Actions

Work Header

Reality Dreaming

Chapter Text

“Do you remember what happened?”

It was one of the first questions I was asked,

...but it was also one of the last ones I knew how to answer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I jolted awake to a shock of pain running all the way up my left arm, causing me to actually gasp at the shock and pain. It ended as suddenly as it began and left my hand tingling unpleasantly as I tried to catch my breath and calm my now racing heartbeat. Through my clenched eyelids I thought I’d seen a flash of green but the memory left me feeling confused.

After a few more moments of disorientation, I realized I’d probably been dreaming and something must have happened in the dream to cause the pain and the flash which woke me up.

I took a deep breath and tried to push through the disorientation that always hit me if I woke up too quickly. I never could handle sudden awakenings, they always left me feeling so disoriented. I couldn’t have a loud alarm because the sudden blaring sounds would actually send me into a minor panic, and I would start to flail madly for the source of the incessant clamor.

There was no noise now though, it was very quiet and still but I could still feel the confusion clouding my brain. I moved to stretch a bit and that’s when I realized I was not in my bed. I felt cold and my body ached and the surface under me also felt cold, cold and hard, like stone of some kind.

I tried blinking my eyes open and was able to see an indistinct and dark space around me, but my vision was still blurred by sleep and I still couldn’t tell what was around me. I moved my hands to bring them up to my eyes, hoping to clear them, but that’s when I realized the weight around my wrists. I blinked harder and tried to lift my head up to figure out what was going on.

In the dim light I could now make out some kind of bindings holding my wrists together. They were cold and heavy, clearly metallic in the flickering light.

That flicker is what drew my attention next as I shifted my eyes upwards to the space at large, and spotted a few torches scattered around the edges of the area. What the hell?

I looked back down at myself and at the stone floor I was apparently lying on, and felt my confusion deepen even further.

Not knowing what else to do, I worked myself up into a upright position, pushing myself up awkwardly with the restraints limiting my ability to move, body still stiff and sore, protesting each movement.

I looked around and saw only more shadows and flickering firelight on dark stone in a room that looked strangely like some kind of medieval dungeon.

Sitting had helped clear my mind a bit but the reality I saw around me made me question every one of my senses.

I tried to think back, to remember to when I’d fallen asleep. I remembered going to bed, but I clearly wasn't there now. I remembered the flash of pain, it had been intense but at the moment I was wondering if it had been real.

No, of course it wasn’t real, it must have been a dream and that’s what woke me up. But if I was awake, I should be in my own bed. Could I still be dreaming?

Was this one of those dreams you see on tv, where someone wakes up, has some crazy experience and then wakes up again to find it was all a dream? Had I just woken up in another dream?

I was also apparently very lucid. I’d made some efforts to learn lucid dreaming a while back, kept a dream journal and everything, but ended up getting lazy with it before I’d made a lot of progress. I’d often experienced limited lucidity in dreams before, but I felt unusually clearheaded now, compared to any of those experiences.

Still, this had to be a dream, right? Did ‘dungeons’ like this even exist these days? If they did, there certainly weren’t any where I lived. So, unless I’d been mysteriously kidnapped and dragged halfway around the world, this couldn’t be real. A dream seemed far more likely.

If this was a dream, I wondered what might happen next, what kind of dream it might be and how much longer I’d get to enjoy it. I really loved dreaming, it was better than real life most of the time, even the nightmares rarely bothered me that much, I just liked existing in another world, even if it was just in my head.

I was pondering all this when the pain suddenly hit again, causing me to cry out, a strangled shout echoing in the dark room as every muscle entire body suddenly tensed from the shock of agony shooting up my arm, another green flash emphasizing the experience.

A few seconds later found me hunched forward, hands braced against the stone beneath me, panting from the pain.

What was that?

My heart was pounding now, trying to understand what was going on as I looked down and my hand where a greenish light still glowed as the familiarity of it suddenly hit me, increasing my confusion at the same time.

I knew now where this was supposed to be. I’d played through this scene too many times not to recognize it now. I could even understand why I might be dreaming about it, I’d only been obsessed with the game for several months now. What I didn’t understand was how I could experience such extreme and vivid pain in a dream and not wake up. I should have been sitting straight up in bed about now, not still stuck on a cold stone floor where my legs felt like they were starting to fall asleep.

Before I could think anymore I heard a sound ahead of me, causing me to look up towards a heavy door set into the wall across from where I was sitting. A shadowed face appeared in a small window in its center for a moment before it was slammed shut again. Apparently someone had noticed my waking.

There was nothing else for what felt like ages as I sat there waiting, not knowing what to expect of this strange dream. I wondered if I would see any of the familiar characters I knew make an appearance or if, in the inexplicable nature of dreams, there would be some random person from my life that would appear in their place.

I tried to keep my mind on such speculations and did my best to ignore the creeping suspicions that were now crawling up the back of my mind with their impossible implications.

Finally the door opened again and several soldiers entered, spacing themselves out around the edges of the room before another figure entered behind them, this one startlingly familiar, despite my having expected it.

I looked up into her face as the woman approached me and felt a kind of wonder at seeing this person before me, so like and yet unlike the image I’d seen a thousand times on my tv screen. It was absolutely the woman I knew, but it was so different too, it was just so… REAL.

I had to applaud my sleeping mind for a moment, to create something like this, so vivid, as if the game had truly been brought to life. It was a truly spectacular dream, I only hoped I would remember it when I woke up, except for that horrible pain of course, which I prayed would not strike again.

A movement behind her drew my attention away from my marveling at the first woman as I caught sight of the second figure entering behind, hooded this time and equally startling in appearance.

For some reason, watching these two women approach, seeing the dark expressions they bore, caused my heart rate to rise, instincts alert as fear began to trickle through my veins.

I was still not waking up, and I was starting to feel strange. It was becoming harder and harder to accept this as a dream with each passing moment, my knees pressed painfully into stone, cold metal digging into my wrists, and the sheer sense of awareness of everything around me; I simply felt awake. It didn’t feel like any kind of dream, but I couldn’t believe it could be anything else; it was just too unlikely, too impossible… It had to be a very vivid dream. That was all it could be, right?

I knew I should just relax and try to enjoy whatever journey it was my mind was taking me on. I recognized the place now, I recognized these women now before me, this was a world I loved after all, and had already spent countless hours in, I should be happy to be here. Unfortunately, my logical mind wasn't having any effect on the increasing apprehension I was feeling and I could feel my heart pounding almost audibly in my chest.

The first woman, all in armor, walked around me and spoke near my ear: “Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now.” Her voice was familiar and yet subtly different from the voice I new so well. It was not the same voice but it was still very recognizable. Something in the tone was slightly different but I couldn't pinpoint what.

I remained silent, not sure how to react, how to treat the situation. If this really was a dream I could do just about anything and see how the dream would respond. If I was truly lucid, shouldn’t I be able to have control, maybe I could remove the shackles. I closed my eyes for a moment and visualized them disappearing, but nothing happened.

This had to be a dream, it had to be, but I couldn't shake the sensation that it didn’t feel like any dream I’d ever had before. It hurt for one thing, every part of me felt stiff and sore and cold, I could feel my legs going numb. It felt real.

“Everyone at the Conclave is dead. Except. For. You.”

I had no memory of the Conclave, I knew the dream must have started after that point.

She grabbed my hand as the light sparked again sending an unpleasant vibration through me that caused me to flinch.

“Explain this.”

This was the moment, I had to make a choice, I had to decide how I was going to play this. I could tell them what I knew and see how they reacted, see if I could trick the dream into giving itself up. I almost did just that, but as I opened my mouth my mind whispered What if it’s not a dream?

I looked at my hand and made up my mind.

“I… can’t,” I answered, voice weaker than I’d wanted

“What do you mean you can’t?!”

“I don’t know. I have no idea how it got there.”

That at least was the truth. I knew what that green light was, I knew where it came from, I knew what it could do, but I didn’t really know why it was on my hand. I felt my eyes dash around the room looking for something, anything that could confirm that this was a dream, a slight panic starting to bubble in the pit of my stomach. If I could be sure this was a dream I knew I could find a way to take control, or get out completely. I always seemed to know when I was dreaming before, why couldn’t I tell now? I needed to know.

“You’re lying!!” she roared, and grabbed me.

Her grip was hard and painful, the anger in her voice just as hard. I recoiled from her, but the hooded woman pushed her back before she could do anything else, “We need her Cassandra.”

I was actually starting to become frightened now, not so much because of what was happening around me, but because I just couldn't find the answers I needed, the signs that would tell me this wasn’t real, because it couldn’t be, it just couldn’t be.

I didn’t want to be frightened of this place, I wanted to be excited to be in the world I’d been thinking about constantly for the last couple months, but the longer things went on the harder it was becoming to shake off the idea this wasn’t just a dream, this was something else and I had no idea what.

I closed my eyes and shook my head, trying to make sense of things. This was too familiar, too real, but it couldn’t be. No matter how much I might have fantasized about entering one of these fictional worlds I never believed it would be the least bit possible, they were fantasies, and that was all. Those kinds of dreams don’t come true, they are just escapes from the mundane every day world. Yet when I opened my eyes that "fantasy" still laid before me and the fear continued to grow.

The hooded woman turned back to me, studying me.

“I have no idea what’s going on.” I said, knowing they expected me to say something.

“Do you remember what happened? How this began?”

There it was, that question. How could I answer that question…

Chapter Text

What did I remember?

How did this begin?

In the mere seconds I knew I had, I tried to think back, tried to really look at my memory and determine what might have led to my ending up in this dream or whatever it might be.

Automatically, my mind went back to the game that was the origin for the world that seemed to now be surrounding me. I thought back on how I’d gotten it and the new game system as a distraction from some the personal troubles I’d been dealing with the past few months. How I’d so quickly just gotten lost in the world and everything about it. It wasn’t really that unusual, as an avid reader and gamer since childhood I had a tendency to get lost in the worlds I explored through such mediums. Still, it seemed I’d gotten even more absorbed with this particular world than I usually tended to do. That must be why it was such an intense dream then, right? I’d just spent so many concentrated hours lost in the world, the characters, and the events around them, both while playing the game and reading stories based off it. My mind must now be reflecting all of that. It made sense like that, didn’t it?

Trying to think it through quickly though, my last real memory seemed to be of me going to bed, falling asleep, alarm set for a day of work ahead.

Would that alarm be going off soon? Would I hear the soft music start playing any minute now, the music I had set to ease me out of sleep without sending me into a panic as a regular alarm would do? Perhaps that was what I needed to get myself out, maybe it was something like what happened in that one movie, they heard music and knew it was almost over.

I stopped thinking for a moment, silenced the insistent questions still churning, listening, hoping to hear that alarm, or anything really, some signal from the waking world that it was time to leave the one I was looking at.

I heard nothing, but a moment later my body suddenly jerked in surprise as I did hear the woman standing in front of me speak again.

“Do you remember what happened?”

Somehow, I was pretty sure ’I remember setting the alarm on my phone and laying down to go to bed in a world nothing like this one’ was not the answer she was looking for, and the thought of saying something like that had me mentally cringing. Dream or not, I was not the kind of person who could treat this situation quite so flippantly as that.

More than that, I could still feel the cold around me, the icy weight of the metal binding my hands, and the increasingly painful ache in my knees and legs as they were forced to maintain the uncomfortable position I was in. This, and something unnamable inside, told me it was probably best to play along and feign ignorance of this world and everything that was happening, at least until I had a chance to think things through. I’d seen this scene played out enough times I could just follow the basic script for now. At a loss for any better options, that was the course I chose.

“I remember being chased. I was running, then… a woman…”

“A woman?”

“She was reaching out to me but then… I don’t know…”

Their reaction was familiar, almost following the game exactly. I hoped it continued to follow, for now at least, until I had time to think, time to figure out what was happening and what I should do. I knew what was probably coming and if I didn’t wake up really soon, if that alarm didn’t go off, or - though I still didn’t believe it - if this was somehow… real, then I’d be too focused on just surviving this day to worry about anything else. Maybe dying would just wake me up, but until I knew for sure, until I could find away to prove to myself that this wasn’t real, I didn’t want to take that chance. Besides, I had my pride, if I fell out of this dream just because I died right off the bat, I’d be waking up pretty cranky, there are no save loads on dreams. Of course, there aren’t any on reality either…

At some point, I’d tuned out the conversation of the two women in front of me, but a moment later the tone changed and my attention was back.

“Go on ahead to the forward camp, I’ll bring her to the rift and then meet you there.” Cassandra said decisively. Leliana headed out as Cassandra started to unlock the heavy metal bindings on my wrists.

“How did I get here?” I asked, deciding to test the dream a bit, hoping something in the answer might give me a clue to what I was experiencing.

“They say you fell out of a rift. Some saw a woman behind you.”

“A rift?” Of course I knew about the rifts but I still had to wonder how I might have ended up anywhere near one. But no, I couldn't have been near one, it was just the dream talking, I tried to reassure myself.

“It will be easier to show you.”

She helped me to a standing position and I found that I had to lean quite a bit of my weight on her at first, my legs stiff and numb, refusing to hold me up properly for a minute.

A guard came up while I tried to regain control of my limbs and removed the heavy shackles around my wrists. It was such a relief to be rid of the cold weight but I was hardly given a moment to stretch and move them before rope was being put in place of the shackles. It was rough and tight, chafing the skin. I longed to move freely but I supposed it was still better than the cold metal that had been there.

The ropes in place, I found that I could stand on my own again. My feet still tingled but I felt stable enough to move on my own.

Cassandra led me outside, the soldiers following close behind. I was hit by the cold air and the bright light as we stepped out of the dark room. I was barely able to take in how perfectly I felt the chill of the breeze, and the flash of blindness at the light, when I looked up and saw it: swirling and green and so much bigger and more foreboding than I could have ever imagined. I could see it, but more than that, I could feel it, like a low current under my skin, or in my bones, a vibration, or maybe a pulse that reached right to my core so that I couldn’t breathe.

What was this? What was I doing here? How could I be actually seeing this? Feeling this?

Even from this distance the energy emanating off of it was overpowering. This had to be more than just my brain playing tricks. I was completely overwhelmed, it was just too much.

I had stopped dead in my tracks as I stared, wide eyed at the sky, still unable to breathe properly. I was in shock. My mind fought with my senses in utter disbelief and, if I was honest with myself, terror.

Chapter Text

“We call it ‘The Breach’. It’s a massive rift into the demon world that grows larger with each passing hour. It isn’t the only rift, but it is by far the largest. They were caused by the explosion at the Conclave.” Cassandra looked back at me and I knew she expected a response.

"H- how...?" I asked, barely able to get my voice to work.

Of course, I knew exactly how it got there and how it needed to be stopped, but I couldn't let that be known. In truth, I wasn’t even asking about the Breach itself, I was desperate to know how I was here, feeling what I was, I still couldn’t believe it but my senses were practically screaming at me that this was real, and it was hard to deny what they told me so forcefully.

”We don't know, but unless we act, we believe The Breach may continue to grow until it swallows the world."

Just then The Breach flashed, followed by a crack of what sounded like thunder but much more sinister. Pain and power seared up my arm again and I cried out with the shock and intensity of it, falling to my knees. It soon diminished, leaving a tingling staticky sensation. I never thought it would feel that way, like hot electricity, or cold fire, or... or... honestly it was like nothing I'd felt before, I just knew I didn't like it. I cradled my arm to my chest. What was this thing doing to my body?

Cassandra spoke again, crouching before me, "When The Breach expands, so does your mark... and it is killing you. We believe that mark may be the key to stopping this but we don't have much time."

"How am I supposed to stop this?!" I asked, incredulous. I knew technically what I was supposed to do, but ME?? How in the world could I be capable of doing anything here, I didn't belong here. If this wasn’t a dream, maybe it was just some crazy hallucination or illusion, a world created for or by my mind for some other purpose, maybe it was designed to allow me to follow through with these expectations, but there was no way to know for sure. I was still struggling with the possibility that it just might be real but that prospect filled me with even more confusion, uncertainty and fear.

"You and that mark may be the only way we have to close the Breach. Whether that will be truly possible is something we will discover shortly. It is our only chance however, and yours"

"You think I started all this, don't you? Why would I do this to myself?" I asked, responding, playing along and trying not to think of what any of this might mean.

She glared at me in response, "That is exactly what I think, though I believe the results were not what you intended. Something clearly went wrong?"

"It wasn't me, someone must have done this to me!" If this was real, or anything other than a dream, it had to be someone else's doing right?

"If that is true then we will find them, but right now you are the only suspect and we have no evidence yet to suggest otherwise." She gripped my arm and helped me to stand. "If you wish to prove your innocence, this is the only way."

I looked at her, thinking what might be best to say to this imposing woman. She was definitely a formidable figure and everything about her gave a sense of authority and command, she was even taller than I’d imagined. Seeing her here in person as a real thing, hearing that voice, feeling that aura of authority and yet also catching behind it all an undertone of fear, it was so surreal and yet oddly comforting. Real or not, if this woman before me were at all like the character I knew, she would be someone I would be glad to have at my side.

I sighed, I knew I had no choice but to follow this though, I couldn’t just stand here in the cold, I needed answers and the only way I was going to be able to find them was to move forward.

"Fine, I'll do what I can, I just hope I live though it."

"Good, let's go."

We started walking again and as we moved I finally had a moment to take in more of what was around me. I guessed this must be Haven and I could see the resemblance, but it was so much bigger. It was like a small town, some buildings looked pretty sturdy and well established but throughout there were more makeshift shelters and structures interspersed with tents of various sizes. There were quite a few people of all descriptions, lots of soldiers. I saw mostly humans but I caught glimpses of elves in the background. I could barely take it all in, my thoughts and emotions were such a jumble and I couldn't focus or concentrate on any single detail. It took me a whole minute or two to realize how many people were staring at me, every one of their expressions filled with loathing and accusation. I had never been looked at that way in my entire life. I soon looked away, tried to avoid as many of the eyes as I could, unconsciously pulling closer to Cassandra as I did so.

She noticed my reaction. "They have already decided your guilt. They need it. They mourn the death of the Most Holy, Divine Justinia. This Conclave was hers; finally a chance for peace, the leaders of the Templars and Mages finally coming together, and now all are dead. The people of Haven need someone to blame, someone to punish."

We were finally making our way to the edge of the town. We approached a large set of heavy wooden gates, which opened slowly as we reached them. I was struck by how heavy and solid they seemed, so real. I wanted to reach out and touch them, test their solidity for myself or see if this dream would rip away under my grasp. But I was still bound and Cassandra maintained a firm grip on my arm until the gates eventually shut behind us.

She continued speaking in the relative quiet outside the gates, "I cannot blame the people, I too wish I could lash out but I know I must think beyond myself, we all must, as Most Holy did, until the Breach is healed."

She finally released her grip on my arm and pulled out a dagger. She turned and approached me with it. She grasped the rope binding me and cut it sharply with the knife, releasing my hands from the restraint. "There will be a trial. I can promise no more."

She turned her back and started walking ahead, clearly expecting me to follow. For a moment, panic started to fill me as I glanced around. The loss of the bindings and her hold on me suddenly left me feeling like I was hanging in a void, lost and falling. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. I looked ahead again, and holding the sight of Cassandra's back as my anchor to barely maintained composure, started walking. I glanced at my hand for a moment as I flexed my fingers and palms, trying to get the blood flowing back into them, but the shimmer of green I saw sent another thrill of panic through me and I fixed my eyes firmly on Cassandra's shield again trying to think of nothing more than the design across it's surface as we crossed a bridge leading away from Haven and it's solid stone walls which I was quickly starting to miss.

Once we got across the bridge. We were in open country. Snow covered the ground and we were clearly in a mountainous area but otherwise it looked completely unfamiliar. This was no game designed world; this was what real mountains looked like. It was familiar in that respect, I had once lived near mountains and often gone camping in them as a child. We were travelling along a clearly marked, large path however. Many people had passed this way, and recently, the snow was thinned from the passage of many feet, at least I wouldn't have to worry about getting lost.

Cassandra turned back, "It's not far, but we should hurry. Are you fit to run?"

Oh god I hated running, I'd avoided it like the plague my whole life. I didn't mind exercise but for some reason I always despised running. I hadn't had much exercise of any kind recently either so I wasn't sure how long it would take before I had an asthma attack or something, still what else could I do? "Umm, I think so."

"Let's go then," and without another word she was moving, I took in a final breath and then set off behind her. Within just a few moments I realized that it wasn't as hard as I'd expected. I was jogging at a steady pace and still breathing freely. I looked down and my legs striding beneath me. In all the rush of confusion and emotions I hadn't had a chance to really take stock of myself, I'd even forgotten how cold it was, though the chill in my fingers was reminding me keenly now.

When I looked down at myself, the first thing I noticed was the clothes. They were definitely not anything like what I owned back in the real world. Other than that, it was hard to tell any other differences. Clearly my physical condition was better than it had been in my own world or I'd have been wheezing and gasping already. If there were indeed some kinds of physical changes it would be a point towards this not being really real. If I wasn't physically transported here then maybe... Maybe what?

Honestly my mind was still reeling, It was hard to think clearly about anything. I needed to center myself, to try to keep myself calm and look at things as logically as possible.

I started by taking in the details, the pace of my legs, one foot in front of the other, step by step by step. I listened to my breath, audible huffs as I worked to get enough air in as I continued to run. I felt the cold air against my skin, rushing past my face, chilling the tips of my ears and nose. I looked ahead at the woman in front of me, trying to match my pace to hers, watching the slight bounce of the shield on her back. I watched the passage of the scenery, the snow-covered stone and trees, the imprints of booted feet still left in the ground around us.

I could feel myself begin to calm again, enough to think anyway, lulled into the rhythm of my stride as I began to let my mind return to some of the many questions still plaguing me. That was when the pain flashed up my arm again, bringing me to the ground, crying out. I lay there several seconds, breathing hard, eyes clenched, doing my best not to let the tears of pain that were threatening start falling.

Cassandra turned and came back to where I’d collapsed, helping me up and back onto my feet. "The pulses seem to be coming faster now. As the Breach grows, more rifts form and more demons appear. The longer we take the more dangerous the path will become."

I understood her urgency, I shared it to a degree. I needed to get the mark under control, I couldn’t keep being knocked down by this pain, I didn’t want to feel it ever again. I glanced over at my hand but couldn't look at the mark there for long without feeling the thread of panic threatening again. Instead, I looked up at Cassandra and asked, "How exactly did I get to Haven?"

Her brow furrowed as she spoke, "They said you stepped out of a rift and then fell unconscious. Some said they saw a woman in the rift behind you, but they couldn't tell who it was. Everything else in the valley was laid to waste, even the Temple of Sacred Ashes. ... You will see for yourself soon."

"I was really the only survivor? No one else was found?"

"No, only you."

This news was both expected and a surprise. This is what happened in the game story so it wasn't so unusual to hear that was what happened. And perhaps I had somehow entered through a rift ... but it couldn't have been from the Conclave, I had no memory of it, I couldn't have been there. Somehow, that must have been the entrance point for me through which I entered this world. By now I had all but completely abandoned the notion that it could all just be a dream.

There wasn't time to think it all through right now though. Cassandra had started moving again so I had no choice but to push ahead as well. I did my best not to think about what even the next few minutes might hold.

Chapter Text

As we ran along the wide path we passed groups of soldiers periodically, small outposts, there to hold back any demons that might appear I guessed. We were just passing one of these when there was a blast of some sort. It was strong enough to knock everyone off their feet. Most recovered quickly but I soon heard someone cry out "DEMONS!"

I pushed myself up and looked around frantically, trying to get an idea what was going on. I saw Cassandra just to the side, she unsheathed her sword as she said, "Stay behind me!" as she headed off to do battle with the nearest demon. Just then another bomb fell from the sky hitting the ground not far off and I saw another demon emerge.

Terror filled me. It was a demon, an actual demon, and while it's shape was familiar it was a lot bigger than I'd been able to imagine and I couldn't even begin to tell what it was made of. Even from a distance I could feel an energy coming off of it. I had no idea what it was, magic, fade residue, something else entirely? I stood there like a terrified rabbit for what felt like an age but was probably just 2 seconds. When the demon spotted me and made a move toward me I could only act on instinct and grabbed the nearest weapon I could find.

It was fortunate there were a couple small blades already scattered near me. I knew nothing about magic so a staff would have been pretty useless, my skill with a bow was non-existent, and I'm pretty sure a larger sword would have been too much for me to handle. As it was, I'd never used any kind of weapon before. Hell, I'd never even been in a fight before, so it wasn't like I had much chance whatever I picked up. My best hope was to hold the thing off until Cassandra or one of the other soldiers I could hear still fighting could come help me.

The demon was advancing quicker now. I backed up but there wasn't really anywhere I could go. I moved around to the side to try and flank the thing, I was sure a direct attack would end me pretty fast. It swiped at me as I moved around its right side. I dodged it and then moved in strike it below where the arm connected. That first hit was the strangest sensation. There was an almost crunchy resistance at the surface followed by something thicker and heavier before the blade slid home smoothly. Not only that but the energy I had felt emanating from the thing seemed to flow up the blade and over my arm as it connected as well. It didn't feel bad or good, but more like it was another layer I had penetrated.

The shock of that first strike almost made me let go of my weapon but fortunately I maintained enough grip to pull it out with the momentum of my movement as the rest of my body was continuing to move around towards the back of the creature.

It was such a strange sensation, the world, which had been reeling and spinning since I'd woken in that dark room, had suddenly slowed down and moved into hyper focus. I had no kind of skill or grace in this battle, I had no idea what I was doing or how I might possibly defeat this beast. Did the thing have a heart? How many holes did I need to punch in its skin before it would stop moving? I had no idea, but I was aware of each movement I made relative to each of its opposing movements, and as it moved to attack I would dodge, as it recovered I would strike. I didn't hit it every time but almost. Around the fifth strike it was over, I felt it give a shudder and the energy around it died an instant before it exploded into nothing.

A rush of relief and satisfaction hit me. Somehow I not only didn't die, I managed to kill the thing as well. I have no idea how I killed it but it was obviously gone and that was good enough for me at the moment.

This good feeling was short lived however, I quickly remembered that this was just one creature and that there were hundreds more all over this world and if things kept up I'd be facing more very soon. It was probably dumb luck that I didn't die this time. Seriously, why didn't I just run or something, that would have been the smart thing to do, instead I decide to attack it?! I couldn't expect such luck to continue. I looked down at the two blades still in my hands. I had the advantage of being pretty ambidextrous, but I'd never handled weapons before, I was surely no better than a child slashing and jabbing at shadows.

I looked up. The sounds of fighting were fading. I saw Cassandra plunge her blade into a demon and kill it. Pulling her sword back she walked toward me like something between a mountain and a thunderstorm, "PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS!"

I almost dropped them right then and there, I had no business playing hero with a couple knives I was probably holding like a two-year-old. Then I looked back where the demon had been standing not a minute earlier, chances were that I wouldn't be able to run from every fight, "What if there are more? What am I supposed to do? Surely I'm no threat to you, I'm barely a threat to these demons."

She looked at me with intensity for a moment then sighed, "You're right. You should not be defenseless and I may not be able to protect you." She relaxed her stance and put away her sword. "But you should give yourself some credit, though unskilled, you did ... well against that demon. At least you were not foolish enough to attack directly." The corner of her mouth turned up slightly, "Still, you are holding your blades wrong, let me show you."

She proceeded to give me an impromptu tutorial of how to hold the daggers and a couple ways to strike as well as the best places to aim for on a demon to kill it as quickly as possible. Apparently my instinct to aim for the central part of the body had been correct at least. She offered a couple more quick tips before looking at me skeptically and asking, "How did one so untrained as you end up at the Conclave?"

"I... I uh..." This was one question I was completely unprepared to answer.

"Never mind, there is not time now. We must move on, they will be needing our help." She went to a pile of supplies and picked up a kind of harness. "Here, put this on." After securing the harness across my shoulders she showed me how to secure and remove the blades quickly and safely. (It was actually quite a clever design, and if I survived I'd have to look at it more closely later.) Once everything was secure, she asked "Are you ready?"

I steeled myself and nodded. We headed off at a jog once more. I couldn't decide if the addition of the weapons made me feel more secure, or more frightened, so I decided not to think about it. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

It wasn't long before I heard more sounds of battle ahead and my heart started to race.

"Do you hear the fighting? We're getting close to the rift now, prepare yourself!" Cassandra called back as she picked up her pace.

I forced myself to just focus on moving. I couldn't afford to think right now or I would surely panic. Had to just focus on each moment, each breath and no more. Falling apart now was not an option.

Moments later I saw it, a green glowing ... thing in the sky a little ways above a few figures fighting nearby. I saw a few flashes of what must be magic ahead and then I recognized the demons. As we approached the rift I realized I could feel its energy as clearly as I could see it in the sky. I felt it humming, a kind of vibration running through my senses and concentrating where the mark was.

There was no time to think about that just now though. We reached the fighters quickly and I grabbed the blades at my back, pulling them out as I'd practiced, then pushed myself ahead towards the back of a demon ahead of me. The first demon must have been hit a few times already because it burst apart at my first strike to its open back. I turned quickly and headed for the next one I saw. I barely realized what I was doing, running on adrenaline and instinct alone. Even looking back it feels like such a blur. It felt like an instant and an eternity but we had all the demons finished off in a minute, maybe two.

I was looking around me wildly for the next target when a voice called out beside me, "Quickly, before more come through!" A hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me around to face the rift. My arm was yanked up roughly and pointed directly at that strange green light. I instinctively tried to pull away but the grip was firm and then I felt the energy of the mark and the rift flow into each other, both powers flowing up into me and then back out and then, what I can only describe as some kind of cosmic suction, as the rift collapsed in on itself leaving an empty patch of normal space above us.

My arm was still tingling with the power, though not painfully as it had done earlier. As the hand holding my wrist let go and pulled away I felt some of that power leave with it. I looked at my hand as I pulled it back then turned to look in the direction the power had gone and saw yet another very familiar face. I blinked once, a bit dazed, "What did you do?" I'd meant about the power I'd felt from him but either he misunderstood or wanted to avoid answering, both seemed plausible upon later reflection.

"I did nothing, the credit is yours,"he must have seen the skepticism in my expression but, of course, he couldn't understand the true source of my reaction so he continued by explaining, "Whatever magic opened the breach in the sky is also what placed that mark upon your hand. I have theorized the mark may be able to close the rifts that have opened in the breach's wake. And clearly, I was correct."

Cassandra stepped forward then, "Meaning it could also close the breach itself."

"It's possible," he replied then looked back towards me, "It seems you hold the key to our salvation."

I looked back into that oh-so-familiar face and was struck again with the utter surreality of my situation. I had seen images of that face so many times it was burned into my brain and yet here it was real, physical, or at least seeming so, and it was just the same but really not. How do you compare a computer image to a real person? There is so much more depth in the simple presence of a real person that no computer could ever express. Fortunately, I was not left to linger on these thoughts long. A voice spoke up behind me, saving me from staring at the face before me for an unreasonable length of time.

"Glad to hear it! I was starting to think we'd be up to our asses in demons forever." He walked over to us, another familiar figure in this world that just wouldn't let my head stop spinning for a second. The dwarf smiled and introduced himself with his customary tongue-in-cheek charm, "Varric Tethras: rogue, story teller, occasionally an unwelcome tagalong..." He glanced at Cassandra as he finished. "But someone good to have around in a pinch, Bianca and I will happy to assist as we head into the valley," he said patting his crossbow as he swung it onto his back. Another familiar face, the crossbow was actually pretty cool, and the chest hair lived up to its reputation as well. If I wasn't so terrified, I might have laughed at the thought.

"Absolutely not," Cassandra commanded. "Your help is appreciated Varric, but..."

"Have you seen the valley lately, Seeker? Your soldiers are not in control anymore, you need all the help you can get."

She looked at him a moment trying to find a good argument but quickly gave up and turned away with a sound of frustrated defeat.

I watched her go then turned back to Varric, "I'm glad to meet you Varric, I will certainly appreciate the help," I said sincerely.

"If there are to be introductions then my name is Solas. I am pleased to see you still live," came the voice behind me as I turned to face him again. He seemed taller than I expected.

"What he really means is 'I kept that mark from killing you while you slept'" Varric elaborated.

"So you can tell me more about all this?" I asked, still looking at Solas. I knew if anyone knew anything about anything that might help me figure things out, it was Solas. I already knew he was the key to everything happening in this world now, and that he would be the most likely to be the key that would help me figure out how I got into this world in the first place, or if it was even real. It was still grasping at straws I knew, but he likely was my best chance at answers.

Before he could answer though, Cassandra spoke up. "Solas is an apostate."

"Technically all mages are now apostates, Cassandra." he replied then turned back to me, "my travels have allowed me to learn much about the Fade, far beyond the experience of any circle mage. I am here to offer whatever help I can give. If the Breach is not closed we are all doomed, regardless of origin or belief."

