Fen'Harel was distracted.
His work had brought him to the Forbidden Oasis, to his temple there. It was one he visited with a certain frequency these days; it was where he made his base. But it was not his home. His home was in Tarasyl'an Te'las. His home and his heart. And, for the last several weeks, his mind.
Truthfully his mind was always lingering there, even when he had abandoned his heart in search of his duty, but never like this. He had been drifting in and out of anxieties and fantasies since Hal'lasean had confessed she carried his child. He worried for her constantly and when he was not worrying, he was imagining possible futures, longing to be by her side, to watch her belly swell. He was still so full of doubt about this child; it was unwise, irresponsible, impulsive. It was the sort of thing he had sworn to himself he would never allow. Not while the fate of The People hung in the balance.
And yet here he was, standing in the inner sanctum of his temple with half his gear and his tunic piled neatly in front of him, and instead of fixing himself dinner and looking over the notes he had taken at the ruins from which he had just returned, his thoughts wandered errant and unruly to what Hal'lasean must be doing at this moment, to that self-satisfied smile that warmed his heart and drove him mad, to when their child might be delivered and whether it would be a son or a daughter, what they would name it -- Panowen, she had suggested, or Solan, and he had made a noise of disgust at the latter -- whose eyes it would have, whose brow, and if there was any justice in this world, the child would have her nose.
And he imagined his Hal'la laughing at him for his straying mind.
I sent you away to work, Dread Wolf, he could almost hear her saying, Might as well come home to me if you aren't.
Perhaps he could visit her in the Fade tonight, though it was a few days too early for their scheduled meeting. The idea sharpened his focus in the here and now and left a small smile on his lips as he knelt before his things and began to set up his little camp.
Fen'Harel had a fire going and a rabbit roasting over it before he bothered to see about his wards. He walked the perimeter at a leisurely stroll, confident in the magic he'd woven in ages past and patched up more recently. There would be no getting in without his permission and no attempting it without his knowledge. Here he need not even worry over spiders. They had seen to that during his time with the Inquisition, fighting at his lover's side.
As he finished his protections he passed the hidden recess where once he and Mythal had chosen to put away Andruil's spear for safe keeping when they cut off her contact with the Void. It had stayed locked behind warding they had built together millennia ago and there was no mage walking Thedas with knowledge of the spear, much less the power to reach it. It was a strange thing, the Arche, little understood even by the Pantheon. Andruil had brought it back with her from the Void, some trophy she'd recovered from no-one-knew-where, and after careful study they could determine little of its purpose or design. What they knew was that it was a thing of great power. A frightful weapon in capable hands. A terror in corrupted Andruil's unworthy clutches. A nightmare waiting to happen but that they could not destroy.
And it was gone.
"Why do you hate me, Josie?" Hal wondered. She was staring down at a steaming mug of something truly foul that the Ambassador had set before her in the little dining room she and her companions used for their meals. Everyone had immediately scooted away from it so they could enjoy their lunches undisturbed by its astoundingly malicious odor, but apparently it was meant for the Inquisitor because Josephine was looking at her expectantly. Like maybe she was supposed to drink it. As if she weren't already nauseated enough. "I thought we were friends."
"Just drink it, will you!" sighed Josie. "It will make you feel better!"
Hal’lasean let out a miserable laugh that was practically a whimper. Because of course she would drink it in the end. What other choice did she have? It was this or morning sickness. But she was dubious of the drink’s medical worth and in no mood to go down without a fight. "There is absolutely no way something that smells like that is going to help me not throw up!"
"You know,” Dorian said as he pouted down at his overly ornate mid-day meal, “most people consider it bad form to talk about this sort of thing while others are eating."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Dorian,” and Hal gingerly pushed the noxious mug in his direction, “is my constant nausea making you nauseated?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact!"
Josephine let out a beleaguered huff and folded her ruffled arms beneath her chest. "If you'd drink the tea, you wouldn't be constantly nauseated!"
Dorian was horrified. “You call that tea? Are you the reason Solas hates the stuff?”
"Have you smelled the thing you're trying to make me put in my mouth?" Hal demanded, but she was grinning.
