vhenan,” she whispered. Then she winced. “Ar na isala.”

                “Don’t speak,” he whispered.

                Anders came up behind Varric. Varric looked up at his old friend, but there was a tightness in his jaw that Varric had seen too many times before. There was too much blood on the floor.

                “No,” she managed. “Solas, we’re not the people we used to be—but is that such a bad thing? We have been hurt and hunted and we are wary, but we love as fiercely as we always did. As I do.”

                “Aevalle,” he said. “Please.”

                “Do not forget the past, ma lath, but leave it where it lies. Walk forward from this place. Promise me.”

                “I did not want this,” he whispered. “You were to forget me.”

                “In another world.” She coughed. “Don’t leave me,” she said, her voice failing.

                “Never,” he breathed, clutching her closer to him, burying his face in her neck. “Ar lath ma, vhenan. Ar na tel’vira’sal.”

                “It’s cold,” she said. Then she went limp.

 

“Solas,” she said, idly plucking the strings of her gitar. “What’s the elven for, ‘you’re being a dick to Bull about leaving the Qun and you really need to cut it out?’”

                She was lounging on his couch in the rotunda. He was scouring through some scroll at his desk, and from the way he had his elbows propped on the table and his hands on his temples she could tell it wasn’t going well.

                “I don’t think that has a literal translation, ma vhenan,” he said. His tone was terse and his words clipped. “If you would like to debate philosophy we will have to do so at another time. I am busy, and I’m sure you are wanted in the war room.”

                She sat up and put the instrument aside. “I don’t want to debate philosophy, I want you to tell me why you treat our friends like shit all the time.”

                Solas moved the rock he was using to hold the scroll open, and it rolled off his desk. He made an exasperated noise in the back of his throat and clenched his fists. “I was not aware that they were our friends.”

                “Fenedhis, Solas.” She stood and went to retrieve the scroll for him. “Yes, our friends.”She put it on his desk and hovered there. There was so much tension in his shoulders, and she felt an urge to massage them, to touch him, but she knew that he would flinch away. “Look, the Qun scares me too, remember? But I’m no Keeper, I couldn’t possibly explain the intricacies of Dalish culture to any person who asked. Bull’s the same.”

                “I suppose next you will tell me Dorian is right about slavery.”

                She exhaled. “We... agree to disagree on that one,” she muttered.

                Solas stood from his desk and began to pace. “Am I to suffer every backwards fool we meet for the circumstances of his background? If a man spends his whole life looking at shadows on the cave wall and thinking they are gods, am I wrong to challenge him? To turn him around and show him the shadows are cast by the sun rising and setting?”

                “Sounds to me like he would have starved to death as a child.”

                “That is not an answer.”

                “Your metaphor is oversimplified. That’s my answer.”

               “I apologize if I am not feeling particularly pedantic today, da’len,” he said. He had not called her a child since Haven, and she clenched her jaw at the sting of it. “But if you have some strange desire for a partner who will be kinder to your friends simply because you ask, then perhaps you should ask Cullen or a mild-mannered lapdog.”

                “I can’t deal with you when you’re like this,” she snapped. She turned on her heel and almost stormed out of the room, but Solas followed her.

                “Ir abelas, vhenan,” he said. “I did not mean...”

                He touched her hand and she shook him off and whirled on him. “What, Solas? You didn’t mean to imply that I’m too naive to understand—whatever your reasons are? You didn’t mean to treat me like a child because I disagreed with you?”

                He forced a neutral expression onto his face, which meant she had upset him and he didn’t want her to know it. He retreated from her and went to his desk, and she leaned against the doorframe, cursing the softness of her heart.

                “Ma vhenan,” she said. “I just... sometimes I look at you and you can be so kind. But then you say something so spiteful to someone who is hurting and—it’s a part of you that you won’t show me. And it makes me wonder—what do you want out of this? Not the Inquisition,” she said, gesturing to his fresco. “But us.”

                His back was still turned to her.

                “I know what I want,” she said. “I’d like to introduce you to my Keeper some day. You can fight with her all you like, I think it would be grand. I’d like to sleep in an aravel with you. Just once, but I think you might like it. Listen to you tell the da’vhen your stories of the Fade. Bring you to where I scattered my parents’ ashes. Go to Halamshiral again, walk her streets. Dig up old secrets in the Emerald Graves. Go to the cities and help the elves there. Help the slaves in Tevinter. Do all the things I can’t do with the Inquisition.”

                He leaned on his desk, slowly, his head bowed.

                “I’m in this for the long haul, Solas,” she said. “Whatever this is. Are you?”

                He did not answer, and she left him in the rotunda.

