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A Mage's Redemption

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Isaura takes a deep breath, trying to summon what little mana she has left to shield herself from the imminent battle. Her vision blurs in and out as she casts her barrier, causing her to collapse once more on the ground. 

She needs it. It seared her veins, made them alive, and it called for her. They haven’t come for her in weeks, and she is beginning to wonder, much to her despair, if they have forgotten her. Her palms are sweaty and shaky, her breaths shallow and scratches cover her scalp, attempts from stopping the music to no avail. She is overflowing with anxiety, desperate to escape. She hears its songs, sees it all around her, but the cage traps her, confines her.

Someone is here to take what is hers, destroy her. She won’t let them. They can’t. It is hers. Footsteps echoed around the corner, and she scurries to the edge of the cage, hugging the foul ground, holding onto the rusted, weathered metal bars.

“Oh, shit.”

 “What Varr – what the fuck.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

She wants them to stop talking. They are interrupting the song, and she can’t hum along. If she had any willpower left, she would have blasted them miles away. The songs helped her, made her stronger, but now they left her weak and cowering. The tall man approaches her prison, looking at her intently before stepping away to make room for the short man. His edges are tinted with red.  She hisses, trying to push herself further away, but the metal bars keep her from doing so. Like a scared animal, she begins pawing into the ground, not caring that her fingertips are becoming bloody and dirty, ignoring the pain as she tries to dig into the stone, to no avail. She hears the cell door creak open, and she begins digging even faster, gasping when something- a hand, touches her shoulder, pulling her back as she scrambles to run from them.

 “Be careful. This is no ordinary mage. She has been…corrupted.” A tall woman follows the other two men into the cell, hand reaching for her sword warily.

 “The seeker’s right. I’ve seen what that shit can do to a person.” She doesn’t understand - can’t follow what they are saying, but she likes the woman’s voice. It is melodic and blocks out the song. It is nice when the song stops playing. Her head hurts less, and she can think. Tilting her head upwards, she nudges the woman’s hand with her own, but she looks down, confused.

“What is she doing?” The woman asks, tentatively stepping away from her but she doesn’t care. She is content. She spoke again, and the song stopped. But when the woman stops talking, she grimaces, scratching her head to get rid of it. The song is already so weak, and although it’s made her strong, when it stopped altogether she could think. Thinking helped.

“I think she’s taken a liking to you, Cassandra.” The tall man says. Think. You. She cocks her head. The voices in front of her are speaking, and she can almost comprehend what they are saying. Have they come to save her?

“Would it not be merciful to end her life, then?” The woman exclaims.

They want to… kill her? Her eyes widen, and she breaks free, scrambling to the metal bars, trying to climb up and away from them.

“It seems you’ve hurt her feelings,” the man remarks, sheathing the sword he had begun to draw. “I’ve never seen a mage corrupted by red lyrium. I want to take her back to Skyhold.”

The woman sighs, “Surely you must consider…”

“Cassandra, my decision is final.”

“But–”

“Cassandra.”

“Very well Inquisitor, but I’ll leave you the task of explaining this to the Commander. I imagine he will be… displeased.” She rubs the bridge of her nose.

“Cullen will live,” he comments.

“I’m just gonna butt in and say that maybe taking in the crazy, addicted to red lyrium mage isn’t a good idea.” The short man speaks up. His hands rest on a contraption she’s never seen before.  

 “Everyone is always telling me this, and that isn’t a good idea. Have I failed any of you yet? Besides, it looks as if she hasn’t had a dose in a while,” the man replies, grabbing hold of her forearm and pulling her up. “Just think about the possibilities… Mages are more tolerant of lyrium than most. What if we can find a cure?”

 “She’s confused. The song is so weak, barely heard.” She jumps slightly as another person appears- out of thin air? - looking sympathetically at her. “She likes your voice,” he says turning to the woman.

“She likes my voice?” The woman asks incredulously, clearing her throat.

“We still have the matter to deal with Imshael,” the man points out, tightening his grip on her. She flinches in response, not liking the pain. She wants the woman to talk to her, and make the song stop. “Cole, I’m leaving her in your care.” 

 “Cole is not exactly suitable for babysitting,” the woman says, stepping in between the man and her. Through her blurred sight, she looks up at the woman, but all she sees is red. She sighs. Her vision is still tinted by the song.

“I need you and Varric with me,” the man replies, pushing her towards the other man with the hat, and she stumbles forward, almost tripping over the force.

The man in front of her tentatively reaches out a hand for her to accept. She looks at it, unsure of how to react. What is she supposed to do? “It’s okay.” The man urges. “I won’t hurt you.” She shakes her head, knowing that she can’t understand what he is saying. The song is getting louder, and her fingers immediately go to her head, and she begins nervously scratching, trying to push the song away.

Before she can begin, the same hand yanks her away, and she yelps in alarm. It has been a long time since another person had touched her and it burns. It burns and makes her feel alive.

She doesn’t understand the meaning. She thought the song made her alive, at least that’s what they told her when she was first, brought to them. Now, she needs it like the air she breathed, even now.

She feels the heat rise to her cheeks, and she averts her eyes away from him. “My name’s Cole.”

She cocks her head, “C-cole?” She repeated, the word slipping clumsily off her tongue. It was foreign. When was the last time she spoke? She can’t remember. Everything is blurred.

The man nods his head, and she decides it will be okay. But she can still hear the lyrium singing to her, calling for her, and she watches as her knuckles turn white from clutching the man’s hand.

Chapter Text

They say she is safe. Why did they lie? They throw into a cell, just like the others did. The woman, whose voice she likes, says it is for her safety. But she doesn’t feel safe.

She needs the song. It is the one thing she knows in this foreign place. The woman tells her she's going through withdrawal, whatever that means. She doesn't stay. She leaves her with Cole, whose wide blue eyes make her feel safe, yet alone. The scratching feeling returns, but he doesn't let her. She doesn't understand, because it makes her feel better. He looks conflicted too. Instead, he stays and comforts her, hands running through her long and knotted red curls. She falls asleep soon after.

Isaura doesn't know how long she is in the cell and upon awakening, she pisses herself. The waterfall doesn’t help. Cole is no longer with her, and she feels something – an emotion she can’t quite discern – overwhelm her. She picks at the cuticles on her nails, but boredom sets in soon after. Why did they take from one cell just to put her in another? That much she can't comprehend.

Maker knows how long time passes before people shuffle into the hold, watching her through the bars like she is a caged animal. She doesn't like it, so she hisses, grabbing a rock and readying it her hands. 

They will not touch her. They will not hurt her. Not anymore.

They don't. The woman opens the cage and hands her something soft. Clothes? She takes them from her, running her hand over it with curiosity. She has worn the same clothes for some time. The gesture is that of goodwill.

"Maker, she's barely human." She flinches at the bitterness from the blonde-haired man next to the woman.

"Alexander seems to disagree.”. It sounds like she is taking her side, but then she remembers she is still locked in this cell. The woman turns to her. "Would you put that rock down before you hurt yourself?"

She drops the rock, and it falls to the ground, dust settling around and she sneezes. The woman sounds like mother – mother! She remembers her, she thinks. Graying hair, a wagging finger, but a smile that makes her warm inside. Yes, she decides. This woman reminds her of mother.

“I wish you had written to me first before bringing her back. There are safety measures we could have prepared for!”

"You can discuss that with the Inquisitor." Cassandra groans, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Can you help her?"

The man rubs the back of his neck. "I suppose so, but I do not know if it will work. Red lyrium is not the same as the lyrium Templars take. We must be ready if – when it does not fare well."

The woman nods then glances her way. “We should find out her name if she has a family left. I’m sure they would want to know she’s alive and safe. I will go speak with Leliana.”

 “I will assign one of my men to guard her. Caged or not, she is still a threat.” The man asks, uncertainty in his voice.

“In the meantime, would you see if the cook can whip something up for her to eat? She needs a proper meal.” The woman responds, leaving her alone with the man.

The man turns to face her, and she can see the caution in his eyes. It does not bother her as much as she thought it would; she has been the recipient of this before.

 “Are you hungry?” He asks, and it takes her a minute to comprehend what he’s said, but when she does, her stomach growls. Yes, she supposes she is hungry. She stares at him for a long time, and he eventually looks away from her, rubbing his neck again. Oh.

 “Yes,” she answers, but it is too quiet, too dry. She licks her lips, running her tongue over their chapped surface. “Yes,” she repeats, louder, and this time she has caught the man's attention. She nods her head, unsure if she can muster the strength to attempt speaking again.

He moves towards her cell, and she panics. One part of her is trying to tell her it’s okay, that he’s her friend. The other is telling her to defend herself. He is her enemy. He notices her reaction and reaches for his sword. This only increases her paranoia. She scampers to the farthest corner and watches him with weariness. It is then she realizes that the red is no longer there. Her vision is no longer tainted with red. She gasps, laughing but the laughter dies quick, as the man unsheathes his weapon.

He is going to kill her. He can’t. She won’t let him. But he doesn’t; he unsheathes his sword, and it clatters to the ground. He raises his hands up.

She’s…won?

He takes his time walking to her cell, slow, calculated steps and she watches every movement, eyes alert for any signs that he will attempt to kill her again. But there is none.  He is just as vigilant. He opens the cell door and offers a gloved hand to her. She doesn’t take it.

He sighs, withdrawing his hand and removing the gauntlet. “Do not try anything.” He warns, offering his hand again.

This time she takes it, but a loud clatter nearby startles her, and she yanks him, catching him off guard and he falls on top of her, trapping her. Even more scared than before, she scratches at his face, drawing blood and she hisses. He is pushing up off the ground, away from her, before she can attempt to mar him again, but she won’t let him kill her. She runs at him, muttering gibberish but he grabs her by the shoulders, pressing down on them and she feels the pressure as he glares at her.

“I think I will go to the kitchen by myself,” he says. He leads her back to the cell and she scrambles away from him, hovering in the corner.

The cell shuts with a loud metallic creak, and she watches him leave. She turns her attention to the mouse that has scurried into her cell. What a small, yet dexterous creature. She wonders what burnt fur smells like, if it feels pain as she does, and she lights the mouse on fire, watching with curiosity as the thing convulses until it is nothing but ashes. Did it feel pain as it died? Perhaps memories of the creature’s life flashed before its last breath. But she decides that singed fur does not smell pleasant, and it is not something she wants dissipating into her nostrils again, regardless of her curiosity.

It feels like forever when he returns with a tray, the smell of food wafting in the air, replacing the smell of death. He balances the platter on one hand, watching her wearily as he opens the gate to her cell. His eyes linger on the pile of ash beside her, but he does not say anything. What would he say?

The lyrium has done this to her, and for a split second, she wishes for him to help her. Rid the lyrium from her body, but the thought disappears when the tray of food is placed in front of her. She does not notice how his body goes rigid and how fast he steps away from her, because she is too busy stuffing herself with food. Roasted chicken, boiled vegetables and a small loaf of bread that is still warm. He locks the cell, with her in it and stands by it, watching her with that gaze.

A Templar’s gaze.

It sends shivers down her spine. There are too many bad memories.

When she finishes, she licks her fingers of the grease and butter, savoring the flavor. She glances up at the man as warily as he’s been eyeing her. “Thank you,” she manages to say, just loud enough for him to hear. She downs the pitcher of water, knocking the goblet over in the process. She wishes it was redder and wishes the templar was not here.

“Do not thank me. Morris did not want to part with his food,” He rebukes. His gait is stiff as he watches her, one hand on the hilt of his sword.

Templar.

She wants to hiss it, make him go away.

“Do you remember your name?” He asks. She slumps her shoulders in defeat. No, she thinks, I don’t. She had been in that cell for too long. He doesn’t seem surprised when she doesn’t answer. “I suppose you wouldn’t.”

She wants to clutch her hands around his throat and wipe that smug look off his face.

They sit in silence. Isaura pushes the tray away, the scraps making her sick to her stomach now, wishing she remembered her own name. How hard could it be? She remembers mother but sighs in misery. This is pointless. She recalls her because of the woman. “My mother,” she says. “Graying hair, a wagging finger, and a warm smile.” She recalls. How could she forget?

 “Do you remember her name?”

She shakes her head. She just remembers she loved her. The warm, fuzzy feeling in her stomach is soon replaced with fear and hatred.

“I… I hated her.” She confesses. Why does she hate her own mother?

 “I was thirteen years old when I left home to join the Templars.” He says.

She doesn’t know why he tells her this. Doesn’t care, and now definitely doesn’t trust him.

“I left the Order behind when I joined the Inquisition.” He says as if sensing her unease.

And she remembers now, why she hates her mother.

She sobs, flailing against the men that are trying to subdue her. “You are my mother! Why are letting them take me? Please don’t let them take me!” She begs as the man’s iron grip encircles her. “I’m not a danger, I swear! I’ll never use it, I don’t even want it! It’s a curse!” She shouts, finally noticing her brother and sister standing beside mother in all the chaos. Her brother is shielding Amandine from the scene she is causing. Mother’s cold, callous eyes stare at her. Lips curled downward in disgust. She thinks she’s going to puke. Why is she doing this? One more glance at her siblings and she slumps against the templar’s hold.

“She abandoned me. I was only nine and was a threat to people.”

“You were luckier than some. I have witnessed babes being torn from their mothers. That was what the Chantry demanded.”

She is getting a headache, trying to remember her past.

Taken.

She was taken from the Circle shortly after the Conclave. She was thrown in a cell and given the red, and when she began withering away instead of blooming into a flower she should’ve become, they tossed her aside.

Her nails find the soft skin of her arm and dig in. Deeper, deeper. She should have been what they wanted.

She wouldn’t have lost the red if she were.

 “Commander? The Inquisitor is requesting your presence in the war room.” A woman’s voice shouts nearby. He glances at her.

“I will have someone come by with more water.” He says, turning away from her. Even as he walks away and she remains trapped in the cell, his hand never leaves the hilt of his sword.

We are here.  

Chapter Text

Guards restrain her, leading her away from the cell she has become used to. They are dragging her because she refuses to walk on her own. She thrashes against them.

Wake her up in the middle of sleep and drag her out of her cell, dazed and scared. If her anxiety hadn’t gone full-swing, she would be trying to flee. Always trying to flee.

She feels like a prisoner. She doesn't understand why they're doing this.

Why is she a prisoner? What has she done wrong?

She shuts her eyes, trying to block out the voices. So many voices.

Red. So much red. Blood? But it glowed. It glowed, dark red particles floating around the liquid. They held her down as they forced the red liquid down her throat. It tasted bitter at first, seared her throat. It was the aftertaste that sent surges of adrenaline coursing through her body. It tasted like red licorice and strawberries. At first, she thought it was just a potion, something temporary to enhance her abilities, harmless. She was wrong. Very wrong.

The memory fades from her mind as she is pushed down into a chair, feeling the rough wood as her palms grip the arms of it. Something clamps around her wrists, tight and cold. She struggles against the restraints, realizing that they were designed for someone like her.

Mage.

 “Isaura Delacroix, daughter of Lord Cyril and Lady Josette,” someone speaks, a clipped Orlesian accent filling the cold air. She can’t make out the face of the speaker, can only see the shadow of their figure from the light that flickers on the wall. “It took me some time to figure out who you were. Most of the records indicated you were dead.”

Isaura. Why does it sound familiar? “I… is that my name?” She asks. Her mind is still too muddled for her to remember anything, even if she is given the answers.

“Yes,” she says. “Your brother is here.” Her eyes widen and she immediately shakes her head, writhing in the chair, ignoring the pain in her arms. She doesn’t want him to see her like this.

She remembers him. It’s vague, fog dissipating but not fast enough. He’s older than her, she knows this. And he visited her in the Circle when no one else did.

It all blurs together. The lies and the truths. And the wall that separates them is fluid, always changing. It is not strong, sturdy, barricading one from another like it should. “He wants to see you.” The woman says and the light catches her hair. Red, like hers.

She doesn’t like that.

 “I – I don’t want to,” she chokes out. Her voice is hoarse and there is a tickle in her throat. She wants to itch it, but she knows they’ll stop her and besides, she’s in shackles.

The door is thrown open, and a bulky figure saunters in, stopping in front of her, towering over her. She tilts her head.

He has the same green almond-shaped eyes, just like hers.

Never mind. She wants it.

“Izzy?”

Izzy.

“No fair! I wanted to play with the doll!” She complains, her voice rising with each word.

“You got to play with the doll, like, all day, Izzy,” Amandine runs her fingers through the doll’s coarse hair.

“That’s because she was MY birthday gift.” She says, snatching the doll back from her sister. It doesn’t work. Her sister holds onto the doll and the doll’s head snaps off from its body, rolling onto the wood floor with a thud. “Look what you did!” She bawls.

A warm body envelops her, and she reacts without thinking, pushing the man away from her, but her arms don’t move. They can’t, so she headbutts him. “How long has she been sober?” He touches his forehead; she watches as a pool of red liquid forms through the cracks.

That’s how the red lyrium wrapped its iron grip around her. Through all her cracks and crevices, jumbling her thoughts and her memories, debasing her until she lived and breathed it.

“When we found her, she was already going through withdrawals.”

 “Maker… All this time we thought she was dead… Almost wish she was. Compared to what she is now, death seems a blessing.”

“Not dead, not alive. What am I?”