"Thank you, I will appreciate your help." It was true. Standing there before him, I felt hopeful, but at the same time, he made me nervous. I knew who he was and what he was after. He hid it well though, if I hadn't already known I never would have guessed, and the humble and friendly image he projected now even made me doubt what I knew about him. If nothing else, he was a master of deceit, so I would need to be cautious. Still, real or dream, this wasn't a game. There were no guarantees everything would continue to follow as it had in the story I knew. Even these people might be different in some ways. I didn't know any of these people, not really, I only knew them as fictional characters, still, I had little choice but to trust in what I did know, believe that they could be as much a support to me right now as they had been for my game character. If I had any chance of surviving this and making it through the day, I would need it. I didn't dare think beyond that.

After nodding in response to my thanks he asked, "By the way, may we have the pleasure of your name?"

Oh shit, my name. I had no idea what my name was supposed to be here. I didn't even know what the human character's name was in the game, I'd never played anything but an elf. Even my first name was uncertain, I'd used a couple different names in the game, then there was my real name, but did anyone know me here, was I supposed to already have a name? I didn't have time to think though, and they were waiting, "Oh, umm, sorry. You can call me Lyara."

"A pleasure," Solas replied, before turning back to Cassandra. "Cassandra, You should know, the magic involved here is unlike any I have seen. Your prisoner is a mage, but I find it difficult to imagine that any mage could be so powerful, much less one so obviously inexperienced." He said turning back to me.

"Wait, what?!" I was stunned by this sudden pronouncement. I looked at him wide eyed, "I don't have any magic, that can't be true!"

"Hmm, interesting," he said, a puzzled expression on his face as he looked me over, "I suspect your power is newly emerged. It is unusual for magical talent to manifest so late in life but perhaps the mark has triggered your latent abilities."

Cassandra suddenly looked at me with renewed suspicion. "Are you sure Solas? What if it was the emergence of her power that triggered all this?"

"I cannot imagine that would even be possible," Solas said shaking his head. "Tell me, Lyara, are you able to use your magic in any way?"

"No, of course not, I didn't have any idea I had it until just now. I have certainly felt a lot of magic or something in the air, and there's the power in the mark but..."

"So you can feel the magic around you?"

"Yes, it's around the rifts, the demons, ...you. The breach feels like it's making everything vibrate, like an insistent hum just below the surface of everything."

"That is a sign that you do indeed possess magic, otherwise you would not be able to feel what you do. Have you ever felt such things before?"

"Well, no, but I just thought, with all that's going on..."

"I see. Cassandra, while the emergence of her power at this time is curious, I do not believe it could have possibly triggered what has happened, more likely it is just another side effect of the immense power that was unleashed."

Cassandra considered this information a few moments before responding, "Understood. Come, we must get to the forward camp, we should move quickly."

We got everything together and headed off down the path again. Cassandra continued in the lead. I followed behind her with Varric and Solas at my back. It did feel good having them back there, knowing they would help me make it through this day. I was glad at least that I had some small idea of who all of them were, if they had been complete strangers, I'm not sure I could have even stayed standing, much less running to fight off more danger.

We ran into a few more groups of demons along the way. They kept falling from the sky in small clusters. We'd destroy them each time and then quickly start moving again.

Much of my memory of this time is a blur but some memories stand out clearly. I know that I tried to stay out of the center of things for the most part. I couldn't just rush in and attack like Cassandra, I had no skill to defend myself there. I tried to stay near Varric or Solas, hoping to help defend their flanks and stay out of their way as they sent arrows and magic flying at the enemies. Just doing this gave me more than enough action though.

Wraiths were strange the first time. They seemed to have no substance yet I could tell when my blade connected with it. Cutting through its form I could feel something like it was detaching from itself, like whatever held it together in the first place was pulling apart. Once enough of it was damaged this way it just could no longer hold it's shape and it would fly apart into nothing. I wondered if the others could feel that too or if it was due to the magic I now supposedly possessed. In any case, I didn't need to hit one more than a couple times to kill it but they could be annoyingly fast at times and those stupid balls of energy they could throw... they weren't that damaging but they stung and could definitely throw you off. Those stupid things could come from quite a distance so if you hadn't seen the wraith, chances were good you would be caught off guard. Since I needed every ounce of concentration I could muster, this was not a good thing

I remember the first time I felt Solas' barrier go up around me. A moment of panic at the sudden change in the energy around me distracted me so that I missed dodging a blow heading my way. When it hit the barrier I felt the impact, but the power of the blow was absorbed by the barrier, leaving me unharmed. It still came as a surprise and I only barely dodged the next blow finally striking out at the demon with both daggers and watching it vaporize. After the first time though, every time I felt that barrier go up my relief was immediate. Every demon I faced still filled me with terror. I was sure I was meeting death each time. But when I felt the protection of that shielding spell it was like I could breathe a little again and I sent a silent 'thank you' to Solas every time. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I'd be dead without those barriers.

It was good to have their support. I could barely deal with one enemy at a time on my own. There were many times when I would see another approaching and it would soon be struck with an arrow or flash of lightning, stopping it before it could reach me. There were even a few closer calls where an enemy managed to sneak up behind me so close I could feel the wind from the arrow or heat from the fireball that struck it. Basically, they saved my life countless times that day as I made my fumbling attempts to defend them. I thought of just trying to hide behind them as much as possible but somehow I felt ashamed at the idea of not at least trying to help. They did direct me too at times, telling me when to back off and get out of the way or when there was an enemy they thought I could take on. I trusted them and followed their instructions the best I could.

There was one battle, where I'd gotten hit by those dumb glowing wraith missiles about half a dozen times. It wasn't like I could just get out of the way either, there were so many of them that time and even so I barely managed to hit a single demon once. If it weren't for my allies I'd have been paste a few times over. When it was over I felt like such an incompetent idiot. I was sure I was just a liability and yet I was the reason we were all out here in the first place. They needed me, I had to close the rifts, and I only put them in danger. I was worried for myself but if I was struck down there was the chance I would just wake up in my bed again. But what about them? I didn't want any of them lost due to my utter incompetence. I couldn't imagine how this was ever going to work.

Varric came up to me after that battle and said, "You really aren't very good at this are you?"

I turned towards him to see him grinning but my distress must have been clear on my face because his attitude quickly shifted as he now looked at me seriously.
"Hey, don't worry about it. It was one fight and everyone is fine. You're alive and they aren't. Besides, you'll get better. I've seen you, you're learning quickly, you won't make the same mistakes again."

"Yeah, I'll just make completely new ones." I knew he was just trying to be nice though I probably couldn't get any worse, "I know I'm useless and I don't want any of you to get hurt because of my mistakes."

"Hey, we're tougher than we look. Believe me, we're all willing to do what we can to get you to the breach. If you can close it, it'll be worth it. And you're not useless, the last fight didn't go so well but you've kept a few nasty things off our backs now and then."

"Thanks Varric," I smiled in spite of myself, "I appreciate it more than you know. ... Hey, if we survive this, I give you permission to tell the story of how I was running around the battlefield, uselessly flapping my daggers at demons like an angry goose."

"You promise?"

"Promise." I said smiling a little broader.

He grinned, "Perfect, I'll buy the first round and maybe you can act it out for us too."

"Hey, don't push your luck. That was a one time performance." I grinned back.

I felt better after that. I was still scared as hell and frustrated by my lack of any useful skill for this situation, but the tension was broken a bit. I also knew these people actually had my back. A strange feeling as it was something I'd never really experienced, but it was certainly welcome.

There was very little talk as we continued along the path, for which I was glad. We travelled in silence only communicating when it was necessary. I was certainly in no mood to chat, and the last thing I wanted were more questions I couldn't answer. I didn't think I could take in any more new information either. It was all I could do to just keep going, running on adrenaline. I was pretty sure I'd sleep a week if I made it through this day. Running, fighting, closing rifts, it had to be draining me, to say nothing of the mental stress I was still under. I felt like I was hanging onto my sanity by a thread at some moments. It didn't help that the mark would still flare up form time to time. It no longer brought me down, closing that first rift must have helped somehow, but it still stung. I couldn't ignore the mark but I still couldn't bring myself to look at it, so I just shook out my arm and kept going.

As we got close to the forward camp we saw the distinctive green glow of another rift just this side of the camp. We managed to deal with the demons pretty efficiently. As for closing the rift, I felt a little unsure as I did it by myself for the first time. I was sure Solas had helped previously and I didn't know if I would need that help again, but as soon as I raised my hand I felt the power of the mark respond. Again the merging of the two energies followed by the strange sucking sensation as the rift pulled in on itself. It left my arm tingling but it was still nothing like the pain it had given me before.

With the rift gone we were finally able to walk through the gates to the forward camp.

Chapter Text

Being in this more protected area with some semblance of order allowed me to relax a bit. In doing so, I was better able to take in what was around me. There were a lot more soldiers here. Soldiers watched us as we passed and among them I saw looks of curiosity and suspicion. Beneath it all though I could see their fear, some even seemed on the edge of despair. In an odd way it was reassuring to know I was not the only one nearly panicked out of my mind. I'd always prided myself on being able to keep a cool head but I needed to accept that what I was going through was beyond extraordinary and I was justified in not being completely in control.

I knew my companions must be scared as well, but they seemed to hide it well. I wondered if they were able to see how scared I was? I hadn't really had a chance to consider it before but walking past these frightened soldiers, and knowing I was supposed to be the one to save them this day made me want to stand a little taller, show a little more confidence and strength. I wanted to reassure them in some small way that we could get out of this. Maybe if I could give them some hope, I could give myself some as well. There was still a long way to go, I needed... we all needed, to believe we could make it or we wouldn't even be able to take the next step.

Not far inside Cassandra stopped. She grabbed something from what seemed to be a supply chest and handed it to me. It was a small bottle of red liquid. "Elfroot potion," she explained, "I'm sure you need it after the journey here." I opened the bottle and sniffed hesitantly. Surprisingly it had a fresh herbal kind of smell, not what I expected from the color. I took the bottle and poured the contents into my mouth. It was small so I emptied it quickly and then swallowed the liquid. It was quite refreshing, not the strong medicinal flavor I thought it might have. Once I'd downed it, I felt the refreshing sensation spread throughout my body as fatigue and exhaustion melted away leaving me feeling renewed with energy. If this stuff had been available in the real world, Red Bull would have gone out of business overnight.

When I looked back at Cassandra she was looking at me kind of funny but all she said was, "Put some extra bottles in your pack, you will almost certainly need them on the road ahead."

I could see that the others were doing just that. I moved up behind Varric as he finished filling his pockets. As I moved in to grab a few bottles for myself he asked, "Is that the first time you've had an elfroot potion?"

I paused with a bottle halfway to my bag, thinking fast, "Um, they were kind of hard to come by where I'm from. I never had the opportunity to drink one myself. Though now, I can see what I've been missing. There are plenty of times I would have liked to have a some handy."

"It certainly can give you a good pick-me-up, and fortunately these people seem to have a decent stock lying around so make sure you take as many as will safely fit in your bag, there's no telling what we'll face later on."

Once we'd loaded up on the potions we pressed quickly through the groups of soldiers towards the center of the camp where a tent and large table were set up. I could see the hooded form of Leliana talking to a man in a funny looking hat. He wore a cloak over his chantry robes but the hat was very similar to what I remembered in the game. Like all the people here, he too looked familiar but had a lot more depth and detail to his appearance. It always came as a kind of surprise, and every time it happened I had this urge to just stare, trying to compare the image in my head with the one before me, detail for detail. It took a small force of will to look away and try to behave normally.

The man looked at us as we approached, as he focused on me I could see hostility spread across his face.

Leliana, on the other hand, had an expression of relief, "You made it."

Cassandra answered, "I am glad to see you got through as well." She then turned to the man in the funny hat, "Chancellor Roderick, this is..." and motioned for me to come forward but was quickly interrupted.

"I don't care what her name is." He snapped. "As Grand Chancellor of the Chantry, I hereby order you to take this criminal to Val Royeaux to face execution."

Of course this started an argument. The lack of a clear leader was made obvious by their bickering, both sides struggling to hold authority. Ultimately, Cassandra and Leliana had the support of the soldiers but that didn't stop Roderick from his tiresome blustering.

"Justinia is dead, and we must elect her replacement and then follow her orders in this matter. Until that time we must do our best to maintain order and keep the people safe," argued Roderick.

The man truly was irritating. It was enough to deal with him in the game but here I was face to face with this man who was essentially suggesting we back off and wait till however long it took for the powers that be to completely reorganize themselves and decide what to do and simply hope for the best in the meantime. I was scared and now I was getting pissed off. "How do you expect to keep anyone safe as long as that THING is in the sky?!" I finally burst out, throwing my usual caution and calm to the wind. I wanted this taken care of now and I wanted off this damn mountain.

"You were the one who brought all this upon us this in the first place?" He shouted back at me as I glared at him. He turned back to Cassandra pleading, "Call a retreat seeker, our position here is hopeless."

"We can stop this before it is too late." She said firmly.

"How? You won't be able to even survive long enough to reach the temple, even with all your soldiers," Roderick countered.

"We must get to the temple and this is the quickest route, we don't have any other choice," she said.

"No there is another option that may be safer," inserted Leliana. "The soldiers can charge as a distraction while you take the path through the mountains."

"But we lost contact with an entire squad on that path, it would be too risky," argued Cassandra

Roderick spoke again, pleading, "Listen to me, you must abandon this now, before more lives are lost."

Right on cue, the Breach above started to flash threateningly and the mark on my hand responded, sending a tremor all the way up my arm, which continued for several moments. I lifted my hand to watch it in a kind of horrified fascination, at least it didn't hurt too badly anymore.

Watching me, Cassandra approached. "How do you think we should proceed?"

I was incredulous, I had no authority, no skill, just a stupid glowing green hand and that was apparently enough to still put this responsibility in my hands, and I didn't want it but it seemed I was going to have to make some choices after all. "You actually want my opinion?"

"You are the one with the mark." Said Solas solemnly

"And you are the one we must keep alive." Cassandra added seriously. "Since we cannot come to an agreement on our own..." She paused significantly, waiting.

Well, I already knew how this was supposed to turn out and things had followed pretty well to this point so it wasn't really a decision, I could just keep playing this out the way I had from the safety of my sofa. The direct route might be faster though, I did want this to be over with as soon as possible. I was more familiar with the mountain path though and I knew we'd have a chance to save the missing soldiers. I resisted the urge to sigh and tried to put some resolve into my voice, "We'll take the mountain path. If we're lucky we can find the missing squad as well."

Cassandra nodded then turned to Leliana, "Bring everyone left in the valley. Everyone."

At this Roderick clearly couldn't resist having the last word, "On your head be the consequences, Seeker."

We started making our way to the other end of the camp, heading for the mountain. Roderick glared at me as we passed, but I kept my eyes on the mountain and ignored him. This was not going to be easy and I had a lot more to worry about than whether the man liked me or not.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The path to the mountain was not short. It was a mountain after all. It was also a lot rougher than the route we took to the camp, so we didn't run anymore, we walked, taking the path carefully. The armor I was wearing seemed to be lined with fur or some kind of heavy fabric, I couldn't really tell just by looking down at it. It was pretty warm but I was starting to feel cold again anyway. The adrenaline was wearing off and our slow pace up the mountain allowed the cold to seep in.

Eventually we reached some structures built along the side of the mountain, with ladders leading upward. As we approached the first ladder Cassandra spoke, "The passage is at the top. Beyond that, will be the path to the temple."

"What kind of passage is it, a mining tunnel?" asked Solas.

"It is part of mining complex. There are many such tunnels throughout these mountains."

"And the missing soldiers will be in there somewhere?" Varric asked

"We will find out soon enough." Cassandra answered

We started to climb the ladders up and up. It wouldn't have been so bad if my hands hadn't been so numb, I didn't even have gloves. The mountain winds were pretty brutal and left my face with almost no feeling and I was sure my ears had become ice and would break off in my hand if I touched them. It was a long way and we took a break about halfway up to catch our breath a bit.

"Solas?" I asked hesitantly, trying not to let my teeth chatter.

"Yes?" He asked, looking at me questioningly.

"Um, you wouldn't happen to have any magic that might help in this cold would you?" I felt a little embarrassed to ask, the others didn't seem to be as badly affected but maybe they were more used to such weather than I was. I was becoming increasingly worried my hands would become so numb I'd fall off a ladder and go tumbling down the mountainside. If I died, that was not the way I would prefer to go about it.

Solas smiled then, "Actually, I think I can help with that." He raised his hands and I started to feel the magic flow around and through him and then out to us. We were all affected by the spell but I felt most of its power concentrated on me. As it hit me I felt warmth starting from the center of my body then reaching outward all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes. It was like a small furnace had been lit inside me. The numbness was gone and I could see color returning to my fingers.

"Nice trick," said Varric

"Thank you," I said looking gratefully at Solas. "How long will the effects last?"

"They should last, at least, until we reach the top, though your magic may be able to prolong the effects somewhat."

"Thank you," I said again, at a loss for anything more appropriate.

"Let's move on," came Cassandra's command.

The rest of the climb was much easier. Just as Solas said, that internal furnace was able to keep my body temperature up for the rest of the climb. We finally reached the top and soon saw the opening to the passage through the mountain. It was completely black. There were torch materials near the entrance though and Solas had a couple lit in short order. It was another sign of how real this all seemed. In a game there was always enough light but there were no convenient computer generated lights in a real cave. However after the warming spell, I was hit with a new inspiration. "Solas?"

"What do you need?"

"I was wondering, is there any way of making it possible to see in the dark with magic?"

He smiled again, apparently amused by my question and I had to wonder if the answer should be common knowledge. "It is possible to do, but it takes quite a bit of energy, I would not be able to sustain the effects for all four of us for as long as it will take us to reach the other end of this passage, especially if we find demons inside."

"I guess that makes sense, I was mostly just curious. Thanks for telling me."

"Think nothing of it. If we are successful in closing the Breach perhaps I can help you learn more about your newly realized powers."

"I hope we get that chance."

We moved into the dark passageway. There was debris throughout and I could see sconces for torches along the walls here and there but they were all dark. It's amazing how dark things are when you only have a couple torches to light the space. The passage wasn't large but the light couldn't reach into the corners. I found myself grateful for the element of reality that meant I didn't have to go around searching every corner for "loot". Such things could be fun in a game but physically doing such things would be tedious at best, and in dark, cold, creepy places like this... well, I was just glad we didn't have to bother with it.

Of course there were demons in the passage. It was hard trying to fight in the dark, but Solas would sometimes light a couple of the wall sconces, and the demons themselves tended to have a slight glow about them but it felt like fighting shadows in shadows. It made fighting that much trickier, I could barely see my target, much less anything else going on around me, and I wanted to avoid getting in anyone's way. I stayed a lot closer to Varric and Solas as a result, guarding their backs as much as possible. Basically, I knew my limits and I knew the risks, whatever happened I needed to get to the Breach. Closing that would protect a lot more people than killing a couple demons. It wasn't worth a sense of false pride in abilities I obviously didn't have, only to be knocked down or killed by one of these stupid creatures, especially when we were so close.

Finally we made it back out into the cold day. I found myself wondering what time it was. It must have been morning when we left Haven but how much time had passed? I tried to find the sun but with the clouds, the mountains, and a bunch of trees all obscuring the sky, I couldn't tell where it was. A little ways out from the end of the passage we saw some bodies. "Are these the lost soldiers?" I asked.

"Yes, but this can't be all of them." was Cassandra's reply.

"So maybe the rest are holed up ahead somewhere?" Varric asked

"It's possible, perhaps it is not to late to help them." She said, slight hope in her voice.

Solas spoke up next, "Our priority must be the breach, we cannot spend time searching for them."

With our sense of urgency renewed, we pushed on ahead picking up the pace again as the ground had smoothed out into a more even path at this end of the tunnel. Not far ahead we saw the telltale green glow of yet another rift. Sure enough, as we got closer, we saw a small group of soldiers fighting several demons. Our team joined them in the fight and the already weakened demons were dispatched quickly. I was ready as soon as the last demon fell to close the rift.

I was pleased to realize there was no requisite number of waves of demons to complete before closing the rift. The demons were somehow linked to the rift and it would not fully close as long as they were there but once they were dead it was possible to close it immediately. Unfortunately, the timing could still be tricky. The demons didn't come in waves, anywhere from 1-3 demons might appear as we were fighting the rest, yet we needed a clear field to close the rift. This is when I learned the value of disrupting the rift. Honestly I wasn't even sure if it would work the first time but since it had been something I could do in the game I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. It was a success. Once I could disrupt the rift, no new demons could enter and the ones remaining weakened. The first time, I was able to disrupt the rift for only a few seconds but it made all the difference. Once the last demon was clear I hurried to close the rift before anymore could make it though.

Cassandra greeted the surviving soldiers with relief as they updated her on their status and what happened. They were obviously exhausted and relieved to have received help. I was amazed that they were able to hold out on their own for so long, it seemed clear they wouldn't have lasted much longer.

Solas came up to me where I stood, where the rift had been only moments before. "One more sealed, you are becoming quite proficient at this."

"Let's hope it works just as well on the big one," said Varric, coming to join us.

I was watching Cassandra with the other soldiers as she checked their condition. "I thank the maker you arrived Lady Cassandra, I don't think we would have been able to hold out much longer," the lieutenant said to her gratefully.

"Thank our prisoner, lieutenant, it was she, not I, who insisted we come this way."

"The prisoner? Then you...?"

Walking towards them I said, "It was worth it to help you if we could." And it was. I felt a kind of warm pride that we were able to save their lives. I may have made the same decision in the game but there had been nothing forcing me to do it again. I could have decided to charge with the soldiers just to try to get this hellish day over with already rather than slogging up a freezing mountain. Seeing their relief at the knowledge that they would be able to safely leave that mountain and live another day made me lose all doubt I may have had in my choice.

"You have my sincere gratitude," said the lieutenant seriously.

Cassandra turned towards the soldiers once more, "The way into the valley behind us is clear for the moment. Go, while you still can."

The lieutenant called to the other survivors and they were off back along the path we had come.

"The path ahead appears to be clear of demons as well," Solas informed.

"How can you tell?" I asked

"You can sense them, can you not? Focus on the road before us, what do you feel?"

I looked at him a moment then closed my eyes trying to concentrate and seek out the feelings I got from the demons. I could feel the Breach much stronger now that I was focusing on it, I could tell we were getting close, but I couldn't sense any demons. "I can't feel any demons, but I can't be sure it's because they aren't there or just my having no idea what I'm doing." I said finally.

"I assure you, it is because they are not there. The road ahead is safe. For now."

"Let's hurry before that changes," said Cassandra taking charge and moving us on once more.

I knew this was it, the final stretch. I could barely believe I had gotten this far. So much had happened in the span of only a few hours it felt like a lifetime. My brain was starting to feel numb now, I guess I'd had too much to deal with at this point and my mind had reached its limit. I was glad for it though; it was nice not to feel like I was on the edge of panic, the constant terror now just a dull dread. It's amazing how the mind works to maintain its sanity. For just a moment, I was hit with a flash of hope. Hope that I would survive the day, that I could actually help these people. Perhaps I could become the leader these people would need and I could help guide them to success. But that hope blew away quickly at the next cold gust of wind. The harsh reality remained that I still had no idea how I'd gotten here or whether any of this was real, much less how I'd survive it either way. All I could do was follow Cassandra, keep my eyes on the path ahead, and keep putting one foot ahead of the other.

Chapter Text

It didn't seem to take long before we reached the Temple of Sacred Ashes. It was there that we could finally see the destruction that had been wrought by the explosion that created the Breach. The whole area was blackened and only remnants of the temple were left behind. I was glad to find that there were no scary half burned skeletons scattered about. Whatever bodies there were, had been turned to dust, no wonder it was so unbelievable anyone survived.

"The Temple of Sacred Ashes," said Varric, "or what's left of it anyway."

As we slowed down to take in the destruction Cassandra turned to me and explained solemnly, "That is where you walked out of the Fade, and where our soldiers found you. They say a woman was behind you, but no one knows who she was."

It was a horrible sight, even without the bodies, I didn't know if it was just because we were getting close to the Breach but this place made my skin crawl. Fortunately, we didn't linger long. Our destination was just ahead and there was no time to waste.

We soon arrived and saw the Breach up close for the first time, well, as close as was possible anyway. It was very high; it was true that there would be no way for me to reach it directly. I could see the large rift below it though, and knew that would be my target.

"The Breach is a long way up," said Varric, stating the obvious.

Cassandra turned to me with a piercing gaze, "This is your chance to end this. Are you ready?" she asked with serious and determined tone.

"I just need to close the rift right? Not the breach directly?" I asked, looking at Solas for confirmation.

"Yes, this rift was the first and it is the key. Seal it, and perhaps we seal the Breach."

Just then Leliana arrived, followed by a large group of soldiers. "You made it, thank the Maker!"

Cassandra nodded in her direction then, "Have your men take up positions around the temple."

Leliana moved to make it happen without delay.

I took another look at the immense rift, hoping the mark did indeed have the power to do what needed doing. This close I could almost feel my bones vibrating from the power emanating from it. I took a deep breath then followed Cassandra as she led us deeper into the temple to reach the rift.

We hadn't walked far before the booming voice of Corypheus echoed around us. It was horrifying to hear it, and it didn't help that I knew exactly what we were hearing. It was not a voice I wanted to hear up close, yet if this dream didn't end it might be my destiny to do just that.

"What are we hearing?" exclaimed Cassandra with obvious confusion and fear.

"At a guess, it is the one who created the breach," suggested Solas.

We never stopped moving forward but it wasn't long before the voice rang out again followed by Justinia's pleas for help. The fear in that phantom voice was palpable and it made my heart clench in dread. I was already wondering if the vision would soon appear. If it did, would I see myself there? If I appeared in the vision what would that mean in terms of what I was doing here? I shook my head, these questions were too big, I couldn't handle them. The mark was sparking again too, bringing me back to the present and the task at hand. I needed to get this thing closed and then, if I was still here, I would hopefully have some time to finally think things through. That was when I heard my voice ringing through the air, following the booming horror of Corypheus and terrified cries of Justinia: "What's going on here?" It was MY voice, but how could it be my voice? The dread in my chest tightened even further and I barely heard Cassandra's reaction to hearing it too.

We were nearly to the bottom when I saw red lyrium for the first time. It always looked evil in the game but the reality of it was much worse. Not only could I see it's evil glow that seemed to move beneath the surface, I could feel some kind of energy coming off it and it left my skin crawling. I hated this place, the Breach, red lyrium, echoes of Corypheus and the Divine... I felt that either my skin was simply going to crawl off my body or I'd finally have a meltdown and curl into a useless babbling puddle on the ground.

"You know this is red lyrium, Seeker? What's it doing here?" asked Varric, obviously unsettled by it's presence.

"The magic used here could have drawn on lyrium beneath the temple and corrupted it." theorized Solas.

"Well, don't touch it whatever you do," Varric warned sternly.

We made it to the bottom and from that distance I could see just how humongous this rift actually was, surely it was going to take a lot more power to close than the previous ones did. Looking up at it I was very conscious of how small I was, how insignificant. I couldn't see how I of all people could be placed in this position and yet here I was, and there it was. This couldn't be real, it just couldn't, it had to be some kind of crazy trick.

The mark sparked again now that we were so close to the rift, then the vision filled the air. There was the shadowy figure of a still obscured Corypheus. There was the image of Divine Justinia bound by magic, calling desperately for help. Then there was my voice again: "What's going on here?" That's when I saw the figure now entering the vision and was struck with confusion for a few moments. It was my face but there was something on my face, and then... the ears... it was an elf.

"We have an intruder. Kill the elf," boomed the voice, confirming what I'd just seen.

But I'm not an elf. I looked around to the others, surely they would have noticed the difference and would soon question me about it.

"You were there," exclaimed Cassandra. "Who attacked? The Divine, is she...? Was this vision true? What are we seeing?"

Her tirade of questions washed over me but there was no mention of my not being an elf. I looked at her in confusion, "I don't know, I don't remember any of this."

The others turned towards Solas as he explained what caused the vision. I slowly raised my hand to my ear and instead of the round human ear I was used to feeling, I felt the telltale point of an elvish ear. I couldn't believe it, why would I be turned into an elf? True, I'd always played an elf in the game, but I'm NOT an elf. It must be a hallucination then, what other explanation was there? Nothing else made any sense did it?

I came back to the present when Cassandra called for everyone to prepare for the demons. In my stunned confusion I'd completely missed everything Solas had said, fortunately I already knew what to do. My mind was still struggling with what I'd just discovered but it would just have to wait. I would seal the rift and then... I had no idea what would happen then. All I could do was just continue to take it one step at a time. 'One step at a time, one step at a time', it had become the mantra that allowed me to make it this far so I just kept repeating it to myself.

The soldiers arranged themselves around the area and we prepared for the onslaught. Once everyone seemed to be in position I looked at Cassandra who nodded once and then I lifted my hand to the rift. Opening the rift started the same as closing one but instead of it pulling back in on itself it opened, pouring energy back out of it and with it came the demons. There were a lot more demons this time and a couple very big ones. It was fortunate there were so many of us there to work towards bringing the demons down. I mostly focused on staying away from the demons as much as possible feeling that disrupting the rift to weaken them and prevent more from entering was the best way I could help. I had to fight off a few demons during the battle, there were just so many that I couldn't always get clear of them to attempt a disruption of the rift, but I avoided as many as possible. When they could, the others would try to keep a perimeter around me so I'd be able to complete the disruption process. Fortunately I had a few more potions still in the bag at my side as well, which helped me keep up my energy as the battle wore on. It took a while, more demons kept appearing when I wasn't able to disrupt the rift quickly enough. I did find that I was able to disrupt it slightly longer each time, often only by a second but that second could make a huge difference.

I don't know how long it took to get rid of all the demons but finally we did and there was a shout from Cassandra, "NOW! Seal the rift!!"

I didn't wait a moment longer I just raised my hand to the rift and felt the power begin to flow. It was so much more power though, it took all my effort to hold the connection, to keep the power flowing back in on itself to force that rift close. Before it felt almost automatic, like the rifts were almost closing themselves but this one had to be forced closed, I felt myself pushing at it with the magic from the mark, using all my will to sustain the force needed to close it. I felt it start to close bit by bit and then I felt a sudden slam as the energy collapsed in on itself and then out up towards the Breach. I felt a crashing boom and then... nothing.

Chapter Text

I woke up slowly, by degrees. I was warm and comfortable and could feel the weight of a heavy blanket covering me, a soft pillow beneath my head. I'd been dreaming, such a vivid dream. I remembered being terrified but it had been so amazingly vivid. I wondered if I couldn't just go back into the dream and try and make it a little more enjoyable. I didn't really want to wake up to memories of such fear, if I could dream a little more of something nicer, wouldn't that be better?

What time it was though? Did I have time to sleep longer or did I need to go to work soon? What day was it anyway? I could never remember, my schedule was always so irregular, it was amazing I ever remembered what day of the week it was, although I couldn't remember at the moment.

I started fumbling around, searching for my phone where I always set it, under the pillow, beside me. Hmmm, it wasn't there, maybe the other side. I turned over, eyes still closed, searching. Dammit, I'm going to have to open my eyes and search aren't I? I lay there a few minutes more debating whether I should bother to keep looking or just try to sleep a little longer first. But then I realized I needed to go to the bathroom so I gave up and opened my eyes.

My eyes were still full of sleep and my vision blurred. I blinked a couple times, rubbed my eyes and tried again, sitting up in the process. I opened my eyes for a moment then closed them again, rubbing once more before finally looking around me at the strange room I was in. It wasn't very bright, the light available coming from a few candles, a small brazier on one wall, a tiny window, and a lit fire in the hearth. I could see the walls were all wood. There was a table and a couple chairs, a few shelves. I looked at the bed I was sitting on. It was a simple design but the bedding seemed clean and nice enough. The room was simple and pretty sparse but it was warm at least. Still, it was clearly not the bedroom I was expecting to wake up in, I guess I wasn't going to find my phone after all.

I'd barely had time to take in the room and register that I was still stuck in this dream, when the door opened and a young elven woman strolled in, arms full of supplies. She stopped abruptly upon seeing me sitting there and nearly dropped what she was holding. "I didn't know you were awake, I swear!" she exclaimed, suddenly nervous and apologetic.

"Don't worry, it's ok," I said as soothingly as I could.

Apparently it didn't help though because she immediately dropped to her knees, depositing her armload heavily on the floor before her and bowed low, "I beg your forgiveness and your blessing. I am but a humble servant."

My head had cleared enough to realize what was going on but watching someone actually bowing to me and begging for my blessing was quite unsettling. She continued explaining though from that position. "You're back in Haven, My Lady. They are saying you saved us. The Breach has stopped growing, just like the mark on your hand."

At her words I looked back at my hand and saw the mark still there, it's faint tingling energy still present but feeling much more settled than it ever had been previously. She continued speaking out of nervousness, "It's all anyone has talked about for the last three days."

