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Broken Dawn

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The dawn will come…and soon enough, the night will follow.

*

If the void were a real place, she would have traveled far enough to have found it by now. Maker knew her heart felt like it had been there and back a thousand times over, but still, she put one foot in front of the other, ignoring the pangs of regret for all her lost time. So, so much lost time.

The wind raced across the back of the mountains, scattering snow dust into the air around the frigid peaks. It whirled around her, pulling strands out of her braid and dragging the hair across her face. She blinked as they ghosted across her eyes, threading in between her lashes until she was forced to lift her hand and irritably swipe them away. Pinpricks of ice scattered onto her cheeks, and she shivered, despite the thick coat wrapped around her body.

Halting her progress for a moment, she squinted up at the sky to give a baleful look at the sun. It shouldn't be allowed to shine so brightly yet provide her no heat. How in the name of Andraste had they housed an entire army this far into the mountains? She didn’t feel much like joining a cause at this point in her trek, that was for certain. She longed for a warm fire in a hearth somewhere. The arms of the ones she loved.

Xander sneezed as he padded next to her, shaking his head at whatever invisible irritant was bothering him. She glanced down at him, smiling when he upturned his face, tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth comically. At least his spirits remained indomitable.

“You never get tired, do you boy?” He wagged his stumpy little tail and barked in agreement. She glanced up, looking around the snow-covered pathway, wondering where his love had gotten to. “Where's Indra?”

Xander bounded off around one of the boulders and she heard the pair of mabari yapping excitedly at each other for a moment. She followed the sound, laughing softly as they rolled in the snow, covering themselves in white powder that melted against their coats, glittering against the sunlight.

“Idiots.” she muttered, although she couldn't imagine traveling without them. They managed to keep her heart light, even after all this time away from home. Even after all this time walking through the void, alone. Sometimes they felt like the only thing that still tethered her to her life, when the threads in her heart felt weak with solitude and worry or tugged by the distant, buzzing song in her veins.

She walked past them, knowing that they would follow in their own time, and headed up the next rise. Her legs ached, a steady burn that had started hours ago and refused to let up, no matter how many times she stopped to rest. Something about the Maker forsaken mountains just made traveling that much harder. Probably the constantly upward-sloping paths, or the long detours around boulders that she was forced to take in order to avoid the main road, which had become more populated than she was comfortable with. It made her fret that this was a bad idea, but her history with those had usually worked out, so perhaps there was no need to try and break the streak.

The air from her lips misted as it collided with the frigid temperatures around her. As she watched it drift in lazy circles skyward, the flutter of a bird drew her attention, black wings stark against the blue of the early morning. It made no call as it soared onward, curling in on itself to drop rapidly into a dip just below the next rise. She leaped forward, her feet finding the exact right footholds to jolt her upward on the path until she reached the top of the ledge, heart stopping in her chest at the majestic sight unfolding in the small valley below.

Skyhold stood, tall and proud, just a mere mile in the distance, its towers gleaming as the sun glinted off the stone, flags and banners flapping cheerily in the wind. Her lips parted as she looked on in awe, taking in the veritable castle before her.

She hadn't known that it would be so big. Then again, she shouldn't have been surprised. The fortress that could house something as impressive as the Inquisition should have been nothing less than intimidating. As she forced her legs to start moving again, bringing her towards her destination, she found herself wondering idly if it was bigger than the castle in Denerim, and if Alistair would be piqued with the consideration. He pretended he was always against every part of their unexpected royalty, but he also had a great deal of pride in their homeland. He swore it was her speech that inspired him, ‘instilling Ferelden pride’, but really, he just cared a lot about everything, including where they ruled.

It took her another twenty minutes or so to make it to the imposing bridge that led to the entrance of the hold. She had picked up her pace, which had caused an uncomfortable trail of sweat to form along her spine, making the thick wool lining of her coat stick to her skin, but it got her there faster, and she was ready to be done with hiking. Now that she had reached the causeway, her thighs were ready to give out in revolt against her unfair punishment over the past couple of days. She really hoped they had a warm hearth or two she could throw herself next to.

She decided that she wasn't overly fond of trekking through the mountains on foot, and that next time she would make sure she kept the Maker cursed horse, even if it did make her more conspicuous. Although, she reflected sardonically, it was still easier than navigating the damn Brecilian forest.