 

Chapter Text

As Solas held the Inquisitor’s body, people began picking their way through the rubble at the far end of the Temple. Varric could see them moving through the light that spilled in, where the hillside had been at the start of all this.

                “Inquisitor?” Vivienne called. There was panic at the edge of her voice, Varric thought, and it ached at him.

                “Aevalle?” Blackwall called. “Sera? Varric? Cole?”

                Varric tried to respond, but the death of his friend was stuck in his throat and he couldn’t say anything.

                Vivienne found them first, rounding a corner and stopping when she saw Solas, frowning—then her expression faltering at Aevalle’s lifeless body, at the blood on the floor.

                “What have you done?” she demanded as Blackwall rounded the corner. More Inquisition troops followed, looking as if they had just seen battle. They froze when they saw her, eyes wide.

                “It’s not his fault,” Cole said softly.

                “I will not listen to you, demon.” Vivienne’s staff whirled with power. “Let her go, apostate, or I will kill you myself.”

                “Vivienne,” Varric said, his voice rough as he spoke, “seriously, it’s not his fault.”

                Her lip turned up in disgust. “Then she jumped in front of him to save him, I presume. There is no difference.” Still, she lowered her weapon. “Stupid girl,” she said, probably louder than she had meant to.

                Abelas stepped forward, limping and holding his side. He moved to Solas and stood at his side for a moment before placing his hand on Solas’ shoulder. Solas recoiled at the touch, but did not move.

                “There is still time,” Abelas said, his voice cutting through the utter silence.

                Solas reacted then, pulling Aevalle’s lifeless body closer to him still, moving from Abelas’ touch as if it were poison. “No,” he breathed. His eyes narrowed, Aevalle’s blood drying on his face from where she had touched it.

                Abelas did not move. “You were there, Fen’harel. My boon called Falon’Din into your trap. You heard my end. Now is the time.”

                “She would not want that,” Solas said.

                Was Abelas smiling? Varric wasn’t sure. “She can refuse. She has that right.”

                “Then we lose both of you, and gain nothing. I will not allow it.”

                “Oh just do it you stupid egg head,” Sera shouted. Varric turned—there were angry tears streaming down her face. It wasn’t pretty. “She’s my friend, she’s too good to die for you,” she added, softly. Dorian put his hand on her shoulder, and for once she did not shrug it off.

                There was something odd in Solas’ expression when she spoke—he looked right at Sera, but Varric couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

                Abelas led them through what remained of the temple’s basement to a pool of dark water. Solas carried Aevalle’s body the entire way, although he stumbled from his own injuries. One of Abelas’ sentinels scooped up the orb, holding it at arm’s length with gloves that burned from its touch.

                “It needs to be purified,” Abelas said, standing before the waters.

                Solas hesitated.

                “Quickly!”

                Solas gave Aevalle’s body to Abelas and took the Orb from the sentinel. It gleamed brightly in his hands, but he did not look happy to receive it. He closed his eyes and the Orb pulsed, the white light searing the black pool until it burned away—and the water began to glimmer and shine, bright gleaming bits of magic detaching from its surface and floating away into the air like fireflies.

                “You have little time,” Solas said. “There is not enough magic left in this place to maintain it for long.”

                Abelas turned to his sentinels and said something Varric didn’t understand—it was long, elven and complicated. At the end he said, “Dareth shiral,” and he stepped into the pool.

                It burned brighter with him in it, and he winced as if it were painful—Varric wanted to say something, but he wasn’t sure if it was in protest or in support. Abelas waded to the center of the pool, until the water was high enough that he simply let go and Aevalle’s body floated.

                The pool glowed brighter and brighter—and then both Aevalle and Abelas were pulled under.

 

It was summer, the night was warm, and Aevalle peeked up from the instrument she played to watch her parents and her clan dance. Her mother’s cheeks were dark with life and her eyes bright with laughter, her father had that flush over his skin she had not seen since she was ten—what had happened when she was ten? She couldn’t remember. It wasn’t important.

                The First was beside her, berating her from straying from the traditional rhythm. Emren, on the flute, rolled his eyes so dramatically he played three wrong notes in a row. He hadn’t played in years—but that night he had put his sword aside and taken up the flute just for her. For singing for us after the Conclave, he had said.

                She didn’t remember any Conclave. He must have been daydreaming again—she wanted to turn and have Una help her tease him about it, but Una wasn’t there. For some reason, that made her feel happy.

You play and sing so beautifully, Lethallan. Let us hear it for a while. We will talk of sorrow in the morning.

                “I want you all to meet Solas,” she said. “And Varric. And Cole. And Sera, and Dorian—and everyone! Promise you’ll come to Skyhold with me. Josephine’s always asking about my family.”