"That's what she said." That grin promptly disappeared for the benefit of the smarmy dwarf across the table from her.
"Varric, I will stab you."
He laughed and pointed at her with a fork full of rice, looking very pleased with himself. "There's no need to get snippy, Hal. Nobody in this room knocked you up."
"Hal'lasean,” said Josie plaintively. She perched on the bench beside her friend to seek out earnest eye contact. “Please try the tea. My mother used to make it when she had morning sickness. I know it's...rather fragrant, but it will help."
Hal acquiesced with extreme reluctance, pulling the cup back toward her and lifting it with every intention of drinking it...and then chickening out at the last moment when the odor of it made her stomach turn over. She set the tea down again and backed up her chair, her nose wrinkled with disgust. “I don’t know if I can!”
"Want me to hold your nose for you, Boss?" Bull offered helpfully.
Dorian scoffed. "If you can drink that Qun swill Bull likes, Hal, you can drink that hideous concoction."
"Yeah, but that Qun swill Bull likes gets me drunk!” Hal’lasean was suddenly wistful for the time not so long ago when she could freely imbibe. She would have gladly swallowed almost anything to avoid having to swallow what filled her mug. She must have made a face at it because Josephine stood again, towering over her now, with her hands planted firmly on her hips.
"Hal'lasean, we have a very busy day ahead of us and you must eat something. If you don't woman up and drink it, I'll have you held down and pour it down your throat myself!"
The room -- all men except Hal and Josie -- stopped to stare at the Ambassador with wide, dumb grins.
"Damn, Ruffles. That was kinda hot."
Josie sniffed. "Antivan women do not take 'no' for an answer!"
"I like that about you a lot more when you're using it to help the Inquisition," complained Hal without much vehemence. She would have to capitulate soon. She eyed the thick tea with a decided curl to her lips.
"This is helping the Inquisition!"
She could do this. Hal could do this. It was just a drink. A disgusting, too-viscous, rancid-scented drink. A tea! And she never backed down from a challenge. “Fine. Fine! A toast then. To Josie, who doesn't take no for an answer." Hal’s mouth filled dangerously with saliva at just the thought of drinking it, so she took a breath and held the mug aloft.
"To Josie!" the men echoed with a laugh.
They drank. So she drank. Hal’lasean tilted back her head and closed her eyes tightly and poured the stuff down the back of her throat, doing her best to avoid any parts of her tongue and failing miserably in that regard. If the scent was rancid, the taste was unholy. But she got it down. Hal slapped the mug down on the table in triumph and promptly covered her mouth with her hand just in case as her guts rebelled violently for one too-close moment.
"Fenedhis!” she exclaimed. “It tastes even worse than it smells!"
"But is it settling your stomach?" Josie prompted in a way that suggested she knew the answer already.
Hal chased it with a generous gulp of juice to cleanse her tongue, and by the time the taste was mostly washed away, so, it seemed, was her nausea.
Josie was practically gloating. “Wonderful! I’ll inform the kitchen you’ll be eating after all!” She was headed for the door to do just that when she paused and glanced back over her shoulder, her lips pursed with delight and her eyes full of mischief. “Not to worry, my friend. I will prepare my mother’s tea for you every day so long as you require it.”
“That’s what worries me!” Hal called after her.
“What worries you?” asked a new voice at the other door, soft and full of quiet pleasure. It was a voice that blossomed warmth through every part of Hal’lasean as it had since the very beginning. She was on her feet within the next beat of her heart, darting around the long table and throwing herself into strong elven arms.
Fen’Harel caught her to him and held her tightly to his chest, leaving her bare feet to dangle just above the floor. They smiled stupidly at each other as they embraced and then their lips met, their tongues tangled, and despite Dorian’s sounds of disgust and the ribald jokes Varric traded with Bull, it felt as though it were only the two of them.
Until, at least, her lover broke the kiss with an expression of extreme distaste. “Fenedhis, vhenan,” he gasped, appalled. “What have you been eating!”