She hefted her pack, adjusting it so that it rested more comfortably - as well as reassuring herself that it was still there, and strode forward onto the even stonework. Xander and Indra bounded around her in a circle before settling themselves, keeping pace just a foot or so behind her. She could never tell if they got excited to reach a destination because they, too, liked a little civilization, or if they were just picking up on her own mood.

She reached the gate, glancing up in awe at just how large it was before a pair of guards approached her. Their expressions were not unfriendly, but they seemed to be confused about her presence. Their postures were relaxed and nonthreatening, but she caught the subtle movement as they placed their hands near their weapons.

“M'lady, may we help you?” the female soldier on the left nodded courteously. Her hand remained on the hilt of her sword.

Melody gave her the best estimation of a pleasant smile that she could bring her wind-chapped face to make. “Yes, I'm here to see, um, Autumn Trevelyan.” She was at least forty percent sure she was pronouncing the name correctly, but she remained terrible with names despite her practice with hundreds of Ferelden dignitaries over the years. 

The guards looked at one another questioningly, their demeanor changing to one of suspicious concern. “Wait here, don't move.” the male snapped, his expression doing a complete one-eighty, straight from passive to alarmed, before turning on his heel and walking through a door leading into the tower beside the gate.

Melody cocked her head to the side, looking at the remaining soldier curiously. That was a rather paranoid reaction. She had assumed there must have been plenty of people trying to filter into the hold to get a chance to speak with her, with how far her name had spread across Thedas. Surely that would have prompted them to establish a less threatening decorum to handle them, even if the guests were unexpected.

“Er, is everything alright?” Melody asked the remaining guard, feigning naive curiosity.

She flexed her shoulders discreetly, shifting her hips so that her feet slid across the ground, seeking the nearest centimeter that would give her solid purchase. Her feet always found the right mark. She hadn’t used to be quite so graceful, but during one of the many tasks she’d completed to end the blight, a forest had taken a liking to her and granted a gift. She had always known exactly where to place her soles since then, a subtle reassurance that as long as her heart was in it, she would always be on the right path. And Melody did nothing that her heart didn’t support.

“Um...what business do you have with uh...miss Trevelyan?” she stammered in return. She was hiding something, that much was apparent, and she was terrible at being coy about it.

Melody took a breath, going over her options in her head. Could she trust the lower members of the Inquisition the same way she could trust the upper echelon? Certainly, the leaders would appreciate her need to retain her anonymity, but would the general rank and file have the same discretion? If the Inquisition’s answers weren’t wholly revelatory, then her search would not be over. She'd have to leave and go back into hiding, and she couldn't exactly risk having a bunch of nameless soldiers knowing the details of her visit.

No, it was definitely better that they didn't know who she was or why she was there. At least not until somebody that she trusted vouched for them. She didn't need word getting out that the Queen of Ferelden was in Skyhold.

She gave the guard a forcibly cheery smile. “I'm afraid I can't say to anyone but her.”

That was not the answer the guard wanted, and she drew her blade, leveling it at Melody evenly. For a moment Melody just blinked at her, but when Xander and Indra started growling, hackles raised at the threat to their mistress, Melody took a nimble hop back, drawing her daggers and lowering her center of gravity so it would be easier to move swiftly, though she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“I'm not here to fight anybody.” Melody kept her tone light as the guard eyed her with terror, pupils dilating as she took in the two dogs snapping their teeth.

“Then put away your weapons.” the guard rejoined.

An interesting reaction, to say the least. Even though the tip of the guard's sword swayed gently with the shaking hand that held it, she was still willing to stand her ground to protect her people. Admirable. Stupid, considering that the odds of her taking down an armed rogue and a pair of trained war hounds by herself weren't exactly in her favor, but admirable all the same. Not that Melody would have actually killed her, though.

“You drew first.” Melody reminded her, stalling for time, trying to figure out what to do to either diffuse the situation or run inside until she could locate someone she could talk to. She couldn’t recall hearing any of the names of the other members of the group, aside from Leliana, which was the whole reason she had trusted the Inquisition to begin with. She would have gone directly to her, but she wasn’t comfortable seeking her old friend out, considering her new line of work. Knocking on the door of the fresh Divine felt like asking for a parade carrying banners in her name.