                They did not. Please, sing, Lethallan.

                Solas’ friend the spirit of Wisdom was there, humming along. Elgar’sulen—that was what it called Aevalle for some reason—I have answers for your questions.

                “I don’t have any questions.”

                Was it smiling? They still sit on your soul, Elgar’sulen. Fen’harel wanted to ask me about you, but I could not answer him from where I had gone. I felt the questions simmering underneath his rage when you came to help me.

                Her fingers fumbled on the strings. “Mala suledin nadas.” The words came unbidden to her lips. She did not know why she had spoken them.

                Stroud was there, seated next to the Warden-Commander. Felix was with them, smiling warmly at her, looking whole and healthy and well. Empress Celene sat there, staring at her without smiling. Aevalle almost didn’t recognise her without her mask. Next to her was Cole, not the Cole who was Compassion but Cole a young man, smiling, warmth on full cheeks and light in his eyes. The further she looked, the more faces she recognised dancing around the campfire, and the less her fingers could play the strings.

                “Lethallan,” a voice said behind her—solid and strong and real. She turned in her seat, frowning. It was Abelas, wounded, leaning on that tree branch she’d got him. Smiling at her.

                She remembered. “I’m dead,” she said, softly.

                “Yes,” Abelas said. He held out his hand. “Elvhen na isala. Na vhenan isala.

                She hesitated. She turned to look at her parents, who had stopped dancing. They stood holding hands, smiling.

                You will not be able to come back to this place for some time, the Spirit of Wisdom told her. His path has been long and dark, but with you at his side it is brighter.

                She dropped the instrument, and for the first time in many years her hands moved in familiar patterns—she was clumsy, out of practice, but they moved. I am sorry, she signed. I cannot stay.

                Her father looked proud. Her mother linked her arm around her father’s so she could drop his hand and sign, We love you, while still touching him. We will wait.

                She stood and took one more look at the people around her—stretched out as far as she could see. She had as many questions and apologies on the tip of her tongue as there were faces, but Abelas was behind her, and she turned and took his hand.

 

Aevalle burst from the water, gasping for air—why did her lungs hurt, why did everything hurt—and her hand went to the hole in her armour, fingers reaching into it, searching for a wound, for the arrow, but finding her own skin, rough and twisted like scar tissue but unbroken. She coughed, not because she had swallowed any water but because her lungs were taking in too much air, too fast, greedily hoarding it, not letting it go. The glow that surrounded her in the water died, and then someone else was in the water holding her, clutching her to his chest.

                “Solas,” she gasped. Her tongue felt leaden in her mouth. She clung to his clothes—why was there so much blood on them—and she frantically searched for the injury, seeing the dried blood on his face she tried to wipe it off, but he bowed his forehead to hers and it calmed her, for just a moment.

                Then she remembered.

                “Abelas!” she cried, whirling around. There he was, under the water, sunk like a stone, and she reached down to pull him up, but she was weak and it dizzied her. Solas was there with her and he pulled Abelas out, brought his limp body up into his arms and rested it on the floor beside the pool.

                “Lethallin,” she said, climbing out of the pool after him. He coughed, so weakly, and his eyes opened. “Why?”

                He smiled. “Falon’Din told me I would die here,” he said, his voice far away.

                She didn’t know what to say. “When did you know?”

                “When I met you again on the river, I suspected. Then you saved those children, and we came to this place, and I knew.”

                She bowed her head. “I... I don’t understand.”

                “I was told I would give up my many years for the one who would save the people. That I would die smiling.” He coughed. “You told me that you think we can be better than our past. I hold you to that, Lethallan. It is up to you to lead us there.”

                There was movement, and she looked up. The elven sentinels that surrounded them all bowed as one. She looked back to Abelas for an explanation, but he was gone. She closed his eyes with her hand.

                “Ara’an na mi, Elgar’sulen,” one of the sentinels said. “Annala ena’sal.”

                Solas touched her shoulder, and she reached up and held his hand there.

 

They burned Abelas’ body that night, outside the temple with not a cloud in the sky. The rescued elven children came back through the mirror and collected flowers and fallen pine tree branches while firewood was gathered, and they placed them all around Abelas’ body after he was laid on the pyre.

                Aevalle sang as the pyre was lit, and then they all watched it burn, the sentinels’ head bowed in silence. Aevalle clutched Solas’ hand with white knuckles and the wolf sat in the grass on her other side, his ears forward and alert. Aevalle’s advisors attended, if only because Varric had explained that Abelas had saved Aevalle’s life, although he noticed Morrigan was keeping more than a respectful distance from Solas.