She jumps at the voice as it whispers in her ear. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the wide-brimmed eye and pale blonde bangs. Cole.

 “What the hell is that?” The man says, stepping back, gripping the hilt of his sword.

“It’s Cole,” she says. “He helps me.” She remembers him. She can’t remember anyone else, not her brother or mother or the woman whose voice is sweet like honey.

“Izzy…?” He drops his grip on the hilt, but his hand remains near the sword as if he doesn’t believe her.

 “She remembers. It’s foggy still but the memories swirl and sometimes come together. Why is he here? She is scared. Will mother and father visit?” Cole’s voice is soothing even with the fact he is sharing her fears to the redhead and the man.

Who is he?

Why did the memory of him seem so close, yet so far away?  She stares at him, watching as he talks to the redhead, over what, she isn’t paying attention to. She observes him, praying that some habit of his will access the floodgates in her memory. The ones that are shut and bolted tight.

“Izzy?” She shakes her head as if jolting a painful memory away and flinches as her brother reaches out to her. “Isaura?” He drops his hand back to his side and looks at her with worry. “The spymaster and I think it’s best if you stay here, at Skyhold, to recuperate. She says they’ll have their best looking after you.”

 “What if I don’t get better?” She asks, voice quivering as she meets his eyes.

A faint ghostlike smile curls the corners of his mouth up. “You will.”

“Everyone makes fun of me,” she complains. “They all think I’m odd because I’d rather use my magic for good, rather than evil.”

Gilles takes her hand in his, lacing in his fingers in hers. “Fuck them, then.” He smiles, amused as she looks up from the floor, a glitter in her eyes. “What does the Chant tell us?”

“That magic is for the good of men, not the good of an individual.” She murmurs, sniffling.

“You’ll be better than them all, I promise.” He leans in, kissing her forehead.

“Gilles?”

Her brother stops in his tracks, turning around slowly as if a dagger is pressed to his neck.

The moment ends as the door to the dark, damp room floods with light and the heavy clinking of armor echoes on the stone floor. “You had no right!” His voice thunders through the room.

She knows that voice. The Commander, the templar, the addict.

“Who are you to say she has no right to see her family?” Her brother retorts.

 “I am the Commander of the Inquisition, and she is a danger to civilians!” He snaps. His face is contorted with anger.

He barks to a guard to unlock the cuffs and his hands reach for her forearm, yanking her up. She expects cold metal on her bare skin, but the contact is soft and warm. Skin on skin.

 “Oy, you want some of the good stuff?”

Her eye twitches. She fights the urge. She is better than this. She has to be. It does not control her.

“Got to give me the good stuff first,” the man says, unzipping his pants and yanking them down.

She is still too weak to expend any mana. At best, she can provide a small flame with great concentration. At worst, she could unleash a whirlwind of chaos with her magic.

Luckily, all she manages to produce is a small spark. Enough to make its notice in the room, but not enough to warrant any danger.

It still controls her.

 “Let her go,” her brother demands, yanking her from the templar’s grip.

This is when the redhead, the Spymaster, steps in. She is quiet, agile and does not miss her target as she removes both of the men’s grips from her and pulls her aside. Away from the impending fight. “They both have wounds that have festered for too long. Let them be.”

The Commander realizes that he is starting a scene, turns on his heel and storms out of the room. Her brother turns towards the two women and bows his head. “I apologize for that.” He glances at his sister. “I will be in Skyhold for a few weeks. Perhaps you should rest now, and we can try this again.”
She stares blankly at him. “O-okay,” is all she can manage to get out because her voice is so hoarse.

 “I will add you to the list of visitors,” the spymaster says, and she leads her out of the room. This time she does not put up a fight. She is tired and any movement on her part causes shortness of breath.

But the spymaster does not take her to down to the dungeons, the cell she has called home since she got here.

Instead, they make their way into the throne room. She feels the eyes following her as they make their way through. They turn into a room surrounded by hundreds of books. A bald elf glances up from a desk in the middle of the room but quickly returns to his studies. They ascend the spiral stairs and she quickly learns there are more floors, each with more books.

Butterflies in her stomach. Why does this make her happy?

The eyes do not stop following her. The people situated on the second floor stop what they’re doing and watch them as they walk. Their eyes are like daggers in her back.

Paranoid. They know. They know she has it. They want it. The feeling leaves a scratch she needs to itch, and she tries to fight it this time. She feels her mind forcibly pushing the feeling out. It is not welcome.

 “I thought a room to yourself would be better than your current conditions. “She says, opening the door to a small room that looked like it used to be a closet. A bed was rested haphazardly against the wall and a dresser sits on the opposite side. “Rest for tonight.” Besides those two pieces of furniture, the room is bare. Not even a candle flickers and the only light she has is from the small window above her bed.

The spymaster waves a key in front of her and turns to leave, but she reaches out to grab her wrist. “T-thank you,” she says, releasing her immediately. She does not want to get on this woman’s bad side.

We have waited.

Chapter Text

She tries to stay busy. Someone – her father? – told her those who stayed busy never had to worry if they were happy or not because there was simply no time for it.

Her room is tiny, but it’s better than a cell. Servants come, ushering her into a hot bath, scrubbing her clean. She isn’t used to the touching- hasn’t been, for a long time.

A guard has been stationed outside her room and enters when the servants do. She doesn’t like him there when she’s naked and exposed. She feels too vulnerable.

She means to thank them, but her mouth is dry again and all she can do is smile feebly as they finish dressing her and leave her be. The guard disappears along with them, glancing back at her before he locks the door behind her.

She likes the contact. It makes the song go away. The red is gone completely now. She can look at her hand, if she wants, and see skin as pale as snow.

She has a mirror in her room. It’s situated in the corner, next to the dresser. She doesn’t like looking in it. Doesn’t like what she sees. Her eyes are gaunt, cheeks hollow. Her hair is red, and it reminds her of the song. She goes to a dark place when she remembers the song.

She loses track of time, only noticing the coming and going of the sun through the small window above her bed. When she can manage, she climbs atop of the bed and looks out the window. She sees people, so many people, but no one comes for her. Did they forget her too?

One day, as she gazes out the window, people-watching, the door to her room creaks open. She all but trips over herself, clambering to the farthest corner from the door. “You must stop acting like a wild animal.” He chides, opening the door a bit wider. “May I come in?”

She nods and remains in the corner, watching him as he enters.

They didn’t forget her.

He glances over at her dejectedly. “Your brother thinks you should be at peace. I – the Inquisitor has overruled his wish. He sees – he thinks that if you can recover from the effects of red lyrium withdrawal, there may be hope.” He glowers at her.

“Peace,” she repeats.

His amber eyes met hers. They are full of hatred. “The Inquisitor has put me in charge of your recovery.” He clears his throat, “but let me be clear. Red lyrium is not something you can come away from. I have seen firsthand what happens to those who have become addicted – I will not let you hinder our operations. Do you understand?”

She tenses. His tone is condescending. He’s standing by the door, staring harshly at her. “Are you,” she tries to speak, but the words are foreign to her mouth and tumble out incoherently.

“Red?’

She finally manages. Has he come to bring her the red?

She misses it.

He stands up, posture straightening out. “I will have someone come by with food and water, I am sure you’re hungry.”
She stands up, adjusting her own posture and cocked her head. “Red,” she whispers.

His head falls down as he turns around, locking the door behind him.

“No point in wasting anymore lyrium on her, lads.” The templar sneers at her. “We’ll move onto the next one.” The templar locks her cell and hands it to another. “Toss the key somewhere it won’t be found.”

Her arms reach out through the bars of the cell. Her voice is too weak, too hoarse and she can barely manage a single word: “Please.”

They bring her food, and she scarfs it down again. They don’t stay long in the room with her, though she wishes for more human contact. “Wanton. Lonely. They all leave. Why do they leave me?” She smiles as she swallows her food.

The spirit grabs a piece of her bread and breaks it open. She wants to take it from him, it’s hers, but she watches him instead. He takes out a knife – she flinches – and a jar she didn’t see him holding and spreads what looks like jam on the bread. He hands it to her. “Eat it,” he urges. She bites into it. “Tastes like berries. Red. He brings it every time.”

She smiles at Cole. “T-thank – thanks.”

They sit in comfortable silence as she finishes her meal, hungry for more. She forgot what food tastes like until they brought her here. It dulls the edges where the song calls for her. “C-cole?”

The spirit looks at her compassionately. “Yes?”

“Why can I only remember you?”
He smiles sadly. “You let yourself forget them, but I don’t let you forget me.”

She doesn’t know what he means by that and turns back to her meal to gulp down the goblet of water. When she looks back up, she finds she is alone in her room again.

She spends the night – or day? – resisting the urge to itch the song away. She shakes in her bed, unable to fall asleep. She is afraid to fall asleep. Demons call to her in her sleep. They say she can have all the lyrium she wants if she just lets them in. She ends up itching her scalp until something begins to bleed. She’s not sure if it’s her scalp or her fingernails. She falls into a fitful sleep.

She awakes to the sound of people entering her room. “Why is there... Maker – You – Dorian, come here!”  The tone is harsh, but she knows that voice. It wakes her and she rouses from her bed, dazed.

“Why Cassandra, what can I do for – oh my.” A man she’s never met stands at the doorway next to the woman, staring at her disbelieving. “Is this the…?” He trails off. The woman nods.

“She’s injured, but we can’t risk moving her. Can you heal her?’ The woman asks.

Are they talking about her?

She wants to tell them she’s right here, that she can hear them, but the words do not form. Her eyes grow heavy, and she feels an ache on her skull.

“I’m a necromancer, Cassandra. I won’t be of any help until after she’s dead.” The man quips. “You’re better off asking our resident Fade expert.”

The woman groans.  White light enters her peripheral, engulfing everything in her vision. She hears voices, shouting: “You, go grab Solas!”

She touches her scalp, pulling back at the red warmth.

Everything is red. Why is everything red…?

We have slept.

Chapter Text

She fades in and out of sleep. In her dreams, she is tormented by a desire demon. The demon taunts her, offering her the red as long as she lets them in.

She doesn’t want to let them in, knows what will happen if she says yes. But the song sings to her even in her dreams.

Her mouth begins to move, to say yes to the demon. To give in to her desires. Something jolts her awake, however, and she blinks blearily as a figure appears in front of her. She tries to sit up, only to notice restraints on her arms and legs. She’s in a building she doesn’t recognize and there are curtains separating her from the rest of the room. She shouts incoherently at the figure, thrashing about, trying to free herself.

“You are safe.” The voice is familiar, and she focuses on the figure. His eyes are unsympathetic as they gaze over her, but she notices a glimmer of concern cross his face. The chiseled jawline, the stubble on his chin.  His name is on the edge of her tongue, but she can’t remember. Doesn’t remember.

“Thank you,” she whispers. Conflicting feelings overwhelm her. She didn’t want to let the demon in, but she wanted the red even more.

It tastes like strawberries and red licorice. 

Is she thankful? Or angry? “You were shouting.”

“Demons,” she mumbles. His jaw clenches and the grip on his hilt tightens as he looks her up and down. “Always taunting me, but I’m not daft.”

His hand relaxes, but it still hovers over the hilt. “That remains to be seen.”

A throbbing pain flares up in her head. Pounding against her skull. “W-what happened to me?” She manages, once the pain subsides and she can think again.

“Cassandra found you unconscious in your room.  You had extensive injuries to your head.”

She reaches for her scalp, feeling the bandages that have been wrapped around her head, “I… see.”

“Solas was able to stabilize you.” The man says. She glances at the restraints, then at the man. “Those are for your protection. You kept going back for… more.” He gestures to her hands. She takes a closer look at her hands, as much as she can while they are restrained. There is dried blood under her fingernails.

“Solas?” Another name to remember. Another name to a face she will forget.

“He is a mage, like you. An apostate.” A mage… She forgot. How could she forget?

 “She’s awake!” A man tosses the curtains aside and steps in, grinning. The blonde man that sits beside her clears his throat and stands up.

“She just awoke. I will leave you two be.” He leaves the room, closing the curtains behind him as does.

“Sister, you look like shit.” The man says, taking his place by her side. Sister? Wait, she knows that voice. Distant, but loving. Visits to the Circle when no one else would.

“Per your request, I’ve brought you the newest addition to the Swords & Shields series.” Gilles walks in, waving the book in his hand with a grin on his face. “I don’t know how you like this trashy nonsense, but it’s yours nonetheless.”

She jumps from her seat, ready to run over to him and pull him in a hug, but the Templars eyes bore into her. She sees them tense, their hands gripping the hilts of their swords. Ready to strike. Always ready to strike. She takes a deep breath, composing herself. “Brother,” she says.

He hugs her tightly. He smells like home. He glances about the entrance. “Shall we go somewhere more private? I should like to hear how the templars have been treating you.” He says, the words spitting like venom.

“Brother,” she replies. The word is foreign to her yet feels familiar.

“I’ve been worried about you. Lady – Seeker Pentaghast told me what happened, but no one was allowed to see you for days.” Days? Is that how long she’s been here? “I’m glad to see you’re awake.” He reaches for her hand, holding it. “I haven’t been told mother and father yet… Don’t know how to tell them their daughter is alive.”

She frowns. “They wouldn’t care.”

“I suppose mother wouldn’t, but father was absolutely distraught when you went missing, but we can wait to tell them once you’re all fixed up.” He looks at her kindly. “It is nice to know you remember me today.”

“It’s only one day, don’t get your hopes up.” She remarks. It’s true. Today she can think clearly. Her head hurts and she is tired, but she can think. He opens his mouth to speak but turns his head away. “I’m sorry, that –”

“It’s alright,” he interjects, squeezing her hand. Her eyes flutter shut. She hadn’t realized how tired she is. “How do you feel?”

“My voice is back. Perhaps I was meant to follow this path.”

“Maker’s blood, I hope not. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.” He leans in and plants a soft kiss on her knuckles, “But I shall leave you to rest.”

 “Will… will you stay with me while I sleep?” She pleads, before he leaves.  He nods his head and positions himself on the chair comfortably while she allows herself to fall deep into sleep. Normally, she would not trust herself to fall asleep, but she relaxes with her brother nearby. She is safe.

She sleeps for what feels like days, but as she rouses from her rest, she discovers it’s only been a few hours. Her brother is gone and her stomach growls. When was the last time she ate?

“Glad to see you’re awake and hungry,” an elderly woman says, approaching her with a tray of food. “I had one of the lads grab this from the kitchens. Figured you’d be hungry by now.” She places the tray on the table next to her cot. “Let me get those restraints off you. Don’t have time to spoon feed you.” She unlocks the cuffs from wrists. Now, go on. Eat. I don’t have all day.” She eyes the woman curiously but turns her attention to the food on the tray. She picks up the bread roll and bites into it. Fluffy and warm. She finishes the roll first before turning to the rest of the meal and quickly eats it.

Once she’s done, the woman collects everything and piles it on the plate. “I want to keep you here overnight, just to make sure you’re alright to head out. The addiction doesn’t help you any, but I’m told the Commander is taking care of that, so I’ll not butt in.” She takes the key out of a pocket in her smock. “I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s for your own safety.” She doesn’t fight the woman as she restrains her again. She is thinking of how content she feels right now. “I’ll be back, later on, to take you to the latrine.” She smiles at her before leaving with the tray in her hands.

True to her word, she returns later, removing her restraints and takes her to the outhouse. This is the first time she notices her surroundings. It’s cold and brittle outside. A wind blows that never seems to cease, but she doesn’t mind. It makes her feel alive, but shortly after, the cold starts to bite away at her fingers and toes. She doesn’t like that. It reminds her of the cage where the red Templars abandoned her. The woman says her name is Abegail and she’s a physician for the Inquisition. She tells her how she lost her husband to the dreaded Mage-Templar war and that the Inquisitor himself saved her. 

She is first the person whose name she doesn’t forget, but she doesn’t say anything for fear of it disappearing. Instead, she lets Abegail talk – she likes to talk – and she enjoys the courtyard. She is also the first person she betrays. It all happens too fast. The familiar blue liquid sat out in the open, calling for her. The song was a bit different than the red, less angry, but she recognized it nonetheless. Abegail is up ahead, chatting still, and there is no one around, making pocketing the vials easy. Too easy.

She dreads returning to the infirmary, to her cot and restraints, but she begrudgingly lets Abegail cuff her again and she tells her she’ll return in the morning for a quick physical before releasing her into the Commander’s care. She still isn’t sure who the Commander is, but she’ll have to wait until morning to find out. For now, the vials rest uneasily yet comfortably in her pockets.

She doesn’t fall asleep, now that she hears the song again. It’s louder than usual and a headache begins to set in. The desire to scratch it away returns, but her wrists are bound and all she can do is stare at the ceiling and try to drown it out. The desire to down the blue liquid is newer, louder, but she can’t do anything about that either. To keep herself from going insane, she stares hard at the ceiling, trying to turn off her mind.

When Abegail returns, she is not alone. Next to her is a tall man with blonde hair and amber eyes. His gait reminds her of a Templar, but she doesn’t see the crest so he can’t be. “Here you are, Commander. Just let me check her out before I hand her over. I won’t go shirking my duties now.” Abegail says.

Commander.

Templar, addict. The man who stiffens whenever she is near and whose gaze is harsh and cruel.

“Very well. I will stay, if you don’t mind. I won’t see her harm you or anyone else.” The Commander insists.