“State your name and I'll think about standing down.” the guard was gaining courage, it seemed, and she squared her shoulders after she spoke. Indra let out a warning bark that echoed loudly in the cold air. 

“I won't talk to anyone but -”

“Melody?”

She snapped her head towards the incredulous voice, her gaze falling to the open door the guard had disappeared through earlier. Standing in the threshold, with a rather surprised look on his face, was a figure right out of her past. At least, she was pretty sure it was him. He looked different. Gone was the curly-haired, angry templar that she remembered from the circle tower, no more than a scared boy who had been traumatized without mercy before she had arrived. Before her now stood a man that was proud, capable, and strong. He had a few new scars, somewhat more rugged in age because of them, though the shock on his face served to make him look younger than she knew he was.

She stood, depositing her daggers back in place underneath her cloak before giving him a big grin. So much for keeping her identity hidden. “You know, I had hoped to get in before people figured out who I was.” She snapped her fingers and the dogs behind her calmed, sitting obediently. “Nice to see you, Cullen.”

*

For half a second Cullen felt like he was back in the circle tower, staring at the strangely fascinating woman before him, just as he had all those years ago. He had to blink several times before he noticed the changes time had wrought on the rogue who’d become queen.

She looked older, although not in a physical way as much as she just looked weary, like the world had weighed too heavily for her to keep all that exuberance that she had possessed when she was saving half of Ferelden. It had aged into a quiet confidence that still managed to make Cullen want to sit up straight and snap to attention at her command. Her rich copper hair remained the same bright tint, though the braid that contained it was several inches longer.

She gave him an impish smile, her clover green eyes sparkling with mischief, lifting cheekbones that were no longer dusted with as many freckles. There was a small scar across her right cheek that hadn't been there before, but she still looked as regal as she’d used to, every bit the woman that had captivated a nation. It was a wonder she was able to sneak around the world at all without people recognizing her.

“Maker's breath, what are you doing here?” he finally said, striding down the small steps to greet her. He was surprised when she jumped into his arms, crushing him in a big hug that all but smothered him in the heavy coat she bore over her armor.

“What, I can't visit old friends?” she released him and shrugged, as if popping up out of the blue was the most natural thing for the missing queen of Ferelden to do.

He gave her a dubious look. “Not after disappearing for years, no.”

He saw her glance hesitantly at the guards still standing beside them, biting her lower lip. “Is there someplace else we could have this conversation?”

“Of course.” he gave her a shortened bow before offering her his arm. She took it gratefully, walking with him into the hold at an easy pace. Her two mabari padded quietly behind them.

Cullen spared a meaningful glance to the guards, warning them silently that they shouldn't speak of this. Two curt nods let him know his message had been received. He hadn’t much worry in that regard, though. There was not a single member of the Inquisition he wouldn’t have trusted with his life, not to mention with the identities of the guests gracing their halls. They’d proved themselves all worthy of that regard during the brief period they’d provided Hawke and Anders safe harbor during the war without any undue leaks of information creating scandal.

“So, any particular reason why asking for miss Trevelyan almost got me shanked?”

He chuckled, recalling the guard's hectic message. “They thought you were an assassin.”

“What in the name of all that is holy gave them that idea?” her brows furrowed as she puzzled over the notion.

“One, you asked for her by name, not by title. Two, we’re preparing to march in a short time, so visitors are thin at our behest.” It took a great deal to suppress the giddy smile trying to overtake his face before he continued, but he resolutely kept his expression only mildly amused. “Three, that’s not actually her name anymore.”

“Oh?” she blinked at him. “Do Inquisitors just…change that sometimes?”

He chuckled merrily. “Only when they marry and decide their own family name should be disposed of summarily in the process.”

“Oh! Maker, I hadn’t a clue. I’ll have to congratulate her.” She huffed out a breath through the side of her mouth, tucking errant strands of hair away from her face. “You see, this is what happens when you go missing. You’re out of the loop for all the interesting happenings. Tell me, I know she had suitors on either side of the map. Did she end up with a Ferelden or an Orlesian? I swear, I promise not to judge her too harshly for the latter.”