                When the pyre had burnt itself out, all the children but Myrah had long fallen asleep and the sun was rising. Varric watched one of the sentinels dip her thumb in the ashes and then touch it to the space between another’s eyes. One by one they marked each other, in silence, until the last beckoned Aevalle over. He smeared a vertical line down her forehead to the top of her nose, then from her bottom lip to her chin. Then she knelt, facing the pyre, bending down until her nose touched the grass. One by one, they knelt in a circle around the ashes, and stayed there until the wind picked up and the ashes began to blow away.

                “So,” said Varric when the whole thing was over. “That magic thing was like an ancient elven kiss of life and not anything super weird, right?”

                Aevalle rubbed the back of her neck. She sent one glance over to where Solas stood, speaking with her Keeper. “Sort of,” she said, which Varric knew was evasive but he’d had enough of weird shit for the day so he didn’t press her on it.

                “You’re not like, possessed or anything, yeah?” Sera said. She was trying to sound standoffish about the whole thing, but Sera was not gifted with the complexion to hide a crying fit and her cheeks were still puffy from it.

                “Of course not,” Cole said from just over Sera’s shoulder, which made her jump. “I would know.”

                “That makes me feel so much better,” Sera grumbled.

                Aevalle was smiling. “I promise I’m not possessed, Sera,” she said.

                “A demon would say that,” Sera muttered, but Varric could tell she was relieved.

                “I thought,” Dorian interrupted, coming up from behind to drape his arm over Aevalle’s shoulders, “I told you never to do anything that stupid ever again. I’m not going to give you too much trouble about it though because I think Vivienne is currently rehearsing the lecture you will be receiving later.”

                Vivienne, who was within hearing distance, looked over her shoulder at them.

                “It will be quite long,” she said, tersely. “Bring tea and snacks, will you darling?”

                Varric thought Aevalle actually looked more nervous about that than she had fighting Andruil.

                Blackwall and Cassandra were passing by, so Varric called out to them. “Hey Hero, how does it feel to no longer hold the title for ‘biggest personal secret successfully kept from our Nightingale?’ Be honest, I’m dying to know.”

                Blackwall coughed, embarrassed. But Aevalle laughed, so he relaxed and said, “Bloody fantastic, actually. I think she’s forgotten to glare at me twice in a row now.”

                Sera laughed so hard she snorted.

                “Speaking of Solas,” Cassandra said. Her expression was one Varric had been seeing more and more these days—concern. “He is why you ran off.”

                Aevalle looked away. “Yes,” she said, solemnly.

                “How did you figure it out?”

                “The scarf smelled like him,” Cole answered when Aevalle hesitated. “It scared the halla.”

                “Among other things,” she said. It was hard to tell in the early morning light, but Varric thought there was the hint of a blush on her dark features.

                “I for one,” said Varric when it looked like Cassandra was about to press further, “am extremely grateful Chuckles’ body odour is rank enough to offend adorable little deer.”

                “They’re called halla, Varric, not deer,” Merrill said. She was approaching on her own, with a glance over at Solas and the Keeper. “I do hope they’re getting along,” she said.

                Aevalle frowned. “You... seem to be handling this very well.”

                Merrill shrugged. “He certainly seems nice enough.”

                “That’s Daisy for you.”

                Merrill blushed. “Well, he can’t be all bad if you’re so sweet on him, Lethallan.”

                “Trust me,” Dorian said, “he’s insufferable once you get to know him.”

                Fenris and Hawke approached. “We should be going,” the elf said, pointedly not looking at Hawke and the significant eyebrow waggling she seemed to be sending in his direction. “Someone is like to guess a particular mage’s identity if we linger.”

                “Oh!” Merrill said. “Of course. Um, Hawke, what’s wrong with your face?”

                “I’m trying to tell Fenris that our babies would look adorable,” Hawke said. “He’s not listening.”

                Merrill’s eyes lit up and Fenris groaned.

                Varric looked over to Solas and the Keeper again—one of them seemed to have called over Josephine, because she was happily in discussion with the Keeper while Solas was looking increasingly uncomfortable as the conversation went on.

                “Aevalle,” Varric said. “Your boyfriend looks like he needs rescuing.”

                But Josephine caught them looking, and she waved them over excitedly.

                “... of course we would be delighted. Inquisitor! Serah Hawke, Varric, Keeper Istimaethoriel has invited us all to visit Wycome. It is such a short distance away and she needs an escort home, I think it’s a marvellous idea.”

                 “All of us?” Aevalle asked, glancing at Solas.

                “Your friend Josephine was just telling me how long she’s gone without some time away from Skyhold. And,” she added with a dark glance at Solas, “I believe I told you when you were young, da’len, I will not have you run off with some stranger the clan has never met.”