The woman waves him away and releases her. “Yes, yes, but you best avert your gaze. Commander or not, I won’t tolerate that.” He clears his throat, cheeks flushing bright red and turns away from them. “Come, you. Don’t be a limp nug, help me undress you.”

She hears his fingers tapping on the pommel, feels his watchful gaze.

Her muscles tense as she pulls her shirt over her head, careful to avoid her bandages.

The Templar laughs, shoving her over to the other. “This one’s a whore for the stuff!”

The other one grabs her by the arm and pulls her to him. “So, you’ll be a good pup, then.” He croons, ripping her blouse in the front. With his other hand, he starts groping her breasts. “Alright, pup. We’re gonna have a good time, right?” She doesn’t fight back. Can’t fight back. The lyrium sings to her. She wants it and knows she has to do what they ask to get a taste. So, she allows the man to yank her pants down to her ankles and thrust inside her in front of the other Templars. A single tear falls from her eye as he jerks frenziedly inside her.

The Commander is in front of her, blocking her with his body and gripping her wrist firmly. Abegail is behind him, on the floor and bleeding. She feels the tingle of her magic on her fingertips. “I – I am so sorry,” she cries, collapsing into the man who staggers back surprised but allows her to sob into his chest.

“I think she’s well enough,” the man scowls. An elf comes rushing into the room and assists her up. “Have her report to the Inquisitor once she’s recovered.” He scoops her up over his shoulder, ignoring her sobbing and protests and carries her out of the infirmary.

He sets her gently down on something soft and plush. She’s back in her room and there are no restraints, but the walls seem to close in on her, suffocating her. “I’m sorry,” she says, sniffling.

“You need to learn to control yourself before you seriously injure someone!” He yells. His eyebrows narrow as he stares pointedly at her.

She bites back a sob.

“Maker’s breath,” he mutters and averts his gaze. “This is my fault.” He turns to the door and leaves her alone in her room. Once she’s sure he is gone, she crawls into her bed and sobs into the pillow that doesn’t smell like home.

We are sundered.

Chapter Text

“… a risk! She assaulted one of our own people!” The man shouts.

“That is not her fault!” Another voice, feminine and soft. Soothing her frayed nerves. “Locking her away will only make problems worse. We need her, Cullen.”

“Then what do you propose? A babysitter?” The voices are closer to her room, but the door is locked. “We saw last time how well that fared.” He snarls.

“We have a schedule. We limit her contact with people that aren’t critical to her recovery until she is no longer deemed a risk.”

“You’re both being far too fickle over this,” the third male voice speaks up. “Why don’t we ask what her what she thinks we should do?” The door swings open and two men and a woman walk in. “Hello there, miss. I’m sure you heard our little conversation outside your door so that will make this easier. You see, you did attack a woman who works for the Inquisition and who I might add was helping you.”

The woman – the man –was making sure she was stable to be discharged – having his way with her. She remembers the magic dissipating from her fingertips – crying as he came in her. “I will not be a victim again.”

“She’s completely delusional!” The man shouts, pointing a finger at her.

“So, she’ll need a sitter.”

“Inquisitor, with all due respect –”

“Commander, if you tell me we don’t have the resources to spare, I will personally see to it that Sera pranks you for all eternity.” Commander. Inquisitor. They sound familiar. Words she’s heard before but can’t remember if they are names or titles. Does she have a title? She knows she has a name, though she forgets it too often to recall.

The Commander clears his throat. Sunlight shines through her window, illuminating his features. Blonde hair, golden eyes that sparkle against the light. Dark circles paint below his eyes and as she stares at him, she notices his hand that isn’t gripping the hilt of his sword trembling.

He’s the one who is supposed to be helping her. She doesn’t understand how he can help her. He is struggling himself, fighting the battle and losing but the song in him is different. Diluted, less angry. He probably doesn’t even notice it.

“I want it,” she whispers. She takes a deep breath. “I want it to go away.”

The woman looks at her, eyebrows raised. “What do you want to go away?”

“The song,” she begs. It goes away when the woman speaks. The woman tells her to use her voice. She is trying. Learning how to utilize it after its distortion caused by the red templars.

“Then it’s settled.” The other man, the one they called Inquisitor turns to the blonde man. “I hope you’ve brought the roster. I will leave you to go over it with her.” Before he leaves the room with the woman, he turns around. “Perhaps find her another guard as well.”
She watches them leave, upset that the woman wouldn’t be staying. The blonde man hands her a piece of parchment paper. “There’s no… protocol for Templars that wish to stop taking lyrium. And there is no documentation of mages being addicted red lyrium…” He trails off and while it seems he has lost his thought; his eyes still scan the room, glancing back at her frequently. “As you can see, the goal is to keep you busy.”

She reads the piece of paper silently. Basic training? Meal prep? She’s never wielded a sword. And she definitely has no idea how to cook.

“You will start first thing tomorrow morning. For now, I suggest getting some rest.”

Moonlight shines through the small window in her room. She must have fallen asleep, which is weird. She doesn’t sleep that long, not without demons. She climbs out of the comfort of her bed, and tries the door again, though she knows it is still locked. She wants to leave her room. She can’t tell if it’s the moonlight giving her the headache or if it’s the song – maybe it’s a combination of both. Out of curiosity, she knocks on the door. A minute later, it opens and a human clad in armor peers in. “Everything alright, miss?”

“Who are you?” She asks. Faces are getting easier for her to recognize, but his is not one she remembers.

“You can call me Kester. I’m your new guard, Commander’s orders.” He replies. She notices his hand rests on the hilt of his sword. She sighs wearily. When will they trust her? Will they ever?

“I’m hungry and bored.” She cries, startling herself. Her voice.

“I want peace!” She shouts but it seems to go unnoticed in the crowded room. Why is no one listening?

“Very well,” the Grand Enchanter declares. “It seems we are left with no choice.”

He looks at her like she’s the petulant child she feels she is. “I can grab some food from the kitchens if you’d like.”

She pouts. “I want to leave this room.”

“The Commander will have my head if anything happens. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Well, I guess I’ll just stay here, possibly undo all the hard work that was put into healing me.” This is her voice. She is voicing what she wants.

“I suppose a warm meal at the tavern won’t be the end of the world.” He admits, rubbing the nape of his neck. She notices his grip on his sword relaxes.

She could hug the strange man. She grabs her cloak, draping it over her shoulders and pulling the hood over before following the man out of her room.  Eyes follow her as they walk down the throne room, but not as many as before. It is late in the day. She hurries behind her guard, down the stairs, across the courtyard and through the door to the tavern.

It’s loud and crowded in the tavern. Her guard eyes her warily but ushers her to an empty table towards the back. “I’ll be back with some food.”

“And drinks!” She calls out loudly to him and sits down, crossing her legs. She leaves the hood on. It hides the reality. Hides the song. Hides the bandages wrapped around her head. She wants to feel normal tonight, however normal is. She doesn’t know what is in store for her tomorrow or how she’ll cope but this feeling that wells inside her – hope – drowns out the song.

Her guard returns with a tray full of tavern food and two tankards of ale. He rambles on about his family and how much he misses them. She thinks she misses her family, too, but then she can’t even remember their names.

“You must be the mage the Inquisitor sent a report to us about,” a voice says. She sets her tankard down as a tall, bulking stranger sits across from her, next to her guard. “Do you mind giving us a moment, Kester?”

“I’ll go –uh – refill our drinks.” He grabs her tankard with his free hand leaves the table, heading toward the bar.

“You’re Qunari.” She states. “The Templars wanted to get their hands on one of you. Especially one of your mages. They ended up settling.” She gestures to herself and rips off another piece of bread.

“Your pupils are dilated.” He replies taking the rest of her bread and biting into it.

“Being locked in a room will do that you,” she remarks. She glares at the man across the table from her.

“No, it won’t.” He finishes off the bread. “Does Cullen know?”

Cullen?

She shakes her head. “I don’t know who that is.”

The Qunari chuckles. “I’m surprised you were able to get your hands on some.” She bites back a smile. “I’ll leave you to it.” He gets up from the chair, readying to leave.

“Wait!” She reaches over the table to grab his wrist. “You won’t tell him, will you?”

No more. This is her life. Her voice.

“Nah, it’ll be interesting to see this unfold.” He pulls from her grip and walks away, just as her guard returns with their drinks.

What does that mean? Watch what unfold? She takes a swig from her mug. She won’t let him take her stash. She didn’t mean to take it. It was there – she heard it call for her – and she just slipped it into her pocket, and no one was the wiser.

It wasn’t red. It was blue and reminded her of a past she barely remembers.

We are crippled.

Chapter Text

She wakes up as the sun rises and doesn’t return to her quarters until well after the sun sets. Her guard brings her to the commander’s quarters as she soon as she is awake, where she trains with him. After he makes her run the length of the battlements, he gives her a wooden sword to teach her basic combat techniques. By the time she’s done with training, she’s drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. He asks her if he is pushing her too far and she knows he is doing so on purpose. However, the exercise is welcome, even though she can barely walk afterward. The song can’t steal her attention when she is parrying a blow, that for all intents and purposes, would severely injure her if it weren’t wooden. And she won’t give him the satisfaction. He dismisses her after training and her guard takes her to the tavern, where she hastily wolfs down her breakfast while listening to him talk about his family. She thinks she likes him because he doesn’t seem to mind that she’s a mage or hears the song – he treats her like a human.

After breakfast, he leads her to the kitchens, where she meets the cooks and is immediately given a task. To sort and organize the pantry. Another servant helps her with the task, and the first detail she notices when they are introduced is her pointed ears. The servant stays out of her way, dutifully focused on their task. She doesn’t ask questions or make small talk. She doesn’t even remember how to make small talk, so she is grateful that the woman is disinterested in conversing. The song tries to edge itself in, but it isn’t as angry or resolute and she wonders if it is because it is blue instead of red. Her guard comes by much later, whistling at their progress. “That’s some mighty work ethic there, miss.” He smiles. “I’m to take you to the Spymaster.”

Her heart races with the mention of ‘Spymaster’ and she feels it pound in her chest unevenly. The guard gestures her to follow him as they leave the kitchens and make their way through the fortress, into a rotunda where there are hundreds upon hundreds of books on the shelves. She doesn’t remember the last time she saw these many books in one place. Too long, she thinks.

“Spymaster, I’ve brought Miss Delacroix as requested.” Her guard states as they approach the red-headed spymaster who is leaning over a desk, barking orders to someone behind her. The scout glances up at them and then scurries off.

Her throat constricts as the woman looks up at them, making eye contact with her. The song tries to taunt her with red hair. She averts her eyes, trying to not focus on that one simple fact.

“Thank you, Kester. That will be all.” She smiles at her, an Orlesian accent echoing throughout the rotunda. “I have heard nothing but good things about you, Miss Delacroix. Granted, those good things were before the Circles dissolved and you vanished.” She pauses for a beat, as if she is waiting for something, but then slips right back in. “Your brother mentions you were a very gifted mage.”  

She remembers little of when her magic manifested. She remembers her mother was terrified. Remembers the kids she was playing with avoided her and she was left alone in the courtyard. “I don’t remember.” She says, her voice little more than a whisper, but clear. Everything is a little clearer since she found the blue liquid.

“I would say that is expected, but there is no protocol for this. However, your brother has offered to stay and see if we can jog your memory.” The spymaster folds a piece of paper and heads to one of the many cages in her tower, unlocking it and tying the letter to the bird’s leg.  She whispers words that she can’t pick up and turns her attention back to her. “You are an asset to the Inquisition, whether it is known or not. The fact you have survived makes you a witness. A witness we can use to take down Samson, which I’m sure will please a number of people who wish to see you executed.”

She doesn’t know if survived is the right word or if she could be called a witness. After all, she was drugged the majority of her captivity as they tried and tried and tried to fuse her with the red.

A trial that failed and left her with only real memories of her imprisonment and the song calling to her.

She wants to recover, but she is conflicted. “Okay,” she finds herself saying. She wants them to suffer.  

“Perfect!” The spymaster clasps her hands together. “Come with me, your brother awaits you.” She offers her hand and leads her to a secluded area of the rotunda. It is one of the many alcoves in the library, isolated from everyone and surrounded by books. A window decorates the alcove wall, but it is too frosted to see outside.

Her brother sits on one of the loveseats, his legs crossed, eyeing her as they approach. “I’m glad you’re willing, Izzy.”

Izzy. The word strikes a chord deep in her chest, a feeling of warmth spreading throughout her. “Kester will be keeping an eye on you but will give your privacy. Just call for him if he is needed,” The spymaster states, smiling gently. She doesn’t like her smiles. They scare her.

She sits on the loveseat opposite of him, melting into the cushion. “Ah, yes. The seats are very…malleable.” He chuckles, smiling at her.

She clears her throat and tries to sit up, straighten her posture. “Yes.”

He frowns, reaching for her hand, which she yanks away from him. “Hm. What do you remember of me?” He adjusts himself on the loveseat, a flicker of disappointment evident on his face as his green eyes meet her gaze.

She stares at him awkwardly, studying him for comparison. If they are siblings, they should look alike, right? But his hair is dark, not like the fiery red that lies atop her head. Where her skin is pale, he is tanned. His chiseled face is dotted with freckles, but hers is smooth and blemish-free.

He used to get teased for his freckles.

She doesn’t remember the color of her eyes and finds herself glancing around the room looking for something that would show her reflection. “They’re green, like mine,” he says, reaching for her again, trying to ground her.

She finds herself touching her face lightly. “Your freckles.”

“Yes, the unfortunate characteristic I inherited from our grandfather.” He grimaces, reclining in his loveseat. “Do you remember the time he caught one of the kids teasing me?” His eyes sparkle as he laughs. “If I recall correctly, mother had asked him to pick us up from an appointment with one of her ‘friend’s’,” he says, muttering the last word distastefully. “I believe he approached us as Rosette and Amandine were teasing me.” His gaze wanders off, lost in thought momentarily. “Amandine was reprimanded by mother and Rosette never bothered me again.”

“Who is Amandine?” She asks. The name sounds bittersweet on her tongue.

“Why, our younger sister.”

She mouths an exclamation as his eyes trail off. This time, she follows his gaze to catch him staring at a man who is absorbed in a book in another alcove. She remembers he had different tastes than other men, which upset mother to no end. That was the moment when they grew closer, being pariahs of the Delacroix family. She remembers a name from her past. “Stefan?”
She catches him swallow uncomfortably, paralyzed.

“He… was persuaded by our family to stop seeing me.” He shakes his head, casting off the bad thoughts. “As long as mother is alive, she will not stand to see her son engage in such…activity.”

“And father?”

“Oh, he couldn’t care less about my dalliances, but mother is a force to be reckoned with. If it wasn’t for father, I would have been disinherited.” He says, taking a deep breath. “Imagine Amandine inheriting our family’s estates and wealth?” His eyes glitter with laughter but darken once he realizes she doesn’t respond with laughter. She can’t imagine Amandine inheriting anything because she doesn’t remember her besides the doll they shared. “Oh. I’m sorry, Izzy.”

She nods her head, forcing down the fear that is bubbling up in her throat. Will she ever remember?

“Miss Delacroix?” A male voice calls out to her and she twists her head to see her guard standing at the edge of the alcove. “It’s time for your supper.”

Her brother stands up as she does, following her to the edge of the alcove. “Will I see you tomorrow?” He asks. She can see the hope in his eyes.

“I think so,” she mutters, following her guard down the rotunda and to the kitchens. The elven servant from earlier hands over her tray rashly and they return to her room, where he stands watch by the door as she balances the tray on her lap and eats. She only eats a few bites of the food before she is full. Staring at it and then at her guard, she shoves the tray into his hold. He startles, but she caught him off guard so he catches the tray before it can fall on the floor and then looks at her warily.

“You need to eat, miss.” She shrugs, collapsing back on her bed. “You will need the strength.” She drones out his voice as he lists the reasons that she must eat her meals.

“That’s alright, Kester. You are dismissed.” A brusque man’s voice says. A blonde man enters the room; she remembers him. Always so close, but so far away. He outstretches his hand, offering it to her, “Accompany me on the battlements.” She sits up on her cot and stares at him curiously.

This is not a question.

Her guard leaves the room with her tray, leaving her alone with him. She glances at his hand and then his face, ultimately placing her hand in his. He helps her up from the bed and she crashes into his chest from sheer force. A strong perfume wafts into her nostrils. Like freshly-baked cookies. A pecan pie breezing by the window sill as it cools.

She doesn’t know how such a cruel man can smell like freshly-baked sweets.

He clears his throat uncomfortably, stepping back to give her room. “My apologies. I did not realize how weak you would still be,” he admits. She hears it in his voice. He’s goading her. Does he really want her to screw up, fail, that badly? But why?  “Well, let us move on to the battlements.” He clears his throat, leaving her room swiftly. She scrambles to catch up to him, trailing behind him until they reach the battlements, through the rotunda, where she finally catches up to him. He slows down once they are outside until they are walking side by side. “Walking the battlements every night is both intentional and peaceful.” He stares straight ahead as they walk. “As Commander, it is my duty to provide our forces and train them. The Inquisitor sees you fit to be an asset. There are some that disagree,” he continues. She hears the unspoken words: I disagree. “Ultimately it is his decision. I asked you to walk with me because it can be easy to forget that we are people still.”

“I know I am,” she retorts. What is he getting at? And why does he care?