That drew a much longer laugh out of him, unable to help himself. “Ferelden, actually.”

“Good, because that was a lie, I would have been totally disappointed otherwise.” She giggled, the sound like the trilled notes from a flute as they bounced around the stone walls of the keep while they made their way up the steps towards the main hall. “You know, I’ll trust your judgment on this. Tell me, is she a noble kind of noble? She’s a Marcher, right? They’re a mess when it comes to their nobility. I can’t decide if I should expect high decorum or something a little more my speed.”

He bit his lip, trying very hard not to laugh himself breathless as they entered the large doors to the castle proper. “Well, I hardly know what your speed might be, but…she is not what one would consider a typical noble.”

“Hey Curly, you replacing Hummingbird already?” Varric drawled from his seat, a smattering of papers strewn over his table as though the author had never left them for Kirkwall at all. He had returned to attend the Exalted Council alongside the rest of their team - save Blackwall, who was unable to stray from Weisshaupt, and it hadn’t taken him long to resume occupying all his previous haunts.

Cullen scowled at him. “Are you going to ask me that every time I'm so much as talking to a woman, Varric?”

“Nah, just pretty redheads. I’d wager you have a thing for them by now.” Varric winked conspiratorially at Melody, who laughed with good humor.

“Wait a moment, you're not the Varric, are you? Varric Tethras?” she asked him, letting go of Cullen's arm to stroll over to the table.

“The one and only, at your service.” Varric gave her an awkward bow while he remained seated.

“A pleasure to finally meet you. My husband has told me a great deal about you.”

“Oh-ho! Chasing after married women now, are we Commander?” Cullen shot Varric a death glare, which in no way deterred him. “I see you have me at a disadvantage. May I ask your name, my fair lady?” He was tilting back in his chair, eying her languidly.

“Melody Theirin, good ser.” She gave him a curtsy as he fell out of his seat in shock. 

The Melody Theirin? Alistair's wife? Queen of Ferelden?” Varric scrambled to his feet, looking harried enough that Cullen had to smother another laugh behind his hand. Served him right for his disparaging insinuations.

She laughed, and Cullen was hit again over how musical it sounded. Her parents certainly had the right of it when they’d chosen her name. “Yes, Varric. That Melody. Now keep it down, I don't need the entire world to know.”

“Andraste's ass, Curly, give a guy some warning before you start running around with royalty!” Varric glared at him.

You’re the one who decided to run at the mouth in front of a stranger.” Cullen smirked at him.

“What? What am I supposed to say when you're strutting around all cozy with some strange woman? I have to look out for Hummingbird's interests, you know.”

“Do you honestly think that I would ever do anything...”  Cullen shook his head in disbelief. 

“You did kiss the Duchess that one time.” Varric shot back.

She kissed me! And if you recall what happened afterward, you would know I'd have to be insane to go after anyone else.”

Melody held up her hands, laughing and shaking her head. “Okay, okay, hang on. Who is Hummingbird? Cullen has a girlfriend? This is all going right over my head.”

“It's Varric's nickname for the Inquisitor.” Cullen told her, feeling a blush creep across his cheeks.

“Wait. Wait.” she bounced on the balls of her feet for a moment, a giddy expression overtaking her elegant features. “You sly jerk, you just let me prattle on without saying a thing.” She placed her hands on her hips, glaring up at him. “I presume I should be congratulating you, as well?”

His face split in a wide smile that he couldn’t have suppressed even if he’d wanted to. “It wouldn’t be unwarranted.”

“Well.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I can’t believe that angsty little templar from the tower grew up and got married.”

Cullen scowled, likely harder than he had ever scowled before. “I was never angsty, and I am no longer a templar.”

“Wow. You’re not even the same person anymore, are you?”

“I might have had some sense beaten into me by a few very well-meaning, very stubborn women.” Cullen shrugged, grinning.

He had to admit that it was nice to see Melody looking at him without disappointment. She had never much cared for his reaction to what happened in the tower. Back then, what she had told him had only puzzled him, but of course now it made perfect sense. It had taken over a decade, but Cullen could officially hold his head high over the knowledge that he no longer held any prejudices towards mages. He'd even been party to the organization that was in part responsible for freeing them from the shackles of circle life. Considered himself friend to the revolutionaries that had started the rebellion that set everything in motion. Supported the Divine that had abolished the circles officially.