                Aevalle smiled.

                “We appreciate the offer,” Fenris said, “but we have been away from our other work long enough.”

                “We understand,” Josephine said, with that little spark in the corner of her eye not unlike when she laid down her hand in Wicked Grace, “but the party will be so much less lively without you all.”

                “Did you say party?” said Hawke.

                Fenris groaned.

 

Three days later, Varric was in Wycome drinking mulled wine and smiling at the celebration around him. This time he was truly outshone by the company—Fenris and Merrill were swarmed, although Hawke rather quickly stole the attention away from Fenris and did all the talking as he stood nearby, blushing furiously at everything she said. Merrill handled it much better, and soon she was laughing and drinking with the Dalish hunters, young and old. The elven sentinels were greeted with much confusion, but the Dalish seemed to get what they were saying most of the time and accepted that they were of a long isolated clan from the Arbor Wilds without really seeming to believe it.

                Sure enough, all were hushed as Varric told them the tale of their adventure—much changed at parts. Aevalle was still poisoned and wounded by trickery, saved by Merrill and Fenris (to great cheering), and healed by a conveniently-passing apostate no one had met before named Steve. (“Steve” received many enthusiastic slaps on the back and sent Varric murderous glances) Bull, the Chargers, Hawke, Cassandra and Dorian were applauded for their roles in the rescue of the stolen elven children, Una and the Keeper; and Blackwall, Sera and Vivienne likewise for the routing of the mercenaries later.

                Aevalle and Varric had put their heads together for nearly the entire journey to come up with a believable and not entirely ridiculous alternative to the rest of the story. The wolf was not a spirit, but a descendant of the Knights’ Companions of days long gone. Sulin was depicted as a madman attempting to unleash a demon on the world, to seat himself at the head of a new elven empire.

                The question of Solas had been an argument that Varric wasn’t meant to have overheard. Corypheus’ Orb was in his constant possession, glowing green once again, and although he seemed to have explained to Aevalle how Corypheus wound up with it she hadn’t felt the need to share. Solas seemed to think there was no longer a need to hide who he was, or that Aevalle was truly ashamed of him—Aevalle only said, “Elvhen melana’el isala. Ar’an rosa’an, ma sa’lath.”

                Merrill, who he had brought along for the sole purpose of translating all their unnecessary elven while eavesdropping, said it meant something like, “The people need more time. We have much of it, my one love.”

                So in the story Solas was the Fade expert, the scholar of the ancient elves, and the Orb stayed tucked out of sight. He was with Aevalle around the fire, and she leaned against his shoulder as Varric told the tale, their fingers intertwined. Occasionally he whispered something in her ear that made her smile, and the more he did it the more Varric found himself forgiving the old elf for running away on his friend.

                Sera stood and gave a bow when she was credited with an instrumental warning delivered to the Inquisitor. Merrill blushed when she received credit for fixing the elluvian and bringing Solas to them. Solas had a slight scowl when the story said he held off the demon while Aevalle sealed it away. Aevalle whispered something to him and he smiled.

                When Varric spoke of how Abelas gave his life to spare the Inquisitor from a mortal wound, he had to pause his tale to wait for the Dalish whispers of ma serannas, ir abelas, and dareth shiral to subside. He had argued that her dying and coming back to life was important for the underlying theme of the story and the look Aevalle had given him at the time was priceless. Why does our elaborate lie need to follow a theme, Varric? she’d asked him, and he was so offended he didn’t speak to her for two whole minutes.

                The story wound down to its finish, and Aevalle was convinced to pick up her gitar and sing. The performers from last time appeared, and Merrill was dragged to dancing by one of Aevalle’s friends—which twin he couldn’t tell, it was too far away. Hawke visibly leapt for joy when Fenris offered his hand, and then there was Dalish pulling Krem by the arm, laughing. Cullen had more dance partners than anyone else, mostly because the city elves seemed to like making him blush.

Many of the elven sentinels were convinced to dance, and as the night wore on Varric noticed a number of Dalish youth leading them out of town and into the woods.

                “Does all of clan Lavellan just secretly have a thing for older people?” Varric asked.

                “If they’re smart they’ll take the proper herbal treatment,” the Keeper said. “Elgar’nan preserve me, I hope they’re smart. I can’t take much more of this.”

                “Was it a bad idea?” Cole asked from over Varric’s shoulder. “They’ve been so lonely. Being here is a little like home, all those ages ago. But different enough that it doesn’t hurt. And the Dalish understand intimacy as a part of mourning, celebrating life. They like the way the sentinels speak. They sound like the crash of waves and bowing to no one.”