“For the wrong reasons,” he replies, running a hand through his hair. She notices he is not wearing his normal attire. Traded it in for a loose-fitting shirt and pants that accentuate his muscled thighs.

Something stirs in her. She doesn’t know what the feeling is, but it pools in her lower belly and leaves her craving for touch.

When was the last time she was touched?

 “You need to remember the right reasons.” Her hands fidget as they walk the length of the battlement. She averts her eyes, looking out to the horizon. The sun has long set, leaving darkness and the moon the only light.

Focus on the sky.

 “It took me a very long time to find those reasons,” he says. “There are still moments that I forget, but moments like these help me to remember…” He rubs the back of his neck, staring out from the battlements. “Seeing all this, the difference the Inquisition is making.” He sighs. “Walking among the battlements will help give you some perspective, which you sorely need. Either Cassandra or I will walk with you and if neither of us are available, you will walk with Kester, but you will never walk alone. Do you understand me?”

The guilt rids her of that feeling, replacing it with a sinking dread.

She nods. She knows the song calls for her. She knows it makes her a bad person. She knows the blue liquid hiding in her room is a bad idea, but she doesn’t know how to ask for help. She knows she must prove him wrong, but that means getting rid of the blue in her room and she’s not ready for that.

“Thank you, Cullen.” She forces a smile, knowing it will vex him.

We are polluted.

Chapter Text

She looks forward to her walks along the battlements after dinner. Sometimes it’s Cullen, sometimes it’s the nice woman, Cassandra – she finally remembers their names. Cullen is silent as they walk along, always looking like he’s far off in thought, yet always alert. Cassandra tries to make small talk with her, fidgeting with her hands. She learns that Cassandra is a member of the Nevarran royal family and that she once slayed a dragon, saving the Divine and that’s how she became the Right Hand of the Divine. She looks relieved that she doesn’t know this story and reiterates that she did not save the Divine alone and it was by luck that she did at all. Her inner-brow raises and she looks lost in thought whenever she asks who helped her. She eventually stops asking.

She is so busy now that she only hears the song when she crashes onto her cot, but she is too exhausted to notice. The blue liquid calls to her from underneath the loose floorboard in her room and she is ashamed that some nights she plays with the vial, wanting to drink. They – mostly Cassandra – tell her she can’t have it anymore, otherwise, she’ll never get better.

She feels herself getting stronger, so maybe they’re right. She remembers names and associates them with the correct faces. She’s learned the name of the elven woman who is stuck with her; Arani. The woman is rigid when she’s nearby and she pretends she doesn’t notice she instinctively goes for a knife that’s hidden in her boot whenever she makes a sudden movement. Probably a spy, but for whom? Down that path leads to paranoia, however, but the voice remains, no matter how much she pushes it back into the recesses of her mind.

The nights she fiddles with the vial, she musters all her courage and shoves it back under the floorboard. She still can’t bring herself to toss it.

She thinks about her brother, who sits opposite from her in their alcove and how disappointed he would be, but her swirling thoughts are interrupted as Gilles breaks the silence. “I think I may have a date,” he whispers, leaning in from across his armchair. She snaps her focus to the man in front of her. He is grinning unabashedly.

She is envious. When was the last time she went on a date? Did she even date?  She finds herself shredding her cuticles. She knows, from that night on the battlements, that she still craves such a connection.

“Honestly Izzy, I can’t believe you turned that down.” Her brother comments, looking the templar up and down as he walks past them.

“Fraternization between templars and mages is frowned upon.” She scolds her brother. Maker, sometimes he could be absolutely daft. “Besides, things like love get messy very quickly and I have to spend the rest of my life in this tower.”

“That’s ridiculous. If a mage is competent enough, they should be allowed to at least leave the tower.” He scowls.

“Gilles, did I go on…dates?” She asks.

“Oh sure, make it all about you.” He jests, throwing his hands up in the air dramatically. “Not often.”

“What are we chatting about today?” The Tevinter mage, Dorian, swaggers into the alcove, leaning against a bookshelf. She thinks he preens too much but keeps that thought to herself.

“Isaura’s love life,” Gilles replies, leaning back in his chair. She notices his cheeks flush when the two make eye contact.

Dorian clasps his hands together, eyes glittering with excitement or dread she couldn’t tell. “Oh, do tell us all the sordid details!” Definitely excitement, she decides. He raises an eyebrow in her direction. “Is there a special someone that’s caught your eye? I can make sure they hear of your interest by the end of the day.”

She was asking about her past, but now that she thinks about it, she realizes she hasn’t. “I don’t think my sister needs the distraction.” Her brother states, glancing her way.

“Everyone needs a distraction, my dear.” Dorian winks at her brother. The tips of his ear bloom red. She pretends she doesn’t notice.

Gilles clears his throat. “There was someone. Nicolas something. Mother would have objected very much so, but it never amounted to much as the poor man failed his harrowing.”

“Isaura, come on! Hurry up or we’re going to get caught!” He held her hand, giggling quietly as they snuck out of their quarters.

“Nic, I’m not sure about this. What happens if we’re caught?” She asks, and they dart into a dark corridor just as a templar turns the corner. Her heart is pounding and once the coast is clear, she realizes how close they are. Her hands rest on his chest and they are inches apart. She can see the brown dots that twinkle in his blue eyes, see the blonde stubble that’s barely visible from a respectable distance.

“Isaura…” He whispers breathlessly.

She remembers him. “He was my first love.”

“Your only love,” her brother corrects.
“Oh, the tragedy! Star-crossed lovers.” Dorian fans himself as if he might faint from the heartbreak.

“Lord Delacroix, I have a missive for you.” An unrecognizable scout approaches them, handing the letter to Gilles. He seizes it from the scout and grimaces.

“It’s from our parents.” He remarks, glancing at her as he wedges a finger under the tab and glides his finger through. He mutters as he reads the letter silently. “They’re coming to Skyhold.” Her breath hitches as she tears a cuticle from her finger, causing blood to surface. Her brother sighs, running his hand through his thick brunette hair. “Let the Game begin, then.” Gilles pulls her into a tight embrace. “I have to go speak with the spymaster. Please excuse me.” He bows to Dorian and disappears further in the library.

Dorian watches her curiously. “You know, I have just the man to set you up with.” He smirks.

She tries to object, but he walks off, waving her away. She supposes nothing she would say would deter him. Since her time with Gilles was cut short, she finds herself wanting to leave the confines of the library, needing fresh air. No good could come from her parents coming here.

She followed the path she takes on her evening strolls, walking past Solas, quickly waving as she hurries past him. Crisp air fills her lungs, the hairs on her arms standing up. She always forgets how cold it is in Skyhold.  She leans on the ramparts overlooking the main courtyard, watching the recruit as they train. Some of them are templars, by their gait and the way they block their incoming blows, shield tilted skyward on instinct to block incoming magic. This observation leaves her on edge. She clenches her jaw, grinding her teeth as she watches them train. Block, parry, attack. She used to watch the templars train from her cell. What did Cole call them? Red templars. Such a simple word, yet it changes everything. Red crystals jutting from his body. One clean slice across his neck. The song died within him.

She shivers from the memories, pulling her cloak closer to her body and decides to head to the tavern. She doesn’t want her guard, Kester, to worry about her whereabouts, but she needs a new environment. Too many bad memories.

She hears the voice, sweet and melodic, before she sees her. Almost runs into her, in fact. The man beside her is dressed in armor that blazes bright as gold. She imagines the sun shining on his armor and doesn’t know how anyone could get anything done with him present.

“Ah, our prodigy!” The man says. She recognizes his voice, only knows him as the Inquisitor. She notices the woman, Cassandra, blushes and she moves away from him, distancing herself.

 “Shouldn’t you be in the library with your brother?” Cassandra inquires. The blush is gone, and she eyes her with suspicion. Even with her concern evident, she still likes listening to her voice.

“I was. He had to leave.” She states matter-of-factly.

“Why would he leave you without fetching your guard?” She asks.

“Cassandra, leave the poor girl alone. It’s not like she got lost or hurt herself.” The Inquisitor interrupts, calmly placing a hand on her shoulder.

“She could have.” The woman groans, disgusted. “Well, you can’t wander off on your own. The Commander would have a fit if anything were to happen to you or anyone else under his charge.”

“Looks like we’re off to adventure, then, the three of us!” The Inquisitor exclaims, looping his arms around their shoulders, and drawing them into a hug. “Where were you off to? I imagine you were wandering somewhere specific.”

“I was heading to the tavern,” she replies sheepishly. “Your worship,” she adds, stumbling over her words.

The Inquisitor laughs and it seems to echo throughout the hall. “Please, call me Alexander.” He glances at Cassandra, a playful smirk shaping his lips. “Off to the tavern, then my princesses?”

She nods her head meekly, noticing how red Cassandra’s face is and follows in line with the Inquisitor and Cassandra as they walk to the tavern.

He leads them to a full table, save for a few seats and she wishes she could disappear, but that is not an option, so she hovers nearby awkwardly as they sit in their respective places at the table. She recognizes a few of the faces. The one that alarms her is the large Qunari that sits at the head of the table, eyeing her inconspicuously, but she feels his eyes boring into her. He glances over to the Inquisitor and for a second, she panics thinking he is going to out her, but he only beckons for her to come sit down at the empty chair beside him. “You’re back. I was beginning to think I was imagining things.”

“Well, to be fair Chief, you do imagine things.” The man across from her retorts.
“That’s called fantasizing, Krem. That’s different.” The Qunari says. She feels the tension in the air, wondering if they’re going to start fighting. She certainly wouldn’t want to get into a bar fight with a Qunari. Especially this one.

“Oh, so that’s what you were doing when that maid walked by.” The two of them burst out in laughter, staring at her.

“So, you guys weren’t actually arguing?” She asks, confused.

The Qunari sniggers and then clears his throat, staring at her with all seriousness. “Nah, this is Krem. He’s my Lieutenant.”

“Lieutenant?”

“Of the Bull’s Chargers!” Krem replies a little too robustly, earning glances from the others at the table.

The Iron Bull.” The Qunari says, smiling softly at her, but the smile disappears as quickly as it appears.

“The Iron Bull?” She asks incredulously.

“Do you know of him?” Krem asks, leaning in.

She shakes her head, “No. I’ve never heard of anyone named The Iron Bull.” She swears she sees a fleeting moment of sadness in his eyes, but it’s gone and Krem looks at her expectantly. A beat passes before she realizes he’s asked her a question. “I’m sorry. What did you ask?”
“Your name?”

“Oh, um Isaura.” The table is quiet as she speaks, realizing everyone else has wanted to know who she is.

“Lady Isaura Delacroix,” Cassandra voices loudly from the opposite end of the table, where she is seated right next to the Inquisitor. She notices how close he is and how she positions her body away from him.

“Isaura is just fine.” She states. Cassandra looks like she might say something, but the Inquisitor shoots her a look and she remains silent. “Mages own no titles or land.” She hears someone asking for her and scans the room, eyes finally settling on Kester. Her guard. She bears herself for the oncoming lecture, but it never comes because he’s pulling aside the Inquisitor and starts a hushed dialogue with him. The conversation around the table fades away as she watches the two of them breathlessly. What could they be talking about? Did Kester find her stash? Did something happen to Gilles?

After what seems like an eternity, the Inquisitor and Kester walk toward her, asking her to step away for a moment. She follows, anxiety eating away at her inside. They leave the tavern, heading into another building nearby, except this one is unoccupied. “Is everything alright?” She asks.

“Kester informs me that your family will be arriving in a fortnight. I am not sure who communicated with them that information, but I am sorry. Your brother had expressed that it would be in your best interests to keep them at a distance for the time being and everyone who knew you were recovering knew this. I will do everything in my power to figure out who has done this.” He promises.

She gulps, the feeling of paranoia engulfing her once more. She knows nothing good will come of her reunion with her parents.

We endure.

Chapter Text

Counting down the days until her parents arrive is torture. The nights now consist with her actually unstopping the vial and it takes a lot of willpower for her to stow it away. She isn’t sure she can keep it up, but the disappointed the faces of those that are helping her recover is something she doesn’t want to see. Cassandra has taken over her morning drills and when she asks where Cullen is, she says he is busy with the Inquisition forces but doesn’t say why. She doesn’t ask. Doesn’t care.

The Inquisitor visits them once their morning drills are over and she can’t help but notices the blushes on their cheeks – can’t tell if it’s from the morning chill or something more. She likes watching new love bloom, it reminds her of a simpler time.

Arani and her finally finish organizing the pantry and she catches the elf smile briefly. Maybe she’s not evil. The cook – she’s learned his name is Morris – is pleased with them and decides to promote them to the morning prep cooks. She is uncomfortable using kitchen knives, but she doesn’t dare complain. She should be grateful that Morris trusts her enough, but the nagging voice in the back of her mind taunts her. After all, who would trust an addict and a mage?

After preparing breakfast, she is bombarded with etiquette and history lessons. Dorian and Gilles help her prepare for the Trevelyan’s arrival. Gilles decides the less she seems like an addict and mage, the less likely their parents are to lash out and do something incredibly stupid. Dorian thinks that they will anyway because that’s how parents are.

She hates their bickering and disappears after a particularly upsetting lover’s quarrel, seeking solitude in the garden. The plants that flourish in the garden are an array of vivid colors and she can smell their fragrances wafting through the air. 

She sprints in from the garden, mucky shoes and flower petals falling from the crude bouquet in her hands. “Papa, papa!” She shouts, coming to an abrupt halt at the entryway of her father’s study. He sits at the desk, glancing up from his writing to grin at her. “Look what I have!” She says, showing off the bouquet of flowers she picked from their garden.

“Hello, little dove. Are those for me?” He asks, ruffling her unkempt hair and smelling the bouquet.

“Isaura Delacroix!” Mother’s harsh, shrill voice rings out through the estate. She hears her footsteps draw closer, following the muddy footprints.

He chuckles softly and gestures for her to hide under the desk just as her mother barges into the room. “Be very quiet now, little dove.” He whispers.

“Cyril,” she greets him coolly. “Do you take me for a fool?”

“She’s a child, Jo,” Father responds. He sounds tired. “Let her have her fun.”

“She is a Delacroix! I did not frolic in the garden and muck up the estate at her age!”

“You are a Delacroix by marriage, Josette. You would do best to remember that. Send for the governess and have her tend to the mess, but she has done nothing wrong.”

Memories. Father always protected her from mother’s wrath. Even before magic, mother was strict and cruel. She remembers father telling her why she was this way but doesn’t remember. It still seems so far away.

“What are you doing here?” She distances herself from her thoughts, focusing on the voice, the man in front of her. His eyes glance around the garden. “Where is your guard?”

She shakes the cobwebs away, “lost in thought.” His gait stiffens and she watches as his vigilance returns.

Once a templar, always a templar.

He glances anxiously at the setting sun, then at her. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes,” he replies hastily and clears his throat. “I really must get back.” He informs her, furrowing his eyebrows together. “And we must find your guard.”

“Do you come to the garden for quiet as well?” She asks as they walk back toward the rotunda.

He pauses, rubbing the back of his neck. “The Inquisitor and I were… playing a game.” He admits. She follows his gaze to the chess table. She recognizes it, which is good but doesn’t remember how to play. The Queen protects the King, that’s all she remembers.

“It’s been a while since I’ve played.”

“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.” He realizes, his expression softening for a brief moment. “

“I think my father taught me.” It’s too foggy still, but she remembers playing some sort of game with her father and brother. An ache twists in her gut and suddenly she misses this game she has forgotten how to play. “Would you like to play a game?” She whispers.

“I- I’m sorry?”

She straightens her posture as if that might help her find her voice. “Would you like to play a game?” She reiterates, louder this time.

She catches a glimpse of his lips curling upward into a smile. “Perhaps another time? I really must get back.” She nods her head.

“I’m sorry, ser! Dorian and Gilles were arguing, and she slipped –.” Kester stammers, running up to them out of breath.

“Do not let this become a habit,” Cullen interrupts. “If you cannot perform your job adequately, I will find someone else who can.” He storms off and she swears she sees steam coming out of his ears.

Why does he hate her so much?

She whispers an apology to Kester. It’s her fault he got in trouble.

“Just let me know when you need a breather, next time, miss.” He replies, shushing her apologies.  

“You know you could have any man of your choosing,” Gilles comments. “You have the exotic good looks that they drool over.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m not interested.”
He sighs, squeezing her hand. “You can’t mourn over him forever, you know. People will stop caring. They always do.”

She plucks a single red rose from the garden and they return to her brother and Dorian, the perfume from the rose lifting her spirits as she walks. When she approaches the alcove, she realizes she’s plucked every single petal off the rose, leaving a trail behind her. Kester takes his leave and she pouts, tossing the stem onto the table. “Feeling lovesick, are we?” Dorian asks, snatching up the stem and scrutinizing it for clues.

“Huh?” 

“Never mind him, Izzy. Where were you!? We were supposed to move onto famous Orlesian poets next! Now we’re behind!” Gilles laments, falling into the loveseat behind him dramatically.

“I didn’t think we were moving on given the two of you were arguing, again.” She snaps, white-hot rage trickling into her veins. “And what is the point of learning all this? I doubt our parents will be quizzing me on Orlesian poets or who was the greatest scandal of the Orlesian court two hundred years ago.” She doesn’t remember her parents very well and what she remembers of her mother is nothing good.