"Three days?!" I asked. I'd been out three whole days and still I woke up here?

"Yes my lady. They say you were knocked unconscious when you closed the Breach but they brought you back here to recover." She finally started to return to a standing position as she spoke and began to back away. "I'm sure Lady Cassandra will want to know you've wakened. She said 'At once'." Somehow the poor girl seemed to become more frightened by the moment.

I remained sitting so as not to startle the poor girl, I wished I could do something to help her relax. "Where is Cassandra?" I asked as gently as I could.

"In the Chantry, with the lord Chancellor. She said 'At once'"

The girl looked like she was about to dash away any second, "Please, wait a moment more," I said. She looked conflicted but paused. "Can you tell me where the rest of my clothes are?" I was wearing something loose and light but which I knew would not be enough to step outside in.

"Oh, I'm very sorry my lady!" she exclaimed running back to the pile of things she had brought in with her and pulled out a large bundle and handed it too me with shaking hands, "Here they are, they've been cleaned and everything," she said backing away again and bowing.

"Uh, one more thing please," I said quickly. "Umm, I was just wondering, where I should go to... uh... relieve myself?" I said hesitantly.

"My lady may use the chamber pot, it is just in the corner there," she said, indicating the location with a nod. "Don't worry, it will be cleaned for you later. My lady doesn't need to worry about a thing. And there's water and basin for you on the table to wash." She then bowed very low and asked, "Is there anything else my lady requires?"

"No, thank you very much. You may go to Cassandra now, please tell her I will come see her at the Chantry as soon as I'm dressed," I said as reassuringly as I could. She backed away quickly to the door, gave a final deep bow and dashed out of it. I really hoped there wouldn't be many other people who treated me that way, things were going to be awkward enough already.

Speaking of awkward... I turned to look at the chamber pot. I already knew that one thing I would definitely miss about my own world was going to be indoor plumbing. I guess I should be grateful I could do my business in the privacy of my own little cabin instead of trying to find an outhouse or secluded patch of wilderness. I didn't even want to imagine trying to find someplace to squat out on the snowy mountain. Still, this was going to be rather outside my comfort zone. There was a cloth hanging on the stand holding the pot, which I took and dampened with some water from a pitcher on the table, then I set to figuring out the best way to position myself for the task. Once finished, I replaced the wooden covering used as a lid over the top. I did my best not to think about the whole thing, I was never a germaphobe but I couldn't help wondering about the hygiene of such practices, not that I had any choice.

I then set about washing myself. I removed the light clothes I'd slept in and took a fresh cloth from the table, filled the basin with water and did my best to wash. Through all this I was pointedly trying not to think hard about my situation, and just focus on the task at hand. I knew I would eventually have to face my situation and evaluate my position, I just wasn't quite ready yet. When I was as clean as I could make myself under the circumstances, I turned to the bundle of clothes. I unfolded each piece and laid it out. The underclothes proved to be the most awkward. The bottoms felt strange and loose but seemed to fit well enough. The top was basically just a long cloth to wrap around myself. It took a couple tries to get everything reasonably secure. Once I thought I had the undergarments figured out I dressed myself in the same clothes I had worn previously, though now they were apparently freshly cleaned. I was able to get a better look at them. They were made of heavy but rough fabric. They seemed very practical for the circumstances, not much consideration taken for aesthetics of any kind. They fit well enough though and were warm.

After, I was dressed, I reached up to run my fingers through my short hair, wishing I had a mirror to see how messy it had gotten, but I stopped part way as I felt the tips of my ears against my palms. I'd forgotten. Somehow I'd become an elf. I looked around desperate for some kind of mirror. I turned back to the water in the basin. It wasn't the best view, but I could see enough. It was still my face, it wasn't like looking at a stranger, but the shape seemed to have been subtly altered, into what I can only describe as, a more elven shape. The real differences were the ears, which tapered into a delicate point, and the vallaslin. The tattoo didn't look bad but it was very strange to see it there. Black, lines stretching across my forehead and framing my face. All I could do was stare at my distorted image in the surface of the water for a couple minutes tracing my fingers across the unfamiliar silhouette of my ears.

Finally, I just stood up and headed for the door. I would go see Cassandra and see how things played out. I would have time to think things through in more detail soon enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the dimness of the cabin, I was somewhat blinded walking out into the sun and immediately started missing my sunglasses. After a couple moments of my eyes adjusting I saw the people. I guess the news that I was awake and would soon emerge had spread fast. There was a kind of honor guard along the path leading from my little cabin and behind them a lot more people than I would have expected. Many of them were looking at me in a kind of curious awe, some turned to whisper behind their hand to the person next to them. Seeing all these people standing there watching me almost had me turning back around to hide in the cabin. As I started to walk past I saw quite a few of the people bow or raise their hands in some kind of prayer. The whispers and chatter just increased as I continued along the path. I definitely heard the words "Herald" and "Andraste" more than a few times. I kept wanting to look over my shoulder to see who they were talking about because I couldn't believe the idea that it was me.

I really should have expected this but I'd been too distracted by other things. Still, the crowds that had gathered left me quite unnerved. One benefit though was that, between the people and the guards along the way I had no need to worry about getting lost on my way to Chantry. I walked down the road as quickly as I thought I could get away with and tried not to make eye contact with anyone as I made my way to the large building at the top of the hill. I was pleased to discover it actually wasn't that far from my cabin's location, so my walk to get there was shorter than I'd feared.

A guard opened the Chantry door as I arrived and then closed it behind me. I breathed a large sigh of relief once the door was closed. The Chantry itself was blessedly quiet and nearly empty. It was also quite a bit larger than I'd expected. The first room was actually a large antechamber and doors branched off from all three interior sides. I looked around in confusion for a moment, wondering which door I needed to go through when I heard a voice say, "This way my lady," and saw the chantry mother indicating the door to my left. "Cassandra will be in the room all the way at the end of the hall," She said.

"Thank you," I replied and smiled at her with gratitude.

It was a long stone hall that took a right turn a little ways down, and more doors branched off on both sides. I thought to myself, If this were actually a game I could go into each of these rooms to retrieve loot, which I could then put in some mysterious magic bag that can miraculously hold a ton of large objects. Where is Hermione Granger when you need her? Of course, I was sure such actions wouldn't actually be appropriate here, but thinking of such things and mixing my fandoms kept me from being quite so nervous as I approached the end of the hall.

I'd gotten to just outside the door when I heard voices shouting quite clearly. Unsurprisingly, it was Roderick doing most of the shouting: "She must be taken to Val Royeaux to be tried. The elf failed to close the breach completely and for all we know she intended it this way." I didn't wait to hear anymore and just opened the door. I walked determinedly toward the table around which Roderick, Cassandra, and Leliana were already positioned.

"Chain her. I want her prepared for transport to the capital for trial." Declared the Chancellor with pompous authority.

"Disregard that and leave us," countered Cassandra. The soldiers just inside the door obeyed her without hesitation.

"You walk a dangerous line, Seeker," said Roderick threateningly.

Cassandra approached him till she was only a couple of feet away, clearly showing that she was not intimidated in the slightest. "The Breach is stable but it is still a threat and I will not ignore it." Seriously, this was a formidable woman and I didn't know whether to respect the Chancellor's ability to stand up under her glare or scorn him for being stupid not to recognize the kind of authority this woman could bring to bear.

I finally decided to speak up for myself. "I did everything I could to close the breach, and it almost killed me."

"And yet you live. It seems a convenient circumstance," Roderick sniped back, glaring at me.

I just looked back at him with as neutral an expression I could muster. He annoyed me but getting into an argument with him wasn't going to help me. I left the arguing to Cassandra and Leliana, which they did just as brilliantly as I remembered. They defended my innocence supported by what they had witnessed themselves at the Breach. While I knew I couldn't have actually been at the Conclave to try to help the Divine, I also knew I couldn't have killed her either so there was no point in refuting what was seen in the vision.

"So her survival, that thing on her hand... are those all just supposed to be coincidence?" He asked, clearly not wanting to accept a word of what they claimed to have seen.

"Providence. The maker sent her to us in our darkest hour," Cassandra responded.

Hearing her say it like that made a chill run up my spine. How and why I came to be here was beyond a mystery to me but as someone who was not religious and had never been of much significance to anyone before... It was more than unnerving to hear this strong woman place upon me that kind of power and expectation. I already knew that was the role I was supposed to be playing, but it was different to actually hear someone put you in that kind of position.

"I'm not sure I'm deserving of that kind of faith, but I am glad to hear you no longer think I'm guilty," I said with sincerity.

To which Cassandra responded, "I was wrong, perhaps I still am. I will not, however, pretend you were not exactly what we needed when we needed it."

"The Breach remains and your mark is still our only hope of closing it," added Leliana.

It was a nice sentiment but I wondered. I was successful in closing the Breach, but could I continue to be what was needed. My skills and knowledge were still woefully lacking. I could only believe I was lucky on that mountain, and I was pretty sure luck would not be enough to get me through what was ahead.

Of course Roderick had to have his say, "This is not for you to decide!"

At those words Cassandra slammed a giant tome onto the table. The Writ of the Inquisition: a document that would set everything in motion from this point.

"As of this moment, I declare the Inquisition reborn," she said with confident authority. "We will close the breach, we will find those responsible, and we will restore order. With or without your approval."

All the Chancellor seemed able to do at this point was to glare at everyone in the room before storming out.

The two women didn't even spare a glance at his departure, their eyes had turned to me as Leliana began to explain the situation to me, "This is The Divine's directive," she said gently laying her hand upon the volume, a look of sadness in her eyes, "Rebuild the inquisition of old and find those who will stand against the chaos. We aren't ready. We have no leader, no numbers and now not even the Chantry's support.

"But we have no choice: we must act now," said Cassandra firmly, "with you at our side." She looked at me, looking for my response.

Hearing those words, this powerful woman asking ME of all people to help them... I'd rarely felt more helpless in my life and yet how was I supposed to even consider refusing. I knew exactly what was at stake. For that reason I felt even more helpless, but I knew there was no one else. I was clearly the only option; I was marked. I still didn't know if any of this was real but it felt real, so I was inclined to make decisions as if that were the case until proven otherwise. I knew I would probably agree in the end but I wanted to know more about what they expected of me, and the Inquisition in general, so I started asking questions. I already knew the basics as was explained in the game but they laid out some more details of what moves they were considering and the direction they were aiming for in the immediate future. We were there for at least another half an hour as they answered my questions.

"What about me?" I asked. "What role do you expect me to play, what am I supposed to do? What happens to me if I refuse to join you?"

Leliana replied, "If you wish to go, you are free to do so."

"Some believe you chosen but you should know that there are many who still believe you to be guilty." Cassandra cautioned. "The Inquisition can only protect you if you are with us."

"We can also help you," added Leliana. "Your mark is still a mystery and though it is stable for now we do not know if it will remain that way. Together we can seek out the answers to the Breach and your mark."

"It will not be easy if you stay," continued Cassandra, "but you cannot pretend that this has not changed you, changed your life. I do not think it is something you can turn away from so easily."

This was truer than she could possibly know. And unlike the elf of the game, I had nowhere I could go. I knew no one in this world, I had no clan to take me in. All I knew was this story and some of the general history of this world, it was not enough to even consider setting out on my own. I also knew who was here now, with the Inquisition. He was probably my best chance for figuring out if this were real or not, and if it was, how I got here. I knew there was really no choice, the only thing I could do was join them.
Cassandra went on, "As for your exact role, that remains to be seen. There are many who now believe you may be Chosen, whether true or not that belief will gain you both support and enemies, but we would hope to use it to rally support for the Inquisition. You also possess the mark which is currently the only thing we know of which can influence the rifts and probably the Breach. There is no way to know what will happen in the days to come, but it seems clear that we will need you to be a part of it." She stopped speaking and looked at me expectantly.

"I can't say I like the idea of being 'Chosen', and I hope I can be more than just a figurehead, used to gain influence among the people, but I believe you are trying to restore order and help the people and I would like to help with that, if I can." I finally declared.

"That is the plan," stated Cassandra. "Please help us fix this, before it is too late."
She held out her hand and looked me in the eye. I took her hand and shook it firmly, looking back with as much determination as I could muster.

It was done, I was now part of the Inquisition. It felt so unreal in that moment, I was sure I was just about to wake up.

Chapter Text

But of course I didn't wake up.
It was just a renewed realization of how surreal this all was. This was all just supposed to be a game, a fantasy in my head that I wished for, but would never truly happen, yet for all intents and purposes it seemed as if it had indeed become reality. It left me wanting to start poking things again to see if they were real or if I could somehow tear apart the dream with my bare hands.

Instead I let Cassandra's hand go. "I have a couple of requests though."

"What kind of requests?" she asked with a hint of suspicion in her voice.

"Well, the thing is, you saw for yourself how completely unskilled I am. Fighting those demons, I felt like more of a liability than anything else, and I'm just lucky I didn't get myself killed out there out of sheer incompetence." I sighed, then took a deep breath to rally my determination, "I would really like to be able to defend myself and not put others in danger because they're always trying to keep me out of it. So, I was wondering if you could arrange some kind of training for me. I think daggers like I used before would be good for me, I'd just really like to know how to use them properly."

Her expression softened at my obvious embarrassment and sincere humility on the subject. "Of course. I agree that would be advisable, I am sure you will need to go out into the field at some point and it would be much easier to keep you safe if you have some ability to defend yourself. However, Solas said you were a mage, would it not be better to train in using magic?"

"I thought of that, but I didn't even know I was a mage until he said it. I do intend to seek Solas' assistance in exploring those abilities but I'm worried it will take significant time to learn enough to be of much use. In the meantime, I feel a more... practical form of self defense is warranted."

The fact that Solas had declared me a mage of some sort had certainly surprised me, nearly as much as discovering I'd somehow become an elf. The truth was I was still skeptical on that point, though I fully intended to discuss it with him. If true, I would indeed do my best to find out what would be possible for me to learn.

"I see." Cassandra said thoughtfully. "I will see that someone competent to train you in that area is found. In the mean time I can help you with a few basics to get you started."

"I believe I have a few agents that will be able to instruct you effectively," Leliana added. "I will consider the matter and bring someone in as soon as possible."

"Thank you very much I really appreciate it," I smiled in relief that they didn't think it was a bad idea, a small part of me was worried they would think it a waste of time. "If either of you have any other advice for me, people I should talk to or things I should learn about, I would be happy to have your guidance. I suspect I'll need all the help I can get for a while so that I can eventually be of some greater help to you than simply bearing a weird glowing mark on my hand."

Leliana responded with, "Of course, your requests are sensible and we will do what we can to encourage your progress in support of the Inquisition. Is there anything else you would ask of us?"

"Actually there is one more thing that is rather pressing..."

Cassandra looked at me curiously, "and that would be?"

"Well, the thing is, with the Breach, and my being unconscious for the better part of the last week apparently, I'm pretty sure it's been a long time since I last ate. Is there any chance you could get me about a week's worth of food in say... the next 10 minutes or so?"

It was their turn to look embarrassed now as it became clear this most basic need had clearly been neglected. Cassandra answered contritely, "I am sorry, we should have realized sooner. We will have food sent to your cabin immediately. You should rest for the remainder of the day and regain your strength. Tomorrow we can begin your training. Find me on the training ground tomorrow morning, just outside the gates of Haven."

"Thank you. I will see you then." I nodded at each of them then turned to walk back out the door and head back to my cabin. As soon as I got some food in me I could finally have a moment to think things through. I hoped I could figure some things out before things got too crazy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On my way out, I suddenly was hit with a wave of relief. I actually had a few moments to myself. Every conscious minute so far had been a whirlwind of change and confusion and I finally had a chance to catch my breath. As I walked down the hall towards the exit I started to take in the details around me, the rough walls, the flickering of the torchlight, the shape of the shadows. Since I was alone I did pause to reach out a hand and touch the surface of the wall, pressing my hand into it, trying to wrap my fingers around it, but it was solid beneath my touch. Even so, I stood there with my fingers pressing into the stone as if it might melt beneath my fingers with a little more time or pressure. I turned my whole body to the wall and pressed my forehead and both palms into it, feeling the cool roughness of it. It felt so real and reassuringly solid. I took a breath, breathing in the subtle smell of smoke and stone around me. After several moments I released my hold on the wall and continued heading for the exit.

I was curious about the Chantry, but thought it best to save any extensive exploration for another time. I stepped back into the sunlight outside the large building. It was chilly but the sky was clear. I turned my head and saw the Breach still hanging in the sky. It wasn't quite as nightmarish as it had been but seeing it sent a chill down my spine nevertheless. I rubbed my left palm and then looked down at it. The skin felt smooth beneath my touch, the only thing indicating the mark was still there was a gentle glow and only a slight tingling sensation reminding me of its presence.

I started moving again, taking my time as I walked through Haven back to my cabin. I walked at a leisurely pace heading back, letting myself absorb the reality of this place and the people. Life seemed to have restarted since I'd walked through earlier but I still drew a significant number of stares and whispers. I tried to just remain as casual and oblivious to it as possible. Still, I was grateful the cabin wasn't all that far and I reached it in less than ten minutes, even at my slow pace. Well, I think it was about ten minutes anyway, it wasn't like I had a watch on me.

I reentered the cabin to find it had been tidied up a bit. The food hadn't arrived yet but I figured it would take a while longer yet. I had no idea how long it would take to get the food here but I trusted it would arrive soon enough, though truth be told, now that I'd had some time to think and relax, my stomach was making it's needs known under no uncertain terms. There was a glass next to the refreshed water pitcher so I poured myself some and drank it down hoping to appease my tummy for a little while at least.

I then went to sit on the bed. I let myself fall back on it and closed my eyes, pressing my palms to my closed lids, blocking out everything. Upon opening them again and still finding the world around me unchanged I began to think seriously about my situation.

Here I was, trapped in a world that very closely resembled the world of my latest video game obsession. I remembered just living my usual life and then waking up in pain in that cell. I couldn't remember a single specific thing immediately before I found myself in that cell.

What exactly was the nature of this place and why was I here? Of course the latter question was probably completely dependent on the former. Or maybe it was the other way around? Either way, they had to be connected, right?

The first answer that came to mind was that this was all real and I had somehow been transported to this world from my own, that this was another dimension, an alternate reality, or some planet halfway across the universe. Yet, that answer also seemed to be the least likely. Seriously, how would I be transported to this world? Why me? It seems like it would have taken some kind of extraordinary event to cause such a thing to happen. Obviously this world had just experienced such an event when the Breach was formed but I had no reason to believe that that event would have affected my world as well. Maybe it formed some kind of weird interdimensional wormhole? It was possible I supposed, but really it seemed incredibly unlikely.

I had a slew of other theories already spinning through my head as well, born of years of science fiction and fantasy stories. Star Trek alone gave me several equally plausible ideas. The theories which seemed most likely were ones suggesting this could be some kind of intense hallucination or dream state, possibly induced by drugs or some kind of hypnosis, maybe a coma. More frightening was the possibility that I had actually gone crazy and I was locked in some white room while I just imagined everything that was happening. But then, what if just my mind had been transported to this world and, leaving my body behind, it seemed to have gone crazy so they locked it up? Or maybe, without my mind it appeared I was in a coma, or perhaps my body had even died. In any case it did seem very unlikely that I had been physically sent anywhere, I looked similar to how I had in my own world but clearly there were some significant physical changes.

There were still other possibilities, they were a bit more out there, but since all of this was pretty out there I might as well consider them. For one, this could also be some kind of extremely sophisticated holographic or virtual world. Perhaps I was plugged into some super advanced alien computer running me through this simulation like a maze rat to see what I would do. That would explain why I did seem to have a history here before my actual appearance in this world, at least enough of one that I showed up in the vision. It would be easy enough to simulate a past if they could so convincingly simulate this world to begin with. But if so, who were "they" and what could their purpose be?

While those possibilities remained the most likely in my mind I continued to ponder more and more possibilities, each one more ludicrous than the last. I took theories from every novel, movie, and TV show I could remember that dealt with travel to other worlds, the simulation of reality, or vivid hallucinations. When I started wondering if the rift was actually a Tardis and perhaps Solas was The Doctor, I decided it was time to give up for the time being. Fortunately that was when the food arrived.

At the knock on the door I stood up and shook myself trying to clear my head of the jumble of ideas still crowded into it. When I opened the door, there were three people carrying covered dishes loaded with foodstuffs. Once they had departed I uncovered everything to find breads cheeses, fruits, vegetables, smoked meat, even some hot soup, a veritable feast. They'd even brought a carafe of what seemed to be wine. I dug into the food, trying not to eat too fast despite my now ravenous hunger. I tried a little of the wine, which wasn't bad, very fruity, but mostly I just stuck to water. It was simple food but delicious, especially to my half-starved body. I wanted to shovel food into my mouth at high-speed but I forced myself to take my time and eat at a moderate pace, I didn't want to make myself sick.

While eating I tried to think of nothing else, just enjoying the experience of eating again, but once I was done my brain wandered back to the problems at hand. Random theorizing wasn't going to help me. My first few ideas still seemed most likely. That this was some kind of hallucination or dream seemed especially likely. However, I had no way to prove any theory one way or another. Whatever the truth was, this world continued to feel very real and the only logical choice was to treat this world as if that were the case. My goals must be to get through the trials I would face here and now. There was nothing I could do against the possibility of some unknown enemy that may not exist, whose intentions I could only guess at, and that may or may not be manipulating my perceptions. However, I did know what I faced here, and there might be something I could do about that. In the meantime I could try to discover the reality of my situation by whatever means presented itself.

Besides, if I acted as though this were real and it turned out not to be, there was less chance I would regret the choices I made. However, if I started acting strangely to try to escape the dream or simulation, it could affect events here in a way that, if it turned out to be real, could be disastrous. No, it was best to proceed as if it were actually happening and I would never leave, while always looking for signs or opportunities to prove it otherwise.

There was one thing I would need to be careful about though: personal attachment. Real or not, there was no guarantee how long I would be here. The greatest danger would be to become attached to this world or it's people, because if I suddenly left one day, what would that do to us, to me? It was a very important consideration but it seemed as though it would almost inevitably become the most challenging. If I return to my world now or in the next few days, it would probably be fine, not enough time to build any real attachment. The longer I stayed however, the more difficult it would become, perhaps even impossible. If I stayed here there would be countless battles and challenges I would have to face and I would absolutely need the help of the people here. We would have to trust each other and learn to work well together. Through all this, we would inevitably spend a great deal of time together as well. These kinds of circumstances have a strong tendency to create bonds between people. I am also the kind of person that will deeply care about someone who will truly support me, and I will want to offer that same support in return. I didn't think it would be possible for me to remain disconnected and trust these people at the same time and that worried me.

Still, my first priority was to focus on my ability to survive in this world. This would require both practical skills as well as knowledge. I'd start the weapons training that Cassandra and Leliana would set up for me but I would also talk to people, read, learn more details about this world, the exact political and religious situations, the history and lore, all of it. Parts of what was in the game would probably continue to be true but there was no guarantee it would all be the same, very likely there would at least be subtle changes and there may be additional details that could prove valuable. I needed to learn the things that would be common knowledge to the people here, as well as those things that would be pertinent to my being a useful member of the Inquisition, to my survival, and to my being here in the first place. I didn't actually know many people here yet and wasn't sure how to go about introducing myself, but I would probably meet people through the normal course of events. For now I would just start with those I'd already met and work my way out from there as new people crossed my path.

Then there was this supposed magic ability I had. I still wasn't sure Solas was right about that. Perhaps it was just the mark after all, or maybe I had magic but it would be too little to be of much use. I was tempted to wave my hands and say "abracadabra" right then and there, but then the image of accidentally lighting my cabin on fire made me decide caution was best for now. I would wait and find Solas tomorrow, hopefully he could tell me why he thought I was a mage, and teach me how to use whatever abilities I did happen to possess. Even if I didn't have much magic of my own, knowledge of basic magical theory wouldn't hurt, more details about the Fade and the Veil and such might prove useful. Not only that, but because of his knowledge of such things he might be able to provide some clues or insight into how I got here. I supposedly walked out of the Fade, so maybe that was how I came to be here somehow, and knowing more about it might help me determine if that was true. In any case, that man had a lot of knowledge and I was sure some of it would prove invaluable to my existence here.

Then there's Solas himself. If people and events continued to match up to what I'd experienced through the game then he was a major player in everything that was going on. He knows more than he will admit. He is more. And his plans for the future, his goal.... How did I want to deal with that?

In the game, I had chosen Solas as my romance option; a bittersweet experience that had been. I loved him as much as it was possible to love a character you are sure you will never meet because they are pure fantasy. I'd been heartbroken by the ending of course, but one of the advantages of fantasy is that you can choose to rewrite everything in your head to turn out the way you want it. You can read other people's fantasies online and fill your head with so many other possibilities that the story never really has to end and you never really have to lose that character. As a result, he was the best boyfriend I'd ever had.

But I'd decided to approach this world as something real, playing around as if this was some fantasy was potentially very dangerous. There were no saves, there was no going back and trying something different if I didn't like how a decision turned out, I'd have to live with whatever choices I made and whatever events actually occurred. I also couldn't be sure everything would be the same, there may turn out to be some significant differences. People may not actually be the way they had been portrayed in the game, surely real people would be utterly more complex. There would be no programmed responses or dialogues to play out. I'd been able to follow pretty closely to what was expected that first day but a thousand new variables might present themselves every day from here on out and each one could send things down different paths.

So, Solas may not really be the same person, maybe I wouldn't like him as much as the game version, and even if I did, there was a very good chance that he wouldn't like me back. I hoped I could manage to be his friend at least, I wanted to be friends with as many people here as possible because that would surely be an important factor in my survival. I was sure it would be important to keeping my sanity as well. In any case, romance was a dangerous option and it would be best if I could avoid it with anyone, not only Solas. It would be for the best not only because of what could happen here but also how I would feel if I ever did wake up from this. If I let myself get too attached to things here it would make the return all that much harder.

There was also what I knew of Solas' identity. I had to assume that that much was the same, that he was actually Fen'harel and that it was his orb that Corypheus had which allowed the Breach to be open. More than that, what of his plans? I'd finally played the final segment not long before my arrival here and the revelations revealed there were still clear in my mind. The Solas I knew was a brilliant man with a great deal of empathy and compassion. Yet, in a way, he was like me, he was new to this world and in many ways it was even more unfamiliar to him than to me. My world was much more similar to this than his and he'd spent countless centuries in his and only a short time here.

I knew that brilliant men could often make the stupidest mistakes, I'd seen it. Solas was brilliant, but he was also hurt and felt at least as isolated as I did now, as much an outsider lost in a world not his own, and perhaps I could use that. The real danger was the guilt he carried, his feeling of responsibility for the state of the world now, which drove him to pursue his goal of destroying the Veil in an attempt to return the world to the one he knew. In the game he had seemed awfully single-minded in how he believed he could help the People, but surely there were other options, I couldn't believe otherwise, I wouldn't. The trick was getting him to look past his guilt enough to convince him there might be other options and that they were worth exploring. But how could I do it?

I knew I could do nothing directly, I was a stranger here, nobody knew me, many people still didn't trust me and those that did could change their minds fast if I wasn't careful. My exposing Solas' secrets would be just as disastrous as if I tried to expose my own. If I tried there would be the inevitable questions of how I could even know such things. No, I couldn't say anything, I couldn't even tell him I knew, he might leave if I did, he certainly wouldn't trust me. It was kind of like playing poker, or I guess wicked grace in this world: you don't show your opponent your cards and you absolutely don't tell them you can see theirs.

At the moment I would just have to take most of my knowledge and store it away till I saw how things played out. Perhaps an opportunity to use it would arise. But ultimately, in the case that I was stuck here for the long term I had to do everything I could to prevent Solas from carrying out his plans, to hopefully even change them, I was sure there had to be a better way. Despite my fear in getting close to anyone, especially him, I didn't think I had a choice; I would have to become his friend at the very least. I needed him to trust me. If I could change his mind slowly and subtly over time, perhaps I could slowly steer him along a different path. There was always the chance that he wouldn't actually be as stubborn and stupid as he was in the game, the creators had needed a lead in to what would likely be the next part of the series after all, but I couldn't afford to take that chance. It would be simple enough to start, I needed to get to know him anyway as I would be needing to learn about magic. In this way I could learn more about him, hopefully read between the lines and try to insert an idea here and there that might start to alter his view. There was no way to know if this kind of plan would work, and it may all be moot if I just disappeared somewhere along the way, but I would try, as long as I was here I would assume this is where I would stay and I would use what limited abilities and knowledge I had, to fight for the best outcome I could.

I suddenly realized I'd been just staring into the fire for who knew how long and it was getting low. I put a couple fresh logs on from the pile next to the hearth. I went over to the dishes and consolidated all the uneaten food onto a couple dishes and neatly stacked the others. I popped a couple more grapes into my mouth absentmindedly and poured myself another glass of water. Sipping that, I sat back down on the bed and stared at the fire a little longer just losing myself in the dancing flames, no longer thinking about anything.

I started to remove the clothes I was still wearing. I could see it was dark now. I still had no idea what time it was or how early the sun set, but I was already feeling tired. My body was probably still recovering from the ordeal of a few days ago. I wanted to make sure I got up early enough to go see Cassandra in the morning, I'm not naturally a morning person so getting to bed early was probably a good idea. Hopefully I could talk to Varric and Solas tomorrow as well.

Wait a second, how was I able to talk to everyone? I suddenly realized something so obvious that I'd totally missed it: there were no communication problems. Either all these people here could speak English or something had been done to my mind to allow me to understand whatever language they were speaking. Sure the game had been in English but if this were a real place how likely would it be that the real people would speak the same language I did? Technically, in an infinite universe it was possible, but it still seemed extremely unlikely. It certainly gave more weight to the hallucination/simulation theories.

Ugh, nothing made any sense; I had no idea what was really true. No matter how much weight I could place in the theory this was all fake, it absolutely felt real. I could tell myself it wasn't real as much as I liked but the senses were awfully good at convincing me otherwise.

I picked up the clothes I'd just shed, held them in my hands, fingered the seams and armored sections waiting to see if it dissolved beneath my touch. I set them back down and looked at my now nearly bare body. The changes weren't big but I could tell my shape was the slimmer form of an elf, though my height hadn't changed much, if at all. I could feel the definition of muscles that were not in nearly such good condition before I came here. My hair didn't seem to have changed at all, it was still dark and short. Again, I felt the tips of my ears and let my hands linger there this time. They felt pretty much like regular ears but for the longer pointier shape. They were also more sensitive apparently; I could feel the light movements of my fingers so well it actually sent a shiver down my back.

Anyway, whether true or not, this felt real.

I realized that there was one more thing I needed to think about before talking to anyone the next day. No matter what, eventually there were sure to be questions about my background. Supposedly I was a Dalish elf but of course I had no memories or experiences as such. I was going to need a story, something I could tell people when those questions came up. When lying, the best course is generally to stay as close to the truth as possible, only changing the details that most need to be concealed. Thinking about it a bit I thought things might be manageable as long as no one asked any questions that were too detailed. If they did maybe I could put them off by saying I didn't want to talk about it. It was the best plan I could come up with anyway.

My brain was starting to slow down and tiredness was starting to overwhelm me. I rubbed my eyes with my palms and took one more look around the room wondering again just how I ended up here. Finally I lay down on the bed and pulled the blankets up to cover me. I was a little worried it would take a while to fall asleep with all the thoughts that had been whirling through my head all day but then I closed my eyes and quickly fell into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

I awoke the next morning groggy and confused again. I opened my eyes and, looking around me, was struck with a new wave of panic. What was I doing here?! How the hell was I supposed to get through another day? I didn't belong here, how could I even hope to fulfill any part of the role in which I'd been placed? I felt trapped and terrified.

Before I could be completely overwhelmed by my feelings of inadequacy and fear, there was a knock at the door. I was torn between relief at having a distraction and annoyance at not being able to just have a mental breakdown in peace. I pulled myself together nonetheless and went to open the door.

Outside was the same girl from the day before, carrying a large box that seemed to be filled with various supplies and things. Upon seeing me she immediately bowed low,
"I'm very sorry if I've disturbed you My Lady."

I sighed inwardly before saying, "No, it's fine, please come in."

"Thank you My Lady. I promise I won't bother you long. I've just come with some supplies for you."

"Please, take your time, it's ok." She was just as shaky as she had been the day before but if she was going to be taking care of me and my room I really wanted to try to put her at ease. "I'm afraid I didn't get a chance to ask your name yesterday."

She laid the box on the chair and turned in response to my comment. "Oh, I am very sorry not to introduce myself properly before. My name is Maryn, if it please Your Ladyship," She said bowing low again.

"Please, you don't need to bow to me, it's alright." She slowly stood. "I'm very happy to meet you Maryn. You can call me Lyara." It sounded strange calling myself that, but I thought it better than going with my "real" name, I wasn't sure it actually made any difference what name I chose but as I'd already chosen this one and used it with the others I couldn't very well change it now.