                “You did good, Kid,” Varric said, stopping him from rambling further.

                “Lethallan!” Merrill called when a song ended. She was breathless and looked dizzy, but she made no move to sit down. “Do you know the one about the halla lover and Fen’harel?”

                Even from where he sat Varric could see that Aevalle’s dark skin was blushing all the way to the tips of her ears. Clan Lavellan’s hunters were in an uproar, and although Varric couldn’t make out what any of them were saying he knew that they were teasing her mercilessly.

                Beside him, the Keeper rolled her eyes.

                “I believe it is a duet,” Solas said when the noise started to die down.

                Aevalle passed her instrument off to another player and stood, smiling.

                Varric had it on good authority that there were a number of things Clan Lavellan remembered that night for; the first, being the quality of the sexual encounters had that night, especially with the elven sentinels. The second was Aevalle famously changing the lyrics of her infamous song—for I love my Dread Wolf dearly certainly had a ring to it, Varric had to admit—and that when the song ended her legs were wrapped around Solas’ torso, her arms around his neck, his hands on her ass and their lips locked. Varric had thought that the growl Solas’ voice took on when Aevalle did something to his neck with her mouth would have made the cut, but perhaps it had been mistaken for Solas getting into character.  

                “I’ve heard a rumour you hate that song,” Varric said to the Keeper.

                “You have no idea,” she answered. She was watching Aevalle.

                The Inquisitor was still in Solas’ arms, though she was standing, their foreheads touching, and she was laughing at something he’d said. Then Una was at her side, saying something, and Solas responded with something else that made Aevalle scowl and Una laugh. After that they were swarmed again by Clan Lavellan’s hunters, and Varric was sure they were teasing Aevalle about Solas’ age, his lack of hair or his terrible fashion sense.

                “So,” Leliana said, drawing herself into a seat beside the Varric.  “Your clan seems to have accepted her lover into their midst without any major upsets.”

“Though it looks like he’s on his best behaviour,” Varric added.

                “Aevalle has always been beloved by the clan,” the Keeper said, her voice warm with fondness and wine. “If anyone could make the Dalish love Fen’harel, it would be her.”

                Leliana looked like she was about to say more, but Josephine came up to her and pulled her to her feet. “Leliana! Dance with me, it has been too long and the music is too charming for you to sit here looking sour.”

                Leliana tried to protest, but Josephine would hear none of it and she was dragged away.

                “I have never dreaded an Arlathvhen before,” the Keeper said. “But there will be much to reveal when the clans next gather. Will we survive it, I wonder.”

                Varric didn’t know how to answer her, but Sera saved him from having to. She dropped herself unceremoniously into Leliana’s vacated seat, gasping for breath. Her dance partner—a sentinel scout who had pale eyes and an excellent wink—sat beside Sera and hummed along to the song, poorly.

                “Well, I’ll admit you’re all more fun than I thought,” she said. “I’ll almost be sad to see you go, yeah?”

               “We follow Elgar’sulen,” the scout answered in her thick accent. Varric was shocked one of them even spoke Trade. “Annala ena’sal.”

                “Right I get it, you like the Inquisitor, everyone does,” Sera drawled. “Now that thing you did earlier with your hands... do it again.”

                The scout obeyed with a wicked smile, and someone seated nearby told them to get a room so they left, Sera’s laughter disappearing into the night.

                He wasn’t sure how they managed it, but Varric saw Solas and Aevalle sneaking away themselves later in the night. He raised a glass to them as they went, but they only had eyes for one another, and Varric found he didn’t mind.

                “It means, for the ages to come,” the Keeper said, sadly, seeing them go as well.

                “I had a feeling it was something like that,” said Varric. “Weird shit,” he muttered to himself before he took a sip of the wine.

 

Aevalle stood on the edge of a small lake, the wolf standing beside her. Her fingers were touching the hole in her armour, yet to be patched, and her mind wandering as she watched the surface of the lake.

                “You appear as Lindirane reborn,” Solas told her as he approached. “A pity you never wield Evanura. It would be a sight to behold.”

                She turned and smiled at him, her hand dropping to her side. The wolf padded up to Solas, and the mage knelt to touch his face, pet his ears.

                “This is not the guise I expected to meet you in, lethallin,” he said. “I can help you return, if you like.”

                The wolf shook himself and huffed at Solas before walking off into the woods, not sparing a glance behind him.

                “The wards are set,” he told her, rising. “No one will overhear us.”

                “Good,” she said.

                He came to her and his fingers wandered to the place the arrow had been, his touch dull on the scar there.

                “You can still tell me to leave,” he said, so softly. “If you are angry... for this.”

                Her hands moved and cupped his. “Solas,” she said. “I told you before.”