“I’m afraid she might be right,” Dorian comments. “We should be focusing on the rules of etiquette and decorum, rather than fastidious details of history.”

“I don –” She pauses. Did he say he agrees with her? The corners of her lips curl upward just a little.

“If you feel that way, why haven’t you said anything before now?” Gilles demands.

“Well, then I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with you as I am now,” Dorian divulges, thumbing through a row of books on the shelf to the right of their alcove nonchalantly as her brother blushes.

“I wasn’t aware you felt that way, given all the squabbling we’ve been doing.”

Dorian plucks a book from the shelf and plops it into her hands: The Art of The Grand Game. “Never mind that, we have more important things to do. Your parents arrive in less than a week and you haven’t even been fitted.”

“Fitted?”

“Well, you can’t wear commoner’s clothes during your parent's visit,” Dorian says. “Imagine the scandal!”

“I’ll have to speak with the lady ambassador and I’m sure she’ll be more than willing to help, given that if the Inquisition were to acquire the Delacroix’ support, it would be very beneficial.” Gilles wonders, patting her head as he stands up from his seat. “Yes, you will be a proper Orlesian lady by the time they arrive.”

She doesn’t like this one bit and her insides itch for the song. Maybe it will take away this uncomfortable feeling dwelling in the pit of her stomach. “I think I’ll get to reading.” She says, waving the thick book in the air and descends down the stairs, beelining for the safety of her room. If they objected, she doesn’t hear, nor care. Her head feels like it’s splitting, and she tosses the book on her bed, groaning. She’ll read it later. She wishes her parents would stay away. She doesn’t want to see them.

Doesn’t want them to see her like this, because she knows no matter how much they doll her up, she will remain what she always has been: an addict and a mage.

We wait.

Chapter Text

There is no sleeping the night before her parents arrive. She is a bundle of nerves and no matter how many fancy Orlesian outfits she has or etiquette she’s been taught, she can’t help but feel the crackle of electricity in her veins and the lyrium that still calls for her under the floorboard.

She will never be more than an addict and a mage.

The walks along the battlements help but she’s walked alone the past week. When she catches glimpses of the Commander, he seems distant, fatigued, stressed, which is unusual. When she’s in his presence, he seems annoyed and on edge.

She wonders if he is struggling with his addiction but doesn’t want to impose. It doesn’t seem proper for one addict to reach out to another. Maybe it’s all in her head. She doesn’t sleep at all but stares at the ceiling, clutching the vial in her hands with an iron grip.

The door opens as the sun rises. She knows this because the sunlight always shines brightly through her window, flooding the room with its radiance. She greets Kester with a sheepish grin, knowing she’ll get an earful from him about not sleeping.  “We’ve got to get you dressed and ready for your parents’ arrival. They will be here by midday.”

She acquiesces and follows Kester to Gilles’ room, still in her nightgown. He is meeting with Josephine and has allowed her to get ready in his room, given how tiny hers is.  She is hoping he’ll still be there, but she is only greeted with darkness and silence as they enter his room. “Your servants will be here shortly,” Kester informs her and leaves the room. She wonders why he’s left her alone. A tub is situated on the stone by the mirror, filled with water but it’s cold now. She sticks her hand in, mustering what little mana she has left to warm the water and then strips her clothes, stepping in the tub. The water is crystal clear and reveals her pale skin. A scar marks her inner thigh. Jagged, angry tissue that culminates too close to her vagina. She relaxes in the bath, hand lazily tracing the surface of the water.

She stays like this until the servants enter. They wash her hair and body vigorously, scrubbing her lugs until they are smooth and shiny. Without so much as a break, they begin plucking her eyebrows and untangling the knots in her hair. She winces as they pull on her hair, careful to avoid tugging out her stitches. Her only reprieve is when they leave her cold and naked to fetch the dress Dorian and Gilles decided upon.

When they return, they usher her into multiple layers of clothing, and she feels stifled, especially when they help her slip into some sort of vest. She thinks they have called it a corset but doesn’t remember and doesn’t dare ask, mostly because she can feel her body conform to it as they tighten the straps. She doesn’t like the way it makes her look. It’s meant to accentuate women who aren’t skin-and-bones and it fails to do so on her. She likes the color of the dress on her, however. It draws the eye away from her red hair and it’s such a deep shade of green, it reminds her of forgotten memories when she was a child playing in the garden. The song doesn’t draw her attention and for a moment, she feels pretty, if it weren’t for the heavy make-up coating her face and the tightness of her hair from being twisted and braided into a lavish style. A servant tried to paint her lips red, saying it would complement her complexion, but she swatted her away. Her lips would remain uncolored.  Once they are finished, she stares at the reflection in the mirror. Her face feels heavy and discolored. She’s unrecognizable.

At this point, she wishes she was in her cell still. All this was necessary just to keep her mother happy? It seemed excessive, but she takes her brother’s arm when he comes to fetch her for the arrival of their parents and keeps her mind blank as they walk to the courtyard. He whispers something in her ear, but she is all anxiety and just nods her head.

Two armored men on horses enter the gate first. Both the horses and men are clad in armor from head to toe and she thinks, again, it’s a bit excessive. The ambassador and seeker are waiting by the gate already as they make their way toward them. The ambassador looks worried and Cassandra looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. She’s glad it’s not just her who feels on edge.

“It’s about time you two arrived,” Cassandra chides.

She thinks she can make it through her parent’s visit if the Seeker is present.

“Terribly sorry, Seeker,” Gilles apologizes.

The ambassador shushes them as a carriage enters the gates of Skyhold, drawn by four horses and comes to a halt in the middle of the courtyard.

“Why are you here, Seeker?” Gilles leans into Cassandra’s ear.

She grumbles. “The Commander couldn’t be bothered by something as ridiculous as this, so he passed it off to me.”

Of course, he couldn’t.

“And we needed someone present that is in charge of her recovery.”

“Both of you, hush.” The ambassador whispers harshly.

A footman opens the carriage door and a woman steps out, using the footman as leverage. She is wearing an ornate, jeweled dark blue gown and a silver jeweled mask to complement both the gown and her graying hair. She doesn’t wait for her husband as she walks toward them, and she feels her eyes looking her up and down with scorn.

“Hello, mother!” Gilles embraces her, planting a kiss on both of her cheeks. “I am so glad you made the journey to Skyhold without a scratch on you!”

She notices his sarcasm and is surprised that the woman does not. “It is wonderful to see you again, my son.”

She’s sure both wish demons, bandits, or something spooked them on their journey and changed their mind. Regrettably, the woman in front of her, mother, glances at her and then turns away without so much as a hello. Gilles takes her hand in his and squeezes it, sharing a knowing look with her.

“You must be the ambassador we have been communicating with. Lady Montilyet, is it?” Mother queries. “It is wonderful to finally meet you. I am so sorry to hear about the trouble that’s been befalling your family. Such a shame, isn’t it?” She clasps the ambassador’s hands and smiles sweetly at her. The ambassador’s face pales for a second before regaining its color.

“Lady Delacroix,” the Ambassador smiles back at her. “We are grateful to have you and your husband come visit us at Skyhold.” 

Mother clears her throat. “Yes, it seems I failed to mention this. My husband could not come. He has fallen too ill to make the journey.” She glances over at Gilles and her, trying to elicit a reaction.

“Mother? Why didn’t you send us a raven?” His hand drops from hers and he stares at mother, aghast.

“He did not want you to worry, child,” she laments.

“We are sorry to hear that. If there is anything we can do, please let us know.” Josephine offers her condolences.

“Who is this? Is this the Lady Seeker, Hero of Orlais, Cassandra Pentaghast?” Mother inquires. “I am most surprised you agreed to such a controversial organization, Lady Pentaghast.” She admonishes.

 “Nic?” She whispers, softly staring at the young man in front of her. Tears well in her eyes. Her vision blurs, knees threatening to buckle. “Nic, is that really you?” The staff in her grasp falls to the ground as she runs toward his open arms crying hysterically. “Are you stuck here? What’s happened?” Her breath hitches as she collides into his chest and she traces his chest and arms with her fingers in disbelief, but he is real; skin and flesh.

“The Templars tricked me. They left me here with no way out and I’ve been here ever since, but if you let me in, I can be free!” He kisses the top of her tousled red curls, “We can be together again.”

She sighs, content to be in his arms again but a strange sensation envelops her. It leaves her mind fuzzy and her heart stops beating for an instant. “Let you in…?” She blurts. “Why would I –oh.” She pulls away from him, grief overcoming her. “You’re not Nicolas. How dare you take his form and tempt me! You…  you—"

“Monster? Demon?” He finishes her sentence, his voice is deeper, scarier; and she flinches.

Her harrowing. A hand grasps her shoulder. Mother is staring at her expectantly. “You look like her, but I know you are not. My Isaura is dead. What manner of organization preys on an old woman’s heart like so?” She glares at her and then at the other two women. “Well?” She demands.

“That is your daughter! What manner of fools do you –” Cassandra begins, but Josephine places a hand on her shoulder.

“We have much to discuss, but perhaps it is best to wait until our guests have settled in. You must be very tired from their journey.” she placates.

“Indeed. My body is not used to the arduous demands of travel as it once was.” She drops her purse as a servant comes scurrying in to pick it up, dusting it off any. “Where are my quarters?” She gestures for another servant to retrieve her belongings from the carriage.

“Of course, my lady. Let me show you to your quarters,” Josephine motions for them to follow her up the stairs leading to Skyhold.

“Thank the Maker for Josephine Montilyet,” Gilles mumbles as they stand by the carriage, watching their mother follow up the stairs, doubtless muttering angrily about the blasted steps.

“Maker’s breath, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more insufferable person. Who in Andraste’s name invited her?” Cassandra groans.

“I believe she invited herself,” he sighs.

We have found the dreams again.

Chapter Text

Isaura stumbles into a conversation she shouldn’t have.  The two of them - Dorian and Gilles - are leaned in on a loveseat, whispering conspiratorially, and it would have only taken a second to turn around, but her feet seemed glued to the ground as she stood interrupting their conversation.  They cease and pull away, creating a sizeable gap between them. “Hello, Izzy. What brings you to our modest alcove?” Gilles smiles at her, combing his fingers through his hair.

“Kester allowed me to visit the library during some of my free time.” She replies, running a hand along the spines of books lined up on the shelves. “What are you two gossiping about?” She wonders if they know about the lyrium in her room, if they want it, too and then proceeds to pinch her arm, sufficiently leaving a small mark. No one wants the song. She doesn’t even want it anymore.

“Oh, nothing. Dorian here is just telling me about all the latest trends in Tevinter,” Gilles prattles. “By the way, you look absolutely stunning. Green is your color, truly.” She glances down, having forgotten she is wearing another dress that doesn’t accentuate her body. According to Gilles, she must not be seen in anything else for the duration of their mother’s visit. She hates being forced to cater to her mother’s expectations, act the part of a noble lady, one she was never allowed to play and wishes their mother would return to Orlais. They haven’t even dined together yet, an experience she is dreading even more than the frilly dresses.

She ignores his compliment. “Seriously? You expect me to believe all the fuss and secrecy is about Tevinter fashion?”

Dorian lowers his face into his hands and groans. “You are a terrible liar, you know that?”

“It’s not my fault you chose a public space to discuss such a sensitive matter! And look what happened!” Gilles laments, throwing his hands in the air.

She pulls a book out from the bookshelf and skims the title: A Guide to Tracking Drakes, Dragons, and Wyverns, and then slides it back into place. “So…are you two going to let me in on your secret?”

“What are you two giggling about? We really should be studying.” Isaura observes as her two friends have been gossiping more than reading in the past hour. They reserved a small study space in the Circle library, and clearly, the privacy was going to waste.

“Oh, please Isaura! Live a little,” her friend, Coralie cries. “Nina is in love!” She clutches her hands over her heart and pretends to swoon.

“With a Templar,” Isaura comments. “Which is forbidden.” She rolls her eyes, refocusing on the texts in front of her.

“He’s going to leave the Order and take me with him! We’re going to get married and have babies and live happily ever after!” Nina gushes, resulting in a gasp from Coralie.

Isaura slams the text closed and glares at the two of them. “Do you realize how foolish you sound? That is never going to happen, and even if it were to, the Templars would track you down because they will still have your phylactery! We are trapped here, so I advise you learn to live with it and not make your life any more difficult.”

They exchange looks before motioning for her to sit down across from them in the alcove. “You have been recovering well,” Gilles begins, “but all the records I’ve –”

Dorian clears his throat.

“We’ve,” Gilles corrects, “found does not bode well for you, sister.”

“Essentially, we’ve been pooling our resources and brains for a fix-it-all to your problem.” Dorian finishes.

The room spins, and she darts to the chair.  In a rush, she stumbles out, “What do you mean?”

“There is only so far you can heal if recovery is truly a possibility and not a pretense. It is likely that the progression is only delayed because you’re a mage. More specifically, our regular consumption of lyrium. It’s possible it’s resulted in a resistance to the red lyrium.”

The rhythmic pounding of her heart is all she can hear.

“If this works, Samson might not need that armor after all.” A Templar comments as two others hold her down, knees pressed to the ground, forcing her mouth open; force-feeding the red lyrium. She fights them with every inch of her body, but they are so strong, it’s almost inhumane. Every retaliation is met with hands tightening around her wrists.

“Why not have both?” Another asks. She squirms, biting down on a finger that strayed too close to her mouth. She tastes blood, but different. More like the red substance she is trying to get away from. A kick in her gut sends her collapsing to the ground, and she now tastes her own blood. “Stupid bitch,” they sneer.

She remembers this. The day they forced the red down her throat, the day her life ended.

“Isaura, do you understand what we’re saying?” Gilles reaches a hand out, snapping her back to reality, where she is sitting across from her brother and friend in the library alcove.

“Darlings, knowledge before one is ready can be a terrible burden, don’t you think?” A familiar voice calls out, a draft sending chills down her spine. She shivers and glances up at the approaching figure.  The style of outfit and accent is one she is accustomed to, but besides that, they are nothing alike. Her skin is dark brown, and she maintains a shaved head. There is a reason for this hairstyle, but the reasoning escapes her. “My dear, you look absolutely terrible. Have they been feeding you?”

Isaura flinches at the line of questioning. Does she look that terrible? They even dolled her up again, not that it matters apparently.

“Vivienne. For what do we owe this pleasure to?” Dorian inquires, shifting in his seat to better face the woman. The disdain contorting his face paints a clear picture of their relationship, which she concludes is not one of friendliness.

“Why, whatever does one come to a library for, Dorian? Imagine my surprise when I saw you three. I simply had to say hello.” Vivienne rests her perfectly manicured nails on the back of the armchair. Isaura is trying to determine how she knows this woman. Was it before or after her imprisonment? Perhaps she’s seen the woman around Skyhold, yes, that must be it.

“Well, it was wonderful for you to pop in, but we were in the middle of something.” Gilles interrupts. His hands tap on his legs.

“Why yes dear, I am well aware,” Vivienne implores. “Before I take my leave, I was speaking with your mother and she absolutely obliges you attend dinner with us this evening,” she mentions. “Both of you.”

The woman smirks at her and heads toward another section of the library. Since when did this woman know mother? “Andraste’s ass. Now we have to deal with both of them in the same room at the same time?” Gilles complains.

Why does mother want her there? She’s made it clear she desires no relation with her and then what, decides she does? Her mind wanders to he lyrium tucked safely under her floorboards. Is that her escape from the nightmare that will be tonight?

“Mother hates me,” she acknowledges, thumbing through the book in front of her. “She’s hated me long before my magic manifested.”

“Isaura, you know that’s not true,” Gilles insists. “Mother isn’t the most loving woman. We’re likely to get more affection from a statue than her.”

She turns a page and looks up at her brother. Stubble is starting to grow on his face and his voice has changed since they last saw each other. She doesn’t even recall the last time he visited her. Maker, she hates missing them grow up. “Oh, don’t give me that! She absolutely adores you and fawns over Amandine.”

“To be fair sister, Amandine is still a child and don’t worry, she won’t adore me much longer.”

The memory fades away, leaving her sitting in the library once more.  “Then I shall use this reprieve as a chance to read further,” Dorian affirms.

“Are you certain? Why not enjoy some alone time?” Gilles asks.

Dorian gasps, pretending to be offended by her brother. “Perish the thought that this research is enjoyable!”

Gilles rolls his eyes and chuckles.

She doesn’t understand why they are helping and freezes mid-thought, “Why?” No one cares about what happens to her, the voice nags in the back of her mind.

Gilles stops tapping his fingers, “to find a cure for red lyrium. For you.” He sits still, only moving to blink as he stares at her. “I will not lose you. You are supposed to die after me.” Die. Dying, she despises that word. A constant reminder she must accept her fate sooner than she wants to.

“I need air,” she mumbles, clenching a hand and digging her nails into her palm. The light was too bright, Dorian and Gilles were too close and her thoughts too loud in her head. Rushing out of the chair, she stumbles down the stairs, only to trip on the hem of her dress as the distance between the stone floor and herself closes in, but they never collide. Her face lingers inches away from the floor and the distance grows until she is upright and with the Commander. “H-hello, Cull – I mean Ser – Commander.” He is glaring at her and a firm sensation wraps her upper arm. His eyes are a million miles away, staring through her and she wonders if he’s aware how tight his hold remains. “C-commander?”