"Oh no My Lady, that would not be appropriate. You are the Herald of Andraste, I must address you with the respect you deserve." She said this bowing yet again.

"Ok, ok, you don't have to use my name if you don't want to but please stop bowing, it really isn't necessary, I'm just another...elf like you."

"If My Lady pleases then I will not bow within your cabin but I am unworthy to be compared to one such as yourself. You saved us. You closed the rift. You are chosen."

I could see I wasn't going to get anywhere with this right now and I didn't have time to fight about it. Perhaps with a little time I could get her to relax, but for now... I gave another sigh, "Alright, I guess that's a start anyway. What supplies have you brought?"

She proceeded to produce a fresh jug of water as well as some fresh smallclothes and a shirt. She then produced a couple simple daggers with the harness-like holster. I could see these were not the same daggers I had used before but they were similar.

"Lady Cassandra bid me deliver these. She said you should bring them to the training grounds when you go to meet her."

I took the daggers and holster and proceeded to examine them more closely as Maryn gathered the old water jug and emptied dishes into her box.

"Is there anything else My Lady requires?" She asked once she'd finished her tasks.

"Thank you Maryn. I think everything is fine, except, I don't really know my way around Haven yet. Can you tell me how to get to the training grounds?"

"Of course My Lady. Haven is built along a hill with the Chantry at the highest point. To get to the gate just head downhill along the main roads and the training ground is outside the main gate."

"Thank you, I think that's all I need."

"My Lady," she said, bowing yet again, grabbing her box and quickly heading out the door.

I watched her go. Her fear and reverence really made me feel uncomfortable, I certainly didn't feel I deserved it. I may have closed that rift for the time being but I'd only managed it with a lot of help and dumb luck.

At least her visit subdued the panic that had been rearing its head and I was awake enough now to keep my mind focused on the immediate tasks. I poured myself some fresh water and started picking at the food from the day before as I washed and dressed again for the day. I appreciated some of the fresh clothes but I hoped I could pick up some more soon. Yesterday had been pretty relaxed so what I wore was still pretty clean but if I started training and being more active I was pretty sure they wouldn't remain so for long and it would be nice to be able to change every couple of days at least.

It didn't take long getting ready but I managed to eat almost all the food that was left. Clearly my body had been deprived of nourishment for far too long and it was demanding replenishment. Once my stomach was full I put on the dagger harness and practiced placing and removing the daggers from them a few times. It was a bit awkward at first getting the placement right, how to angle the weapons to fit in smoothly but after a few tries I started to get the knack of it. I just didn't want to get out there and start dropping my daggers first thing, I knew I was bad but I could prevent that much embarrassment at least.

Finally ready, I opened the door and headed out into Haven again. Thankfully there were no crowds of people waiting for me this time. I few people watched me as I made my way down the path but mostly life just seemed to go on normally. I followed Maryn's instructions and just kept heading downhill along the widest paths I could find, trying to pay attention to landmarks so I could hopefully find my way back without getting too lost. It wasn't a large town though so I was able to find the gates after just a few minutes walk. The gates stood open with a couple guards on watch beside them. They inclined their heads as I passed through.

I looked out onto the open field before me. I could see the training area just ahead not far from the gates where quite a few soldiers were already sparring and practicing both individually and in groups. Beyond that I saw a wide area filled with tents and more soldiers wandering around these. I slowly approached the training area looking for Cassandra. Unable to spot her, I asked a soldier if he'd seen her and was directed farther into the training area. I finally saw her and was amused to see her sparing with a training dummy not much different from the ones she was always using during the game. I was hit with another wave of how surreal this all was, seeing this woman in a familiar setting and yet feeling it as if it were reality. I wondered if I would ever get used to it.

I approached her and seeing her in action up close I could get a real sense of the power this woman possessed. The dummy shook under each of her blows. I made sure to stand back well out of the way as I watched. She was so concentrated on her actions it took a minute before she finally noticed me standing there. "Ah, you made it," she said.

"I feel sorry for those dummies, they don't stand a chance. I think you need some sturdier ones, maybe iron?" I smiled to myself at my deliberately chosen comment, I simply couldn't resist.

"Ha, I do seem to abuse them rather thoroughly don't I?" she replied with a slight smile. "I see the daggers were delivered to you."

"Yes, thank you."

"They aren't anything special but they should serve well to get you started. By the time you will need them to fight we will have some better equipment for you. Speaking of which, when we finish here you should go see Harritt, he runs the forge, he will get your measurements and work with you to get some better armor made for you as well."

"Thank you. You really don't have to go to so much trouble, but I appreciate it."

"It is no trouble, and if you are to aid the Inquisition you will need to be properly outfitted at least. Leliana also believes she has someone who will be able to train you better than I in the use of daggers. The agent is currently in the field but she has been called in and should arrive in a few days, at which time she will take over your training. For now I will teach you what I can."

Over the next couple hours Cassandra slowly taught me the most basic points of using my new weapons. She started with how to hold them for some basic strikes and blocks. Blocks were practiced very slowly at first as Cassandra would attack with a long stick. Even without the sword I could feel the power in every carefully controlled blow. It was tricky learning how to actually turn away each strike so that I redirected the power of the blow instead of absorbing it. I was still slow but felt I'd at least gotten the idea. Next, I practiced the strikes on the dummies. They felt like lead when I hit them, while they had seemed ready to topple under one of Cassandra's blows. I felt like the dummy could have knocked me over instead.

When I said as much she replied, "With daggers it is not power that matters, it is precision and speed. You will need to know where to strike for the most damage and be able to hit it the moment you have an opening. These things you will learn once Leliana's agent gets here, for now you will simply learn the few basic moves I am able to teach you. Hopefully, you will at least become more comfortable holding these blades, at the moment it still appears you are almost afraid of them. You must let them become part of your body, an extension of your arm, if you wish to use them effectively."

"Well, I've never really had the opportunity to use weapons like this before. Before we headed up the mountain I had certainly never fought with any. I never really was the fighting type so I'm not surprised I seem to be so inept. Actually, I'm worried whether I will be able to learn well enough to be of much use."

"Do not worry about that. You lack training and experience, but you have no bad habits and you follow instructions well. With time and practice I am sure you will become more than competent in an actual fight. Still, I do wonder what you were doing at the Conclave, untrained and inexperienced as you are."

Unfortunately I hadn't been able to come up with much of a story to explain how I could have ended up at the Conclave in the first place. "Ummm, well anything I do remember about it is still fuzzy at best, I know I was there to see what would happen, it was a very important gathering that could affect much of Thedas, depending on the outcome. Perhaps my obvious ineptitude made me seem harmless enough that I could be more easily ignored? Honestly, I wish I could tell you more, I would like to know just as much as you do." I took a deep breath, collecting my thoughts, "I only know that the situation I find myself in now, is not one I ever remotely anticipated for myself. What I can tell you is that since this is where I am, I'm going to do my best not to disappoint, or at the very least, not get myself killed," I said finally with a weak smile.

"Well, I suppose that is the most we can ask for now. Perhaps the answers will reveal themselves in time, or perhaps you will regain your memories. Until then we will do our best the help you learn what you need to know. We will stop for this morning, you should go and see the smith next. Tomorrow we will do some more training and after that I want to introduce you to the other key members of the Inquisition."

"Thank you, for everything, I really appreciate it," I said sincerely. "By the way, I was wondering if you could tell me where I might find Solas or Varric? I wanted to thank them for their help too and I thought I might talk to Solas about whatever magic ability I'm supposed to possess."

"Of course, they have cabins slightly lower down the hill from you. You will probably find Solas in his cabin, but Varric has a habit of wandering around Haven so he could be anywhere. I suggest you ask any of the inquisition soldiers on duty, they should be able to direct you."

"Ok, I understand, and the smith?"

"From the gate it is in the opposite direction of the camp and training ground, this side of the stables, you can't miss it. Remember, ask for Harritt."

"Alright, I'll see you tomorrow then." I said and started heading back the way I'd come, off to find the smith.

I heard the forge before I saw it, the distinct clang of metal being hammered. It was quite a big outfit too. I asked for Harritt at the entrance and was directed to the back where a man was looking over some finished pieces. "Excuse me, are you Harritt, Cassandra told me to come see you."

"Ah, the Herald of Andraste, is it? I'm glad you could come by." He said in a gruff but friendly tone.

"Ummm," I was a bit taken aback being addressed as the Herald. I knew it was coming eventually but this was the first time it had been used to my face and it just felt really strange. "Well, I guess some people are calling me that but you can just call me Lyara or Lavellan."

He gave a short laugh, "I suppose that Herald stuff must be a bit awkward for you. Alright, Miss Lavellan, I'm glad you stopped by. I wanted to get some measurements and talk to you about some new armor and weapons. You'll be needing better than you've got before long." He then proceeded to take some measurements, and discuss different options for arms and armor. He did his best to explain the differences in material and designs and he had me try out a few things already made to see how they felt. In the end we settled on a pretty sturdy armor that would still be easy to move in and some simple daggers, easy to use for a beginner that would still be strong and sharp, but lightweight and balanced for my grip.

"Alright, I should have this all ready for you in a day or two so you can start practicing with it. Of course as your abilities improve or your needs change you can always come back here and we can get you an upgrade, just let me know and we'll get it taken care of."

I thanked Harritt as I left and then headed back towards the gate into Haven. I still wanted to find Varric and Solas. Preferably I wanted to find Varric first but if he was wandering around Haven somewhere, who knew how long it would take me to find him.

It turned out I needn't have worried. I found him not far inside the gates, apparently regaling a small group of people with some amusing tale. I came up as the laughter died away and people moved on to continue about their business. He saw me as I approached, a wry smile on his face. "So, if it isn't the lady of the hour, glad to see you back up and moving around."

"I am too and I have you in part to thank for that. I certainly wouldn't have made it up that mountain without you and the others helping."

"Don't worry about it. You closed that damned hole in the sky, that's thanks enough. By the way, how are you holding up? You went from being no one, to being the most wanted criminal in Thedas, to joining the armies of the faithful, all while being marked by some mysterious power nobody understands. Most people would have spread that out over more than one day." There was actual concern in his eyes as he said this though he kept his tone light.

I sighed slightly before saying, "Honestly, I'm not sure I believe any of this is really happening. I keep expecting to wake up somewhere and find it was all a nightmare."

"That makes two of us. For days now we've been staring at the Breach watching demons and Maker knows what fall out of it. 'Bad for morale' would be an understatement; I think you've got it right calling it a nightmare. If only we could wake up from it. I still can't believe anyone was in there and lived."

"I don't know if it was luck or misfortune, but here I am, stuck with this...thing." I said looking down at my hand and the softly glowing mark..

"You might want to consider running at the nearest opportunity. I've written enough tragedies to see where this is going."

"I did consider it, but somehow I don't think there's anywhere I can run that would be any better than this. But why have you stayed? I believe Cassandra said you were free to go. You don't have to be here."

"I like to think I'm as selfish and irresponsible as the next guy but this...? Thousands of people died on that mountain and I was almost one of them. Now there's a hole in the sky. Even I can't just walk away and leave that to sort itself out. Heroes are everywhere, I've seen that, but the hole in the sky, that's beyond heroes. We're going to need a miracle."

We stood there in silence for a while. After such doom and gloom I wasn't sure what to say. I knew there was hope, things could be overcome, but I was the one that was supposed to make that happen. I could barely even hold a dagger, how the hell could I save the world?

"Speaking of miracles," I said, breaking the silence, "I'll need a miracle if I even hope to not get myself killed in the next battle I end up in. I'm not exactly confident I'm going to be able to learn to defend myself properly."

"Of course you will, don't worry. Besides, you promised I could tell the story of your flapping around hopelessly on that mountain, it will be a lot more amusing after you've become a great warrior. If I tell it now it will just make people uneasy to know that the 'Herald of Andraste' was running around the battlefield like a panicked nug."

"Oh thank you Varric," I said glaring, "and here I was thinking you were actually trying to make me feel better."

"Who me?? I'm no good at that kind of thing," he grinned, "If you want consolation, find me at the inn sometime, first round is on me."

I rolled my eyes and shook my head at him, "Fine, maybe later I'll do that. By the way, can you tell me where I could find Solas? I wanted to talk to him about this supposed magic I have."

"Ah, that's right, not only did you get some mysterious mark on your hand but you have spontaneously become a mage. Just how much weird shit is fate going to throw at you this week?"

"Hopefully I can dodge anything that comes my way for the next couple days at least."

"I guess I'd better not stand too close to you then," he said, winking. "Come on, I'm headed that direction, I'll show you where his cabin is and save you a search."

So we headed back up the hill silently for a couple of minutes till we came to a small cul-de-sac of cabins a little off the main path. Varric pointed to the cabin in the middle, "That one is Solas', I'm sure he's in there reading. I'm to the right but I'm almost never there so if you need to find me I'll be in the pub or wandering around somewhere."

"Thanks, I guess I'll see you later."

"Don't let him talk your ears off about history and the Fade. If you start nodding off, you know where to find me." He gave a short wave and headed on up the hill.

Chapter Text

I walked up to the door of the cabin Varric indicated and gave it a couple firm knocks. After hearing a distinct "enter" I pushed the door open and walked inside. The room was smaller than my own but it was clean and warm. Solas was indeed sitting at a table with a book open before him and a couple stacks of books nearby. He looked up as I entered and I closed the door behind me to keep the cold out.

On the mountain, everything was happening so fast, all I could think about was one moment at a time and couldn't really take in the world, or the people, around me. And here he was, the fantasy man I'd fallen for in an imaginary world, seemingly real before me. I swallowed and said, "Hello Solas, I hope I'm not bothering you."

"Not at all, I welcome a visit from the chosen of Andraste, the blessed hero sent to save us all," he answered as he stood to greet me, a teasing glint in his eye.

I smiled at the familiar line and took the bait, "And am I riding in on a shining steed? or maybe a Unicorn?"

"I would have suggested a gryphon but sadly they are extinct, as are the unicorns I'm afraid. Joke as you will, posturing is necessary. I've journeyed deep into the fade in ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations. I've watched as hosts of spirits clash to reenact the bloody past in ancient wars both famous and forgotten. Every great war has its heroes, I'm just curious what kind you'll be."

It was so weird hearing these words falling from the mouth of a real person and his speech was as hypnotic as I remembered it. He had such a way with words and the way he spoke always seemed to sound as if he were reading poetry. It was tempting to see how long I could get this scene to continue, but I knew that playing out a script wasn't really going to help anything. Whatever this was, it was no game, and I personally was nothing like the character I was supposed to be. I would have to make changes if I was to survive, let alone help these people. If I could be successful with small changes, perhaps I could even make bigger ones later on.

"I am fascinated by what you say you've seen in the Fade and I hope you will tell me more later, but at the moment I'm afraid I'll only be a dead hero without a significant amount of help. I came here partly to thank you for your help on the mountain, I'm not sure I'd still be here otherwise."

"You're thanks is not necessary, the Breach is a threat to everything and I was glad to be able to assist you in closing it. Still I do appreciate your taking the time to come and offer your thanks in person."

"Necessary or not, I do truly appreciate what you've done." He was watching me intently as I spoke and began to feel a bit antsy under the scrutiny, what could he possibly be thinking of me? I took a breath to frame my next request, "I was also hoping you could help me some more. You said I was a mage. I'm still not even sure I believe it, but if it's true then I hope you will help me to understand and properly use whatever power it is I possess. I'm sure it could come in useful but I'm also worried about inadvertently lighting something on fire. Having some unknown abilities that I do not understand and therefore can't control makes me rather nervous." Though I hadn't thought things through this much previously, I felt the truth of my words as I spoke them, knowing this could indeed be a serious issue. I wasn't even sure how magic worked in this world but it was sure to be more complicated than holding a controller and pushing the right button.

"You are wise to see the potential risk of your situation and I would be pleased to instruct and guide you." He smiled and did seem genuinely pleased with my request. "I will stay then, at least until the breach has been closed."

"Oh, were you planning to leave?"

Of course, as in the game, he would still be ambivalent about staying here but I knew chances were small that he would actually leave.

"I am an apostate mage surrounded by Chantry forces in the middle of a mage rebellion and, unlike you, I do not have a 'divine mark' protecting me. Cassandra has been accommodating, but you understand my concern at remaining here for any length of time."

"You came here to help, Solas, and I need that help. I'm not going to let them hold the fact that you are a mage, an apostate, or an elf, against you!"

"How will you stop them?"

"Any way I have to!" I said, raising my voice. "I don't know a single spell, I can barely hold a dagger but if I have any authority as some supposed 'Chosen One', I will use it and the few abilities I do possess to prevent anyone dragging away one of my best hopes of surviving any of this for nothing more than bigotry!"

I'd become increasingly passionate as I spoke because the very idea that anyone might try to hurt or imprison someone that way just made me mad. I barely knew the man in front of me but I'd chosen to believe in him as I did the character he resembled. I'd always been upset by the injustice and prejudice that was everywhere in my world but I'd rarely been faced with it directly. Now, being faced with potential consequences of these same kinds of attitudes, I was infuriated.

He listened calmly through my rant and gave me a moment as I finished and closed my eyes a moment and took a breath to calm myself. "Sorry," I said quietly, looking down, a little embarrassed at my outburst.

He smiled then, a warm genuine smile, which drew my gaze back up. It was the friendliest thing I'd seen since arriving in this world and after all the craziness and fear that never seemed to end. For a moment I actually felt safe. In that moment I wanted to close the distance between us and be wrapped up in that safety and never let it go. Fortunately his voice broke the spell his smile had cast, "There is no need to apologize, I'm truly grateful you feel that way, but let us hope that circumstances will not necessitate such drastic action on your part."

"No, I'd rather it didn't come to that," I said with a small smile. "Anyway, I'm glad you're staying." I paused not sure what to say next. "Ummm, so do you have some time? I'd like to get started as soon as possible, I'm sure I have a lot to learn. If you're busy though, I can come back later," I said looking at the open book on the table.

"No, I am not busy, many of these books I have read already. My resources are somewhat limited here. I would be glad to start instructing you, please have a seat." He indicated the other chair at the table and sat back down, closing the book he'd been reading. "We should get started talking about a few basic principles and I'm sure you have a few questions."

"I do. First though, I'd like to know what makes you think I am a mage? I still don't feel like a mage, not that I know what being a mage feels like."

"Remember how you were able to feel the magic around you on the mountain? You could feel the rifts and the demons, even me."

"I remember, but I thought maybe it was just because of the mark. Since we closed the Breach I haven't noticed any more magic."

"Well, part of the reason may be that there is a lot less magic around you now than was on the mountain, especially now that the Breach is closed. The mark certainly may be having some effect on your abilities but I do not believe it is the only source of them. I too am able to sense the magic around me and with the mark much quieter now I can quite clearly feel that you possess your own magic within you."

"Can all mages sense magic like that? And why can't I feel it from you right now?"

"All mages can sense magical phenomena such as the rifts, even those with no magic at all can feel something as large as the Breach. Many mages are able to sense other mages within close proximity or if they are actively casting, but not many are sensitive to as much or as far as I believe you are. As for why you are not able to sense me, it is simply because you are not trying to. In fact it seems you are actively blocking yourself from perceiving such things, an understandable reaction after the shock and trauma you must have experienced on the mountain. However, I think if you were to relax and concentrate it would take very little effort for you to be able to regain the ability."

"Relax and concentrate. What should I concentrate on exactly?"

"You need to open yourself up to what is around you. I recommend you close your eyes and try to reach out with your other senses, then see if you can reach beyond that."

"Ok, I guess I'll try it. How will I know if it works?"

"If it works you will not have to ask. Now close your eyes." I did as I was told, letting the world become dark. He started speaking again, low and soft, words slow, hypnotic, "Now listen to the sounds in the room, the sounds from outside. Breathe in, take in the smells of the room, it's temperature, how does the air feel upon your skin and in your lungs? Now, reach beyond that. Look for light in the darkness, sound in the silent spaces, energy in the emptiness..."

I followed his instructions, trying to notice and sense as many small things around me as I could. I breathed slowly and felt myself relax to his rhythmic words and soft tone. As I tried to reach beyond I felt lost, unsure what I was looking for or where it could be found. Then I remembered that moment on the mountain when I closed the first rift, I remembered the flow of power to and from the rift and I remembered the energy I had felt come from Solas himself. I felt the mark flicker in response and suddenly there was more in the space around me than there had been a moment before. I could sense Solas there. I couldn't see anything but I felt the energy that I knew was him, bright and strong and steady. More than that though, I could feel what was like a very fine mist of magic suffusing the air, like dust motes in a sunbeam but not really. It was like he somehow filled the space around him with his energy. I turned my head and reached out a hand as if trying to actually see or touch what I sensed before me.

"It seems you were successful," he said with a soft chuckle. "Why don't you try opening your eyes now?"

"Will I still be able to sense this with my eyes open?" I asked, not ready to let go of the sensation, which, without the peril I'd experienced on the mountain, was actually amazing and fascinating.

"It may weaken slightly as your sight disrupts your concentration but with a little practice you should be able to sense such things just as easily as using any of your other senses."

I took a deep breath and then finally opened my eyes and looked back at the man before me. There he was, a real Solas, but now he seemed even more real, more substantial somehow, than even the wood of the table before me, or the stone of the Chantry. It felt strangely intimate, sensing his presence like that but I brushed the thought aside realizing I felt the energy of demons the same way and I would probably feel it from many other mages and such in the days ahead. It was probably only so strong because we were alone and it was a new experience for me. It was dangerous for me to apply any more significance to the situation than that. "This is actually pretty amazing now that I don't have to worry about being attacked at any moment."

"It is also a very useful ability. I believe it will help you greatly as you discover other skills. If you are ready I will begin by explaining some basic principles of magic which you will need to understand before you actually try to use any magic."

He then began to teach me about the basic principles of magic, the Fade, the Veil and how they related to each other. A lot of it started similar to explanations he gave in the game but it quickly became significantly more detailed. I also had about a million questions about everything. He'd explain some concept, which would prompt about five questions and every answer would give me five more. He answered everything patiently and as clearly as he was able, though many points he said would be better discussed after I had learned more. Even so we kept talking for hours, I have no idea how long we were there like that.

I listened intently and was truly fascinated by the things he told me but while he spoke I noticed myself studying him. I watched him and looked closely at the details, comparing them with the image in my memory. Some things were remarkably similar, like the small scar above his eye, the shape and proportions of his face, the dusting of light freckles across his nose and cheeks. Some things were subtly different, the exact shape of his nose and chin were just slightly less defined as I remembered them, though still distinct. Of course this may have been due to the fact that his skin was real and flexible, so much more than computer-generated skin. I did my best not to imagine running my fingers along that jawline.

Other things came across that could never have been properly expressed, even through more sophisticated programming than was in the game. The way he moved and held himself, from his gestures, to his lips as he spoke, to the way he blinked. How the skin moved and creased with his expressions. Even the way he spoke had more depth because I could have a real and full conversation with him, full of nuance and detail. As familiar as I was with this man, seeing all that was new to me reinforced for me the fact that this was a stranger, I did not truly know this man, who he was, how he thought, nothing. All I knew was a mere sketch of the man before me.

This realization made me feel all the more awkward at my earlier impulse to hug him. It reinforced my resolve that I should be careful and not let past fantasies push me down risky paths. Yet at the same time, I could not deny wanting to know him better. Even if I'd never had any idea who he was, I would have been fascinated with him. He was just the kind of person that I would have been drawn to in any world. Hell, he was way more interesting in real life than he ever was in the game and I'd only had one conversation with him. I reassured myself that whatever my fascination was, that didn't mean he would have the slightest interest in me. With my inexperience and lack of knowledge about pretty much everything, I must seem like a child in so many ways. He could help me and he would be my teacher and someday maybe even a friend, and perhaps that would be enough, so I just kept asking questions.

We had been there for hours and the sun had gone down. He had just finished answering several of my questions and I was sitting there silently considering what he'd said as he got up to tend the fire which had started to get low. I was trying to make things make sense with everything else I'd learned, but my brain seemed to be moving sluggishly now. Suddenly there was a loud growling sound from my stomach, which startled me from my pondering.

"When did you last eat?" Solas asked with a small smile at the embarrassed expression on my face.

"This morning, before I went to see Cassandra. I completely forgot about food, which probably isn't good after how long I went without eating before yesterday."

"Indeed, you are still recovering from your recent ordeals and your body will need adequate sustenance to properly do so. Come, you have learned enough for one day, I am sure your mind is as full to bursting as your stomach is empty, let us see if we cannot find a way to reverse the situation somewhat." He opened the cabin door and gestured out to the cold evening air, "Shall we?"

"Alright let's go," I stood up and headed out past him into the cold night air. I shivered slightly as the air hit me but it was also rather refreshing after so many hours in the cabin, it woke up my brain a little and also my stomach which gave another loud rumble. "So, where are we going?" I asked as he walked up to join me on the path and began leading the way.

"The tavern here serves hot meals of surprisingly good quality and I thought it might be nice for you to be around more people for a while."

"Actually, my instinct is to keep to myself, after recent events especially, I feel a little uneasy being out among these people just yet, but I suppose I can't hide forever and it might do me some good."

"I completely understand the inclination, but I find it really can be beneficial to occasionally immerse yourself among the living, even if only for a change of perspective."

"Right, which is why you spend all your time in books or the Fade."

"I did say 'occasionally'." he answered wryly.

We continued walking in silence. It was nice to be around someone who I didn't feel a need to keep up conversation. So many people I knew seemed to hate silence and I always felt pressure to keep the conversation going but I hated small talk and forced conversation, and could never see what was wrong with periodic silence. I felt no such pressure from Solas and it was nice. Haven was much quieter at night, people still moved around but many had retired indoors and the paths were mostly empty. Soft lights flickered through the small windows and when I looked up it was a great expanse of stars. I hadn't seen so many stars in years and it was amazing and glorious to my eyes. I actually stopped for a moment to take it in.

Solas stopped a few steps ahead noticing my pause and looked back. "What do you see?" he asked curiously, following my gaze.

"Just the stars," I said still gazing upwards and pivoting on the spot to take in the whole sky. "They're always there, this huge infinite expanse of shining lights, but we so often get caught up in the moment and our own worries and concerns that we forget about them, about how much is out there, how much we don't know. Sometimes it's just amazing to look up and see it, really see it, and then imagine being out there looking down at this one small world in a sea of stars. It makes the world seem both bigger and smaller at the same time. I mean, it's so small in the universe it seems like whatever happens here means nothing and yet this is our ship carrying us through that endless black sea and if any of it has value why not this, but it is a whole world, not just a single person's concerns. And yet like this lone world, if any of it has value why not the concerns of a single person? Why should any of us be of any less value than one of those stars?" I suddenly realized that I had actually been saying all of this out loud as it came to me, rambling on in what must seem a very random fashion. I looked over at Solas who was staring at me, his expression unreadable. I suddenly felt very self conscious but I smiled and said, "I'm not sure that made any sense, it probably sounds kind of silly but..." I had no idea how to finish the sentence under the intensity of that gaze.

"No, it made perfect sense and it is not silly at all. I think very few are so able to stand outside themselves and their own concerns to see the bigger picture in such a way. Even I am not so gifted as that."

That was certainly not the response I expected, not that I knew what I expected, but it stunned me and I had no idea what to think of it, much less how to respond. I also felt even more self-conscious, so I just put my eyes back on the path ahead and started walking. "We'd better go get that food before I pass out, I think I could eat a horse." He fell into step beside me without a word and we continued to the pub in silence.

I'd barely opened the door before I heard Varric calling us over. It was warm and crowded inside, though not uncomfortably so. The smells of food made my stomach grumble in response. We made our way through the people to the table Varric was at and sat down. "I see you managed to drag Chuckles along, excellent, the more the merrier! I've already asked them to bring you guys something, hope you're hungry."

"I'm starving, I haven't eaten since this morning, my stomach is threatening to eat me alive."

"What? How long did you talk her ears off for?" He shot a look at Solas, "You couldn't let her have a break to eat?"

Before Solas could answer I jumped in, "It wasn't his fault, I wouldn't stop asking questions and then I just didn't realize I hadn't eaten. I'm sure he'd have given me a break if I'd thought to ask."

"Even so," Solas followed, "I should have been more mindful to your needs and asked if you wanted anything. I was a poor host."

"Don't worry about it," I said, "Food is coming now, I'm not going to starve and we'll remember better next time."

"Next time?" Asked Varric. "You mean you actually plan to spend another six hours discussing magical theory?"

My eyes widened at that remark, "Is that really how long we were talking?" I said turning to Solas for confirmation.

"Approximately, yes," he confirmed.

"Wow, I had no idea. You could have stopped me at any time, All those questions must have gotten tiresome," I said. "Still, I'm sure I'm going to come up with about a hundred more so if you don't mind answering some now and then, I'd appreciate it."

"I do not mind at all. You asked questions even many experienced mages never think to consider. However, I do believe that while theory and knowledge are quite valuable some things must be learned by doing, so it would be beneficial to add some more practical content to the next lessons."

Varric chimed in, "So, you had him there for half the day and never once asked him to tell you how to make a fireball or something? I don't think I'd have been able to wait five minutes before trying to shoot lightning at something."

It was true, I hadn't even thought to try that kind of thing. Truth be told I was a little terrified to try it, I felt sure that if I even managed to succeed in doing anything it would go horribly wrong and destroy someone's house. "Well, I guess I still don't fully believe I have any useful magic and I'm rather afraid of accidently causing damage," I said sheepishly.

"Ah, don't worry. Chuckles here is first rate, I'm sure he'll keep you from blowing anything up too badly."

Thankfully the food arrived just then. Servants laid out the trays loaded with food: roasted meat and potatoes, cheese, bread, a couple bowls of a hearty stew, and it all smelled amazing. "Wow, I wasn't expecting a feast, this looks fantastic!"

"Dig in," said Varric, "It's your first real meal in Haven right? After what you did closing those rifts it's the least you deserve."

The rest of the evening was pretty relaxed. I ate what felt like a mountain of food and had to order seconds of the stew. Varric amused us with a few stories and jokes. He truly was a great storyteller and I quickly learned it was best not to put too much food in my mouth at once while he was talking or I was at risk for spitting it all back out in laughter at any moment. Even Solas joined in slight banter now and then. Other than a few short comments and questions I mostly just ate and listened.

After I'd finally had my fill I was soon hit with a wave of tiredness. "I think I'd better call it a night, the day is catching up with me. Thank you for the great food and company Varric."

"Feel free to come by to chat anytime," said Varric.

"And thank you for the lesson today Solas, would it be okay if I came by again sometime tomorrow to continue?"

"Of course. Have a good night," he nodded in farewell.

"Good night," I got up, gave a short wave and headed back outside. I was still trying to get my bearings around Haven but fortunately the pub wasn't far from the Chantry so I managed to find my way back to my own cabin without more than one or two wrong turns. Of course there were plates of food waiting for me on the table, I would make sure to actually eat some of it tomorrow. I probably shouldn't skip lunch again.

It had been a good day. I'd gotten through it without any near death experiences and learned a few useful things. Of course what I'd learned today mostly taught me how little I really knew. I must seem so pathetically incompetent to all of them and yet they were putting so much faith in me, so much expectation. It would be a lot for someone who did have an idea what they were doing, but it was beyond overwhelming for me.

I took a deep breath to steady myself, to regain some equilibrium. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. I reached out the way Solas had instructed that afternoon. I couldn't feel much, the anchor became more distinct in my mind even though it remained quiet on my hand, but it was just me in this room. Still, putting myself in that frame of mind served the purpose to also still my panic. Calmer now I could look at the situation a little clearer. Yes, it was going to be an immense challenge and all the odds seemed stacked against me. However, there were people here who seemed more than willing to help make sure I would be prepared to face those odds. Whatever happened the only way I could approach this was one step at a time. I would use each day to do what I could to prepare. And when the day came when I would have to start using that knowledge I would face it one challenge at a time.

It was too much to face the idea of representing the Inquisition and saving the world from the horrors of Corypheus, of the people who would fight and die for that cause. Of being smack in the middle of events that would make history that would be talked about for ages in this world. No, that was all way too much. But one day: training, learning, breathing, talking, reading, eating; those things I could understand, those things I could deal with. So that was going to be my focus. I wasn't sure how fast things might happen but without internet and cellphones, communication alone was going to slow things down, which would mean a little more time I could use to gain more useful skills and knowledge. Hopefully it would be enough.

I was exhausted. I wasn't sure how long I'd been up but it had been a full day and Solas was right, I was probably still recovering. More sleep then. Tomorrow wouId likely be at least as busy and full of new things. So I undressed, and got cleaned up before heading to bed. I lay in my bed for a few moments watching the flickering of the firelight on the walls before falling asleep.