                He closed his eyes. “I... things have changed. I am not who you thought I was.”

                “I find the Dread Wolf to be much as I found Solas,” she told him. One hand moved to cup his cheek, and he leaned into her touch. “And I would not have believed you if you had told me everything from the start.”

                He looked pained. “This... I wanted a different life for you. A peaceful one.”

                She chuckled. “Solas, I’m beginning to think a peaceful life is not in the cards for me.”

                “We have an eternity, ma lath. Anything could happen.”

                She sighed and bowed her head, resting it against his chest. “Eternity. That’s... an awful long time.”

                He kissed the top of her head. “It is.” His voice was soft.

                “Solas, I saw—when Abelas came for me—was it real?”

                “I don’t know,” he told her. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “Those roads are not ones I may walk.”

                “The Spirit of Wisdom was there. I know you said that’s not what happens to spirits when they die, but it was there. It told me it had answers for me, but I’d forgotten all the questions I should have asked.” After a moment, she added, “It seemed happy.”

                “I imagine it was,” he said. “Ma serannas.”

                “For?”

                He hesitated. He held her even closer then, and buried his face in her hair. “Ena’ar’sal,” he said. His voice was low, undone by the grief he felt at the loss of her and what she had given up to come back.

                “Ma’arlath,” she whispered. Then she stood on her toes and grazed the skin of his neck with her teeth. She smiled as her lips felt his breath catch in his throat.

                “Ar lath ma, vhenan,” he growled. “Ar na tel’vira’sal.”

                Her fingers wound their way down to his belt, and his hands caught hers there. He held them as he kissed her neck, and she began to whisper in elven the places where she wanted to touch him as he walked her back against a tree.

 

                The next morning, Varric found Solas sitting outside the Keeper’s landship, turning the Orb over and over in his hands at he looked it over, lost in thought. The wolf lay on the ground near him, dozing in the cool morning air.

                “Aevalle’s inside, I presume?” Varric said.

                “She and her Keeper are discussing what they will announce at the upcoming Arlathvhen.” Solas scowled. “I was not kicked out, if that’s what you’re implying.”

                “Me? Never.” Varric took a seat beside Solas and tried not to look too closely at the Orb.

                Solas noticed his discomfort and tucked it back into its bag. “I presume you have questions,” he said as he drew the string taut. “Aevalle has informed me I am to answer you honestly. Apparently you’re writing her biography.”

                “Something like that,” said Varric, “but my publisher may have a hard time with her lover being an elven god.”

                “I never claimed to be a god.” Solas actually looked a little smug, which Varric thought was the weirdest thing to have possibly happened in reaction to that statement.

                “So,” Varric continued. “She’s immortal now.”

                Solas closed his eyes. “Immortality among the elvhen was a way of being, not a spell or any sort of magic other than the way they lived... but it should be noted they did not count their slaves or the lower classes worthy of that path of life. Those who the elvhen considered gods were known to grant it as a boon to their servants who served them well. The pool in Andruil’s temple was one such way—she used it to rid herself of those who had displeased her while elevating new blood into her ranks. Befitting the Goddess of Sacrifice.”

                “He… seemed pretty alright with it.”

                “He had earned a boon from Falon’Din. I asked him, in the last days of Arlathan, to call on it so I might trap Falon’Din in the void. He asked to know his end.”

                “And he said to jump in a pond with a dead elf.”

                Solas chuckled. “In not so few words.”

                Varric glanced at the landship behind him. “And now she’s leading the sentinels. Did the elven god of death mention that, too?”

                “He did not.”

                “Shit,” Varric said. “And I was overwhelmed when everyone thought Andraste chose her.”

                Solas hummed in agreement.

                “So, the Orb.”

                “It is a foci I used in the ancient days. I found myself weakened from my slumber and I could not awaken it. In my journeys I stumbled across Corypheus, who was both powerful enough to bring it to life and foolish enough not to question its origins. I had thought the surge of its power would kill him immediately. I did not know he was capable of such a messy rebirth.”

                Varric laughed.

                “You’re amused?”

                “It’s just that after all of Merrill’s stories, I never figured Fen’harel would be such a terrible trickster. So, Aevalle picks up the Orb because she’s too dense not to.”

                That made Solas chuckle again. “She has... a unique heritage. She heard the Orb manipulating the veil. We must count ourselves lucky that she did—all would have been lost if she had been smart enough not to interfere.”

                “And what, you stuck around to get your Orb back?”

                “I needed it,” Solas said. “But how could I accomplish any goal with the veil torn asunder? My intent to correct my mistake was genuine. And I’ll admit my curiosity—how could she survive with such a power?”