Cullen Rutherford, mage revolutionary. It was never a title that he had expected, but it was one he wore proudly after all of the wonderful, talented, brilliant, kind, and loving mages that he had met over his life. The ones in the Inquisition alone had done more to repair the damaged opinion caused by Uldred and his monstrous deeds than anyone ought to have a right to, and Cullen knew they weren’t the only good sort out there. Even if occasionally some of them blew up a chantry when under duress.

“I absolutely need to meet this woman.” Melody said resolutely.

“I absolutely need to be there for this.” Varric added, his grin large enough to nearly split his face in half. “If her majesty has no objections, that is.”

Melody looked at him, giving him a once-over with her gaze. “Um...” she hesitated.

“If it helps, Varric is a part of the upper echelons of the Inquisition, and any information you shared, he would likely be privy to anyhow, by virtue of how closely he works with the Inquisitor.” Cullen told her.

Varric held up his hand, palm out as though swearing an oath. “I'm trustworthy, I swear on my honor as a rogue.”

“Well, Alistair trusted you, so I suppose you can't be that terrible.” Melody nodded.

Varric frowned, just slightly. “No offense, but you may want to use another scale to weigh trustworthiness. Alistair also trusted a pirate, and while that turned out okay in the end, I wouldn't trust Rivaini as far as I could throw her. And she's pretty top-heavy, so that wouldn't be very far.”

“Awe, that's hardly fair, Varric. You can trust her as long as you aren't playing cards.” Cullen said, then he grimaced. “Or trying to stop a Qunari uprising.”

Varric shrugged. “I guess she did come back. Eventually.”

“Well, in any case, if Alistair, Cullen, and the Inquisitor trust you, I’ll just have to go with it. You can't all be wrong, right?”

Varric laughed heartily. “The grisly death I would find at the hands of our lovely leader would more than make up for it if they were.”

“Come on,” Cullen said amiably, “let's take this to the war room so we can get you off your feet and finally find out why you've decided to honor us with your presence.”

Melody laughed brightly again as they walked on, heading towards the room at a brisker pace. “I don’t know if I’d call it an honor. More of a bother, really.”

*

Autumn let out a heaving sigh, allowing her head to slowly tilt down with the exhale until her forehead was resting against her desk. She closed her eyes, wishing fervently that when she opened them again the stack of letters she was being forced to answer would simply disappear.

When she inhaled, she could smell the heavy pine from the polish used to clean her desk, the musty pulp of the papers strewn across its surface, all mingling with the breeze being carried in from outside that caught the scent of fresh linen from the gently shifting curtains. Somewhere a bird was serenading the sky, tuneless notes drifting upward in a such a carefree way that Autumn was vastly envious. What she wouldn't have given to sprout wings and leap off the balcony for a quick lap around the endless blue above them.     

“You know, you would finish much faster if you stopped collapsing in despair every five minutes.” Josephine said, not looking up from her own stack.

The ambassador reached over her pile and grabbed her teacup, pinky extended outward like a little flagpole of dignity, taking a prim sip before raising her eyebrow in Autumn's direction. She set the cup back down, avoiding even the slightest tinkle of porcelain as it moved. Her amusement at Autumn's disgruntlement did not serve to lessen the severity of her waning mood.

Autumn groaned loudly, the sound echoing oddly in her ears as it carried below the desk to bounce around her ankles. “Josie, I hate nobles. I hate their stupid words and their ridiculous handwriting and their whining and pleading.” She sat up, picking up one of the letters and waving it around angrily. “This one wants to know if I'll arrange for one of my children to marry theirs in exchange for access to his family's silverite mines. I don't even have children yet.”

She stressed that last line. Possibly a little too strongly. Overcompensating with irritation.

Josephine frowned thoughtfully, holding out her hand, and if she’d noticed the verbal tick, she didn’t comment. “Let me see that one. Maybe I can persuade him to trade for something else.” 

Autumn relinquished the paper, rolling her eyes. “My lack of sufficient trading leverage was not the point of that statement.” 