Chapter Text

I found myself in a kind of dark and blurry world. It was quiet, unnaturally so, and very still. Surely, there should be more movement in the air at least. No sooner than I thought it but I felt a waft of air softly move across my face. I turned around trying to take in my surroundings, confused. Then I realized it, I was dreaming. I immediately relaxed, I loved dreaming, I loved losing myself in the stories my mind created for me. Sure, there had always been occasional nightmares but on the whole dreaming was one of my favorite past times. I always dreamed best in the morning, I loved days I could sleep in and willfully submerge myself in dreams. I generally knew when I was dreaming and had some control over them. I'd considered learning full lucid dreaming but I always enjoyed the randomness my own brain produced, I felt it did well enough on its own, no need to mess with what already worked.

Continuing to look around however, I realized this felt different from the dreams I was used to. I was definitely dreaming but I felt more lucid than usual. At the same time, the landscape of this dream seemed unusual. I felt something at the edge of my mind that I couldn't put my finger on, some explanation. Was this some symbolism my brain was creating? What could it be representing if so? I closed my eyes and tried to recall reality. I didn't really want to do this, the joy of dreams is to escape reality, but somehow I felt I would get the answer if only I could remember something important.

I remembered my game, talking to the characters, green lights in the sky, walking through Haven... wait, not the game, it had seemed so real like they were all real people. I remembered the mountain and the fear. I remembered hot food and Varric telling stories. Was that all a dream and then I just woke up in another dream? Was this just one of those confusing dreams where you aren't sure if you are awake or still dreaming? If it was, there was usually a way to test it, some key point or memory that would prove the dream false. I remembered cold air on my face as I struck a dummy with a dagger. I remembered asking Solas question after question listening to his hypnotic voice explaining the secrets of magic. I remembered a sea of shining stars. I remembered the Breach, power flowing through the mark on my hand. My hand. I opened my eyes again and looked down at my hand, shimmering with a green light, tingling slightly.

So, either I was still in the dream or I was in the Fade. My knowledge of exactly how the Fade worked was limited but it did explain how this felt like a dream and how I could be so aware within it. If I was a mage, that should mean I would be more aware and in control of my dreams than most people. I had no idea how much control was normal though. Perhaps in time I would figure it out but somehow it just didn't feel that important at the moment. If I was dreaming I couldn't exactly do any research, All I could do was experiment. Whatever else it was, this was my time, I could do with it as I saw fit, I didn't have to answer to anybody here, I didn't have any expectations on me here, this could still be a place of escape. This could even have practical value. Perhaps I could use this space to practice, create fade daggers and practice dummies and work on my technique. That was an idea, though for tonight I just wanted to experiment and explore. The idea of so many possibilities was exciting.

I needed to be careful though, if this was the Fade then spirits or demons could be around as well. I wasn't sure how much attention they might pay to ordinary dreamers but I didn't want to take a chance of being ambushed by one. I wondered if there were some way to keep them away. I knew mages could make wards but did those work in dreams? Even if they did, I didn't know how to make them. For the time being I guess I would just need to be careful, keep an eye out for anything else out there and hope nothing dangerous became interested.

What I did know about dreams was that the line between thought and reality blurs, from what I could remember this was also very true of the Fade. Well, while I was here perhaps I could experiment with that. I closed my eyes and imagined a forest: tall trees, ferns and brush scattering the ground and moonlight filtering through the leaves. Once that was clear in my mind I decided it was time to open my eyes and see if anything had changed.

I kept my eyes closed though. I liked the vision I'd created, but I was afraid that it would all still be empty blurry darkness if I opened my eyes. It was a waste of time to just be standing there like that though, so I took a deep breath, counted to three, and opened my eyes.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I woke up feeling amazingly refreshed. I could tell it was early but I felt full of energy. I didn't know if it was just because I'd enjoyed the night's sleep or because I had managed to draw energy from the Fade. I was pretty sure I'd remembered reading somewhere that mages could take power from the Fade but I certainly wasn't clear how that worked. It seemed there was as much to learn while sleeping as while awake.

As I got up and got ready for the day I thought back on the forest I'd made for myself. I was so excited to see it manifested just as it had been in my mind. I'd spent the night wandering around it and adding details here and there, flowers, a stream, some large stones to sit on, whatever caught my fancy. It was the most peaceful I'd felt since all this craziness began. I tried to remember all the details as I proceeded with my morning preparations, hoping I could recreate again that night.

Of course, my experience dreaming in the Fade added a new wrinkle to the question of this 'reality'. The Fade was able to become quite detailed. The trees were solid, the water was wet, I could see and feel all the details of a 'real' world, yet that entire time I knew 100% that it was not real, or at least not real the same way the waking world was real. Maybe it was how well I could control the reality, or maybe it was a subtle difference to the atmosphere there that just gave it that dream quality that separated it from true reality. It was a reflection, nothing more, no matter how detailed it became.

But these revelations begged the question: if this whole world was a dream, how was I able to dream within a dream and have such distinctly different experiences. If this was a simulation, how could that type of dream state be simulated, shouldn't my mind be able to dream normally no matter what was creating the circumstances before my waking eyes? It made me more confused. The reality argument had won a few points but it didn't help very much. It also didn't really matter for the immediate future, I was clearly still stuck here so matters really hadn't changed. I'd just keep going on as I'd planned.

I was also rather curious about how much I was able to control in the Fade. Did a normal mage have that much control or did I somehow end up being a Dreamer on top of everything else? It was yet another question in a long list. Hopefully I'd be able to come up with answers to some of them in time.

I got dressed, had some breakfast, got myself ready for the day and was ready to head out. I really did wish I at least had a small mirror or something. I was also going to need to see if I couldn't find some more effective method of cleaning my teeth, there was only so much I could do with my finger and some water. I really hoped there existed some kind of teeth cleaning implements.

I put on the harness and daggers last, and stepped out of the door. It was a bright morning and I had to squint as I stepped outside. I felt a lot more confident this morning as I headed back down the hill, at least I knew where I was going today. I felt as though I'd gotten up early this morning but clearly there were still plenty of others up before me.

I found Cassandra out at the same place as the day before. "Good Morning," I greeted her cheerfully.

She nodded and replied with a cool but friendly, "Good morning." My good mood must have been showing because she continued with, "It seems you are well rested this morning. It is good to see you are recovering."

"Yes, I feel a lot better today than I have since...." I hesitated, "all this started."

"Indeed, it has been a trying time for everyone," she said with a thoughtful frown.

"I'm sorry, I'd forgotten... I mean..." my mood was suddenly dampened remembering how much the people here must have suffered recently, the tragedy at the Conclave that claimed so many lives, including the Divine who was just a name to me, but who was a very important figure to most of the people here. "A lot has happened and the Conclave was an incredible tragedy, it's just..."

Cassandra stopped me, "No, it is fine. A lot has happened but we must gather ourselves and do our best to move on so that we may do what is needed to find answers and help the people. It is good that you are feeling better. Now, are you ready to start working?"

"Yes, let's get started." She had sombered my mood but she had also put things into perspective for me. The truth was that what I was doing here wasn't just about me. The role I had meant what I was doing was for many people. It wasn't enough to just learn what I could to avoid dying until such time as I woke up from this situation. I'd decided to approach this as if it were real which meant the responsibility I would have would also be real. I knew this already, but I hadn't internalized it yet. I had a feeling things were going to get a lot more real before much longer.

Most of what I practiced was the same as the day before just trying to improve speed, accuracy, and basic technique. She taught me a couple new things but then we drilled that a lot too. I didn't complain, I knew it was what I needed. Whenever you start from zero there's a lot of groundwork that has to be built up and I was definitely starting from zero. I needed to practice these basics as much as possible till they became automatic. This was one of the things I hoped I could try to do in the Fade. It wouldn't be a very fun use of my dreamtime but it had potential to make a lot of difference if it worked.

We were probably there for two or three hours again before Cassandra said it was enough for the day. "You still have much to learn but it is a good start. The agent who will take over your training should arrive by tomorrow. She should be able to help you much better than I. If you have any spare time, you might consider coming out to practice on your own as well."

"Yes, I'll keep that in mind and try to work in some extra practice time."

"Now we should go back to the Chantry. There are some other key members of the Inquisition who you still need to meet and we must discuss our next steps, some of which will involve you, so it seems appropriate that you should attend."

"Alright, I look forward to meeting the others." We holstered our weapons and started heading back into Haven.

As we walked Cassandra looked at me and asked, "How are you settling in? Do you have everything you need?"

"A couple of days of food and rest seem to have helped a lot and I haven't had any problems. There are a few basic things I would like to try to get though," I answered.

"You should speak to Josephine, she is one of the people you will meet, she should be able to arrange to get you what you need."

"Thanks. I guess my greatest concern right now is just learning everything I'm going to need to know. I'm already trying to work on fighting and magic but I'll probably need to pick up more details on history and politics."

"Yes, if you have the chance, greater information on such topics may serve you well. There are some people around Haven that may be able to assist in that as well, but do not worry, you will not need to learn everything overnight. Were you able to speak with Solas yesterday? Are you a mage as he said before?"

"I did speak to him yes. He still maintains I'm some kind of mage. I guess I believe him but I don't really know what that means yet, I don't know what kind of abilities I may have. I think we will try to work on figuring that out when I see him again later today."

"I see. Keep me informed of your progress. Your abilities may be a great asset but magic can also be extremely dangerous, as you have seen." She said nodding significantly in my direction. I looked down at my hand, rubbing the palm with my thumb. It was quiet now but with my attention on it I could still feel it there. "Does it trouble you?" She asked, watching me.

"Not really, I just wish I knew how I ended up with it."

"We will find out. What is important is that your mark is now stable, as is the Breach. You have given us time and Solas believes a second attempt might succeed, provided the mark has more power. The same level of power used to open the Breach in the first place. That is not easy to come by."

She couldn't know, of course, that what they sought to find out I already knew, and the answers I sought would likely not be found in the same place.

"Didn't you just warn me how dangerous such power can be? Now we're going to take something nobody actually understands and try to throw as much power at it as possible. No, surely nothing could possibly go wrong," my voice was heavy with sarcasm.

"Indeed," she said with a slight grin, "When you put it that way it does sound rather insane. Clearly we will have to do our best to be careful in any case."

We arrived at the Chantry and headed back to the same room I visited just the other day. It was strange being back here. It wasn't that long ago but my mental state had changed so much that it felt much longer. We entered the room and several people were already there. I looked around as we entered, taking in Leliana and the two new faces, which were nevertheless oh so familiar.

Cassandra started with the introductions as soon as the doors closed behind us, "May I present Commander Cullen, leader of the Inquisition's forces."

Cullen nodded in my direction, "Such as they are. We lost many soldiers in the valley, and I fear many more before this is through," he said with a sigh.

I was starting to get used to the odd sensation of seeing people and things so familiar and yet fundamentally different on account of how real they had become. He was slightly taller than Cassandra; I guessed around 6 feet. On screen I'd never quite gotten a good impression of his height, though I suddenly realized everyone was a lot taller than I'd expected. As far as I could tell I'd remained my original 5'3" though I always felt the game character was taller, perhaps that was why.

It was interesting to see his armor though. It wasn't quite as shiny and perfect as it always looked in game, though it was pretty close, and there was still that feathery...whatever, around the collar. It didn't look quite the same, it looked a bit more practical I guess, but the shape and design were basically the same, giving Cullen the same broad, somewhat regal look that defined him. He was clean-shaven this morning too, clearly the "scruff" he perpetually wore in the game was not so constant here. It made sense but was still a bit odd to see. All in all, he was still the same handsome figure I remembered, just more real, and here I was fighting the returning urge to poke things again to make sure I wasn't dreaming them. I fought not to smile at the idea of going up to Cullen and poking at his armor or touching the feathery thing round the collar.

It wasn't much better seeing Josephine for the first time either. Her dress wasn't that perfect shiny metallic gold, instead it was a more cream color with a definite sheen to it, but the material was clearly of fine quality and there were indeed a significant number of ruffles. While the colors and design details of the dress were noticeably different, they still seemed to fit the image I had of the ambassador quite well, if not better.

"Andaran atish'an," She said graciously.

"Do you speak much Elven?" I asked, suspecting I already knew the answer.

"I'm afraid you've just heard the entirety of it," she said with a slightly embarrassed smile.

Finally, I was introduced again to Leliana the 'spymaster'. There they were, this formidable group of people currently running the Inquisition. They were familiar strangers and I felt so completely out of place among them, how could I ever be of any use to them. Still, what else could I do, here I was so I'd do whatever I was able. A good way to start was clearly with a greeting. "I'm pleased to meet all of you."

Cassandra moved right on to the point, "I mentioned that your mark needs more power to close the Breach for good."

Of course this sparked a short debate regarding whether mages or Templars would be more useful to the cause yet ending with the bare fact that neither group was open to us at the moment.

"The Chantry has denounced the Inquisition, and you specifically." Josephine looked pointedly at me as she said this.

"That seems to have happened rather fast." I responded.

She continued, "Some are calling you, a Dalish elf, 'The Herald of Andraste', that frightens the Chantry. The remaining clerics have declared it blasphemy and we heretics for harboring you."

"Chancellor Roderick had a hand in that, no doubt," declared Cassandra angrily.

"It has limited our options. Approaching the mages or Templars for help is currently out of the question," Josephine stated, finishing her explanation of the situation.

"I don't see how I can be the Herald of Andraste," I said. I knew what people thought of course, but that didn't make it any easier to accept.

Cassandra stepped in to explain, "People saw what you did at the temple, how you stopped the Breach from growing. They have also heard about the woman seen in the rift when we first found you. They believe that woman was Andraste."

Leliana added, "Even if we tried to stop that view from spreading..."

"Which we have not," said Cassandra.

"The point is, everyone is talking about you," Leliana concluded.

"That's quite a title, isn't it? How do you feel about it?" asked Cullen.

I thought a moment, I'd already heard the title being spoken, even Solas had mentioned it, but here it was officially being used, how did that feel? It felt like it should be someone else; the Herald was a character in a story, not me. "It's rather unnerving, to be honest. I don't know how I'm supposed to live up to such a title."

"I'm pretty sure the Chantry has a similar view," he remarked.

Leliana went on, "People are desperate for a sign of hope, for many you are that sign."

"And for others a sign of everything that's gone wrong," added Josephine.

"What about the Breach, that's the real threat. Why can't everyone just focus on that?" I asked. I knew it was useless but I just wasn't ready to have all this placed upon me.

Cullen answered, "They do know it's a threat, they just don't think we can stop it."

Josephine continued, "The Chantry is telling everyone you'll make it worse."

Cassandra moved on, "It will take time for us to earn the people's trust and respect and to gain the influence we need. There is much that needs to be done, but without support we can do very little."

"We are currently looking into opportunities to expand our influence and secure resources," Leliana went on, "It will take time but the right opportunity could present itself at any time. Be ready to go out into the field before long as I am sure you will be instrumental in helping us secure what we need"

"We will need agents to extend our reach beyond this valley and you're better suited than anyone to recruit them." Josephine said.

Cassandra concluded, "In the meantime, you should continue your preparation and training." She then turned to the others, "We will continue to look for other options, I will not leave all this up to the Herald."

Everyone agreed, a few more comments were made on the progress of various activities and then everyone moved to leave. "Josephine," Cassandra said, getting the other woman's attention. "I believe you have some things for the Herald and I think she had a few requests as well. If you would be so kind as to take care of them for her."

"Of course," Josephine smiled, "Please accompany me to my office, I have everything there for you and you may tell me what else it is you need."

I followed Josephine down the hall a short way and she opened one of the doorways leading into a cozy study with a large desk in the center. There were piles of parchment neatly stacked and a number of fountain pens. There were a few bookshelves and a couple tables with other books and documents upon them. Of course there were no windows in the stone walls. Josephine moved behind the desk and sorted through a few papers.

"Here is something that you might find useful since you are not yet familiar with Haven. I have a map of the town with some relevant locations marked that you might want to visit to gather supplies. Several shops have a number of items that will prove useful once you are ready to go out into the field. You may also want to talk to those that run the shops, they can sometimes provide helpful information. I also have here an allowance for you. You will undoubtedly want other clothes than those you are wearing now. This should be enough to acquire anything you may need in that area as well as whatever supplies or food you will also need while you are here."

She handed me a simple but neatly drawn map with locations such as the tavern, blacksmith, apothecary, and other shops marked. She even had Varric and Solas' cabins labeled. She also gave me a small but heavy bag that was clearly full of coins.

She continued, "Cassandra and Cullen can usually be found either in the Chantry or on the training grounds, Leliana has a tent from which she works which is near the quartermaster and I can be found here. Cassandra mentioned you had a few requests?"

"Yes, actually there are a few things I think would be really useful to have. I was wondering if it would be possible to get a comb or hairbrush and possibly a small mirror, something for cleaning my teeth would be nice too. I'd also appreciate some writing materials, like a journal if possible. I don't know if you're the one I should ask or if I should buy these somewhere now."

"Oh of course, I should have thought of such things myself. I believe I can get those for you. I will see what we have and have them delivered to your cabin. I will also send some soap and shampoo."

"Oh thank you, that would be great. Also, there was one other thing I was hoping you could help me with. I'm afraid I don't know all that much of the details of politics or history around here. Since you are an ambassador I wondered if you could help me learn about whatever protocol I may need to know, and if I could get any books that might be useful as well, I think that might really help get me started."

"Of course, that can certainly be arranged and I would be pleased to help you in these matters. I am quite busy today but why don't we meet tomorrow after you finish your morning training, I can get you started over lunch," she said, smiling and writing a note on a piece of paper.

"That sounds great, I look forward to it. Thank you again, I'll see you tomorrow." I smiled gratefully and left the room closing the door behind me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I decided to visit a couple of the shops right away, I was eager to get some new clothes especially. Apparently, I only had what I was wearing when I showed up here and it would be nice to change and have things cleaned once in while at least. I walked into the shop and the girl running the shop quickly stopped what she was doing and moved to start helping me, "Herald, I am honored that you would visit our shop, please let me help you find everything you will need. I promise that you will have the best we can offer."

I started with basics first, new underthings, socks and simple shirts. I was pleased to find that many items were ideal for layering. I would definitely need extra layers here in the mountains but if I started travelling to warmer areas I'd want to be able to reduce them. I figured I might have more money to buy lighter clothes later as well but I always liked to be as prepared as possible for as many situations as possible. Next were leggings I found a couple pairs that fit well in a heavy but comfortable fabric in black as well as some in a luxuriously supple leather of dark brown. I made it a point to stay away from anything in beige or cream. Since I actually got to have some choice of my wardrobe I was going to design it to suit my tastes. Next I picked up a few warm tunics in dark colors. I was beyond thrilled to see they had something in a deep royal purple. I was afraid they might not have dyes to make a good purple, my favorite color. I also ordered a good coat. I discussed the design with the tailor as the shop girl took my measurements and I was assured it would be finished in a few days and delivered to my cabin. The clothes were bundled up for me and also set to be delivered. When I went to make the payment I was pretty sure they undercharged me. When I asked if they were sure that was the price for everything they insisted that it was. I felt rather awkward at that but gave the payment they asked then insisted they take a few more coins anyway as thanks for the excellent service.

With that done I went to order an extra set of boots as well. The boot maker too took careful measurements and we discussed materials and design. After this I felt quite satisfied with my shopping excursion but was starting to get a little tired and my stomach was rumbling again. I had waited longer than I should have to eat again so I decided to head back to my cabin to get food. I could visit some of the other places later.

I walked into the cabin and it's welcoming warmth. I took off the daggers still holstered to my back and hung them across the back of a chair. The room had been straightened again in my absence. On the table was food and a small bundle and a stack of what I quickly realized were history books. The book on top turned out to be blank, a leather-bound journal like I'd requested. I opened up the bundle to find the corresponding ink and pens for writing in the journal. Also in the bundle I found a wrapped bar of soap, a bottle of what I assumed must be the promised shampoo, a comb, a brush and a hand mirror. There was even a toothbrush, which was much nicer than I'd expected, it actually looked like a toothbrush it was just made of wood and natural fibers rather than plastic. There was also a small pot of some kind of paste which smelled fresh and herbal, probably elfroot, which I suspected was meant to be some kind of toothpaste. She had even included a few basic cosmetics, a kohl pencil, a pot of rouge and a couple pots I assumed were eyeshadow, there was a brown and a dark purple and both had slightly shimmery flecks throughout. I hadn't expected any makeup but I guess I shouldn't have been all that surprised, Josephine wore some and it was likely most women with means wore it. I didn't plan to use the rouge but a bit of kohl and a hint of shadow might be nice now and then, I always did like to bring out my eyes. In any case Josephine had made good on her promise and then some. It felt like Christmas and after the last couple days with only the most basic amenities possible I felt bathed in luxury.

Finally, I picked up the mirror a little hesitantly and looked into it, seeing myself properly for the first time. Yes, it was still recognizably my face, I could now see more clearly how it had been made slightly slimmer and more defined in a few places giving it a more elven appearance. I could see the ears clearly now too, long and pointed. Though I had felt them there for the last few days it was something else to actually see them attached to my head. I hadn't been able to see them before but my eyes were also different, a kind of silvery grey, darker on the edges and pale near the center, instead of my dark brown human eyes. But my eyes couldn't linger on themselves long as I finally took in the vallaslin. Strange as it was to see the tattoo actually on my face, it was familiar. In a dark purple, bordering on black, were the smooth flowing lines of the markings of June across my forehead and down the temples. Another line went from my lower lip down my neck, branching off along the length. It was exactly like the markings I'd favored in the game mostly because I liked the way they looked. Though once I'd learned more about the deities they were meant to represent, it seemed like a reasonable choice. I was a fairly crafty person after all so why not, at least I would have some explanation for my choice should anyone here ever ask me about it.

Finally I looked to my hair. I was pleased to see it wasn't a complete disaster. I ran the comb through the short strands a couple times to smooth it a bit then put it and the mirror away on one of the shelves next to the bed.

Once I had finished sorting through and putting away my new things, I sat down to start on some of the food. My appetite had waned a bit from seeing myself in the mirror, and I was feeling a bit edgy and restless. I took a couple bites of some bread, chewing slowly and thinking. Finally I gathered the food up, put it all in a basket I found on another shelf, and headed out the door with resolve.

Chapter Text

I only had second thoughts once I had Solas' door in my sights. What was I doing? I slowed down analyzing my motivations. I was restless and wanted to get away from Haven, but I needed to eat too. I also wanted to continue learning about magic and offer some food as apology for taking so much of Solas' time the day before. It only seemed logically efficient that I should do all of this at once, right? Once I had reassured myself that inviting Solas on a picnic was purely motivated by practicality I knocked solidly on his door and opened it upon hearing his customary 'enter'.

"Good afternoon Solas, I hope I'm not bothering you." I said, seeing him absorbed in another book.

"No, it is no bother. Have you come to continue our lessons? I trust you have made sure to eat something this time," the corner of his mouth turned up slightly in amusement.

"Actually, I was just going to eat now, but I also felt like I wanted to get out of Haven for a bit. I thought I'd invite you to join me and we can continue the lesson after eating, kill two birds with one stone as it were. Of course, I have plenty here so if you're hungry at all you can have whatever you like." Suddenly I was unsure again if this was a good idea, "but if you're busy or something I can just come back later," I added.

He looked at me thoughtfully a moment before answering, "Yes, I will join you. It might be better for you to start practicing magic outside and away from others anyway." He stood up to join me and we walked back outside.

"What's that supposed to mean? Are you afraid I'll burn down your house?" I asked jokingly.

"No, but clearly it is a concern that you bear. If you hold on to your worry of causing damage, it may prevent you from being able to perform any kind of magic. It will be much better if you are free of distraction and relaxed enough to explore your abilities properly."

"Oh." It actually made a lot of sense and I couldn't argue the point.

We walked on in silence for a while as I continued to contemplate the effect my mental state might have on my magical abilities. Finally I decided to just ask him, "So how much does one's mental or emotional state affect a mage's abilities?"

"For a beginner it can affect them considerably. As I explained yesterday, a mage's power comes from the Fade and one must manipulate the Veil to access and control that power. That takes a certain concentration more easily attained if your mind is calm and focused. With experience and practice you will be able to handle more distractions as your ability to access your power becomes more natural. Once one has sufficient experience it is possible for emotions to enhance one's ability, strong emotions have always been known to be strong motivators, but one must be able to channel them properly or you will lose all control."

"I guess that makes sense," I said, considering his words.

We were heading out the gates now and Solas spoke up again, "So where is it you wish to have this picnic?"

I stopped and looked around me realizing I'd never been past the training grounds and had no idea what was around. "Ummm, I don't really know. I think I just kind of planned to wander around a bit until I found someplace moderately comfortable to sit. I mostly just felt like I wanted to get away for a while, somewhere it was quiet and away from people."

"I see. I know an area not far, near the lake, that may be appropriate, shall I show you?" I nodded and he started leading the way past the training grounds and soldiers' encampment. "I suppose, being Dalish, spending so much time around so many humans must be trying, and the outdoors, a more familiar and comfortable retreat." He looked sideways at me as he said this and seemed to be expecting some kind of reaction.

I shrugged, "It's mostly just that a lot has happened recently and it's a lot to take in, a lot to think about. There's so much pressure and expectation being laid on me all of a sudden and it just felt kind of suffocating. I felt getting out somewhere peaceful and quiet would help me refocus. You said a kind of calm focus is needed to perform magic but I think some amount of that is needed to perform much of anything well, and I guess I just instinctively decided to seek that out."

He raised an eyebrow slightly, I suspected out of surprise that I hadn't responded in the way he expected, but he showed no other reaction. I wondered if he'd expected some comment regarding his mention of the Dalish. It was a subject I was happy to avoid whenever possible, having no actual experience living among them, and only knowing a little of how they lived.

He walked a little ahead of me leading the way to the place he'd suggested. Somehow I only just noticed his clothing and was gratified to see he did, in fact, own more than just one tunic. The day before he'd been wearing exactly what he'd always worn in the game and it had been so familiar I guess I hadn't actually taken notice. Today he was wearing a sweater in a deep maroon. It was nothing fancy to be sure, but it suited him and it was just nice to know there would be variety in more than my own outfits in this world. I wondered if the opportunity might arise where I could "accidentally" light that beige sweater on fire...

We were out past the soldiers now and it was much quieter now that we were moving away from the town and all its people. Everything here was bigger than it was in the game. The lake had been quite small there, you could pretty much see the whole thing from almost any point on the shore and Haven was always in view, but that was not the case here. The lake was wider and the shape of the land created some areas that blocked the view of the town giving the impression that we were far from any civilization. We walked on for a few more minutes and he finally led us to a small outcropping with an open view of the lake.

"Is this it?" I asked, looking out at the pristine view before me. He nodded, and I said, "This is perfect."

The stone was covered in snow and I started looking for the best way to clear it but before I could do anything Solas had put out his hand and I saw the snow melt and steam rose from the stone which was clear and dry after just a few moments. I set my basket down and found a relatively flat spot on the rock facing the lake. I sat down to find that the stone was now slightly warm, "Ahhh, yes, absolutely perfect." I smiled as I opened up the basket and pulled out some bread and cheese and a carrot. "Help yourself to anything if you want," I told Solas.

"I am fine, but thank you. Enjoy your meal," he said, waving away my offer.

I returned my focus to eating and looking out at the peaceful view around me. It was so quiet, we'd gone far enough that I couldn't even hear the soldiers through the cold air. I felt so peaceful and pleasant that I just let everything slip away, letting my mind float aimlessly as I slowly ate. I stayed that way for several minutes until I'd finished eating my first helping and returned to the basket to find something new. "Are you sure you don't want anything, I have a lot more here than I'll be able to eat," I said taking some fruit and more cheese from the basket. I pulled out a flask of water too since my throat was getting dry from the bread.

Once I was done, Solas went ahead and looked inside the basket and pulled out an apple. He held it and looked at me, "You are quite different from most people I have encountered."

I turned to him and met his eyes looking intently in my direction. I assumed he was studying me but there was no discernable expression to indicate what he may be thinking. "How so?" I asked.

"You do not seem to be bothered by silence. Most people I have met seem to become very uncomfortable being around another if no one is talking. They often feel the need to fill the silence with some kind of banal small talk even if neither party is interested in the topic, yet you seem perfectly content to remain silent in my presence."

I turned back to the vista before me, taking the time to chew and swallow before answering. "I know exactly what you mean. I sometimes feel like I need to keep up some kind of conversation to put those around me at ease because I can just feel them getting edgy in the silence. I love a good conversation or thoughtful discussion, even mature debate or argument can be fun, but I hate small talk and can't see the point of talking when there is nothing particular one needs or wants to say. And sometimes silence is just nice. You seem like someone who can handle silence comfortably which is part of the reason I decided to invite you out here. I came out here looking for some silence and peace, the last thing I want is to have empty conversation just to keep someone comfortable."

"It seems you are full of surprises. Were there many like you in your clan or were you unusual among them as well?" He asked, his tone neutral and unreadable.

I was not eager to discuss my supposed past but this was a simple enough question that I could get around easily without giving many details. "No, there were none like me, I've always been a kind of misfit," I said, continuing to gaze out over the frozen lake. It was true, while I'd inherited various traits here and there from my family I was never really like any of them and finding friends I could relate to had also always been a challenge as well. These were among the reasons I ended up so far away from all of them even in my own world, opting to make my own solitary path in the world. I wondered what it would be like for me here if I'd had stronger connections in that world. I'd probably be much more frantic and worried, missing them and wondering who missed me. As it was, the only ones I continued to truly worry about were my cats. I hadn't seen them in years and I still felt a deep guilt at leaving them behind that I'd never felt for anything else. I gave a small sigh, it was an unfortunate truth that I'd been so isolated, but perhaps it was for the best, I had enough to worry about here as it was.

It wasn't that I didn't care. I did sometimes wonder what was going on back in the world I knew. If this was all a dream or hallucination, perhaps I was in a hospital somewhere, maybe in a coma. If I'd been abducted by aliens or somehow been sent here physically then what might people be thinking about my disappearance? Whatever was happening, it just felt so far away and almost as if it was the dream. This was my reality at this moment and there wasn't enough from my previous reality to make me want to focus on something I had no control over anyway.

I swallowed the last of my meal and took a long draught of water. Feeling the cold liquid flowing down my throat, an almighty shiver suddenly ran through my whole body reminding me just how cold it was out here and how much I actually hated the cold.

"Cold?" asked Solas as he tossed aside his apple core. I'd been so absorbed in my thoughts I hadn't noticed he was actually eating it.

"Yeah, I'm starting to wonder if it was such a good idea to come out here now, my teeth are going to start chattering any second."

"I believe I can help with that, we still have your lesson to proceed with after all, and your chattering teeth would likely be a significant distraction." He lifted his hands as he had on the mountain and I again felt his magic flow into me, lighting that internal furnace that sent glorious warmth back into my fingers and toes and everywhere else.

"How does that work?" I asked looking at my hands as I wiggled my fingers experimentally, "Is it something I can learn?"

"You may be able to learn it, but not for some time I'm afraid. It is magic that manipulates the body's own functions, in this case allowing for increased circulation, akin to certain healing magics. Such magic requires delicate control however, as it is far too easy to cause damage or injury if used improperly. For now I believe we will start you with basic fire magic."

"Fire?" I asked, not sure if he was serious. It seemed a risky starting point to me.

"Yes. Since you have such a fear of inadvertently lighting things on fire the best way to free you of that fear is to teach you to control such abilities so that only that which you want to light on fire will do so. Understanding and control over your own abilities will eliminate your fear of them."

"I don't think I can argue with that logic. Let's get started then."

We started by gathering a small amount of wood to create my 'target' that I would attempt to light on fire. My goal was simply to start a fire in the branches we'd collected, nothing fancy like fireballs or anything, just start a fire. Most of the instructions sounded easy enough, the tricky part was to be conscious of the Veil, to understand it and how it related to magic. He had spent significant time explaining the Veil the day before and while I felt that I understood it theoretically, I still wasn't quite able to internalize it, to really know it for what it was.

To be honest, I felt that perhaps such understanding wasn't technically necessary for me to pull off some basic magic but it seemed important to Solas, and if there were anyone I would trust to teach me magic, it was him. He probably knew more about magic than anyone alive in this world, and he was the one who created the Veil, so who was I to argue with his methods? I was sure he had good reason for teaching me this way, so I did my best to follow his instructions.

I raised my hand to better aim my efforts then I did my best to calm myself and my mind. I tried to reach out and sense any magic around me and then to extend further to sense the Veil and, as I focused my power out to try to light the fire, to feel that interaction with the Veil that allowed it to happen.

If I hadn't been so focused on doing all of that I might have succeeded on my first try, even so I did finally succeed on the third. It was just a small flame but it was enough to catch a few of the branches on fire.

I barely had a moment to celebrate my success before Solas had smothered the flame with a small gesture, "Again, this time try to catch as many branches as you can at once."

I refocused and tried to hold all the branches in my mind as I simultaneously felt the Veil and felt my power being sent through it. Although 'through' was not the right word. I'm not sure I can put it into words, but it was more something like the magic of the Fade and my own magic were meeting, and the Veil was somehow conveying them to their intended destination. Kind of.