He releases her, a look of concern flashing over his features. “You’re bleeding,” he states, inspecting her elbow.

She jerks her arm away and glances at the injury, scraped and barely noticeable. “Oh, that? It’s only a superficial wound. Nothing some hot water and a bandage dressing won’t fix.” She reassures him. “I- I’m terribly sorry for imposing on you,” she stutters.   

“Are you all right?” He clears his throat, eyes flitting about the room.

Footsteps approach and she peeks behind Cullen to see Dorian and Gilles walking toward them. “Andraste bless the Commander! What’s next for our hero? Saving cats from trees?” Dorian exclaims.

Gilles rushes to her side and fawns over her scrape and then the hem of her dress, which she didn’t realize she’d torn until now.

“It hardly warrants being hailed a hero, I wasn’t about to let her fall. Most would have done the same.” Cullen retorts.

“She really shouldn’t be wearing such frivolous attire. It’s hardly suitable, given her condition.”  Isaura brushes off her brother’s fawning, glaring at him. I would hardly be in this situation if it weren’t for an Inquisition agent telling my parents that I was alive, she wants to shout, but she fears his wrath more than her retribution. “Perhaps she would be better suited wearing an outfit similar to Cullen’s.”

Cullen glances at her and then Gilles. “If that saves her from any future incidents, it’s a sound plan.

“Are you offering her your clothes?” Dorian teases. “What a delicious thought! I’d be more than happy to watch that. To stop anything untoward from occurring, of course.” He winks at Cullen.

Her heart hammers in her chest at the lewd suggestion, and she stares at Dorian, dumbfounded.  She really wishes she were back in that cage right now.

“Maker – No, I’m saying it’s a safety hazard!” He stammers, glancing at her and Dorian, a blush creeping up his cheeks. “And where is her guard!?” He snaps, regaining his composure. “Whenever I run into her, she is frolicking about Skyhold without him!”

No. Kester would not get in trouble again, she promised him. “Ser, that is my fault. I ran off without telling him. It won’t happen again. Ser.” Her voice trembles as she speaks, but she doesn’t break eye contact with him, even though all she wants to do is hide under a rock.

“Stationed as your guard, he should know your whereabouts at all times per my orders. You would have not the ability to ‘run off’ were he performing his duties.” Cullen pinches the bridge of his nose. “I am assigning you another guard.” He spins around and storms off through the door leading to the battlements. If steam could truly hiss from one’s ears, it would definitely be from his.

“Well, that was fun,” Gilles comments. “Let’s find Kester and get you fixed up and ready for dinner tonight.” He glances over Dorian. “Let us know if you find anything worthwhile.”

Dorian nods his head, and they make it halfway up the stairs when they almost collide with Kester, who looks out of breath and frantic.

“Merciful Andraste! Would you please stop running off on me?” He begs as he bends down to catch his breath.

“I’ll try?” She looks down at the ground, fervently scrutinizing the stonework of the stairs.

“What happened to you?” He gestures to her cut-up elbow and the torn hem of her dress. “Maker help me, the Commander is going to have my ass handed to me.”

“I’m fine, Kester. Truly. Well, I should be if I can make it through tonight’s affair.” She almost forgot about it, and the feeling of dread creeps back into the pit of her stomach, eating away at her.

“I must be Thedas’ worst guard. What is tonight?” His face contorts into dismay, and the feeling in her stomach grows, twisting inside. Nausea threatens to overcome her. Focus on breathing. Inhale. Exhale. The song calls for her, beckoning her toward its sweet embrace.

 “Don’t fret so much, Kester. We were just informed by Madame de Fer not too long ago. Mother would like us to dine with her.” Gilles steps in, placing a hand on the small of her back. Her breathing steadies though the heaviness in her stomach remains. “She needs to look after that wound, should it fester, and will need a new dress for tonight. Can you see to that? I need to figure out when and where this dinner is, as we received no specifics.”

“Of course, my lord.”

Gilles kisses her cheek and waves them off. She doesn’t really care about the hem of her dress or the scrape on her elbow and would dine with mother like this just to irk her.

Kester holds the door open for her and reminds her he’s right outside, should he be needed and that he’s sent for a servant to come by with a filled basin. Her heart pounds slowly in her chest, aching. What would she do without him? She thinks back on what Cullen said, another guard. This is her fault. If she hadn’t disappeared on him, Kester wouldn’t be facing Cullen’s wrath. As she combs through the chest of dresses, she wonders if she can reason with Cullen. She exclaims as her eyes land on a light blue dress akin to the one she’s wearing now and undresses, discarding the green dress onto her bed just as a servant comes in, setting the basin on her dresser. The woman’s eyes trail the length of her body, most likely noticing the multitude of scars that decorate it and her spider-veined legs. Feeling self-conscious, she grabs the sheets from her bed and drapes it around her, hiding her body from sight.  “Apologies, miss.” The servant stammers, averting her gaze. “Do you need help changing?” She drapes a washcloth on the edge of the basin, eyes still pointed away.

“No, I will be fine.” She reaches for the washcloth, glancing at the girl, “Thank you.” The girl leaves her alone once more, and she squeezes the washcloth and gently rubs the scrape on her elbow. The dress sleeves are longer than the former and will hide the injury from mother. She won't be pleased if she notices.

When is she ever pleased?

The cloth catches on some torn skin, pulling it off with the fabric and she flinches.  The song calls to her as she stares at the bit of flesh on the cloth and she absentmindedly traces the stitches on her head. A tinge of guilt consumes her, grasping the little hair she has left.  Just to be safe, she washes off the excess in the basin and sanitizes her elbow once more. Looking around the bowl for a dressing, she grimaces, realizing she forgot to ask for one. Deciding she’ll go without, she shimmies on the dress, tightening the straps and looks into the mirror, wanting to know how the dress looks on her. It’s a softer shade, the color of the sky on a sunny day but it’s not as elegant as the green dress. It complements her pale skin and highlights what’s left of her copper red hair.

“Am I pretty? Good enough? Does it matter? Proving them wrong won’t matter if I die. I can’t die.”

She turns away from the mirror, “Cole?”

“I want to help others, but your thoughts scream so much louder than theirs. How can I help them if I can’t hear them?” He whispers, cross-legged on her bed.

“Can… can you turn off my thoughts?” She asks. He can’t help her, and she doesn’t know how to help him. A double-edged sword.

“It doesn’t work like that. They are there, and then they aren’t. Flitting, fleeting; the loud drowning out the soft.”

She sits beside him on the bed and rests a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Cole, but soon you’ll be able to help others.”

“Dying, I’m dying. Too young to die, too young! I can’t die!” He cries, startling her and she jumps back in fright.

“That is out of my control,” she replies, settling herself beside him again.

“Wooden boards. The red haunts, the blue calls. If I can’t help, how will you get better? I’ll help. I’ll find a way to help.” He cries and vanishes with the blink of her eyes, leaving her dazed, unsure of what just happened.

Does he know? Will he tell them about her secret stash?

She shuts her eyes, takes a deep breath and pushes off the bed. It’s time to stop running away from her problems. Confronting Cullen would have to wait, but she will see it through. Leaving Gilles alone with their mother was not an option.

 We will awaken.

Chapter Text

Isaura seats herself next to mother, who is sitting at the head of the table. She looks every part of the strong matriarch and is the only one adorning a mask. Gilles sits across from her and they share knowing looks. Tonight, will not be easy. Much to her dismay, Kester does not take the seat beside her. He reminds her that he is just a foreigner, a commoner at best and stands guard nearby. They are dining at one of the many tables in the throne room, which she finds odd because mother strikes her as one for discretion. Yet, as she glances about the great hall it is eerily empty. Perhaps mother got her privacy, after all. Why are they going to all this trouble for mother? Whatever they hope to obtain from mother, she’s convinced they could have an easier time receiving from another noble. The woman from earlier, Vivienne, is sipping her goblet, eyeing the table with a faint glimmer of amusement sparkling in her eyes. Isaura doesn’t like the way the corners of her mouth curl upward ever so slightly when the cup reaches her lips.

“Are you certain that is appropriate dining attire? One blunder and the dress will be in ruin.” Mother chides, shooing away a servant that offers to fill her glass.

“I think we must give credit when it’s due, my dear. It’s a bold move, one that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Perhaps that was her intention?” Vivienne intercedes.

Both of them are insane, she concludes, but it appears mother would have had a fit, regardless.

Gilles tries to object to the servant filling her cup with wine, but she glances at him pointedly. The wine will ease her nerves, and seeing as mother has already started criticizing her, she needs it. A chill crept down her spine as the wine is decanted. No matter what, she cannot get away from the song. Even in sobriety, it tries to lure her back.  

“So, mother. What do you think about this arcane advisor Empress Celene has, whispering into her ear day in and day out?” Gilles queries quickly followed by a gulp of wine.  

“Do not think your gaucheness has gone unnoticed young man, but I will indulge you. Empress Celene will lose supporters in this Civil War because of her dalliances. Madame de Fer would have been better suited to the appointment, especially given the rumors that this advisor is an apostate seeking refuge in her the Empress’ court.” Servants exit from the kitchen with plates of food and the mouth-watering smell wafts through her nostrils. She ignores the mindless conversation and focuses on the plate being placed in front of her. Red meat sits on the side of the plate. It’s been a very long time since she’s had steak.

Gilles rests his hands on his head and leans back in the chair. “Personally, I think it’s fascinating. I hear she’s quite the beauty, too.” His eyes are glistening with mischief. “That is if you go for that sort of thing, which none of us at this table do.” Isaura covers her mouth with her hand to hide the smile that is threatening her poised demeanor. They were supposed to be playing by mother’s rules.  That was what the etiquette lessons were for, but Gilles has just thrown all of that into the raging fire.

“Gilles Delacroix! You will curb that tongue before I have it cut off!” Mother barks. The edges of her face are as red as the wine, and she doesn’t think she’s ever seen mother like this, but truthfully, she doesn’t recall. The mask mother wears rarely comes off.

“Ah, there is our mother! Hard to be civilized when your only son likes dick as much as you do.” Gilles smirks and downs the rest of his cup, waving for the servant to refill it. Kester snickers quietly in the background.

“Perhaps, we should skip the pleasantries,” Vivienne says.

“Very well,” mother responds. She takes a sip from the goblet and then looks between Gilles and her. “Isaura will be returning to the chateau with us.”

Her eyes widen, followed by trembling hands as she places the cup back on the table. “And you believe the Inquisition will let you just…part with her?”

“We do not own her, my dear. Your mother and I have been talking at length and believe it be best if your sister were to…live out her remaining days at home.”

 Gilles glances at her, watching for a reaction, but she is frozen in place. There are so many things wrong with this conversation. Home is not there. It hasn’t been for more than a decade. If she returns with them, she will die. Even before she does, her hope will fade, and she will be just a shell of a human. “And I suppose you want her to be home with her loving parents and it has nothing to do with gaining sympathy from your fellow nobles?” Gilles exclaims. He glares accusatorially at both the women. “No. I will not allow this. She is not even fit to –”

“Brother,” Isaura lifts a hand to cut him off. “I can speak for myself,” she takes a deep breath. “Mother, I am not coming back with you. That estate has not been home to me for some time now. I am safe here, and it is where I choose to be.”

“You are scarcely capable of making a sound judgement, Isaura. That estate, as you so put it, was where you were born and it will be where you die. Madame de Fer and I are already discussing terms with Ambassador Montilyet.” Mother cuts into the steak, blood pooling around the plate where she’s dug in.

“The Inquisitor won’t let this stand,” Isaura exclaims. Truthfully, she doesn’t know. If the right deal is struck, he would let her go. She brings the cup to her lips, but the wine is gone. She waves over a servant to refill it.

“Why do you want her gone, Madame de Fer?” Gilles interrupts, a soft kick thudding against her knee under the table. What is he up to?

“I only wish for her to be comfortable in her final days. Your mother assures me that the estate will guarantee that.”

“I –”

“Shouldn’t that be up to me?” Isaura asks. Her hands shakily cut a piece of meat apart, but it just sits on her plate, no longer feeling hungry. She would die comfortably with the song humming to her. That is what she thought was going to happen.

Not this.

“Sorry I’m late!” A man strolls up to the table and seats himself beside Gilles. “You know, it’s extremely rude to eat before everyone is present.” He shakes his head disapprovingly at mother. “Vivienne, did you forget to tell them that I was coming?” He glances at the shocked looks from the table and pours himself a glass of wine.

“I was not expecting you to come, Inquisitor.” Vivienne forces a smile, raising her glass to greet him.

“Did I speak in a foreign language, then? I’m sure I told you I would be here. I wasn’t supposed to be late. I blame that entirely on Varric. He enjoys hearing himself talk all too much.”

“Your worship,” mother says, eyes fastened to Vivienne as she speaks. “A pleasure to have you join us.”

“Yes, very much so! We were just talking about how mother wants to bring Isaura back to our estate in Orlais. Can you imagine?” Gilles smirks at her.

Isaura shifts uncomfortable in her seat, suddenly feeling woozy. “Well, that’s a shame. I imagine that she would be safer at Skyhold, given the current state of your chateau.”

Gilles raises an eyebrow suspiciously. “What is he talking about, mother?”
“Inquisitor, thank you for your concern regarding my daughter’s well-being, but I assume care of her. The burden is mine to bear.”

“Of course. It is a mother’s burden, but given the uprising and attempted assassination, maybe it would be wise if you were to stay here with her for the meantime.”

“Mother…is that why father isn’t here?” Gilles asks. Her heart thuds loudly in her chest, engulfing her senses as silence settles uncomfortably around them.

Mother sighs and rests the silverware on her plate. “Yes, one of your father’s noble friends decided that it would be better if we were removed.”

“So, then…” Gilles trails off.

Neither of them wanted to ask, but they needed to know. “Your father is still alive. Praise the Maker, Amandine was away. It seems whoever those traitors hired were amateurs at best.”

“Isn’t it nice to just skip all the dancing? Makes conversation much simpler.” Alexander says with a playful smile.

“With all due respect, Inquisitor it still does not change the fact that I do not want my children associated with your…organization.”

“That’s why you want me to come home. Not because you’re concerned for me, but because you think you can control me because of my… condition and if I go, Gilles will follow.” Isaura states. Of course, mother would be trying to protect her image. This does not shock her in the slightest. In fact, she found herself expecting it. When had mother ever done something out of altruism?

“You play The Game well, Inquisitor. I will capitulate tonight.” She folds the towelette and tosses it gently on her plate. “I will retire to my chambers for the evening. Good-night.” She pushes the chair back and leaves the hall, heels clicking as she does.

“I should take my leave as well,” Vivienne says.

“Nonsense. Do stay. I would like to know your relationship with Isaura and her family.” Alexander gestures for her to sit back down and for the servants to pour another round of drinks. “You both lived in Montsimmard Circle, correct?”

She stared at Vivienne, jaw-dropping with realization.

“These walls seem dreadful now, but you will learn to love them. You are home.” Vivienne croons, pushing Isaura’s hair out of her face.

“I want my mom.” Isaura sniffles. She doesn’t like this place, and there are more mean men here. They stare at her as she walks past them. Eyes always trained on her.  

“The Circle is your family now. Learn to rely on them, if you must, but ultimately, rely on no one but yourself.” The woman gestures for her sit beside her on the loveseat. “Let me show you something,” she says, waving away the Templars. “I will see to it myself she is settled in.”

“I see you finally remember me,” Vivienne says, and Isaura reddens furiously, realizing she’s been staring. “It was not long after I became First Enchanter of Montsimmard Circle that Isaura came to us. I knew who she was, of course. Her family is a distant relation to the de Ghislain family and I had received a letter from her father asking me to help her adjust to life in the Circle.” She folds her hands on her lap. “I expected it be a nuisance. After all, the Circle received plenty of similar letters from distraught parents, but I had to tread carefully because of their relations to my Bastien.”

“I didn’t know father wrote to the Circle. I thought he had just accepted Izzy’s fate.” Gilles says.

“Your father wrote to the Circle more than I would have liked. Always asking how she was faring, sending money and gifts to her when he thought his wife wouldn’t notice.” Vivienne replies.

“I… I thought he didn’t care.” Isaura whispers. Dread slinks up her stomach. All this time she hated father. She had misjudged him completely.

“Would you like to explain to them now why you arranged for this dinner?” Alexander interrupts.

Vivienne said mother requested their appearance for dinner. Why did she lie?

“I maintained correspondence with your father during my time as First Enchanter. Simply put, my dears, he worried what would happen if he were to perish before his wife. I feared something happened when she came to visit without him. It appears my suspicions were correct.”

“You think mother hired those assassins,” Gilles states. “It makes sense. It’s convenient that they struck when Amandine was away, but mother gets away with barely a scratch?”

“I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated than that,” Alexander says, sipping the wine.

“How so?”

 “Lady Josette made a deal with Samson,” Vivienne answers.

“What manner of sick human would sell out their own child?” Gilles fumes. “What could she possibly stand to gain?” She isn’t sure what she just heard. Her mother was going to give her to the red templars. Why? “Isaura, breathe.” She hears Gilles whisper, and strong arms enclose around her. He rubs the small of her back, but the act feels so distant. She feels each heartbeat in her chest. “Did you find out who told her Izzy was here?”