He didn’t stifle his laughter as Hal’lasean scrubbed at her tongue and rinsed her mouth for the third time. The Arche was important. It was pressing. So Fen’Harel had quickly escorted his lover up to her quarters to deliver the unpleasant news. Yet here they were, he perched on her bed and she at her wash basin, delaying the settled weight of yet another crisis she must help him solve for a few moments of reunited bliss.
When she was finally satisfied with the state of her mouth -- though still blushing her enchanting embarrassment -- Hal’la strode purposefully toward him, climbing onto the bed with her legs straddling his. She knelt on his lap, slid her fingers up his tunic, and with the feel of her cool hands on his travel-warmed flesh, Fen’Harel indulged himself in the eager attentions of her lips. Her closeness, her touch, the scent of her, the feel of her lean curves under his knowing palms. It was intoxicating. He had missed her.
“Tel’in ar emma tel’in sulahn’nehn,” he murmured when their mouths parted and their foreheads met. The depth and heat that suffused her sea-hued eyes soothed parts of him he had not even realized required care. She dusted another kiss on his lips and smiled her contentment at his return.
It did not last long.
Fen’Harel closed his eyes to collect his thoughts, to defend himself against the irresistible pull of her gaze’s gravity. When he opened them again, she chewed on her bottom lip in worry.
“The Dalish no doubt have a tale of an Arche…” he began, knowing she would offer him what information she had, inaccurate though it would likely be.
“Andruil’s spear? The Dalish don’t have a story for it,” she admitted. “But after I drank from the Well, there was a…” She shook her head as she searched for the words. “I heard a prayer, I think? A plea to Andruil to spare The People from becoming her sacrifice. There was something about...she fashioned it from the light of the stars. Blood and force. I couldn’t make out exactly what…”
Fen’Harel’s expression was dark, grim with millennia of the knowledge he was about to impart. A knowledge he and Mythal had worked so hard to hide. “Andruil would have had us believe she crafted the spear herself. As though she could do what June could not. In truth, she found it in the Void. When Mythal removed her daughter’s ability to return to that place, she also recovered the Arche.” He breathed out audibly through his nose with his weariness. “We studied it, tested it as far as we dared. It remains a mystery. We know only a few things: it is a particularly corrosive form of time magic that, best we could decipher, was created to give its maker the power to alter a single thread in the tapestry of the world. And it may only be used once.”
Hal’la was watching him warily, as exhausted by listening to such news as he was by telling it. He considered reminding her that if she thought three years of these disasters left her worn, she ought to try countless thousands of years. But Fen’Harel did not especially fancy acquiring her ire.
“What do you mean ‘alter’?” she prompted, her concern deepening. She had some idea, clearly, but wanted him to speak it.
So he did.
“The Arche is an unraveller of deeds. Select a person or a thing, a place or possibly even an idea, and use the wicked spear against it...to all the world it would be as though the Arche’s quarry never existed.”
“So…” Hal’lasean took a breath and let it out slowly. “If someone used the Arche on, say, Val Royeaux...there would be no record or memory of it ever even having been built in the first place? And everything that might have happened in Val Royeaux either...didn’t happen at all or happened somewhere else, differently?”
“That is the theory.”
She considered his words for a time, letting the concepts and consequences of Andruil’s instrument form solidly in her mind. The moment it did, her eyes narrowed shrewdly. “And what’s the Arche to us today? Do we want it? Are we looking for it? Have we lost it?” His eyes darkened and she gave a slight nod. “So we had it. But we don’t anymore.”
Her body tensed beneath his hands at the implications.
“Who took it? How do we get it back?”
Fen’Harel felt heat seep into his cheeks, knew it crept along the edges and tips of his ears. No, he did not especially fancy acquiring her ire, but he had left himself no other choice. He should have told the truth months ago when he realized she remembered nothing.
“There’s more, isn’t there,” she said rather than asked. An echo of a time before his vhenan knew who he was, when the orb lay in shattered pieces before her.
He touched her cheek, brushed his thumb over the striking line where once her vallaslin had lain. “Forgive me, ma halla.” A bracing breath for both of them. “Imagine there is not only this world, but a multitude. And in each world, one person emerges from the Conclave with my Mark in their hand.”