Still, I was successful in starting a small blaze in the branches. Again, Solas quickly smothered my success. "Excellent. Again. This time faster."

This process was repeated several times as I tried to produce results faster each time. Once I knew what to expect it got easier each time and finally I pretty much just vaporized what was left of the branches. "Again," said Solas.

"But there's no more wood left, what am I supposed to light on fire."

"Lighting sticks on fire is not much use in a fight. In most cases you will need to create fire that can sustain itself. You must use the Fade as fuel and your own power to ignite it. Now, again, but this time you will light a fire the same size without branches as fuel."

I took my time this time, I felt the Veil and the Fade there as before, like invisible layers of reality that I couldn't touch with my hands but were perceptible to my mind. I drew on the stuff of the Fade but more this time, it would become the fire I needed, it would hold and fuel and be the fire all at once and then I sent power into it. It flashed, burned for only a second, then died.

I didn't even wait for Solas' command this time before I prepared to try again. I didn't want it to flash so much, and I wanted it to be sustained longer so I needed more control. I took a breath and tried again. This time the flames sprang up as if branches had actually been lit beneath them. I held the flames for about ten seconds before letting them die. Then, now that I knew what it felt like, I lit three more fires, each about a foot apart in quick succession. I was about to just let those die as well, when I decided I wanted to try one more thing. This time I filled the spaces between the small fires to make a small wall of flames dancing on the ground. I poured a bit more power into them and watched the fire rise and intensify for just a couple seconds before I finally let the flames die as if they had never been.

I smiled to myself in satisfaction of my accomplishment. Then a wave of fatigue hit me, like I'd just run a several miles all at once. I looked over at Solas who seemed to have a slightly pleased look on his face, "I think I'm going to need a break before I try anymore."

"I think you are finished with the practical lesson for today, I'm quite sure the last few things you tried drained you considerably, you will need a proper rest before you make any more attempts. However, you have accomplished much in a short time, it is clear you do have a talent for magic and once you have the basic principles more firmly you will progress quickly."

"Really? It was just a few small fires and I'm already exhausted. I don't think I did badly considering this is my first day performing magic but it doesn't seem particularly notable," I said as I slowly made my way back to the rock to sit and rest, I almost wanted to just lay down and take a nap right there on the cold stone. Instead I took a bit more food from the basket and started nibbling as Solas came over to join me.

"As you said, this was your first day. The level of control you were able to achieve in such a short time is actually quite notable. You were able to become aware of the connections between you, the Veil, and the Fade and use that awareness to manipulate the effects of your magic in very specific ways. Many mages do not become aware of that connection until they have had a great deal of experience, if ever. This makes the process of learning to control their abilities much trickier and therefore time consuming. You may have been able to light your first fire more quickly if you were not focusing on that connection but then the next steps would have come much slower. As for your exhaustion, do not worry, experience and practice will teach you how to use your energy more efficiently as well as how to draw on energy from the Fade to restore your own."

I sat listening and nibbling thoughtfully. "So, if more experienced mages do learn about this connection why don't they just teach that to the less experienced ones?"

"First of all, I believe that within the circles there are a significant number of rules as to the training of their mages. They seem to hold very much to tradition and following an established method. More than that, I strongly suspect that many feel that if a young mage were to learn such control so quickly it would create a power hungry mage that would be more susceptible to becoming an abomination."

"Hmmm," I said thoughtfully. My brain was moving slower due to the exhaustion, so it took me some time to formulate my thoughts now. "I guess I understand their thinking, and I suppose it could be a problem, however it seems like it could be a lot more dangerous having so many using this kind of power without properly understanding how it works. Wouldn't that just increase the risk of accidents? People might try things that are dangerous but without understanding the principles that would make it dangerous, they can't see the danger and could cause a lot of damage in the attempt. It just seems stupid to have that many people, with that much power, essentially fumbling around blindly."

Solas smiled at my conclusion, "Indeed, that is exactly the problem. In their fear, the Circles created a system to control magic from the outside, by the use of Templars, rather than training mages in a way that would allow them to better control themselves from the start. In the end, this reliance on outside control became oppressive for many and led to the mage rebellion and subsequent war with the Templars which is now claiming countless lives."

After hearing his words I mulled them over in my head as I stared out over the frozen lake. "It's all connected, isn't it?" I mused thinking about all the curious links and connections between the Fade and magic and mages and fear and Templars and war... I wondered if I was part of that connection now, if it had something to do with my being here. There was no way to test such an idea of course, it made as much sense as my being The Herald of Andraste though.

I wasn't looking for an answer but Solas replied, "Yes, in many ways, it is." We continued to sit in silence a while longer before he spoke up again, "It is getting late and you are tired, it might be wise to return to Haven."

"I guess you're right," I said, noting how low in the sky the sun had gotten. I sighed and forced my body to a standing position and stretched my now heavy limbs trying to get them moving again. I turned to grab my basket but Solas already had it and was heading back with it in hand. He wasn't moving fast so I caught up with him easily enough. After a minute or two of walking in silence I came up with another question, "Solas, what is the purpose of a mage's staff? Obviously a mage doesn't need one in order to perform magic so what exactly is it's function and why do most mages carry one?"

"It is true that a staff is not necessary for performing most magic. The basis for one's magic lies in their own power and skill, a staff however can be used to enhance and focus those abilities to a degree, as well as facilitate the use of one's power in a more offensive fashion. A staff can incorporate special crystals and be enchanted with runes that will allow spells to be directed at targets at a distance. A staff can tap into magic directly, allowing a mage to continue fighting even as they recharge their own pool of magic spent on more powerful spells. If properly wielded it can also become a very effective, magically charged melee weapon. The design of the staff can help to guide the "shape" and direction of the magic, enhance its power, and even extend its range. Better quality staves do require higher skill however, in order to properly utilize their full abilities with finesse."

Listening to him speak I was struck by how much he sounded like a professor giving a lecture. "You know, I can't tell if you memorized that out of the 'Encyclopedia of Magic' or if you were actually the one who wrote it."

He gave a small chuckle at that, "Yes, I suppose I have spent so much time reading books that I now sound like one myself."

"By the way, is there an actual 'Encyclopedia of Magic' or some other book with lots of basic facts about magic?"

"There is no encyclopedia as such, but if you are interested I would be able to provide you with a few books you might find useful to get you started."

"Thanks, I'd appreciate that. I've already gotten a few history books from Josephine, I might as well add a few magic books to the pile." We had made it back though the gates into Haven now, and the sun was rapidly setting behind us. "Anyway, am I going to need a staff myself? Should I stop practicing with the daggers and focus on using a staff and magic?"

Solas pondered this for a moment before answering, "No, I do not believe it is necessary for you to stop learning another form of defense. Your situation provides you a unique opportunity, one in which you will be able to develop a set of skills to suit your own wishes and needs. You do not have to contend with the wishes of your clan or those of the Circle, and you will be able to direct your own education. It can be advantageous to extend your abilities beyond those of a traditional mage to include a variety of skills. To this end I think you should continue your current training and I will also help you in learning to use a staff as part of your magical training."

"That sounds both exciting and overwhelming. I certainly would like to have a wide range of skills but I'm not sure there's enough hours in the day for me to learn everything I need," I said with a sigh. I realized then that we'd made it all the way back to my cabin already.

"I understand your concern, but remember you will not be alone, there are many here who want you to succeed and will support you, and I promise to aid you in whatever way I can as well."

We'd made it all the way to my door so I turned to face him, "Thank you Solas, that really means a lot to me. I'll try to come by again tomorrow if that's alright. They keep telling me I'm going to be sent out to the field before long so I want to make use of whatever time I have before then."

He handed my basket back to me, "Of course. I am sure you also have other matters to attend even now, so whenever you are free I will make myself available. Be sure to rest well tonight so that you will have enough energy to continue tomorrow."

"I will. I think I'll just get started on some of those books Josephine gave me. Thanks again, have a good night."

"Good night," he said with a slight inclination of his head. He then turned and walked away back in the direction of his own cabin.

Chapter Text

As Solas walked out of sight I opened the door and walked into the warm cabin, setting the basket down on a chair. I felt quite satisfied with the day, despite my fears. I'd gotten a lot done today and it felt good just having been so productive. I had a new pile of clothes and toiletries to make life a little more comfortable. I'd made a bit more progress with the daggers and learned that I really did possess magical ability and the power to control it. Of course I probably did have the most competent teacher in existence as well. He knew more about magic than probably anyone in this world and he was giving me private lessons. I felt a sense of pride fill me, but it was soon replaced by a sudden chill of memory.

It had been so easy to lose myself in our conversations and forget who he really was and what he eventually intended to do and it was something I couldn't afford to forget. My hope was to change things before it ever became a problem. I hoped he was not as beyond reach as the game version of himself. Though even in the game he was supposedly right on the edge of making a different choice in the grove. If he could somehow be pushed just over that edge... but in that case it had required a strong romantic connection and that was still something I was more than a little wary of pursuing.

However, if I could not influence him somehow, change his course, then perhaps I could prevent him from ever regaining his power, even if it meant killing him. I couldn't let him destroy the Veil, I knew that much. Though I followed no religion, I still prayed with all my heart that it would not come to that, that there would be some way he could be swayed. Even so, I would be a fool not to at least consider the possibility of taking a much more drastic course.

I'd only played the final part of the game just before I ended up here, but I'd played through that final conversation several times and I remembered well the revelations within. I still couldn't quite believe that Solas would actually do such a thing, could truly even consider it an option. Surely there was some way to convince him it was worth trying something else, that there must be other ways, despite his hints to the contrary. For so many reasons I could hardly believe that he could be so stupid. Still, I had often seen for myself how some of the most brilliant men could do the absolutely stupidest things. My greatest hope lay in that this wasn't a game, and that this Solas wasn't created by developers just trying to set up the next game in a series. Perhaps this Solas would be more reasonable.

Even the events of the last few days must prove that this was not an exact duplicate of the game. I was nothing like the main character of the game, who didn't need to be taught even the most basic skills from level zero. While some lines played out with striking familiarity I could still redirect the conversation to wholly new territory. I intended to continue experimenting with this world to see if I could make more substantial changes. It would be tricky though, since I would be limited by my inability to forewarn people to certain events, anything I did would have to be in a roundabout way.

I found myself staring into the fire again. Apparently that's what I ended up doing every time I got lost deep in thought. I seemed to have removed my boots when I came in and I was now sitting on the floor in front of the fire. I stretched my legs out, testing the flexibility of this body. It turned out to be quite limber and deciding I wanted to keep it that way I started going through one of my old stretching routines as I fell back into my thoughts.

Yes, it would be a tricky balance to find ways to use what I knew to help people since I couldn't directly warn anyone without exposing how much I knew. Besides, what of the things I didn't know? There was no guarantee that things would work out exactly the same, and even in the game there were a lot of holes, places in the story where we didn't know what happened in the interim. All of those situations could lead to natural changes that I would have no ability to predict. I wanted to help these people and what I knew was the only advantage I possessed in this world, yet the more I thought about it, the less helpful it seemed it was going to be.

Of course any of this was also contingent on my remaining in this world. Since I still had no idea how or why I was here, I also had no knowledge how long I might be here for. I could be out tomorrow, or next year, or in ten years and there was no way to know. What would happen if I did suddenly disappear from this world? Would they still be here or would the world disappear too? If they remained, would there be anyone who could take my place, and save this world from Corypheus, or would all hope disappear along with me and the mark?

I looked down at the mark on my hand. I usually avoided looking at it, it gave me a weird feeling in my stomach for some reason, made me uneasy. I could feel it tingling when I focused on it. Did it have anything to do with my being here? If so, could it potentially prevent or cause me to return? Could it still kill me as it had almost done to the game's Herald? Too many questions and not an answer to be found.

Fear knotted in my stomach as I sat worrying about all the horrible possibilities and everything that could go wrong when another question entered my mind: Did I even want to be here or did I want to go back? For now it didn't seem like I had any choice so it had not been a question I wanted to dwell on. But what if I did have a choice? I'd decided to seek out answers to how I'd gotten here but not necessarily to find a way back. I'd assumed finding the answer would show that the choice was still out of my control and I would just be able to understand the nature of the situation. It was a silly assumption, life is all about choices so why wouldn't that be one?

If the option were given to me right this minute offering to send me back where I came from, what would I do?
Take the blue pill: I return to my familiar bed in the city, remembering only a remarkable dream?
Take the red pill: I leave that world behind in an attempt to save this world and everyone in it? 

The question alone frightened me. I was worried for these people, even though I felt so out of place and incapable here, I wanted to do whatever I could to help them. Was it arrogance to think that only I could do so, just because I possessed some magical mark on my hand? But what if this was all fake, and would just disappear anyway, wouldn't it be better to just get out before I could become too involved, let it be an amazing dream and nothing more?

I had no answers. How could I have an answer? There was nothing in particular in my world that made it urgent for me to get back and it depended on the nature of this world and my place in it whether it was worth staying, but at the moment there still wasn't a choice; there was no door, escape hatch, or magic pill to get me out and I felt it would be a waste of time trying to find one. All I could do was as I had up till now: proceed as if it were real and just face each circumstance as it presented itself. I could consider multiple possibilities but I needed to maintain focus on those that were most immediate.

I sat there gazing into the fire, one bent leg out in front of me as I pulled on the foot behind up towards my head, thoughts still swirling, when there was a knock. "Come in," I said without thinking, so distracted by my own thoughts.

I heard the door open and then, "I'm very sorry My Lady, if I have disturbed you."

"No, it's fine Maryn, you can come in," I let go of my foot and stood up carefully, shaking out my legs after the good stretch. "Was there something you needed?" I asked, trying to smile in a reassuring way.

"Oh no My Lady, I came to see if there were anything you were needing. Has My Lady eaten her evening meal yet? I can fetch something if you would like," she said as she bowed.

I'd completely forgotten about food again. Admittedly I had eaten a somewhat late lunch but after the exertion of practicing magic for the first time I realized my body did indeed crave sustenance. I really needed to start paying better attention to such things. I walked over to the picnic basket to see what remained. There was enough for a small dinner at best, probably not enough to satisfy the hunger pangs that had suddenly made themselves known. I looked over at Maryn, "Actually, food sounds like a really good idea. Do you think it would be possible to get some of that amazing stew they serve at the tavern too?"

"Oh yes, My Lady, it will be no trouble at all. Is there anything else you require?"

"If it's possible a kettle to heat water and some kind of tea would be wonderful, but it can wait till later or tomorrow if it's too much to carry."

"No My Lady, I can get those things for you easily, I'll be back with everything soon," She bowed and rushed back out of the room.

She seemed a little less nervous than she had before at least, but I was still uneasy how quick she jumped to serve. Perhaps I could get her to join me while I ate and I could get to know her a little. While I waited however I looked over the books Josephine had sent over. I wasn't sure where the best place to start would be so I went with what looked like the most general history of Thedas in the stack. An overview might be the best place to start and I could focus in on smaller areas and subjects as needed.

I'd read several pages when a knock heralded Maryn's return. I went to open the door myself, since she must have a small armload with her. She did indeed have the small crate she'd used before and on top of that was a covered tray, likely bearing the hot food. "Thank you, you can set everything on the table there," I said. I'd made sure to clear it off when she left, putting away my new supplies and placing the other books on the shelves.

She set everything down and set about getting it organized. She placed the tray on the table then pulled out more bread, cheese and other general foodstuffs to set beside it. Next came the kettle, which she hung on a hook that could be moved over the fire to heat. Finally she brought out two small containers, "I brought two kinds of tea, this one is recommended for the evening and the other is best during the day, if it please My Lady."

I opened each of the small wooden boxes filled with the loose tea. The day one was clearly a kind of black tea and the evening one was an herbal kind of tea. They both smelled amazing and I looked forward to trying them. "These will be perfect, thank you so much!"

"You are very welcome, My Lady. Is there anything else, you require?" She asked with a smile, clearly pleased I was happy with what she had brought.

I was now uncovering the food and was pleased to see there was more than enough to share. "Actually, I would like it if you would join me. I have plenty of food here that I would be happy to share. Besides, I would like to get to know you a little."

"Oh no, My Lady, I couldn't do that, I'm just a servant," She seemed completely shocked by the invitation and looked ready to run away again.

"No please, I insist. You have been very helpful and I truly appreciate it so it will be my thank you to you and I really do want to know more about you. I'd like to know where you're from and how you came to be here in Haven and working for the Inquisition." While I spoke I started setting out two places at the table for us to eat. It was rare for me to initiate a conversation or press anyone to tell me about themselves, but I knew that in this case I would have to. If I was going to have a servant I was not going to treat that person as unimportant or invisible, I was determined to make sure any who held a position below mine would not feel that they were not valued or appreciated, not from me anyway. Awkward as I felt trying to start the conversation, it would have been even more awkward to continue in silence and refuse to properly acknowledge her and her efforts.

She looked hesitant and unsure but responded, "If My Lady truly wishes to know about me, I would be happy to tell you. But please, let me help you with the table then."

Together we finished setting the places and the food. The stew came in a small pot, which had been wrapped in a heavy cloth for transport and was thus still quite hot. I served the stew into a couple of bowls as Maryn set out the other food and poured the drinks. Once everything was set we sat to eat and I asked her again where she was from.

She told me about growing up in the alienage. I found I had quite a few questions. I knew very little about how city elves lived. Since I was supposed to be a Dalish elf this ignorance was apparently not unusual. She had worked as a servant in several small households before coming to Haven and being hired by the Inquisition. Her own story was simple enough and it seemed that she'd had a relatively fortunate life thus far. I asked her to tell me about others she'd known in the city and various circumstances of life there. Of course there were many sad tales and the situation of the city elves was certainly less than comfortable but it was not anything I did not expect. My own world possessed similar evils everywhere. It was unfortunate but not surprising to hear of such things here.

Finally, she finished her story and the food was gone. I felt warm and satisfied and she seemed to share the feeling. It was nice seeing her open up as we talked. Once she realized my interest was genuine and I was truly listening to everything she said, she was eager to tell me everything she could. It made me feel good that I could get her to open up and relax enough to do that.

I helped her gather up the used dishes back into her box. As she picked it up and prepared to leave I said, "Thank you so much for your stories and for sharing this meal with me, I really enjoyed it."

"My Lady is very welcome, and I thank you for your kindness," she said bowing.

I held open the door as she departed and wished her a good night as she promised to bring breakfast the next morning. I went back inside and prepared some tea. I settled back down with my book until I started nodding off. I marked my page and got ready for bed. Fortunately I still had hot water from the kettle by the fire I could use to bathe. It was so nice to have hot water and soap, it felt like such luxury after just a couple days of nothing but cold water and a cloth. The toothbrush was a godsend as well. I finally went to bed feeling fresher than I had since I'd arrived and quickly fell into a peaceful sleep.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I found myself back in the Fade again but I discovered that my little forest was just as I'd left it. Was that supposed to happen? Honestly my knowledge of how the Fade functioned and how mages generally related to it was pretty fuzzy, and who knew how much of that knowledge would actually apply. I had no idea what was normal. I supposed I could ask Solas about it but for some reason I felt like that was something I wanted to avoid for the time being. What if there was something unusual about how I interacted with the Fade? What if that led to awkward questions about who I was and such? Could the mysterious magic the mark had somehow miraculously endowed me with be enough explanation for any other anomalies?

To be honest, my real motivation was more likely that I just didn't want anyone else knowing about this private little place of mine. It was my dream space after all, having someone else in it would be like them invading my head. I'd always been a serious introvert, I even had some slight issues with social anxiety. With the circumstances I currently found myself, I was already having to spend a lot more time around people than I was accustomed to and this was likely to continue. 'Me space' was going to be a lot harder to come by than I was used to, so my dream space was now my best escape. Here I could just be me, no acting, no trying to be some savior or symbol. I could continue to be just the girl I'd always been here, away from rifts and demons and inquisitions and old elven gods.

Well, hopefully I could keep the demons away, this is where they lived after all. I didn't seem to have caught anything's attention yet but there was no telling how long that might last. I was admittedly curious about the spirits that might inhabit this place, Solas' stories had me quite intrigued. I would so like to meet a friendly spirit. Solas had of course told me some about spirits and his experience with them but I had no idea how to actually deal with spirits or demons, how they might be safely approached, so it wasn't worth the risk if I could avoid it. Perhaps I could learn more from Solas without talking about my actual dream experiences, or maybe I would find something helpful in a book, but until I did, it would probably be better to stay away from any of the Fade's denizens if I could.

I wandered through the peaceful wood aimlessly while humming to myself. I did rather miss my music, now that I thought about it. I was quite proud of my large collection of music, I had something for probably any occasion. With thousands of songs to choose from there was always something I could find to chill me out, or pump me up, or just help me think. I always wanted more of course, but now that I had none of it, even just a few albums would have been awesome.

As I wandered around, I felt energy returning to me. This kind of direct access to the Fade definitely helped recharge what I had used during my first use of magic. I guessed I needed to try to draw on it in a similar way to recharge while awake. If I could access the Fade to power spells then I should probably be able to access it to help keep me powered up as well, perhaps not as efficiently as now when I was basically bathing in the Fade but enough to sustain my energy for a lot longer. I'd have to experiment with it more next time. If I remembered correctly, Solas did say that I'd be able to learn something along those lines as well.

I gave a big sigh and then thought I would try to put some of this time to more practical use tonight. I walked into a small clearing and then fashioned for myself a couple daggers and a dummy. I proceeded to drill what I had learned from Cassandra so far. I knew that this wouldn't affect my physical condition at all but if I could still mentally become used to the movements it would reduce my need to think about them and improve reaction speed. Hopefully I could eventually work some more real world practice in as well but this could be a useful addition.

I worked on that for what felt like a couple hours, though I had no idea how time worked in the dream world. I experimented a bit with some of the movements as well, getting a feel for how my body could move in different positions, how a strike or block might be adjusted for a different angle. I found that my experience with dance from back in my college days was helpful in maintaining balance and moving fluidly to various positions.

Of course, by the end I was doing nothing but experimenting. I felt like a child who had received their first plastic weapons and was going to battle against some great imaginary foes. It was fun, but ultimately I realized most of what I'd ended up doing was completely impractical and perhaps it was time to stop before I developed some bad habits.

Satisfied that I had at least used some of my time in a productive fashion I decided I just wanted to enjoy the rest of my night. I really just wanted a dream, a normal dream, where I let my unconscious mind do whatever it wanted and I just followed along. Maybe it would be a bit more lucid than I'd been used to but it could still be just a dream.

I wasn't sure how to go from this construct to a more natural type of dream, maybe if I just 'fell asleep' here that would do the trick. I didn't really fancy the idea of lying down on the ground so I left my practice clearing and created a little glade a short way off. It was a glade but it was also kind of like a bedroom. I created some 'walls' of tree branches and a bed fashioned of roots with a comfortable mattress, blanket, and pillows on it. It looked like a fairy's bedroom. Once I was satisfied with the design I went over and tested the bed. It was so comfortable I immediately let myself just sink into it. I wrapped my arms around a pillow closed my eyes, and surrendered my mind to itself and the Fade.

Chapter Text

The next morning saw me feeling just like new again. Feeling refreshed and in a very pleasant mood I got started on my usual morning routine. I got dressed in some of my new clothes, which were warm and comfortable. I brushed my hair smooth and applied a little of the kohl liner using the small mirror. The addition of the brush and liner really made a difference for me mentally, I just felt a lot more put together and ready to face the day.

It was still strange seeing my face with tattoos on it though, and I couldn't help spending an extra minute just staring at myself, contorting my face in different ways to see how they moved with my expressions. Finally I just had to set the mirror down and get on with everything else.

I'd set water to boil when I first got up and it was hot and ready by the time I'd finished getting ready so I made a fresh cup of tea to go with my breakfast which Maryn had delivered shortly after I woke up, she definitely had great timing. I ate while I read a few more pages in the book I'd been working on the night before. Finally, I brushed my teeth and pulled on my holster and daggers. As I picked up the daggers a twinge of fear shot through me as I remembered that it probably wouldn't be long before I would have to put them to some real use. I pushed the thought away quickly though, that day wasn't today and worrying about that eventuality wasn't going to help me, better to focus on now. Once I was ready I headed out the door to meet the new day.

I found Cassandra in the usual place again but she seemed agitated this morning. She was giving the practice dummy quite the working over. As I approached she gave a frustrated grunt before acknowledging my presence and preparing to begin her onslaught anew. "Is everything okay?" I asked tentatively.

She lowered her sword and shook her head, "Did I do the right thing?"

"What do you mean? Did something happen?"

"More letters from the Chantry. They continue to condemn our efforts and are now sending threats, though they have little they can use to follow through on any of them. What I have set in motion here could destroy everything I have revered my whole life." She picked up the sword again and positioned herself in front of a fresh dummy as she continued, "One day they may write about me as a traitor, a madwoman, a fool, and perhaps they will be right." She punctuated her words with strikes against the dummy before her.

"What do you believe?" I asked, knowing that this woman was no fool, it was just her faith in herself that was shaken.

"I believe you are innocent. I believe more is going on here than we can see. And I believe no one else cares to do anything about it. They will stand in the fire and complain that it is too hot. But is this the Maker's will? I can only guess."

I couldn't help but smile at the familiar speech. I'd always loved Cassandra's combination of strength and authority paired with a deep thoughtfulness. She was so much more than what you might think upon first meeting her. It was comforting to see those traits expressed here.

"Do you think I'm the Herald of Andraste?" I asked, though I could easily guess her response.

"I think you were sent to help us. I certainly hope you were. But the Maker's help takes many forms. Sometimes it's difficult to discern who it truly benefits, or how."

"I don't know if I was sent here or not, but I will do what I can to help. You do have a plan I suppose?"

She continued to hit the dummy, venting her obvious frustration, continuing to punctuate each sentence with a powerful blow, "Right now we deal with the Chantry's panic over you, before they do any more harm. Then we close The Breach, because we are the only ones who can. After that, we find out who is responsible for this chaos and we end them. If there are consequences after that to be paid, we pay them. I only pray the price is not too high."

I watched her, wishing I could tell her she was right and it would all be okay, but she would have no reason to believe such a thing. "You did what you thought you needed to, and now you are doing what has to be done, what more can anyone do?"

"My trainers always said, 'Cassandra, you are too brash, you must think before you act,' but I see what must be done and I do it. I see no point in running around in circles like a dog chasing its tail. But I misjudged you in the beginning, did I not? I thought the answer was before me, clear as day. I cannot afford to be so careless again."

"I admit I'm glad to hear that but I can't completely blame you either, the circumstances were unusual and could certainly be cause for suspicion."

"Perhaps, but I was determined to have someone answer for what happened, anyone. Whatever the circumstances, it was unjust for me to treat you the way I did." She seemed to be avoiding looking at me during the last part of her speech but finally she did, "I'm curious, do you even believe in the Maker?"

I couldn't say yes, I'm just not the religious sort but at the same time this whole thing was so weird. Perhaps there was a "maker", some programmer that set up this whole scenario just as if it were some kind of game, I still had no way to know. "Honestly, I don't know what I believe right now, it's all been rather a lot to deal with," I finally answered.

She nodded and turned back to the dummy once more, "I suppose it doesn't matter. I have to believe we were put on this path for a reason, even if you do not." She gave one last powerful stroke to the dummy so that it was now leaning at a rather awkward angle before finally turning back to me, "Are you ready to get started? I believe the agent Leliana arranged to further your training will be arriving a little later but we can get you warmed up before she gets here."

We moved on to a fresh dummy and started running through drills of what we'd done the day before. Apparently my Fade practice paid off a little. "Good, your speed has improved and your movements are smoother," Cassandra commented.

We kept up for about half an hour, I guess, before a woman approached us, watching me carefully. As she drew close, I stopped. She looked at me closely, assessing me I supposed. "So, you are the one I'm supposed to train?" she asked as she moved to circle around me.

"Umm, yes, I think so. My name is Lyara." Upon finishing her inspection she stopped in front of me, looking me in the eye. She was about my same size, though perhaps a few years younger, shoulder-length brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. Despite her seeming age, she gave off the impression of strength, as if she could kill me in two seconds if she wanted to, and she probably could. Well, honestly, almost anyone here could probably do that.

"Hmmm," she said looking me over again a moment later, "And you have no previous training or experience with blades?"

"Uh, only what Cassandra's been able to teach in the last two days," I replied, feeling uneasy under the intensity of her gaze.

"We'd better get started then, we have a lot to do." She then turned and started walking off, obviously expecting me to follow. I gave a hasty wave to Cassandra, who just nodded in return, as I rushed off to catch up.

The new girl didn't go that far, a small open area a little way off from most of the other training soldiers. As I joined her she immediately got down to business, "Ok, show me your fighting stance." I did as she asked and stood there as she examined me. I had no idea what she was thinking or looking for, it was really quite unnerving to be under such scrutiny. "Ok, well it looks like Cassandra did all right teaching you that at least. Now, try to strike me."

This lesson turned out to be completely different from the way Cassandra taught me. With Cassandra it had been endless drills of a few basic movements but with my new trainer it was like trying to learn on the battlefield, I felt as awkward and incompetent as I had fighting demons on the mountain. Actually, in many ways it was worse. This girl was good. Like, scary good. She was fast. She didn't use the daggers at her back while we trained, instead she used some sticks about the length of daggers and she wasted no time in demonstrating how efficiently she could have killed me in a variety of fashions.

Of course there was still a lot of drilling but the whole session was a lot more dynamic than trying to battle a dummy or even Cassandra. Even though it had been many years, I was starting to be grateful for my previous dance training, which certainly helped me in maintaining my balance and executing fast and delicate footwork. Even so, I ended up on the ground frequently.

I'm not sure how long we were out there, probably three hours at least. I didn't complain even though I knew I would probably be covered in bruises by the next day. I just kept getting back up and did my best to follow her instructions. I thought I understood her method, that I was basically supposed to learn through doing. The speed was probably to prevent my ever thinking that I might have the time to think and move slowly. Like Cassandra had said, using daggers was about speed and accuracy. One would likely never be up against unmoving targets, better to learn to react to a constantly changing situation right from the get go. Knowing these things didn't make the lesson any less frustrating though, I felt at such a loss and couldn't yet imagine actually having any ability great enough to be useful.

I'm not sure how long she would have kept me there but what eventually ended the lesson was the arrival of a messenger from Josephine to fetch me for our lunch meeting. I'd gotten so caught up in the lesson that I'd completely forgotten about it. I was filled with relief at the reprieve though, I was tired, breathing hard, and already feeling soreness creeping into my muscles.

I turned back to my trainer, "So I guess I need to go. Should I meet you here again tomorrow?"

"No, you will be back this evening. Be back here at sunset."

My mouth fell open in surprise, "Really? Today?"

"Yes," she said authoritatively, "you have much to learn yet and you will undoubtedly be sent into the field before long, you must be as prepared as possible before that happens. Do you feel prepared yet?"

"No, not really," I said, resignedly.

"Then you will be back here at sunset and we will continue working."

"Ok, I'll see you at sunset then. By the way, what should I call you?"

"You may call me Bryn. I will see you later." She then turned and walked off towards Haven.

I re-holstered my daggers, rubbed my tired arms and did my best to dust myself off. I noticed blisters starting to form on my hands. I decided I should probably start wearing gloves to these lessons, actually it was probably kind of stupid that I hadn't been doing so thus far. I headed back towards Haven and the Chantry to meet with Josephine. I hoped she had a nice comfortable chair ready, 'cause all I wanted to do was collapse into one and not move for a while.

I arrived at the Chantry about ten minutes later and made my way down the hallway to Josephine's office. I knocked lightly and opened the door. Josephine was at her desk scribbling away as I entered but she quickly put down her quill to greet me, "Ah Herald, I am pleased you could join me, I'm sure you can use some refreshment after this morning's difficult training." She gestured that I should take a seat at the table that had been moved away from the wall and was now piled with a variety of food, which smelled very tantalizing.

"Thank you Josephine, I think I really need a break about now. This looks amazing?" I said, sitting down at the table, pleased to see the chair did at least have a cushion on it. After falling so often in the last few hours the extra padding was welcome. "I also want to thank you for all the supplies you sent over, I practically feel like a queen now."

"It was no trouble, but you are quite welcome. If you are to represent the Inquisition as the Herald of Andraste then it is only appropriate that you should be provided with some small luxuries. Please, help yourself to the food." She was gathering up some papers and brought them along to the table putting them beside her as she sat down. "Have you had the opportunity to start any of the books I sent you?"

"Actually I did get started on some history and I will probably continue to read whenever I have some time free. I mostly wanted to ask you about the current situation in Thedas. Also, since I guess I will be a kind of ambassador myself as the Herald, if you could teach me how to best... interact with nobles and leaders when I encounter them. I'm afraid I'm not really that good at talking to people in general and I have no idea what appropriate protocol would be in such situations." I said all this as I began serving myself from the myriad of dishes available. Once I had a break I always seemed to feel incredibly hungry.