                Varric leaned back in his seat and tried not to let his hand clench too tightly. “And what goal is that, exactly?”

                Solas wore a wry smile. “Well,” he said, “I could hardly tell you such, since you plan to write about it.”

                “You told Aevalle.”

                “There are no more secrets between us.”

                “And she’s going to go along with what you’re up to, or what?”

                Solas hesitated. “She claims my methods are extreme. That I have slept so long I am not seeing the whole picture. I told her once I did not see myself as one of the people—last night she told me that is because I have decided they cannot accept me if they know what I am.” Solas glanced down at his hands. “I... there might be some truth in that.”

                Varric couldn’t help a laugh.

                "Did I miss some secret joke?"

                “You know what the Keeper said to me last night?” Varric paused for dramatic effect, but Solas didn’t seem impressed. “If anyone could make the Dalish love Fen’harel, if would be her.” He slapped Solas on the knee, because the old elf’s expression was familiar and it made Varric feel like the lie hadn’t been too great, that Solas was not just a name that Fen’harel wore to hide his sharp teeth and great white fur. He had to resist the urge to go find paper and immediately write that thought down. “I’m starting to think it’s the other way around, Chuckles,” he said. “I gather Aevalle has asked you to put your plans on hold.”

                There was that secretive smile again. He definitely looked the part of the Dread Wolf with that playing on his face. “I said she disagreed with my methods, Varric. She has proposed an alternative. I have agreed that we should see her course of action through. We have eternity, after all. I can wait.”

                Varric knew his expression must have been something else, because Solas chuckled at it. “You don’t appear to believe me.”

                “That’s because I don’t. Give me one good reason to believe you would give up, what, centuries of planning for one woman.”

                Solas’ expression fell, and he looked away.

                “Because I almost lost her,” Solas said, “and when I did, I was too selfish to let her go. Now she will inevitably find herself separated from her kin—if she can avoid any more attempts at heroic sacrifice, she will outlive them all. I cannot abandon her now.”

                Varric found himself smiling. “Most people would just say that they love her, you know.”

                Solas let out something that was in between a sigh and a laugh. “Yes,” he said, like it was a relief. “That is the abridged version.”

                The door to the landship opened and Aevalle stepped out. She had the particular smell of herbs about her that a number of the participants of the party seemed to have that morning, and she gave Solas’ seated figure a long, lingering look before she noticed Varric.

                “Your Dread Wolf is being impossibly vague as to your plans to the future, Inquisitor,” he said by way of greeting.

                “So formal, Varric?” she teased. He noticed that subtle flush of hers at your Dread Wolf. Varric admired it like some did the brushstrokes of a fine painting.

                “I have a suspicion I won’t be able to call you that much longer. Better get it in while I can.”

                She smiled at him, then turned to Solas. “My hahren wishes to speak with you, ma sa’lath.”

She and Solas shared a brief kiss before he stood and she took his seat. Solas swung his bag over his shoulder, climbed into the landship and closed the door behind him.

                “We’re swinging by Skyhold long enough to pick up a few things,” she said, adjusting her gloves and not really looking at Varric. “Make sure the children are looked after. Repair my armour. Say some goodbyes.”

                “Who have you told?”

                “You’re the first,” she said.

                “I’m honoured. But your advisors...”

                “Will have to figure out what the Inquisition will do without me.” She caught his look, and she laughed. “I know, it’s so strange—I shouldn’t feel so impatient. If anything, I have more time on my hands. It’s just...”

                “It’s the kids, isn’t it?”

                “Yes,” she answered. “The Inquisition would never have helped them if I hadn’t been brought to them. A few elven slaves aren’t worth their notice. Let alone the children taken in Kirkwall.” She looked at her hand, where the Anchor lay dormant, opening it and closing it. “My people are at best scattered and at worst crushed under the heel of empires. I can’t forget the blood that covered the halls of the winter palace was elven. I might have more time; my people do not.”

                He found himself smiling. “You are impossibly noble,” he told her.

                She paused, then. “Varric,” she said. “You said that you and Bianca almost started a clan war.” She paused to take a breath. “... Was it worth it? If you had done it, would it still be worth it?”

                He wanted to say a number of things, then. It will be bloody, you will not be safe, you will be changed forever. But she had been thrown through time, through the Fade, through the Great Game, through the worst parts of her ancestors’ past, and he had been at her side for it. For all that, for having walked away from death, for defeating a false god and a real one, for finding her lover to be the trickster the stories of her childhood warned her about, she looked so young. He had to remind himself that she would look that young forever.

                He took her hand instead. “Yes,” he said. “Yes it was.”

                She squeezed his hand and held it, for a long moment, and then she let it go.