“There’s a spy in the Inquisition,” Alexander replies. “Leliana and Cullen have already compiled a list of possible moles. It will be tricky, however. We do have plenty of spies in the Inquisition and we don’t want to tip off the wrong ones.”

“Hold on,” Isaura mumbles. “How long have you known this?”

Alexander sighs, “as soon as Vivienne heard your mother was coming to Skyhold. I’m sorry. We couldn’t risk telling you. None of us knew how to process the information, but we do now.”

She shakes her head, trying to clear the fog in her head. Everything is overwhelming. Is she still here? She holds her breath, trying to keep the room from spinning. “You want to use me as bait.”

“We don’t think Samson will risk being there for the meeting, but one of his captains will be. If we can capture them, maybe we can get the information we need to take him down.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Izzy's not ready.” Gilles says.

“I’ll do it,” Isaura speaks up, meeting Alexander’s gaze. “I want him to pay. I want them all to pay.”

If she was going to die, she would take them down with her.

Chapter Text

 

They waited a few days before changing their minds. Leliana’s agents needed to figure out exactly what sort of arrangement mother had struck, and they didn’t want to tip her off by changing their minds so suddenly. Isaura couldn’t wait for that smug look on mother’s smug face to disappear when the deal goes awry.

What this meant for the next couple of days was Isaura scurrying around Skyhold performing her normal duties in a bundle of nervous energy. Morris dismissed her from the kitchen early every morning and bruises littered her stomach and arms from her exercises, all due to the distracted thoughts coursing through her mind. Cassandra looked exasperated every time she failed to parry or block a blow, but she didn’t stop; determination glimmering in her eyes and every failure was met with brutal rounds, and even more running.

“Isaura,” the Commander greets her with a swift nod at the foot of the stairs in the rotunda. She halts, one foot on the first step and turns around to welcome him, half-heartedly waving at him. Kester is already on the second floor, and she bounces her leg anxiously, not wanting Cullen to notice he is seemingly missing again.

“Commander,” she says. His stance is rigid and cool, watching her with the same wariness she became accustomed to at the Circle. However, there is a tiredness to him, bags present under his eyes, head slightly jolting and his hand trembles against his thigh. She knows that signs all too well and almost begins to sympathize with the man, but then remembers: every choice he made brought him to where he is now.

“I am glad I ran into you. It saves me the task of having to track you down. Your new guard will be starting tomorrow.” Cullen stiffens his posture and any signs of his addiction fade.

“New? What happened to Kester?” She props a hand on her hip and stares at him. Cullen rubs the bridge of his nose – a signature Cullen move – and sighs. The sigh reminds her of Cassandra, but unlike Cullen, the seeker is actually pleasant and agreeable to be around. The ex-templar, Commander of the Inquisition, drug addict, has proved to be a test of her patience whenever she is in his presence.

“Kester has been transferred,” he says. “If that is all, I have pressing matters to attend to.” Cullen lingers for a brief moment, but when she doesn’t say anything, he turns on his heel and departs the rotunda, through the ramparts and back to his office. She lets go of the breath she was holding, grateful that Cullen seemed to be too preoccupied to notice Kester was not present.

The clearing of a throat startles her, and she is met with the curious gaze of an elf up in the scaffolds, one hand holding a brush, the other wiping sweat away from his forehead. “I’m sorry; I didn’t see you there.”

“I am not offended,” he replies, offering a small smile.

“I, uh, imagine you heard all of that.” She says, running a hand through her hair.

“The Commander has a great deal of disdain toward you,” the elf, Solas, she remembers, says.

Isaura steps down from the stairs and moves towards Solas, curiosity drawing her in. “Yet he seems to respect you. Why is that?” She folds her arms against her chest and tilts her head up. Cullen, in fact, seems to respect Solas, Dorian and Vivienne, but all other mages are meant with disdain.

“I can assure you his respect comes reluctantly. Just as you have been subject to horrors beyond comprehension, he too, has witnessed some of his own. It has made him jaded.” Solas says, dipping his paintbrush into the jar beside him, a vibrant yellow coating the brush and turns his attention to the rotunda wall.

“Yet that was his decision to do so,” she says, viewing the murals that decorate the rotunda wall. The murals are eerily familiar in style and she strokes her chin, deciding that it was a part of the life she remembers little of. They are an array of vivid colors that eclipse the plain wall, the amount of detail staggering, and she wonders where he finds the time for such complexity. “Did you paint all these murals? They are beautiful.”

Solas puts the paintbrush down and turns back to her. “They are frescoes, not murals, and I did, thank you, but do not dally. Is it not the will of your Maker that he serves in the capacity he is able? It is my understanding only women are capable of becoming priests.”

She opens her mouth, quick to respond, but promptly decides against it. Solas is not the enemy and maybe what he says has some merit. “Religion is only a means of validating the oppressor,” She says, earning a disapproving glare from him and shrugs in response.

“You are surrounded by the faithful. It would be wise to watch what you say and whom you say it to,” Solas says and picks up the brush from the jar, resuming his fresco. “Excuse me, but I must finish this before it sets.”

Isaura takes one last look at the finished frescoes, her eyes widening once she realizes what they depict. It is the Inquisition symbol that catches her eye first and upon closer inspection, understands each fresco portrays the life of the Inquisition. From the destruction of the Conclave, which led to the birth of the Inquisition, to the end of the Mage-Templar War and if the pattern were to continue, the outline of the current fresco suggests Solas’ memorialization of the loss and destruction of Haven. What was already beautiful blossomed into a breathtaking masterpiece and she holds her breath in reverence, knowing she might never see something like this again.  

Once she’s satisfied and sure Kester is growing impatient, she begins her ascent up the stairs, muscles aching with every step. The stairway feels much longer than she remembers, and she has to pause halfway through, bending down with her hands on her thighs to catch her breath.

Isaura wants to blame the seeker but knows it is her absent-mindedness that has done this, and Cassandra is only ensuring she learns her lesson. Cassandra was a force to be reckoned with, and she understands why the Inquisitor is so transfixed with her, though he’d never admit it. Based on that one night in the tavern with him, the man was a flirt and didn’t even realize what everyone else except Cassandra and him saw: a man in love.

It seems everyone was in love at Skyhold, or at least the Inquisitor and Gilles were. While she appreciates Dorian and Gilles help trying to find a cure, if she has to witness her brother stare at Dorian with those puppy-dog eyes one more time, she is going to lose it. She makes a mental note to bring it up the next time they are alone, because she likes Dorian and enjoys his company, but she doesn’t think he wants what her brother does, love, and she doesn’t want to see Gilles get hurt. Not after his last love.

She climbs the rest of the steps, waving to Kester as she sets foot on the second floor, finally. She weaves through the people coming and going and sits beside her brother on the loveseat in their usual alcove, smiling at him as she does. It seems everyone was in love at Skyhold, or at least the Inquisitor and Gilles were. While she appreciates Dorian and Gilles help trying to find a cure, if she has to witness her brother stare at Dorian with those puppy-dog eyes one more time, she is going to lose it. She makes a mental note to bring it up the next time they are alone, because she likes Dorian and enjoys his company, but she doesn’t think he wants what her brother does, love, and she doesn’t want to see Gilles get hurt. Not after his last love.

Dorian’s back faces away from them, currently browsing the bookshelf for a particular title and Gilles is watching him with reverence. She unconsciously rolls her eyes and groans, which is a mistake because Dorian turns around, startling her brother and a furious blush creeps up his cheeks, accenting his already prominent freckles.

“Are you alright, my dear?” Dorian asks, eyes darting between the two of them, a hand raised to his chin, stroking his mustache.

Gilles nods his head and she worries if it will roll off any second now from his haste to affirm that everything is, in fact, fine.

“Just a tickle in my throat,” Isaura says, clearing her throat louder than needed. Dorian returns to perusing the shelves and Gilles leans toward her, smacking her arm with the back of his hand. “What?” She whispers through clenched teeth.

“He can’t know, Izzy.” Gilles’ voice drops, sneaking a peek at Dorian, who is engrossed with his search still. He’s giving her those same puppy-dog eyes and she sighs, reaching for his hand.

“Your puppy love will perish with me,” Isaura says, and Gilles breathes a sigh of relief. Gilles props himself back against the chair, a sidelong glance her way before he picks up a book from the table and skims through it, stealing glimpses of Dorian.

“I’ve found it!” Dorian exclaims, and slides a heavy book from the bookshelf, blowing the dust off the cover.

“What did you find?” Gilles and Isaura ask in unison. They look at each other and both of them burst into laughter.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would say there’s some twin telepathy happening,” Dorian smirks, dropping the tome on the table with a thud.

“We’re not twins,” Isaura says, trying to quell the laughter bubbling in her throat.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Dorian remarks, promptly whisking the book Gilles was pretending to read. “Put away that non – ‘Carmenum di Amatus’? Why, I didn’t know you were that wicked.” The title sounds familiar and it’s definitely Tevene. His finger skims along the open pages and then he points to a passage, looking up at them with a mischievous grin. “Did you know this was once banned by the Chantry? Don’t you love forbidden fruit, Gilles?” Dorian asks, winking at him.

“Maker’s breath! No, I didn – I wasn’t – no!” Gilles stammers, burying his face in his hands. A low throaty laugh escapes from Dorian.

“I think you’ve broken my brother, Dorian,” Isaura says, rubbing the small of his back, trying to coax him from his shame. When he doesn’t move from his position, she stops, folding her hands on her lap. “Well, besides discovering Gilles is depraved, what else did you find?” Gilles peeks up from his hands, eyeing Dorian with fervor.

“I believe I’ve found a cure,” Dorian opens.

“Miss!” They are interrupted by Kester jogging up to them, waving his hands in the air frantically. “Miss, Lady Cassandra requires your presence at The Herald’s Rest straightaway!”

Isaura raises an eyebrow at her guard and stands, flattening any crinkles in her dress from being seated. If Cassandra wants to train her more, she is going to give that woman a piece of her mind. Her body cannot handle more injuries of any kind.

“Well, it’s not like I was about to present a key breakthrough or anything.” Dorian grimaces, but he waves her away. “Go on. Best not to keep the Seeker waiting. I’ll be here when you return. Doubtless the same can be said of our dear seeker.”

“I will see you later Izzy,” Gilles says, his head lifted finally. She smiles at them and follows Kester down the stairs and through the rotunda, passing by Solas, who is still intently focused on the fresco. ‘I believe I’ve found a cure.’ Dorian’s words echo in her mind. For a moment, she forgot what the cure was for, but the dark circles under her eyes, the constant headaches, and the boniness of her hips quickly reminds her.

“Did she say what was the matter?” Isaura asks. They turn the corner into the Great Hall and begin walking down another flight of stairs. Her legs are on fire and she wobbles once they reach the landing. Dorian said he believed. That didn’t mean it would work. There was a chance no cure existed, or none that could be found in time.

“No, just that you were needed,” Kester replies, offering her his support as they descend the rest of the stairs. Sinking dread creeps in her stomach, leaving her nauseous knowing she could indeed die.   

“I’m starting to feel like less of a human and more like a dog,” Isaura comments, looping her arm in his and examining his expression. “Are you well? I heard what happened… I’m so sorry.” Everything seemed to be her fault, lately, but she forces the raging emotions down her throat. No one will see her like this.

Kester laughs as they reach the foot of the stairs and step onto the grass, heading toward the tavern. “Don’t worry about it, miss. I stick by my decision. The Commander sees you as a threat simply for being a mage. I had a cousin like you, except he was a ‘postate. Didn’t do anything wrong but steal some bread to feed his family. The Templars caught him and labeled him a maleficar, sent him to the Circle and he was made Tranquil within the fortnight.”

She didn’t know that. It enrages her, knowing that they would always be denied their basic rights simply because of the magic in their veins. “I’m sorry,” she says, choking on the tears that have been threatening to spill since they left the rotunda. Tired of mages and templars, of right and wrong. Life was easier with the song. Only one thing to worry about, and that was her next fix.

Kester holds the door open for her and she spots Cassandra sitting with The Iron Bull at one of the back tables in the tavern.

“I am sure I’ll see you ‘round, Isaura. Do try to stay out of the Commander’s ire.” Kester says, leaning in to kiss her cheek and the door swings closed behind him, leaving her only option to approach Cassandra, who greets her with a huff and Iron Bull, who yanks out a chair for her.

 “You will take over her physical training from now until the time she departs. Continue training her, but she must be believable, if we are to ambush this operation successfully.” Cassandra says. Only Iron Bull drank as they discussed her new routine for the next week. One that she doesn’t have say in. She hopes the farthest she will get in that chateau is the gardens, that they don’t even rest before the red templars come.

Her stomach is too unsettled to keep food or drink down. What if they figure it out? Would the Inquisition save her from being killed? She understood the importance of bringing Samson down, but worried how far they would go to do so. The Commander didn’t seem the type to engage in unsavory behavior, but he wanted Samson more than anyone. “Are you sure she can handle this?” Bull asks, a hand gently shaking her shoulder, and she realizes she’s been staring into space.   “She’s a twig and I’ve been watching some of her training. She’s awful.”

“I’m right here, you know.” She says, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes at the Qunari.

“I’m just looking out for you,” he says, although something about his demeanor suggests otherwise, his eyes lingering on her just long enough to make her feel uncomfortable.

“Where are we going to go?” Coralie cries. Mages attacking mages. What in the Fade is happening? She didn’t expect Grand Enchanter Fiona to separate or the fighting to happen

“I’m not sure,” Isaura replies. Did they still have their phylacteries? Are there other Circles they could go to? No, she knew the Circles dissolved. The only choice was to run. She turns to the woman beside Coralie, gripping both of her hands. “Nina, are you alright?”

“I would like to not die. May we return to the Circle?” Nina enquires, calm in the face of so much danger. At times, she envies the Tranquil.

She sighs, glancing at the brand on her forehead. All because she fell in love with the wrong person. “We should just leave her. She’s a liability.” Coralie says.

She raises a hand and slaps her across the cheek. “The void is wrong with you!? Is it because she’s Tranquil her life has no merit?” Her voice raises in pitch as she shouts. “She didn’t deserve that fate and she doesn’t deserve to be left for dead!”

“We have no other option. You know this!” Cassandra groans, drawing Isaura back to the present and she rubs her forehead, a wave of irritation causing a throbbing sensation in the forefront of her head.

“Listen, I’m not saying I won’t do it. I will, as long as the boss says so. I just think it’s a shit idea,” Iron Bull says, tilting back in his chair until the tip of his horns hit the wall behind him and stretches his hands out cracking them with little effort.

Cassandra her brows and groans, “Just get it done. The sooner we get this done, the Inquisitor will finally turn his focus back to the Wardens.”

“Wait, what’s wrong with the –” She starts, but a warning glare from Iron Bull silences her.

“Nope. Not your business, mage.” Bull interrupts, leaning forward and chugs the rest of his drink.

“Thank you, Bull,” Cassandra says, with an exasperated sigh and strolls out of the tavern Isaura pushes her chair back, ready to retire to “What time’s it now?” He shouts to the bartender, a stout dwarf with an angry expression that seems never to leave.

They are met with that exact look as he glances over their way, tossing his cloth over his shoulder. “Supper rush should be startin’ any time now,” He shouts back and promptly turns his attention to a patron by the bar. She watches, fixated by the fact that he runs a successful tavern with such a cross appearance. She blushes sheepishly, realizing it is the only tavern in Skyhold. Idiot.

“Perfect,” a smacking sound resonates nearby, and she expects Iron Bull to have slapped the serving girl’s ass as she walked by with a tray of ales, but he has fastened his hands together, and is staring at her with radiant eyes which she can only interpret to mean trouble. “You and I are going to have our first lesson starting….” He pauses, stressing out his last word, waiting for the tavern door to fly open and soldiers pile inside, laughing and talking amongst themselves, “now.”

Chapter Text

Isaura follows his gaze to a group of soldiers that have hunkered down at a table not too far from them. There seems to be about five of them and from their weary, yet eager expressions they’ve been longing for a hot meal and ale. “What do you see?”

She shakes her head and stares incredulously at Iron Bull. “I’m sorry, what?”

Iron Bull nods to the soldiers. “Tell me what you see by looking at them.”

She squints, tilting her head a little as she observes the table. They're clad in armor that she’s seen worn by many of the Inquisition soldiers. If she recalls correctly, the emblem on their chest plate is that of the Inquisition from long ago, revived with the start of this fledgling organization. Isaura doesn’t remember much of the history of the Inquisition, as it didn’t particularly interest her and wishes she paid more attention now, “I-I’m not sure. They are? Came here for a reprieve?”

The table erupts into laughter across the tavern. “Okay, good. That’s the basics.” Iron Bull frowns. “Now, watch their body language. Can you tell me how they feel toward each other? What about something in their past?”

“O-of course not! That’s only something spies…” She trails off, forming an ‘o’ with her mouth once she realizes. “You were a spy, weren’t you?”

“Not exactly. Ben-Hassrath. We’re more like…”

“Like bards.”

He laughs. “More like Seekers, but yeah, bards work too.”

Isaura finds herself smile; despite the danger, she knows he presents. After all, he knows. It’s only a matter of time before he approaches Cullen or Cassandra or anyone important enough. They’ll lock her back in the cage. She doesn’t want to go back there.

“You okay?”

She realizes she’s been staring again and blushes. “Yeah, just tired. It’s been a bit of a crazy time.”