Josie started filling her own plate as well, "I am pleased to find you so eager and interested in learning more about the workings of our societies and I'm sure it will prove to be an asset for you to have a decent understanding of the politics and protocol involved in our dealings with the nobility."

The food was fantastic, it was the best I'd eaten so far. It seemed a lot fancier than what they served at the tavern, I wondered who made it. "To be honest, I don't really like politics and I don't look forward to dealing with nobles, but I suspect I won't be able to avoid it forever and I'd prefer to be prepared when I do."

"I understand, The Game is not for everyone but when one is forced to play, it is best to be as prepared as possible and I will do my best to assist you."

The rest of the lunch progressed with Josephine outlining the details of Thedas' political structures. She glossed over places like Nevarra, Antiva, and all the other areas not immediately pertinent to our situation and focused mostly on the situations within Orlais and Ferelden. Of course a lot of the basics I already knew: the mage uprising and consequent war with the Templars, as well as the Orlesian civil war. But there were a lot of details involving the organization of smaller holdings that I knew nothing about. In the game there were of course quite a few War Table missions that involved dealing with the nobility but executing those didn't require me to actually know anything about the people or structure involved.

"So, I think that covers most of the main points regarding the nobility of Orlais, do you have any questions?" Josephine concluded finally.

I was still nibbling at some excellent cake (my third slice) as she had finished her detailed descriptions. I'd asked a few questions here and there but she had given so much information I ended up being somewhat overwhelmed. "Well, it's a lot of information, I wish I'd thought to take notes."

"Oh, there is no need to worry, I have prepared some notes here for you to review at your leisure," she said as she picked up the stack of papers she'd brought with her to the table, handing them to me.

"Wow, thank you, you didn't need to go to so much work on my account."

"It is no trouble, you have much to learn and I am sure it is in the best interests of the Inquisition that you are able to learn as much as possible. I know that even in the short time you have been here you have already been working hard toward learning as much as you can. You should know that those who have noticed this, greatly appreciate what you have done and it has done much to earn some confidence in your position as the Herald, you are already giving people hope."

She said this all so earnestly and with such a tone of gratefulness, that I wasn't sure how to respond, all I'd done thus far was taken a couple of lessons with daggers and magic, I still had no useful skills, how could that be enough to earn anyone's gratitude or raise anyone's hopes?

When I said as much she replied, "They see that you are trying, that you support the efforts of the Inquisition. As a Dalish elf many think you would see little reason in supporting our cause. As one who is so unskilled, you would be expected to remain in the background and let others do most of the work, but you have taken it upon yourself to learn and train to fulfill the position fate has placed you in. You may have much work ahead of you but they see you are trying and that means something."

All I could do was sit there in stunned silence for several long moments, having no idea how to respond. Just being the Herald was awkward enough but to have even these simple actions given so much weight made it hit home just how significant the position I found myself in was. I opened my mouth to say something in reply to Josephine's words but nothing came out.

A look of concern crossed her face as I remained speechless, "I hope I have not upset you."

Finally I got my tongue moving again, "No it's not that. It's just a lot to take in. I didn't think such small actions would have such significance to people. I'm doing it because it's what seems right for the situation. I can't expect the Inquisition to protect me every moment, who knows what we will have to face in the days to come. I mean... well, it didn't really feel like I had a choice."

Josephine smiled kindly, "I understand, I suppose it is a lot of pressure to be under all of a sudden. Do not concern yourself too much about it. Just continue as you are, you can gain the skills you need and if the people gain some hope from it as well, it is just a bonus, and at this point we can use all the good will we can get while the Inquisition is still relatively week."

"I guess I'll just keep trying to do my best then," I said before finally standing up. "I should probably get going for now, I want to run a few errands then I still have a magic lesson and more combat training," I stretched and rubbed at my increasingly stiff and sore muscles. "I only hope I survive the rest of today's training," I said grimacing at the ache.

"Have you not taken an elfroot potion?" asked Josephine with a puzzled look on her face.

I froze, eyes widening as I suddenly remembered the effects the potion could have. "I didn't even think of that. I've never had much access to the potion before, so it didn't occur to me," I said, slightly embarrassed.

"I suggest you drop by the apothecary right away and pick some up, I'm sure it will prove a relief to your current pain." She smiled again, "Why don't you come again the day after tomorrow and we can continue your lessons, you can review the notes I made for you in the meantime and ask me any questions you might have then."

"Ok, I'll do that. See you later Josephine, thank you for everything. The food was fantastic." I gathered the notes she'd given me and, giving a small wave left the office.

Chapter Text

I headed for my cabin first, I wanted to freshen up and then get my money and map before looking for the apothecary to pick up a supply of elfroot potions to get me through the next few days. When I got inside I noticed a delivery of some new items had been left on the table, my new armor had arrived.

I was so excited to try it on, but I washed my hands and face first and got out of my old clothes. I was so glad I hadn't decided to wear anything new today after the beating I took this morning, but I was definitely going to try out this new armor. Besides, I would need to get used to fighting in it, I should start right away, right? I finally picked up the armor, admiring it in all its shiny newness. It was kind of a cross between light and medium armor, though maybe more medium. I needed it heavy enough to protect me in close combat situations, but ease of movement was also something that was very important to me, I did not want to feel constrained, heavy, or otherwise limited by the armor. The result was something that did indeed look similar to most of the armors I'd worn in the game when I played as a rogue but it had it's own unique twist on the theme.

There were also gloves, exactly what I needed. There was a fingerless set and then another full set that could be fitted over the first, I loved that because I knew I would frequently want protection on my palms but also have the full dexterity of my fingers. There were also braces for arms and guards for the legs as well. I was practically giddy to see it all laid out on my bed.

Under the armor I found another couple of boxes though. I guessed what was inside the larger one and felt a mix of emotions as I opened it to reveal my new daggers. They were simple but still beautiful in their pristine condition. I picked them up, feeling their weight in my hands. They had a comforting weight in that they felt sturdy and would sit firmly in my palms with ease, and yet they also felt like they would move with my arms as their natural extension. I was mightily impressed by them, though for all I knew they weren't all that unique, just the first quality daggers I'd ever been in contact with since learning to hold one. As I looked them over, admiring their beauty, I soon remembered the purpose for which such tools were meant. These were tools of violence and death. I killed demons on the mountain and I would almost certainly have to kill more, but I would also have to kill other living things, humans, elves, dwarves... I had never killed anyone and I was naturally a very non-violent kind of person but I was likely not going to have much choice about it when the time came, and I wasn't sure how to feel about that.

I put down the daggers and closed the box. I'd bring them to the next training, if I was going to get used to the armor, then I should get used to the new weapons as well. I opened the smaller box next, contained inside were supplies that were apparently for the care and cleaning of my blades. I hadn't even thought about how I would need to keep them in good condition, so I was happy to see everything was provided along with instructions.

I went back over to the bed where my armor was all laid out and started to put it on. It was a little tricky and was definitely going to take a bit of practice learning to get in and out of it smoothly but after about ten minutes I felt everything was on pretty securely. I moved around, waving my arms, moving my legs in various ways, to get a feel for how everything moved. I could definitely feel the added weight to my limbs but it was nothing I couldn't get used to and it did make me feel more secure knowing I would have some decent protection between me and whatever might try to hit me. I would need to pick up a pack of some kind to carry things though, the armor itself had no pockets or storage. I still had a small pack with my other clothes so I just put that on, it would be too small on the road but for the time being I could put my money and a few potions in at least.

Once I had everything on, I put on my dagger harness and replaced the old weapons with the new ones, grabbed Josephine's map and headed back out into Haven.

I followed the directions to the apothecary shop. The shop was easily recognizable from the wide variety of herbs hanging outside drying. I stepped into the dim shop and looked around, There were herbs everywhere and along one wall was a collection of shelves bearing a wide array of colorful bottles. Near the shelves was a man bent over a worktable apparently preparing some concoction or another.

"Um, excuse me,?" I said hesitantly when the man didn't lift his head at my entrance.

"Hold on a minute," he said gruffly. He continued his work for another minute or two before finally straightening and coming over to me. "Is there something you need?" he approached and looked at me for the first time, recognition coming to his eyes, "Hah, look who's back from the dead. I heard you were up and around again, people calling you the Herald of Andraste now aren't they."

"Well, that's what people are saying anyway, I don't really know either way. I'm sorry, but I don't recall meeting you." I figured this must be Adan but I couldn't remember very well what the deal with him was, other than he was Haven's alchemist and was generally pretty grumpy.

"I'd be surprised if you did, you weren't particularly coherent. Someone had to patch you up after you staggered out of Maker knows where though. So, you're welcome."

"Sorry, I didn't know, thank you." I paused a moment not sure what to say next before remembering the business that brought me here. "By the way, I was hoping I could buy a few elfroot potions if you have some?"

"Oh, elfroot, that's no problem, you don't need to pay for that. I have the Inquisition's supply stored here so you can take what you need." He moved off to a corner of the room and opened a large chest. Inside were rows upon rows of the small bottles of the red liquid, all neatly set in special holding racks. "I heard you are a mage as well, I have some lyrium potions around too if you need any."

"Oh, no thanks, not yet anyway, the elfroot will be enough for today but I'll come back if I need some later." I packed as many of the little bottles as I could get into my small bag and kept one in my hand to drink as soon as I left. "I'm afraid I didn't catch your name," I said looking back at the apothecary wanting to confirm if it was the name I expected.

"Oh, of course, I'm Adan. Let me know if you need anything else made up, I've quite a few recipes around that can be prepared pretty quick."

"Thank you, I'll keep that in mind. I'll probably be back in a couple days for more of these too, maybe I'll take a closer look at what you have then." I thanked him again as I walked to the door. He raised his hand in farewell before returning back to his work. He certainly wasn't the cheerful sort but he was slightly less grumpy seeming than he had been in the game anyway.

Once I stepped outside I opened the tiny bottle and quickly drained it. I soon felt the soothing rush flowing throughout my body. It wasn't long before the muscle fatigue and soreness had melted away. I swore I was never going to forget about elfroot potion again in my life, I fully intended to carry a case of the stuff anywhere I went from then on.

Feeling energized and pain-free once again. I headed straight for Solas' place for my afternoon lesson. I didn't want to waste any more time. I had no idea what time it was but I wanted to get in a magic lesson of reasonable length, but I also needed to get back to the training grounds on time, I absolutely didn't want to get Bryn angry at me, I was sure she could make the rest of the night more miserable than it already would be.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Solas and I headed back out towards the lake to practice further. It really did seem a lot more practical to practice out in the open spaces where there were few distractions and little risk of damaging anything, and therefore a lot easier to try out new techniques.

As we walked away from Haven I looked up towards the Breach. I'd been avoiding the view as much as I could up till now, but finally felt ready to face its presence. Once I focused my attention on it I could feel it again. In actuality, I'd never really stopped feeling it. It was like the sound of some electrical appliance that always makes a soft hum that you never notice except for once in a while when your attention is suddenly directed at it. The hum of the Breach had always been there but now I was noticing it and it kind of made my skin crawl.

Solas had clearly noticed my discomfort because he said, "It is the damage to the Veil that you feel. Such extreme and unnatural damage inevitably sends tremors throughout the Veil."

"I can't wait till we get it closed then, it makes me feel like ants are under my skin or something," I gave a slight shudder as I turned back away, trying to rid myself of the feeling.

"Yes, it is quite unpleasant," he agreed. We continued on for a few more moments in silence before he spoke again, "While closing the Breach is our primary goal, I also hope to discover what was used to create it. Any artifact of such power is dangerous, as the destruction of the Conclave proves."

Yes, I'm quite sure you would like to find it, I thought to myself. Out loud I said, "So, you don't think it was destroyed then?"

"You survived did you not? The artifact which created the blast is unlike anything seen in this age. I will not believe it destroyed until I see the shattered fragments with my own eyes."

At his words, the memory of the shattered orb and that look of despairing disappointment as he held the pieces filled my mind and I wondered if there was any way to prevent it happening. And what would happen if he did get it back whole? "Don't worry, something like that is bound to turn up eventually."

"Leliana's people have scoured the area and come up with nothing. Whatever it was, the artifact is no longer there."

"It has to be somewhere, we'll find it." I knew we would, but it was still an eventuality I wasn't ready to deal with so I sought a change of subject. "Solas, do you remember the other day? You said that the unicorns were extinct after I mentioned them. I'd only been joking but were there really unicorns once?"

He looked over at me, smiling slightly, "There were indeed, though they were quite rare. They were creatures of almost pure magic and it was considered a sign of good fortune to meet one." His face fell then, "When Elvhenan fell they were no longer able to survive and thus passed merely into vague legend."

"Oh," was all the response I could manage. Dammit, I was hoping to lighten the mood and only managed to make it even more depressing. Hopefully I could do well at the lesson at least, that might make me feel better.

We didn't return to the same spot as the day before but found a nice clear area not far from it that would be ideal to start working. To start he had me light small fires at various points around the field. Next I did the same but the fires had to be suspended in midair. It wasn't all that difficult actually, since magic was what sustained the fires they had no need to be attached to anything.

After that was completed successfully, he had me stop. "You have likely used a significant amount of energy by now, can you feel its loss?"

I took a moment to focus on myself and take stock of my condition. I didn't feel bad but I could sense the loss of energy, a slight fatigue. "I do. Is there any way of preventing losing much more energy? I still need to go to another lesson after this and I'd rather not be exhausted when I do."

"Indeed there is, and that is the next part of our lesson. A mage cannot fight for long if their energy can be so quickly depleted and it is not wise to depend solely on lyrium potions. You must learn to draw magic from the Fade to fuel your own power just as you use it to fuel the fire. As you practice you must also learn to use as little of your own power as possible to sustain the spell. Because of the presence of the Veil, it is necessary to use your own energy even just to access the power from the Fade but it requires less than you might at first assume."

"Ok, I think I understand. So, would I then reach for the Fade as if I were going to cast a spell but then take that energy for myself instead?"

"Yes, essentially that is what you must do. Now, see if you can."

I took a breath, closed my eyes to focus and reached for the Fade. I gathered its energy as if I were going to use it for fire but instead pulled that energy into myself. It wasn't a very fast process, though of course it was also my first try, but it probably took over thirty seconds for me to feel my energy had fully returned. I opened my eyes and looked back over at Solas.

"Good. Now the key is to try to recharge your energy as soon after casting as you can. In that way you will only need to take a small amount from the Fade each time so it will not take too long. If you cast too many spells in succession you will be forced to take significant time to recharge before you will be able to cast again. In battle, where seconds count, it is important to take this into consideration so that you may properly plan and balance your attacks with time to recharge. Of course during the time you take to recharge, a staff, or in your case daggers, can be used for attack and defense until you are prepared to cast again."

"Got it. It really makes a lot of sense when you explain it that way. I guess now I just need to focus on practicing more to get everything quicker and smoother. So, what's next?"

"Next, you will learn to throw fireballs," Solas said calmly.

I couldn't help but smile, "Awesome."

Chapter Text

It turned out making fireballs was pretty easy, but throwing them was a bit more troublesome. Maintaining fire in one place was one thing but keeping them going while they hurtled through the air was something else. The best I managed that day was to toss the fireball from one hand to the other a short distance. By the time I managed to do that satisfactorily the sun was starting to get pretty low and I needed to get back to the training grounds.

Evening training didn't go much better than the morning had except that I had my potions, two of which I used before the training finally finished. Things especially got difficult once the sun had gone down and we were working by torchlight. I couldn't fight her when I could see her properly, without proper light it was like fighting a really fast shadow.

Once it was over I felt like the only thing I got out of it was the assurance that my armor and new blades were really nice and deserved someone better to put them to use.

I headed back to my cabin wondering what I should do for dinner. Part of me wanted to just hole up in my cabin again and read but I also kind of wanted to go to the tavern, maybe I could talk to Varric, he might be able to lighten my mood a bit. I'd almost decided to go the tavern when I opened my door and was met by some delicious smells. I walked inside to discover the table laid out with some of the same dishes I'd had at lunch and a few new things with a note from Josephine. She really was super nice. I guess I would just go to the tavern tomorrow then.

I got my book and set it down next to my food so I could read while I ate. Once I was finished with my dinner, I moved to the floor to do some stretches. It felt good to loosen the muscles after the long and busy day. I stretched leisurely, slowly sinking into each position, settling into it and reading a couple paragraphs before shifting to the next. I'd been thrilled to discover this body could almost do a full split and I definitely wanted to get it the rest of the way so I finished my routine with legs stretched out to either side as far as they would go, chest pressed forward, just high enough above the ground I could comfortably see the page before me.

I was still comfortably reading this way when I heard a knock at my door. Maryn must have a knack for choosing my stretching time to deliver things. It didn't matter though, if I could be relaxed around her perhaps she would relax a little more too. "Come in," I said, not even looking back, moving on to the next passage of my book.

I heard the door open then close softly, then some moments of silence. I wasn't really paying attention until I heard the sound of a throat clearing behind me, and I could tell whoever it was was certainly not Maryn. I turned quickly to see who had made the sound and was shocked to see Solas standing there passively looking down at me.

I blinked and just kind of stared stupidly up at him for a moment before he spoke, "I hope I am not disturbing you. You had requested a few books on magic so I though I might deliver them," he said holding out three large volumes he was carrying.

"Oh. Um, yeah..." I scrambled to return to a standing position very ungracefully as I tried to shake out my legs after the extended stretch. "Yes... uh, you can set them on the table for now." Finally, I made it to my feet and walked over to the table to take a look at the books he'd brought.

"I'm sorry to have interrupted your ... reading," he said, looking over to the book still on the floor.

"No, no, it's fine," I turned to face him, "I, uh, just wasn't expecting visitors, I thought you were Maryn." I gave an embarrassed smile and looked away feeling suddenly nervous.

"I see. Clearly you haven't been practicing then."

I looked back curiously and meeting his grey-blue eyes, "Practicing?"

"Yes, you should have been able to sense it was me before I entered the room. You seem to be blocking your ability to sense magic again, you need to practice remaining sensitive to it at all times. It is a gift to be as sensitive as you are and it is an advantage that can potentially save your life, it should not be neglected." He said this calmly, just as if it were any other lesson but his gaze was focused and intense, his eyes seemed to be reaching inside of me, looking for something.

I swallowed, not sure how to respond under the intensity of his eyes. I started to open my mouth to explain that I'd been distracted with reading, or that I didn't like to feel the Breach, but I closed it again knowing they were nothing more than excuses and he would see right through them.

I sighed, "Ok, you're right, let me try now." I closed my eyes, blocking out that unnerving gaze, and reached out looking for the magic. With all my recent practice it took very little effort to do this time, and with my eyes still closed I could suddenly feel his aura blazing before me. Seriously, I really should have known it was him, probably from even halfway down the hill.

I opened my eyes and looked back at him, seeing him and his magic as one now, making him seem like the most real thing in the room. "Ok, you're definitely right, I should have known it was you. Does this mean you always know when I'm on my way to see you too?"

"Yes, I am always aware when you approach, you need not worry about catching me by surprise," he said with a small smirk, then looked down at the table. "I think these books will give you a good start with your magical studies and I will be happy to discuss any questions you have regarding what you learn. For now, I will bid you goodnight and let you continue your reading undisturbed." He turned and headed back to the door.

I was caught by surprise again seeing him leaving so quickly, it took me a moment to find my voice again, "Solas," I called as he opened the door to depart. He turned back to look at me as I walked across the room to where he was, "Thank you for the books and I promise to practice more." I said smiling.

"You are quite welcome. Have a pleasant evening."

"You too," I said as he left the cabin, closing the door behind him. I continued to stand there another minute as I felt him walk away slowly fading from my senses. Then, refusing to think further on the encounter, I went to the table, picked up the top book and settled back in front of the fire to start reading.

After a few hours, my eyes finally started to become heavy. I marked my place, put all the books away then got ready for bed. Finally, I slipped beneath the blankets and into the Fade.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I found myself in my training grove. I looked at the dummy standing there and with a wave of my hand made it vanish. With the new training regimen it wasn't going to be that useful.

I stood in the peaceful forest wondering what I should do then. I lamented the loss of my music again. I wanted to hear something familiar, I wanted to dance. Then it hit me, this was The Fade, if I could create things like this forest or some daggers, why couldn't I create sounds as well? Struck with inspiration, I created a door where the dummy used to be. I opened the door and stepped into a wide dance studio, complete with mirrored walls lined with dance barres. I'd always dreamed of having a place like this (technically, I guess I still was), I'd danced in college but since graduating I never had the time or money to continue taking classes and I didn't have the space to do anything on my own. Now, in the Fade I could have all the space I wanted.

I needed music now though. I wasn't sure how well this would work, I didn't know how well I needed to remember a song for it to be played back to me in the Fade. I decided to start with something upbeat and easy to dance too. I tried to concentrate and remember what I could and before I'd even begun I heard the music as if there were speakers all around the room. It was perfect. I could only assume that the Fade could some how get the song from wherever it was hiding in my memory. I was so excited I immediately started dancing. I wasn't trying to be graceful or look good, I just wanted to move and enjoy the music around me. I felt such a sense of freedom, I felt so alive.

A few days ago, I couldn't have imagined feeling like this, I'd been so terrified. In the waking world there was still much to fear and worry about, but here in the Fade everything felt easier. I'd barely scratched the surface of what must be possible here but I could already understand part of what must have initially fascinated Solas with the place as a child, it would be so easy to lose oneself here, the ultimate lucid dream.

When one song finished, another began, apparently my mental iPod had a dance mix on shuffle. My successes tonight had me feeling ambitious and experimental. I decided to create a sparring partner. A dummy was useless but if I could have a partner to practice against, perhaps that would help.

I created a shadow figure, about my size, complete with shadow daggers. I also created some new daggers for myself. Then I gave the shadow freedom to move without my conscious control. It worked. I started the music again and we dance/fought around the room. The shadow couldn't hurt me but I could feel when it landed a strike, like a warm heaviness at the point of impact. When I hit it felt solid and real. I wasn't sure what I was doing, I didn't know if my opponent moved on its own or if I controlled it subconsciously, I just wanted a moving target, one that could act in a way similar to Bryn in my training. I wanted to get used to seeing and interacting with a more dynamic opponent that I couldn't get from a dummy. I didn't know if it would help at all but I doubted it could hurt. If nothing else, it was actually fun. I didn't feel the frustration at making mistakes as I did when it was real. I just kept going, following the combined rhythm of the music and our movements.

Honestly I have no idea how long I was at it but I must have spent most of the night that way. The wonderful thing about The Fade was that whatever 'physical' activity you did, it didn't ever tire you out. I even felt more energized by the end. I felt so safe and content there. I felt a bit sad to wake up, but I knew there was no way to escape the days ahead, so wake up I finally did.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The next days fell into a similar routine to the previous day. I'd wake up and prepare for the day. Maryn was uncanny in her ability to predict when I would wake and would shortly arrive bearing a hot breakfast. I'd eat and finish getting ready before heading out for my morning training. The next couple days of training seemed to go as badly as the first. Bryn didn't speak much but she worked me hard. When she would teach a new technique I would perform well enough slowly but as soon as she picked up the pace I felt it was nearly impossible to keep up. Still I would work in those new techniques when I practiced in the Fade and after a few days I did start to notice a difference. I was falling less and blocking more. I still couldn't get a strike in, but was pleased to have achieved some kind of noticeable progress.

After training I'd go to my cabin, clean up a bit and remove my armor. I decided I didn't want to be wearing it all the time, I had some nice new clothes after all and I wanted to wear them. I especially loved my new coat once it arrived. It fell nearly to my knees and was roomy enough to wear over my armor if I wanted. It was lined with some kind of soft grey fur, probably fennec fur I guessed, and the outer part was a strong but soft black leather with a heavy fabric dyed a lovely purple worked in as an accent here and there. It was super warm and was even more beautiful than I'd imagined it, so I took every opportunity to wear it.

I took to spending lunch in the tavern with Varric or eating with Josephine while she taught me more about politics and protocol. It was during lunch with Varric one day that I finally got my nickname. I'd been rather apprehensive at the prospect, I generally hated any nickname people had tried to give me before and refused to accept it. I worried I'd feel the same about whatever he would choose for me, not sure I could get him to change it if I hated it.

On one afternoon I'd told him about my habit of staying up till after midnight reading everyday and how if I had my way, I would go to bed when the sun started rising and not wake up until noon. The next day he was calling me Midnight. "Well with your dark hair and coat, and moon colored eyes it seemed to fit, especially after you told me what a night owl you are. I thought about being ironic and calling you Sunrise instead but I've met a few other night owls and they seem rather prone to violence at that hour so Midnight it was," he'd explained, and I could only smile in approval.

I liked the name but as unaccustomed to nicknames as I was I still wasn't sure how I felt about it, "You don't think it's too ominous sounding though? I'm hardly intimidating."

"I think it suggests an air of mystery, and anyway I'm sure you will be plenty intimidating in time. I saw you practicing the other day, you looked quite ferocious just before you landed on your ass for the umpteenth time," he grinned in his usual teasing fashion. I just rolled my eyes and shook my head as I returned to my food.

After lunch I would usually run errands or go speak to some of the others around Haven. I finally got around to talking to Leliana and Cullen some more, I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know them better, knowing I would be working more closely with them in the future. I also befriended a Chantry sister who gave me a tour of the whole building and would teach me about the Chantry's history and beliefs when we spoke. I wasn't interested in becoming Andrastian myself but I wanted to gain better insight to the people who were. I met with Adan again when I needed to get more potions and got to know a bit more about some of the common potions and other concoctions he could prepare. He also gave me rundown on several common herbs and their uses. I'd heard of all of them before and could even sometimes guess which was which by looking at them but I'd never smelled them before and I had no idea how they were used so I found it quite informative.

I also arranged to take a couple riding lessons. I'd been on a horse two or three times in my life but had never had proper instruction and had no idea how to mount without help. I didn't want my first time riding in this world to be as we were heading out somewhere and then not even be able to properly control the horse. They set me up with a beautiful black mare that had just been acquired. I decided to name her Angel, with the combination of my new nickname and her color I could think of her as my very own 'Midnight Angel'. She had a great disposition and I was surprised how well we got along once we'd had a bit of practice together. I completely fell in love with her in no time. I only wished I had more time to ride with her but there was just so much else to do.

Every afternoon I would have a magic lesson with Solas. At the beginning of one of them we went to visit Harritt so I could thank him for the wonderful armor and weapons and also so Solas could discuss the design of a new staff for me start training with later. I finally learned to throw a fireball properly, and create a reasonably strong wall of fire. After that we moved on to lightning, which I found considerably more challenging to control. I'd often send sparks shooting off in unpredictable directions. Solas had to start casting barriers over us for the first couple days so that I couldn't accidently shock either of us. I also got a lot better at keeping up my awareness of magic. I could always tell when Solas was around. I could also sense the few other mages and occasionally even the Templars who had joined the Inquisition, if they were close enough. I learned to ignore the Breach for the most part.

Following magic, I'd change back into my armor and head for evening training with Bryn for a couple hours, followed by a hot dinner, usually delivered to my room but occasionally in the tavern. Finally, I would finish the day by reading until I fell asleep to spend the night in the Fade where I continued to experiment with training methods.

I found that the Fade was an excellent outlet for my more creative side. I always considered myself more an artist than anything else, I had always enjoyed creative pursuits above most others, but could never devote much time to them due to needing to work for a living. I couldn't have done so here either if I was left with only the daytime, but the nights were completely mine, and the Fade offered endless opportunities to be creative without requiring the specific resources and skills one needed to create certain things in the living world. It was like heaven.

However, as I spent time in Fade I began getting a sense that I was not alone all the time. I'd sometimes feel as if I were being observed, or that there was someone, or even multiple someones, just out of my field of vision. I posited that these fleeting presences may be curious spirits. I felt no sense of malevolence and none of my doings were disturbed. I was not sure if I should attempt addressing the spirits or not, I was still unsure how to deal with them. For the time being I simply let them be, as they seemed to be content to do the same with me.

Overall, my life in the waking world was not a bad one. I enjoyed learning everything, despite regular frustration. I also treasured getting to know the real people behind the familiar faces. Even so, though I tried not to dwell on them, there remained a multitude of worries and concerns that I as yet felt utterly unprepared to deal with and though I didn't feel the desire to always be in the Fade, knowing I could return there for a welcome respite each night made it all much more bearable.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

This pattern continued for a little over a week until Cassandra came to see me at the end of one of my morning training sessions. I walked over to greet her as I put away my daggers, "Good morning, Cassandra."

"Herald. It is good to see you are making progress. I trust your training has been going well."

"I'm not sure 'going well' is the phrase I'd use but yes, I do seem to finally be making some kind of progress." It was true, I actually felt like I was doing significantly better that day, I was finally able to execute some of the techniques I'd been struggling with so long and managed to block more than half of Bryn's strikes. More than that, I'd only fallen down once that morning. It felt like amazing progress after the last week. Of course I was pretty sure Bryn was trying to lure me into a false sense of security before she unleashed something completely new on me.

"I am glad to hear it," said Cassandra. She paused a moment before continuing, "Today we would like you to join us in the War Room. We have some new developments to discuss which concern you."

My stomach clenched as I guessed what this would probably mean, but I did my best not to let the tension show. "Ok, no problem, let's go."

We started back towards Haven and the Chantry. I hadn't spoken to Cassandra for a couple of days, when I'd gone to visit and get to know her a little better. Like the others, her story was mostly familiar from what I remembered in the game but talking to her here I was able to pick up a lot more small details about things that had happened and even just her character, subtleties that would be too much to put into any game.

We walked in silence for a while before Cassandra initiated some conversation, "So, it seems the new armor and weapons are suiting you well."

"Yes, Harritt did an excellent job. I've been practicing with them all week and they've seemed to perform quite admirably, even if I don't."

"Don't worry, I'm sure you will catch up soon enough. Leliana says Bryn's reports on your progress are quite promising, you should be proud of your efforts."

I stared at Cassandra in disbelief, "Are you serious? She does nothing but sweep the floor with me twice a day. Today is the first morning I haven't landed on my ass a dozen times and I'm pretty sure she'll find a way to make up for it this evening."

Cassandra laughed, "Yes, I have heard that her methods are rather... trying but she has a reputation for getting results. She is apparently quite impressed by your clear determination and lack of complaint."

"Hmph, and I'm sure she'll reward my impressiveness by flipping me head over heels the next chance she gets," I said, grimacing at the memory of the last time she did that. "I suppose I should take her more brutal attacks as compliments towards my improving skills."

"From what I have heard, that may not be far from the truth. By the way, how are the magic lessons progressing?"

"On that at least I feel like I have made some progress. Solas has been a very good teacher. I received my first staff this morning and I was hoping to start training with it soon."

Cassandra nodded in approval, "That is good to hear. Do you plan to quit your training with blades in favor of magic?"

"No, I want to continue training in both areas. It should give me more flexibility in the field, more options."

"I see. I must admit that I have never encountered a mage who has mastered another form of defense. There is no opportunity for such education in the Circles and most apostates I have encountered also seem content to rely on staves alone. It will be interesting to see what you are able to do with such a unique combination of skills."

We'd made it all the way to the Chantry now and finished the rest of our journey in silence. Entering the war room we saw the others were already there, Leliana and Cullen were bent over the large map covering the table discussing some strategy or other, Josephine was busy writing notes off to the side.

Upon our entrance Cullen looked up, "Oh good, you're here."

Leliana looked up, "I'm glad you could make it. I asked Bryn to make sure you would still be up for this meeting by the end of your training today."

"That explains my seeming improvement," I said frowning. "I guess I can probably expect to perform as atrociously as usual next time."

Leliana smiled at me, "Her methods are rather extreme, but she assures me that you are making significant progress and she is pleased with your performance."

"So I've heard, though I'm having trouble believing it. Elfroot potions are the only reason I'm still able to walk at this point."

Josephine spoke up then, "We are confident that you are making good progress in your training and studies even though it has only been a short time since you arrived. For now, I think we should focus on the business at hand. We have recently received a letter, which could be the opportunity the Inquisition is looking for and it will be up to you to see it through. Leliana?"

Leliana stepped forward to begin explaining what I already knew was coming, "We have been contacted by a Chantry cleric by the name of Mother Giselle and she has specifically asked to speak with you. She is not far and she knows many people within the Chantry. Her assistance could be invaluable."

So, it was happening. Things were beginning to move forward again. I knew it would happen and that I should probably be grateful I'd had as much time as I did up till now. It didn't stop my stomach clenching with nerves though. Despite all my work, I still didn't feel in the least prepared to face what was ahead. It didn't matter though, there was no avoiding it now.

"You think she can help us, even though I've been declared a heretic?"

"I've heard she is a reasonable sort and there are many who respect her. If she does not agree with her sisters she may be able to sway some of them to our cause. I suggest you go so that we may find out for ourselves, or perhaps convince her to understand our intentions. Mother Giselle will be found attending to the wounded in the Hinterlands near Redcliffe. I suggest you leave as soon as possible."