“I noticed.” she gave her a harried smile. “However, one shouldn't scoff at the offer of a good source of silverite.”

Autumn let her head sink back down onto the desk, making a small thunk as her skull met the polished wood. “Just promise me you won't auction off my unborn children.”

Even though she wasn't looking, she could hear Josephine's warm smile through her words. “I wouldn't dream of it.”

There was a soft knock on the door then, which she chose to ignore, stubbornly keeping her head down. She refused to acknowledge the interruption, as it was undoubtedly more letters that her unrelenting ambassador would make her read. She heard Josephine make a soft noise of disapproval before she shouted for the visitor to enter when it became apparent Autumn would not.

Autumn peeked up at the scout standing in her room as he gave a little bow to the pair of women. “Your Worship, Lady Ambassador, my apologies for disturbing you, but the Commander has requested your presence in the war room.” The soldier placed his hand over his heart in a stiff salute.

“Is there a dragon in the war room?” Autumn asked sardonically. Perhaps if she were set on fire, she could get out of any further diplomatic duties for the day. Maybe she could even ‘accidentally’ lose all her correspondence in the battle.

She sighed internally, knowing that she must be reaching a breaking point if the idea of a dragon rummaging about Skyhold was genuinely appealing. Either that or she had been spending far too much time with Bull lately. They’d wasted a lot of hours discussing dragon hunting to keep the man from moping around whenever Dorian was in Tevinter.

“No, your Worship, but they say if you make the Commander mad enough, he's like to breathe fire.” the scout replied without missing a beat. 

Autumn snapped her head up, grinning at the man. It was no secret among their soldiers that Autumn hated her diplomatic duties, but it wasn't often that one of them was flippant enough to respond to her sarcasm with jokes of their own in the name of easing her suffering with humor. It was almost better than a dragon. Almost.  

She recognized the scout immediately as one that was commonly assigned to duties in her general vicinity. “You, Friedman, need a promotion.”

“I'll inform my superiors of your wishes at once.” he gave her another bow, this one cheeky in nature, with an added flourish of his hands towards the end.

“Are you happy running messages around all day, Friedman?” 

He gave a quick salute, a small smirk forming on his face. “As long as I'm not assigned to Lady Pentaghast or Viscount Tethras, your Worship.”

Autumn burst into a fit of laughter over that. It was well known that those were the absolute worst posts for the runners in Skyhold, as the pair were apt to send an endless parade of one sentence letters back and forth to each other. Letters Cassandra was usually not very cheerful about receiving. She'd heard a rumor once that Cass had flat out set one of them on fire, making the rather terrified scout wait until it was ashes before she sent back a reply. Of course, Cassandra would never admit to such a heated display, and no scout would dare come forward to call her on her bluff, but her nickname, the Flaming Scourge, had taken on a slightly more amusing facet after that.

At least after Varric had left to spend more time in Kirkwall, they had started abusing birds instead of people, though the birds probably disagreed about that being a better arrangement. Now that he’d come back to spend time with them before they all trounced off to the Winter Palace, the runners had been clamoring to avoid the post again. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

“Friedman, you've made me laugh twice now. I owe you a drink for that.” 

“Your smile is payment enough, your Worship.” his smirk broadened.

She narrowed her eyes, although her smile remained. “Now you're just being a kiss-ass. Do you report to Cullen or Viv?”

“Neither, your worship. I report to Lady Sera.” 

Josephine snorted a small laugh at that point, drawing both their gazes at the uncharacteristically undignified sound. She blushed prettily, shrugging. “Sorry, I will never quite adjust to people addressing Sera as 'Lady Sera'.”

“You learn fast enough when you work under her, Lady Montilyet. Arrows in the rear end make for great motivators.” he gave Autumn a quick wink as Josephine muttered something about uncouth training practices under her breath.  

“Alright, Friedman, tell Sera I said you were my favorite scout this week and should be treated accordingly. Don’t tell Harding.” Autumn told him. “Though you’ll lose that status if you keep calling me ‘your worship’.” 

“Yes, my lady. As you wish.” he gave another bow, his grin just shy of smug now, and she wondered if he had switched to ‘my lady’ on purpose or if he was unknowingly echoing Cullen’s list of titles he used to endlessly frustrate her. That was the one rule that bastard never followed. Not that she did, either, but still. He was the one who was smug about it. “Will that be all, my lady?” 