He casually stretches his arm – have they always been this long and muscular? – and rests it on the small of her back. “You know, there are…ways to relieve that stress.”

She freezes, feeling very much like prey. She knows Bull means nothing untoward, he's just friendly, but when has a man ever been good-natured toward her? Staring at the group of soldiers seems like a good idea, better than having to answer him, so she observes them and tries to see through a spy’s eyes. “The recruit to the left, he’s uncomfortable. Keeps his knees tight and is constantly glancing around the tavern like he’d prefer to be anywhere but here,” she says. Just like her. A thousand miles from Bull and Skyhold and the Inquisition. Across the Waking Sea. Far away.

Iron Bull slips his hand away from her back, resting it flat on the table. “He’s a Templar, like Cullen. Old habits are hard to quit. But that’s not what I’m interested in anymore. What happened to you?”

Isaura shrinks in her seat.  This is not a conversation she wants to have, especially with the Ben-Hassrath.

“Never mind. You don’t have to tell me, but you’re safe here. Cullen may be a bit of a hard-ass, but he’s a damn fine Commander.”

It’s not that, and she doesn’t know how to get that across without sounding paranoid or crazy. Cullen is what scares her. Or what he used to be is what scares her. There is no easy fix for this. She remembers what they did, can still feel their rough hands roaming her body and she remembers what she did, too.

“Looks like you pissed off the whore!” One of the templars runs his hand along the metal bars, grating her nerves even further. “You should make that face more often. It’s fucking hot, seeing you all hot and bothered.” He stops in front of the cell door and rummages through the set of keys on his person.

Isaura bites her lower lip, tasting the blood and not minding its metallic flavor, bites down even harder. He doesn’t know pissed off, but he will.

She hears the lock click, and the door unlatches. The Red Templar saunters over to her, and she pretends to not notice his erection, but she does.

She helps him strip off his pants, surprising him and puts his length in her mouth, fighting the urge to gag or vomit at the putrid taste of him. When his eyes glaze over, she pulls away and smirks. He screams. There is so much blood, none of it hers, but she basks in it as it sprays all over her face.

Iron Bull clears his throat. This brings her back to the table, the tavern, and she releases her hold on the table edge. “You can trust Cullen. He may have been a Templar once, but he is no longer a member of the Order.  He will hold himself as a Templar, as he was trained, but that is not who he is anymore.”

She nods her head, acquiescing. She doesn’t believe that anyone can quit being a Templar. The fear and distrust she has seen fester in them, that is difficult to leave in the past. It’s one of the reasons the Mage-Templar war began. Neither side could see beyond their own biases. Isaura exhales louder than she expected when she realizes what she has just done.

She has contradicted herself.

“Right. Enough of that talk. Let’s get you ready to take down some Red Templars,” Iron Bull says.

They stay well after everyone has left and only a few stragglers remain. He excuses her once the Chargers return, reminding her that she should be ready and outside the tavern by dawn for combat training. Any other person might be upset about the lack of sleep, but she thinks somehow, that he knows she doesn’t sleep well, if at all.

The song sings, and her headaches, but some things are better left unsaid.

Something stirs inside her when she dresses for the next morning. It’s a feeling that she hasn’t felt in quite some time. Mutual respect. She can’t tell if it’s because Bull knows about the lyrium and she wants to ensure he remains quiet or if it’s as simple as wanting his respect because, in her way, she respects him. She decides it’s the former as she makes her way to the tavern, the chill of the early morning biting the back of her neck.

She must have been insane to think Cassandra was a strict mentor. Even after the sweat has soaked through her shirt and exposed her breasts, and she can barely lift the sword, he doesn’t excuse her until she successfully evades an attack. It is a long morning, and mustering the rest of her strength, the little that’s left, she heads to the kitchens. She is extremely grateful she is prepping and not serving.

When the day ends, she collapses on her tiny bed. Tired both physically and mentally, she wishes she could fall asleep. But she is too weak and susceptible to the demons that try to claw their way through her into the world. The bed becomes too melancholy, and she needs to get out of her small, claustrophobic room before she succumbs.

She wanders down the steps and finds herself in front of the tavern, by the training dummies. No swords are lying around, and she doesn’t have her own, but the urge to do something physical is so strong, she decides to use her fists. She sticks to the torso of the training dummy and lets her anger fuel each punch.

One for her mother.

Another for the Templars.

Isaura doesn’t stop, even when she feels the sticky liquid of blood on her knuckles and the excruciating pain with each contact. When someone wraps their arms around her, restraining her from doing more damage to herself as that Maker-forsaken dummy is still in perfect shape, she crumbles to the ground and cries.

The person sits on the ground and hugs her from behind, stroking her messy red hair.

When the crying subsides, and she wipes the tears away, they pull away. “It’s not healthy to bottle that shit up.” Iron Bull. “You’ll be no good to anyone if you can’t get yourself together. Do you understand the lives that are at stake?”

She sniffles and rubs her eyes. Blood smears on her face. “I…” She’s at a loss for words. He’s right.

“You’ve got to toughen up. How did you survive living in the Circle for so long?”

Survival. Isaura sits up. One hand at a time, a white glow radiates over her bloody knuckles until she can flex both hands with no pain. When is the last time she cast magic that wasn’t destructive? She doesn’t remember.

“Good. Anger is good. Pain is good. It’s what makes us stronger, but you need to learn to process and deal with it. Not this shit you’re doing right now.”

Again, he’s right. Isaura tries remembering how she endured the Circle. She knows what it takes to survive. She’s had to survive every day since she was born. But the Circle was different. Survival was a game there. Which Templars to avoid, what faction each of the First Enchanters fell into, what to talk about and with whom.

“You’re leaving in a less than a week. You’re a quick learner, but if you don’t learn to control those emotions, no amount of skills will save you.”

She hates that he can see right through her so quickly. “I thought that’s what the combat training was for.” There’s more to it than that, but the physical activity has kept her emotions in check. For the most part.

“We’re going to switch it up today.” He offers her a hand, which she accepts, and pulls her up. She steadies herself, a wave of emotions overcoming her. Maybe the training hasn’t been helping. “Your biggest flaws are your emotions. Whenever they flare up, you lose control of yourself, of your magic. If you were lived under the Qun, they would force Qamek down your throat.”

“Qamek?” She asks though every part of her is screaming she doesn’t want to know the answer.

“Don’t worry about it.”

They walk down more stairs, toward the stables. Two horses are saddled and readied. Isaura really hopes they aren’t getting on that horse. It’s been too long since she last rode a horse. “Are we going somewhere?”

“We are. You need to learn to control your emotions. I’d prefer there aren’t any…civilians nearby if, when, you lose control.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she says.

“Would you prefer, then, that we put everyone at risk, for a vote of confidence?”

Isaura stops walking and closes her eyes. What a frustrating man. “No, of course not! That’s now what I –”

She trails off as a familiar face slips into view from the barn. Dorian. “Bull told me you were going to be exploding things and I couldn’t think of anything better to do with my Tuesday.” He strolls toward her with a wide grin plastered mischievously on his face.

“And supervise her,” Bull adds.

“Yes, well that too, but why not have a little fun while I’m at it?” Dorian winks. His mannerisms remind her so much of Gilles. She understands why her brother is so enamored by him. He is attractive and charming, and always seems to know just what to say. Which is precisely why she doesn’t trust his intentions.

“You ride with her, ‘Vint.”

It turns out Dorian knows what he’s doing, and she wraps her arms around his waist, letting him steer the horse. The wind lashes against her as they ride and her hair flies in all directions. Dorian complains about it, but there’s nothing either of them can do about it. She can’t tame it, not while they’re riding. They don’t stray far from Skyhold. Well, far enough that if something were to happen, the inhabitants of Skyhold would be safe. They dismantle and lead the horses inside a shallow cave. It’s colder out here than Skyhold and she shivers despite the layers of clothes she’s wearing.

“The Templars abused you, didn’t they? You were their ward and they took advantage of that.” Bull walks out from the cave toward her. She furrows her eyebrows in confusion.

“Bull, what are you –” Dorian begins but is waved off by him.

“The Rite of Tranquility, demanding services from the pretty mages like you, but that’s not all, is it?” He continues, listing off all the misdeeds that have been done to her. To countless others.

She isn’t listening anymore. The blood in her body boils. Every injustice, every crime committed that, losing Nina because she fell in love with the wrong person. Losing Nicolas. All because the Templars, the Chantry believed that the mages were incapable of overseeing ourselves.

“Isaura, calm down…” Dorian urges, but his voice is so far away. A mountain between them.

“They took your virginity, didn’t they?” She feels his hot breath, sending chills down her spine, but she can’t see him. Too blinded by anger. “Wanted to be the ones to pop your cherry, I bet. Oh, how sweet that must have been.”

She is seething. Her hands tremble with rage, no longer cold from the wind and temperature.

“Bull! Stop!” Dorian shouts.

“She needs to learn to control her emotions,” he replies taciturnly. She notices the flames before she feels them. They creep up her arms, claiming every inch of her skin, burning away any clothing she’s wearing. “Stay in control. If you lose that control, you are no better than them.”

The flames explode from within her, engulfing all around her, and then as quickly as they left, they bounce back inside her.

She is naked atop a mountain, but she is not cold, and the snow melts where she stands. She is alive.

“Maker’s balls,” Dorian mutters. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Nice use of that ice wall. Smart.”

Isaura realizes how easily she could have burned them to a crisp. The tears well in her eyes and she almost let them fall down her cheeks, but she bites her cheek and takes a deep breath. “I-I’m s-so sorry!” She cries.

“Do you understand now? Those traumas did happen, there’s no ignoring that. It is your right to be angry, but if you let those emotions control you, they win.”

She hears Dorian yelp as he approaches her, draping some type of fabric over her. She remembers she is naked and tightens the cloth around her body. “I…do.”

“Well, that was fun and all, but she is going to cool down and freeze to death if we don’t leave now,” Dorian says. “Discussing what just happened can and will transpire back at Skyhold."

Chapter Text

Chapter 15:                          

The Iron Bull has declared her ready, well as prepared as she could be. They met in the war room and went over the specifics of the mission. Isaura is to travel ahead with her mother, and much to her dismay, Gilles. She doesn’t want Gilles involved in this mess, especially if – when it turns sour. She has her contingency plans if it does, where no one will get hurt at her behalf. Gilles reminds her of the improvements she has made, but they don’t matter in the end. If it is between her or anyone else, no question who should survive. If only Gilles believed that too.

“Lost in thought, are we?”

Isaura glances up as Dorian walks toward her, donned in silverite armor, dark red cloth weaving in and out. He looks handsome, but she bets he would look elegant in nightclothes. “How is that you make armor look dashing?”

“And you always manage to deflect my questions with another,” Dorian says. He lifts her chin to meet his eyes and frowns. “You’re thinking about all the ways this could go bad, aren’t you?”

“It is going to happen,” she snaps, pulling her head away and looking out the window. Their carriage is being readied as they speak. She imagines Gilles is finishing packing their bags. He always complained she was atrocious at packing, blamed it on the lack of traveling at the Circle. She blames it on the lack of practice, as he’s always fussing over her technique and then pushes her aside to finish the task himself.

“You seem awfully sure of that. Surely you must have injured your head more extensively than we thought.”

She shoves the book against his chest. “Yes, I must have” and leaves the rotunda.

She feels Solas’ eyes following her as she strides out, but she doesn’t stop to greet him like she normally would. Perhaps Dorian does care for Gilles, but she knows his type all too well. The rich boy who never struggled with anything in life because of mommy and daddy dearest. His magic was embraced and encouraged, never looked down upon as hers was.

“I don’t like this anymore than you do,” Gilles says as he tosses their remaining belongings in the carriage. Not that they truly planned to stay, but mother would get suspicious if they left with nothing but the clothes on their back. “But we can help the Inquisition and help you by doing this. I wish there were an easier way, though. Are you positive you don’t remember anything? I hate putting you in danger. I can’t believe mother is this foolish to risk her child’s life.”

He’s rambling. Isaura rests a hand on his shoulder and leans her head against him. She feels him relax and smiles against all sense. That memory - talk of special armor for Samson, but what made it special? She could mention it, but what would be the point? She doesn’t know what it is if he even has it, and what that means for the Inquisition. They would look at her even more vehemently than they already did. Cullen would, and she doesn’t want to be on that man’s wrong side any more than she already is. She’s trying to fix her mistakes, not cause anymore.

“She doesn’t see me as her daughter,” Isaura replies, lifting her hand from his shoulder and stepping out of the fog in her head. “They destroyed me. My humanity, everything. I’ll see them suffer if I have to die to do so.”

“Drama must really run in our family,” Gilles scoffs and checks the bags are securely fastened in the carriage. “Just don’t do anything rash, please?”

Her shoulders slump at his request. It isn’t rash if she’s been considering it for a while now, right? “You worry too much Gilles,” she says.

“Well, someone in this family has too,” he retorts and pulls her into a tight hug. If it were anyone else, she would feel suffocated by the intimacy, but his arms are strong and warm. A safety net she feels only when they’re hugging. How long will it be before he, too, gives up on her?

But he’s foolish to think she doesn’t worry. She can’t not think. Voices constantly nag her. Every decision she makes is second-guessed. And when she feels she’s beyond saving; the song calls to her. It drowns out everything around her. She wishes Cole were with her. He understands better than anyone. There is no judgment or pity in his eyes, only understanding.

When her mother arrives, the reality of the situation hits her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her. Too many people are risking their lives for this for her. It makes no sense. How could Cullen have agreed to this? She won’t pretend to know the man very well, but she at least knows he is rational and competent. Nothing about this plan is logically sound. She wants to back up and turn around to run away. Not towards Skyhold, but through the gate. Cross the bridge and through the Frostback Mountains. If luck were on her side, they would find her frozen somewhere.

It’s all she deserves, but she does none of these things. Instead, she climbs into the carriage after her mother and sits across from her smiling weakly at her. She is weak, a coward.

“You look dreadful, Isaura. Have you been following your daily skin regimen?” Mother’s eyes flit over her body. No matter what it is, even if it were her wedding day, those eyes would be filled with disdain.

“Mother leave her be. It is enough she is eating and functioning normally,” Gilles protests as he slides into the seat beside her.

Mother turns up her nose and glances out the small window as the carriage jolts to life. Isaura hears the horses whinny and their hooves trot against the cold, mountain floor. Each jarring movement reminds her of the impending situation. She wonders if the Inquisition has already surrounded the estate. The image of the grounds in her subconscious are underdeveloped, a result of not being present since she was a little girl.

At times when she was homesick, fantastical images and displays trickled through. A life of luxury she would never have. Sometimes, she even imagined her family is normal. Loving, caring, family dinners every night. Her parents were involved with their children, and her mother never raised a hand at her. Other times, her mind portrayed the gardens of her childhood as a dangerous maze of poisonous flowers and prickly shrubs. Her mother painted as the villain in the books she read. An overactive imagination, Gilles would tell her when she shared her daydreams with him.

Halfway through the Frostback Mountains, they pulled a wool blanket over them, shivering from the biting cold wind sneaking its way into the carriage. Mother continued to stare out the window, not once exhibiting any signs she was cold as well. It left Isaura nonplussed and convinced her further that mother was a demon. Granted, her years of Circle education proved this thinking flawed. She knew it was her way of deflecting, trying to reason why her mother could be so indifferent toward her own child.

They sit in silence. Gilles fiddles with his hands. Mother stares out the window. Isaura gets lost in her own thoughts, unable to stop them from pulling her under with the weight of her worries and sorrows.

“Mother, are you certain you don’t wish to stop and rest up?” Gilles asks. He is right. This trip is a day’s travel on horseback, and mother is too proper to stay on the road longer than necessary if she has the option to rest.

“I am. I wish to put this unpleasantness behind us as soon as possible.” She doesn’t look at either of them as she speaks. Isaura glances towards mother’s line of sight. There is nothing but vegetation for miles.

“As you wish,” Gilles says, a brief side-glance toward Isaura. They know mother is lying. She must have a deadline. But where anxiety racks through her body, mother is composed and dignified. Unlike Isaura, mother has spent her entire life perfecting the ideal image of a lady.

Gilles taps on the back of the carriage wall, drawing the attention of the coachman. “How long until we arrive?”

“If we continue without interruptions, we should arrive by tomorrow morning.” The coachman replies.

Isaura and Gilles exchange looks. That is earlier than either of them expected. She prays the Inquisition is ready by then and she grips Gilles arm with all her might. It’s all she can do to keep herself from throwing herself out of the carriage and letting the force take her.

“Do you think you can communicate with that spirit of yours? The Inquisition needs to know this.” Gilles leans in and whispers.

She bites her lower lip and closes her eyes. Usually, it is one-sided. Cole can read her thoughts and feel her pain, but he never appears by her will. It’s always of his own volition, but she will try. She promised she would try to right her wrongs.

She remembers a brief conversation with Solas about the nature of spirits. They can sometimes hear you calling to them, no matter how far away.

Cole, if you can hear me, you don’t have much time. We’re arriving in the morning. Please, if you get this, let them know. The Templars might already be there. She blinks rapidly, dizziness encroaching on her vision.  

There is no response as she collapses her head onto Gilles' shoulder. Did she channel magic into that communication without knowing? Whatever it is a result of, her willpower is drained completely. Exhaustion overcomes her.