She waved her hand in dismissal. “Yes, thank you. Tell my husband we'll be right there.” He gave her another salute before spinning on his heel and marching briskly back down the stairs and out the door. 

After he left, Josephine lifted one of her dainty eyebrows as she smirked. “A dragon? Really?”

“I told you, I hate nobles.” Autumn chuckled, standing from her chair and stretching eagerly. 

The joints in her spine shifted with a satisfying pop as the tension eased out of her lower back, her body glad to be out of the chair she'd been huddled in for far too long today. Josephine rolled her eyes, picking up her things and organizing them neatly before she stood. They walked to the door together and headed down the long flights of stairs into the great hall. 

The sun shone through the tall stained-glass windows, casting rainbows of color across the crowds of people milling around the hall. For once it was almost entirely Inquisition members, no throngs of visitors waiting to try and catch her attention in a web of conversation. They’d been filtered out in anticipation of the Exalted Council, an upcoming event she hadn’t quite decided how she felt about yet.

On the one hand, it always felt like there was something more to do. She had accepted her role as Inquisitor and vowed to push the organization to do what was right and just, and there was always a need for organizations doing such things across Thedas. They’d kept themselves occupied with charity work and dispute resolution for almost two years now. None of it seemed to have calmed the political parties on either side of their castle in the sky. Something about them still possessing an army, no matter how much benevolence they aimed their soldiers to, made everyone either greedy or jumpy.

 She smiled politely to the people that they passed now, thinking that she couldn’t imagine having to tell them that this could all be over soon, that they might have to stop being an Inquisition. She loved her people, she loved the work they did, and she wasn’t fond of losing any of them. Any more of them.

Autumn heaved a sigh when she finally shut the door to Josephine's office behind them, cloistering themselves away as she tried to block off her feelings in much the same way. The warmth from the fire permeated the room, swallowing her in a pleasant wave of cheery energy as she leaned back against the wood. It smelled of fragrant smoke and chocolate in her office, a combination that never failed to lighten Autumn's mood when she walked through. She was positive Josephine made it that way on purpose. Perhaps it was how she was able to stay so enthusiastic in the face of all the drudgery she performed in the name of decorum.

“You just got back from a honeymoon barely weeks ago, Autumn. Stop acting so harried.” Josephine clucked at her disapprovingly, although not without a decent amount of affection.   

She gave the diplomat another scowl, blowing a small puff of air out of her cheeks to move an errant curl away from her face. The ringlet soared upward for a moment before falling back down into almost the exact spot it had been before. She reached up and brushed it aside, tucking it behind her ear irritably. “I saved the world, I can be as harried as I want. You're no better than a slave driver, Josie.” 

Josephine trilled a laugh as they made their way to the war room, apparently enjoying her leader's discomfiture. “You and Cullen are completely incorrigible. You'd think I was asking you to tear open the skies again, rather than answer a few measly letters.” 

Autumn pressed her palm against the war room door, pushing it open as she turned her head to respond over her shoulder, “Josie, if I have to deal with one more jumped up idiot who thinks their ‘noble’ status means the Inquisition is their own personal fucking army, I am going to tear another hole in the sky, just so I can leap into it.”

Josephine's eyes grew wide, and a slight flush crept across her cheeks. Autumn stopped abruptly, worried she had finally managed to offend the poor Antivan beyond the point of redemption. She opened her mouth to apologize and noticed the diplomat's gaze was not on her, but on the room in front of them. She turned her head back forward, taking in the unusual scene that had her advisor so enraptured. 

Her eyes locked with a strange redhead sitting in a chair on the other side of the table, Varric and Cullen standing sentinel to the left and right of her with incredulous looks on their faces. Well, Autumn mused, at least Cullen's face was incredulous. Varric looked ready to burst into a fit of giggles so severe he might split apart, barely holding back his mirth behind a very smug smirk. The woman leaned forward, placing her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand, a pleasant smile on her elegant features.   

“Well.” She said airily. “I certainly hope that threat was empty, or else I'm going to feel terribly guilty at the end of this meeting.”