Cullen spoke next, "While you're there you should take the opportunity to look for ways to expand the Inquisition's influence. You will have the chance to meet others in the area that could provide us with valuable support. Try to convince them that the Inquisition is their best chance to bringing order, communicate our intentions, show them that we are here to help them."

"We need agents to extend our reach beyond this Valley," Josephine added. "You are in a better position than anyone to recruit them. As the 'Herald of Andraste' you may be able to rally people in a way that the Inquisition alone cannot."

I looked around at them. They were all looking to me to make this work. It was so much responsibility and I had no idea how I could possibly live up to it. I knew how to close the rifts and maybe I'd be able to defend myself a bit but now I was supposed to go out into the world and essentially promote the Inquisition to the world. I was supposed to act as some kind of 'chosen one', instill faith in the people and urge them to join our cause. Honestly, I felt that facing a hundred demons would be easier. I had no idea how to inspire or persuade. I'd always been someone who preferred to keep to myself and let others go about their own business. At the same time I knew that the Inquisition absolutely needed more support and resources. We'd never defeat Corypheus without a lot more help and I was stuck as the default poster child of the Inquisition because of my stupid hand.

I had no idea how I could possibly fulfill the expectations placed upon me, yet I had no choice but to try. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, "Ok, what exactly do I need to do to get ready and who is going with me?"

"I will accompany you," declared Cassandra. "Solas should join us as well, I'm sure a mage will prove useful and this way you will be able to continue your training."

"In that case, Bryn should accompany you as well," added Leliana. "She is sure to be an asset to you on your travels, she can continue training you too and she may be able to gather valuable information where you go."

"What about Varric?" I asked.

"Varric?" Cassandra asked, a look of disdain on her face, "We already have a party of four, Varric is unnecessary in this venture."

"I disagree," I stated flatly, "If I actually had some ability to defend myself I might feel otherwise but if that were the case Bryn wouldn't be here in the first place and Varric would be coming along anyway. But as I am still learning the basics of how to keep myself alive I think it is prudent to take a somewhat larger group to make up for my obvious shortcomings."

Cassandra had a rather displeased look on her face as she considered me, and what I'd said. "Fine, if he is willing to join us, Varric may come as well."

"Excellent," said Josephine smiling. "I have a list here of the things you should prepare yourself, we shall arrange everything else you will need on the journey. You should be prepared to leave first thing tomorrow morning."

"I will inform Bryn myself, but perhaps it would be best for you to talk to Varric and Solas," Leliana suggested.

"Ok, I will. Will I still be training with Bryn this evening?"

"No, I will need her for some other things before you leave tomorrow. Take this time to prepare yourself for the journey ahead." Leliana turned back to the others, "Is there anything else we need the Herald for?" A quick look around produced no response, so she turned back to me, "If you have any problems with your preparations please let us know, otherwise we will see you by the stables in the morning."

I nodded in farewell to each of them and headed out of the room, not surprised to have been dismissed, it wasn't like there was much I could add to whatever plans or preparations they still needed to discuss anyway.

I walked back down the hall towards the Chantry entrance thinking about what was ahead and all my previous insecurities washed over me at once. The last week hadn't exactly been easy, but it had been safe. There were no real enemies, just a lot to learn and time to do just that. I knew what to expect each day for the most part, and while most of it wasn't easy, it also wasn't terrifying and no one's life was depending on whether I did well on that day or not. Now however, many lives could be affected by how well I had actually been doing the last few days.

During these last several days Haven had lived up to its name for me, in this familiar but unfamiliar world. I had spent that time preparing for when I would have to leave it, and yet never quite accepted that it would actually happen. I didn't know how long it would take for us to get to the Hinterlands or what we might face on the way. Once we got there I knew we would likely encounter trouble with mages and Templars fighting in the area, as well as multiple rifts. I hoped there at least wouldn't be nearly so many bears as was in the game. Surely, most animals could just be scared off by a bit of fire.

As for gaining support and influence for the Inquisition, I'd probably just have to play that one by ear. I wasn't sure what quests from the game would be reflected here or what opportunities might be found wholly outside of what I'd experienced in the game. I had no intention of wandering around hunting for lost druffalo though, that was for sure.

Chapter Text

I walked back out into the cold but sunny day, it had been cloudy the last few days so seeing the sun was a bit of a treat. I headed straight for the pub to get some lunch and talk to Varric. If I was lucky he could cheer me up a bit as well.

I entered the warmth of the pub, which wasn't too busy at this time of day. I gave my order to Flissa and headed back to the corner where Varric had stationed himself with a pile of papers he was scribbling away on. He seemed pretty deep in concentration so I just sat there patiently waiting for a couple minutes before he finally looked up with a sigh.

"Are you writing or is that just paperwork?" I asked.

"It's supposed to be a new book but I'm having trouble with the section I'm working on, I just can't get it to work out the way I want it to and I've already rewritten it three times."

"Sounds like you need a break then, something to clear your head so you can start fresh."

"You're probably right. Fancy a game of Wicked Grace?" He asked raising an eyebrow hopefully.

I smiled at that, "I actually don't know how to play, though it would be great if you could teach me sometime. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll have time for it today," I said, frowning despite my food's arrival.

"More lessons again? Maybe you're the one who needs the break."

"No, it isn't the lessons this time, we're heading out for the Hinterlands tomorrow and I have to get ready. I knew this was coming which is why I was training so hard to begin with, but I still don't think I'm anywhere near ready,' I said, eyes focused on my hands as I nervously pulled at the bread I was holding. I looked back up at Varric, "Actually, I was also hoping that you would join the party, I'd appreciate your help."

"Of course, I wouldn't miss it. A little adventure might be just what I need to get the creative juices flowing again. Who else will be in the party? I assume Cassandra isn't ready to let you out of her sight just yet."

"Yeah, Cassandra is coming and probably Solas, I still have to go talk to him about it. Bryn is also coming so that I can keep my weapons training up while we travel."

"Five people? That doesn't sound like Cassandra," he said with clear surprise. "It wasn't her idea was it?"

"To be honest it was mine. I insisted you should be there too. Cassandra wasn't thrilled but I managed to convince her."

"Haha, how did you manage that? She can be awfully stubborn."

"It wasn't that difficult actually. I mostly just explained that I felt extra support was a good idea since my skills are still so lacking." I finally took a bite of the bread I'd been ripping to shreds, thinking. "Although, I did expect to have to argue a bit more. I wonder if it had anything to do with the whole 'Herald of Andraste' thing or something."

"Hmmm, I guess that could be it. Or maybe she just saw the sense in your words, you were pretty terrible, though I wouldn't have thought she needed a reminder."

I looked up at him and glared, but his eyes twinkled with obvious mirth. He clearly enjoyed teasing me so I stuck my tongue out at him causing his smile to broaden. I looked back down at my food and gave a deep sigh. "I'm scared, Varric." I continued to look down at my food as I spoke, "Not like I was on the mountain, but there's so much expectation on me and I don't even know how to keep myself alive. I know everyone will help me but I feel awful knowing I can't pull my own weight yet." I sighed again, shaking my head and looking up again with a smile, "Anyway, I wanted you to come along to help keep the mood up. I like Cassandra and Solas but they aren't exactly cheerful, and Bryn... Anyway, you usually manage to lighten my mood when I need it, so it will be nice to have you along."

"Bianca and I will be honored to accompany you then, count us in," he said with a wink and a smile.

"So, you're a writer, what is your process as an author," I asked changing the topic as I finally gave due attention back to my food.

"Why? Are you thinking of starting your own book? You could call it something like 'Why is All This Shit Happening to Me?'"

"No, no plans for a book yet," I laughed, "I've dabbled in writing though, as well as some other creative pursuits, and I just find the creative process to be interesting."

The rest of the conversation passed comfortably as we discussed the various methods one could use for developing a story and characters. He gave me some good ideas actually, it made me wish I had a story I wanted to write just so I could try them out. Finally, I finished my lunch and headed out of the pub again, there was still a lot I needed to do that day.

I took a look at the list Josephine had given me. Most of the stuff on there was pretty basic, things like my armor and weapons, potions, clothing. I figured things like food or camping equipment would be provided for me. I did need to get a better bag or pack or something I could easily carry to hold whatever I needed to keep with me besides my weapons, so that's what I went to get first.

I ended up choosing a kind of belt pack with two large pockets on either side. I didn't want anything across my back or shoulders, I didn't want any straps getting in the way of my arm movements. Fighting was going to be hard enough as it was, I didn't need any extra distractions or hindrances. That done, I stocked up on a few more potions.

All my shopping done, I headed back to my cabin where I removed my armor and dropped off my purchases before grabbing my coat and brand new staff. The staff came with a holster to strap across my back as well, similar to the one I had for my daggers but larger. I'd been surprised when I received it, how long the thing was. It was taller than me and though it was also surprisingly light, and easy to grip, I had no idea how this might be wielded. I remember the characters swinging them around to shoot magic balls of light out the end but I'd never paid particularly close attention. Did one really need to swing the things about at all? Did the staff's position alter its effect or aim? What triggered the magic that could fire from it? Could it accidentally go off? How exactly could I combine the staff's abilities with the magic I had already learned? Clearly I had plenty of new questions to throw at Solas.

Once I was ready I headed back out, straight for Solas' cabin. I arrived at the door and raised my hand to knock but before I could, I heard him say, "Come in". Even though I knew he could sense my approach I always knocked, it just didn't seem right to burst through the door uninvited. Sometimes he'd let me complete the knock, others he would open the door himself as I approached. I opened the door and entered the now familiar room, breathing in the comforting smells of herbs and old books.

Solas had his back to me looking over his bookshelf as I entered but he turned to greet me once I'd shut the door, "Good afternoon, I see you have received your new staff."

"Yes, I got it this morning. It's just on time actually, I have to leave for the Hinterlands tomorrow morning. I hope you will join us, I'd like to continue our lessons on the way if possible."

"Of course, I would be happy to accompany you, I did promise to assist you however I could after all, and there is still much for you to learn. However I believe it will be beneficial for you to now have the opportunity to put your new skills to some practical use. There is only so much you can learn in a controlled environment without distractions or dangers, you will now need to learn to control your abilities in a real fight."

At his words I couldn't help suddenly imagining facing a demon, trying to throw lightning at it and nothing happening until it finally took off my head. These thoughts must have somehow shown on my face because a look of concern crossed Solas' face and he took a step forward, moving as if he meant to reach out but then thought better of it.

"Lethallan," he said softly, comfortingly and something inside me tightened at hearing the elven word falling from those lips and I found my eyes suddenly locked onto his. "Do not fear the challenges ahead. You have many here who want to support you and help you but do not underestimate your own strength. You have already accomplished much in a short time. You were nearly overcome by fear many times upon the mountain and yet you never gave in. Since waking you have given everything to preparing yourself for the challenges you knew were ahead and you have learned more than you realize and it is likely you will not realize it until you have been tested. In any case, it is clear that your greatest asset is your indomitable spirit, it is what will allow you to keep walking this path no matter the obstacles you encounter. Hold onto that and I am sure you can reach any destination you seek."

I listened to his words like one entranced. He had called me 'lethallan' and his voice seemed to hold the same comfort and admiration as were expressed in his words, and then that one phrase caused my breath catch in my throat and blink in disbelief. Did he just...? "Indomitable spirit?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. It was not the same and yet so similar, but it could just be a coincidence, right?

"Presumably," he said. His eyes seemed to give a quick sweep from my head to feet and back again, one side of his mouth turning up in a half smile, "After recent events it is hard to conceive of it being dominated. And yet I imagine such a sight would be... fascinating."

Oh gods, he DID. I could feel the heat rising in my face. I was never one to blush easily but hearing those words directed at me... I couldn't deny that I enjoyed spending time with him. I loved hearing him speak, whether it was to tell me stories of the Fade or to teach me some new magical technique. I enjoyed just being around him, it gave me a sense of peace I couldn't fine anywhere else. And being able to sense his magic always made me feel closer to him, more connected, than to the others. It was something we shared beyond being elves, but more real because I still thought of myself as essentially human, whatever shape my ears were. Despite all of this I had remained cautious, knowing what was at stake, and I had avoided being at all flirtatious. What then had caused him to say these things? Was he really that easy to impress, or was there something about me that could actually be considered impressive? The thought sent a small thrill of butterflies through my stomach, of fear or excitement I didn't know which.

All these thoughts flew through my head in a matter of moments as I blushed, averted my eyes and gave a slightly choked "Mm-hmm" in response.

I could hear the smile in his voice as he spoke again, "Shall we go and start today's lesson?"

Smug bastard, I thought in my embarrassment. Maybe he just did that to get me to stop worrying. "Yeah, let's go," I said and immediately headed out the door, letting the cool air outside cool my still heated face. It didn't take Solas long to catch up, his staff similarly held at his back.

"So," I started after about half a minute of silence as we walked, "how does a staff work? I assume I have to do something in order for it to shoot magic." His remark had startled me and I had reacted awkwardly as a result, but I didn't want the awkwardness to persist and become uncomfortable, I didn't want him to think I was upset by the comment, so I endeavored to return us to our normal easy rapport with a familiar subject and he obliged by answering in his customary fashion.

"A staff possesses it's own magic which can be used to attack a target, which means you do not need to expend any of your own energy when using it in this way. However, you do need to focus your will through the staff in order to trigger its effect as well as direct where the attack will hit. The staff can also be used to amplify and extend the reach of your other magical attacks. As you are currently most proficient in the use of fire magic I designed this staff with fire as its base elemental attack, this will also mean that you can enhance fire spells more than other types of spells."

"Ok, that seems to make sense, though I'm sure I'll understand better once I actually try it, but how about wielding the staff? Am I supposed to hold it or move it in any particular way while I use it? I remember you swinging yours around quite a bit when we were fighting demons, does that take much time to learn?"

We were almost out of Haven now and the normalcy of the current conversation had succeeded in distracting me from my earlier discomfiture.

"Technically, it is not necessary to move the staff at all. When you cast a spell on your own, all it requires is your power and focus connecting with the Fade to create the desired effect, yet it is common for most mages to use various hand gestures while casting. Many find such movements help them to focus and control their magic. The same is generally true when using a staff. It may be wielded in a completely stationary fashion but many mages prefer some form of movement. There are some common techniques, which I can teach you, but ultimately you will define your own style that you feel allows you to cast most effectively. Of course, honing the ability to move the staff can also allow it to be weilded as a melee weapon itself, which can be advantageous when forced into close combat with an enemy."

"Are staves the only form this kind of magical weapon can take or is it possible to modify other weapons to perform a similar function? Could special daggers be designed that could function as both melee weapons and a way to focus my magic?" While I was certainly interested in learning both techniques I anticipated some frustration at having to choose between the two disciplines at any given time.

Solas remained quiet for a time considering the question. I watched him from the corner of my eye as we walked, observing his look of calm concentration. It was a secret pleasure of mine, just watching him think whenever I posed him an unusual or difficult question. I was always a little pleased with myself too whenever I could think of such questions. I still found Solas a little intimidating, he knew so much that I sometimes felt like I must seem so foolish and ignorant to him. I knew this was mostly in my head, insecurities rearing their ugly heads. Even so, I liked to prove it to myself that my own thoughts and questions might just challenge his own thinking. More than for personal pride, it would likely be what I would need to do in order to get him to change his plans. If I wanted to prevent him carrying them out, the best method would be to convince him either that there was a better way, or that the way he was planning was in fact a mistake. It was a strategy that would take time but if it worked it could be more effective than many other options. Still, I couldn't discount those other options in the meantime.

His voice finally broke me out of my reverie, "I believe it should be possible, though someone with the skill to create such weapons may be hard to find, I'm not sure Harritt would quite be up to the task, despite his considerable skill. It may be worth exploring the option, but for the time being I believe it is best for you to focus on honing your skills with magic and daggers individually first. Perhaps by the time you have mastered them the Inquisition will have the resources available to create the weapons you need to move beyond and meld these disciplines."

We'd arrived at our usual practice spot now, "Well, I guess I still have a ways to go then, let's get started."

We spent the next few hours practicing with the staff. I was surprised how easily I was able to learn the basic functions of the staff. After creating spells on my own, triggering the staff to shoot fireballs took almost no effort. Aiming was only slightly more difficult as the technique was almost the same as aiming any other spell at a distance. Using the staff to channel and enhance the spells I'd already learned took a little practice since I now had another element to consider as I prepared to cast but once I got used to it, I found that the strength and range of the spells truly was enhanced.

For the first time I actually felt like I might be able to defend myself and even help the others in a fight. I began to feel a small ember of hope light inside me, letting me believe that maybe this whole endeavor wasn't completely hopeless after all. Maybe I could make a difference, maybe I could help these people. I wasn't sure it would be enough to save them, but it was something.

Unfortunately this feeling only lasted until I started to practice moving the staff while casting. Solas demonstrated first and he moved so fluidly it looked effortless, his body and staff moving in harmony like it was part of him. I could feel the magic flowing as he pulled power from the Fade and channeled it with his own power as he cast each spell. It was nothing fancy, no more than he had been teaching me but I could sense the skill in each movement, in the flow of his power, as if it were as natural to him as breathing, and it was beautiful.

It wasn't until he stopped and beckoned for me to come and prepare for the next part of the lesson that I realized I'd been holding my breath. I mentally shook myself, get a grip on yourself girl, before stepping forward to join him.

He then taught me a couple simple basic moves with the staff and it just felt so awkward in my hands, especially after I'd seen what he could do. After a little practice I had the moves ok but then it was time to add magic back in. Trying to both maneuver the staff properly and control magic at the same time was a whole new challenge. I took each step slowly, trying to keep my mind clear and focus on all the elements as one. I was afraid if I took things too fast I'd have magic shooting out at all angles uncontrollably.

Once I had the basic moves down to use in conjunction with the staff's base attacks Solas told me to try experimenting with my movements as I tried to cast other spells.

"Are you sure? What if the magic goes shooting out the wrong way or something?"

"If it does, it means you aren't concentrating properly. You know how to control the magic, now feel how the magic flows through you and let it direct your movements in whatever way seems most natural to you."

"So, you mean it's kind of like a dance and the magic is the music?"

"It is an interesting metaphor, but not far from the truth. If that helps you understand what to do then use that."

I attempted casting spell after spell at a poor unfortunate boulder in the middle of the field. In between casting I would practice the base attacks while I drew more energy from the Fade to recharge. It was slow, awkward, and disjointed for quite a while, but slowly I started to get into a kind of rhythm, I started to find movements and positions that felt natural and comfortable and I got used to moving while casting so that it took less and less focused concentration, the magic started to flow naturally and without thought.

During this time, Solas watched and coached me, offering direction and hints. At first he often had to remind me to recharge and I wasn't allowed to stop my attacks while I did so. I was only allowed a break from casting when I had to change positions, move to another side of the rock or something.

I don't know how long we were there but I suspect the total was close to four or five hours. Finally, Solas said I could stop. Exhausted and sweaty I immediately just collapsed into an area of still untouched snow, arms spread out to my side and eyes closed. I had removed my coat sometime earlier and it was a relief to feel the cold snow beneath me.

I felt Solas approach, "Are you alright?" There was concern in his voice.

I didn't open my eyes to reply, "I'm fine, just worn out."

"It is probably not wise for you to remain in the snow that way, we should go back so you may recover in the warmth."

My face scrunched up at the idea of having to move, "Just another minute, okay," I pleaded in my fatigue.

"Ir abelas, lethallan. I wouldn't have pushed you so hard today but I wanted you to feel prepared for the challenges ahead when we set out tomorrow. You have done very well in such a short time and you should feel proud of your progress."

I opened my eyes at the sound of the elvish words, looking up into the grey eyes above me. and smiled, "'Ma serannas, lethallin. I appreciate your help more than you know. I can't imagine having a better teacher." I had momentarily debated calling him ha'hren instead but since he had called me lethallan instead of da'len I chose to respond in kind, though I did wonder at his choice.

He reached his hand out for me and I smiled as I reached out to grasp his forearm. His grip was warm and firm on my arm as he pulled me back up to my feet. I overcompensated slightly as I stood up a little too fast, slipped on a stone and ended up stumbling forward right into Solas. I found myself braced with my hands on his chest, so close I could catch a soft woody fragrance from him, not unlike sandalwood. His hands came up to my shoulders to help steady me as I regained my balance and stepped back meeting his eyes.

"Sorry," I said and felt the tips of my ears get warm. Damn these elfy ears, they were so much more sensitive than my human ones ever were and all they did was betray me. I shifted my eyes away and lowered my hands, feeling awkward again.

He lowered his arms as well and reached down to pick up my staff where I'd let if fall next to me as I'd collapsed and my coat which he'd been holding before my stumble caused him to drop it. "Think nothing of it," he said smiling as I put on my coat before handing me my staff, which I took and replaced at my back. "Come, we should eat and then you must prepare for the journey tomorrow and get plenty of rest."

We walked back in companionable silence. Once we'd entered the gates of Haven Solas broke the silence, "Would you care to join me for dinner in the tavern or would you prefer to return to your own cabin?"

I probably should have just gone back to my cabin so I could pack and rest after the long day, but I didn't quite feel ready to call it a day, or to say goodnight to Solas yet for that matter. "Let's go to the tavern, we aren't going to get another chance for a while after all."

Varric was there as usual so we joined him at his table where he greeted us with his customary charm, "Back again I see. And it looks like you definitely didn't take that break I suggested earlier."

"Sorry Varric, I just got my first staff today and thought it might be best to learn how to use it before we got in a real fight. I didn't think anybody would appreciate it if I accidently hit them in the ass with a fireball because I had no idea how to aim the thing," I said with what I hoped was a mischievous smile.

Varric turned to Solas with a mock look of concern, "You did teach her how to aim properly, didn't you?"

"I did. And I assure you that she will perform admirably when the time comes," answered Solas. Was that a hint of pride I detected in his voice?

"Excellent! Then do me a favor and aim for the enemies' asses, I'm sure they will appreciate the gesture properly."

"I'll do my best," I assured him.

Not long after our food arrived I was surprised to see Cullen enter, in his full-feathered glory. I'd never seen him in there before and he looked a bit out of place with the fancy armor on. Of course I probably looked just as much out of place when I came in too, so I couldn't really talk.

Once he spotted us he came directly over to our table, "Good evening, Herald, I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Not at all, would you care to join us?" I asked, trying to be friendly. Cullen was often busy so I hadn't really had that much opportunity to get to know him before now.

"I really shouldn't, I just came to tell you that everything is prepared for your departure tomorrow and see if there was anything you needed before then."

"C'mon Curly," Varric gestured to the empty seat next to him, "Have a seat and join us for a drink. You can tell us what to expect in the Hinterlands." Cullen seemed to be debating whether to accept the invitation or not, but Varric had already waved over a server and a fresh mug of ale was set down all but making the decision for him.

Once Cullen was seated he began telling us the details regarding the situation in the Hinterlands. The main issue was the continued fighting between mages and Templars in the area, but there were also reports of groups of bandits around and a number of rifts as well.

We were probably there talking for at least an hour. Once we'd covered the conditions in the Hinterlands it moved on to Haven and the Inquisition in general and finally ended up being more banter than serious discussion, though it was mostly Cullen and Varric doing the talking. Solas and I listened for the most part asking occasional questions. Cullen even ordered a second ale. Finally Cullen excused himself, claiming to still have some work to finish. "I'll be there to see you off in the morning but I'll wish you a safe journey now. Good luck, the Inquisition is counting on you."

"Thank you. Good night Cullen." I really wished he hadn't said those last words, that was exactly what I didn't need to be reminded of right then. With Cullen's departure, the depth of my fatigue returned. "I should probably be going too. I still need to pack and try to get some rest; I'd rather not be exhausted on my first day on the road." I stood up, rubbing my tired eyes, "I'll see you guys in the morning, have a good night."

Once I'd made it back to my cabin I looked longingly at my bed but knew that I'd better get everything taken care of tonight so I wouldn't have to rush come morning. When I went to pack my clothes I found that everything had been packed into a bag for me already. All of my spare clothes had been cleaned and packed neatly along with extra soap and basic toiletries. There were even clothes set aside for me to wear the next day. I would have to do something for Maryn as a thank you. I was pretty sure she wouldn't accept money, but perhaps I could find a gift for her.

I proceeded to get undressed. I realized that I probably wouldn't get to have fresh clothes so often once we were on the road and I probably wouldn't get to bathe quite so regularly either. I took my time to enjoy the warm water as I washed myself for the evening. I even washed my hair. Once I was clean, and satisfied I had everything prepared for the next day I headed straight for my bed. I considered doing a little more reading but exhaustion was already pulling at my eyelids. I pulled the blankets over me and was asleep the moment my eyes closed.

Chapter Text

No pretty forest met me in the Fade that night. My exhaustion seemed to just drag me straight into weird randomness for the night.

I was fighting demons in the middle of a city street, lights flashing from the many buildings and signs with a rift overhead flashing advertisements for a restaurant. Demons wandered the otherwise empty nighttime streets. A demon headed towards me and I heard Bryn's voice shouting, "Quick, kill it!" I charged at the demon, daggers appearing in my hands. I struck at it with all my strength but it had no substance and I stumbled as my weapons met no resistance. "Behind you!" came Cassandra's shout. I turned to face another approaching demon, striking out again but the demon might as well have been air for all the damage I could do. Then Solas' voice, though I couldn't see anyone around me, "Use your magic." I suddenly found a staff in my hand and I swung my staff and let the magic go only to see it go around the demon. I sent more spells and attacks it's way but every single one seemed to just go around it as it advanced. Suddenly it was struck in the head with an arrow, "Hurry, run!" came Varric's voice. I ran down a side street looking for an escape away from the rift and the demons. Every other turn I made I'd find new demons. I felt like I was going in circles. Then I heard a voice whisper "This way, this way..." I followed the voice as it lead me to increasingly darker streets where snow began to fall. A few more turns and the buildings became trees until I was finally out in a clearing. I found myself in forest full of snow, skeletal trees rustling in a wind that I couldn't feel. I looked around me, there were no demons here but I felt like I was being watched. I heard a growling coming from off to the side and found a wolf approaching as I turned to look. It's eyes were bright, almost glowing, and it's teeth were bared in an angry snarl as it slowly stalked toward me. My blades were gone, as was my staff. I was wearing only a thin dress and no shoes, I was defenseless and alone, frozen to the spot in fear. I braced myself for the wolf to attack. Suddenly a ball of fire burst upon the ground between me and the wolf. With a frightened cry the wolf ran off into the darkness, disappearing. I heard soft footsteps approach and found Solas standing before me, clad in keeper robes almost exactly like those in the game. He put his hands gently on my shoulders as I looked into those soft grey-blue eyes. "You are safe now."
And everything went black.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I woke up feeing slightly groggy and disoriented. It took me a few minutes to wake up fully, take in the world around me feeling anew how strange it was for me to be here, stuck in this world. I reached out fingering the blankets, running my fingers along the rough wooden walls, and finally across my own face and back over my ears feeling again their pointed tips. It was all still inexplicably real it seemed.

Rubbing my hands across my face more firmly this time I remembered what day it was, I would be leaving Haven today, heading out to the Hinterlands to face the future that was now beginning to play out. Remembering this, my dream came back to me in full detail. I reviewed the dream again in my mind, detail for detail. It seemed pretty clear what it meant, all my insecurities and uncertainties were playing themselves out for my unconscious mind. I remembered how I wasn't able to damage the demons and reminded myself that that was silly and unrealistic. My companions had only been voices but they would be real when it came time to fight. The change of scenery was interesting, it was almost funny to imagine fighting demons in the middle of the city where I'd lived.

The last part of the dream took a little more thought but eventually the symbolism seemed clear to me. It represented my ultimate goal, facing down the wolf, and that was something I could only do alone and I would have no weapons, save myself, when the time came. But then Solas had appeared and this is where I became slightly unsure of what the dream might signify.

At first I toyed with the idea that the real Solas had entered into my dream, but on further thought it seemed highly unlikely he would so blatantly appear like that, it was a level of boldness I could not associate with the elf, not after knowing each other for such a short time.

But then what he said at the end, saying I was safe after chasing away the wolf, what did that mean? The wolf was what I had to face and what I feared but Solas was what could protect me from it despite the fact that both were in reality the same person? Well I supposed it made a kind of sense. Of course it was also just a dream, my mind could just be making weird connections and not everything had to have some clear cut meaning. It might simply be that my mind was dealing with the events of the previous day. I hadn't expected the flirtation nor the familiar elvish form of address. He'd called me 'lethallan' rather than 'da'len', something I took to be much more familiar and while it was true we spent significant time together and spoke a lot, but did it really merit such familiarity already? As for the flirtation... well, I was frankly afraid to think too much on that matter.

I felt comfortable around him and I trusted him, it was so easy to forget who he really was and what he might do, not that it was an immediate concern, but it probably wasn't wise to let my guard down so completely, it could make things more difficult in the future.

And yet, remembering his words, that day, the contact as he'd helped me to stand and caught me as I'd stumbled sent a shiver of pleasure through me. This was bad. How could I expect to face the issues surrounding him when I was already feeling like a schoolgirl with a crush? I needed to keep my senses about me, I couldn't afford to be run away with my feelings. Besides, there were so many other things I needed to worry about as well. I still had to do what I could for the Inquisition, more than that, I needed to keep from dying, I felt more prepared than I had on the mountain but I was still a beginner and the peril was real. I needed to stay focused. In fact, I'd sat there in my bed thinking for too long, I needed to get up and get ready. I didn't want to keep everyone waiting for me.

I'd just set water to heat for some tea when I heard a soft knock at the door. "Who is it?" I'd learned to be more careful when someone came knocking now.

"It's Maryn, my lady."

"Please come in, Maryn."

The door opened softly and Maryn entered carrying a tray, "Breakfast, my lady. I was also bid to tell you that final preparations for the journey are being made and they should like to depart in an hour."

"Thank you, Maryn. I'm glad to hear it, I shouldn't have to rush then." I smiled knowing I could at least enjoy my breakfast at a leisurely pace before heading out. "By the way, did you pack my bag yesterday? I wanted to thank you for that, I really appreciate it."

"It was no trouble, miss. Is there anything else you'll be needing?"

"I don't think so. Thank you for everything. I guess I won't see you for a while but take care while I'm gone."

She then left, thanking me and bowing and wishing me farewell. It was a little sad seeing her go, knowing I probably wouldn't be back for a few weeks. I started to get that nervous tension in my stomach that happens whenever I know I'm about to do something that really scares me.

I took a deep breath to try to calm myself and set about getting dressed. I didn't put on the armor yet, that could wait until after I'd eaten. Once the water was hot, I made myself a cup of tea and lifted the lid over the breakfast. It was a real hot breakfast today, complete with eggs, ham and lovely fresh crusty bread with a bowl of butter set next to it. It smelled divine and despite my nerves I ate everything. Once I finished eating I finished the rest of my morning routine. I added my mirror and brush to my pack once I'd finished, then set myself to putting on my armor.

I wasn't sure what to do with my weapons. I had both daggers and a staff, and knew I should bring both, but which should I keep on my back? In the end I decided to put the daggers on my back and just carry the staff in my hand for now. I had no idea how I would decide which weapon to use once we found ourselves in a fight though, I guess I'd just have to play it by ear.

I had everything packed and the room cleaned up in fairly short order. I was just looking around the room making sure I hadn't forgotten anything when there was another knock at my door. I could already tell who it was and went to go open the door myself, but was slightly surprised, though not displeased, to see both Varric and Solas at my door. I smiled to see them there, "Good morning, this is a surprise."

"Good morning," Solas responded in kind, "I hope we are not disturbing your preparations."

"No, I was actually just about to leave."

"Perfect timing then," Varric said in a cheerful voice, "We thought you might enjoy a little company out to the stables."

"Really?" I grinned, "I thought you were just here to make sure I didn't run off."

Varric actually looked slightly embarrassed at my calling them out that way, "Uh, well, maybe that had a little to do with it."

I actually had to laugh at his discomfiture, "Don't worry about it. I probably wouldn't have run off, there really isn't anywhere for me to go that would be any safer, but I don't deny feeling a little nervous this morning, so I actually really appreciate the company."

Solas had remained his usual calm self throughout the exchange, "Perhaps if you are ready then, we should depart."

"Just give me a second." I went back inside, leaving the door open as they waited. I slung my bag over my shoulder and grabbed my staff. I took one last look around and extinguished the fires with a wave of my hand as I walked out, closing the door behind me.

"Did you rest well?" Solas asked as we started down the hill.

"Ok, I guess. I had some strange dreams, probably brought on by nerves."

"Do your dreams often trouble you? Have they changed since you discovered your magic?"

"No, they don't generally bother me, I usually quite like dreaming. I suppose they have changed though, I'm more aware and in control than I was before. Not last night though, probably because I was so tired when I went to sleep, or maybe it was because of my nerves, but even then, I remember a lot more than I used to."

"If you like I can teach you some useful techniques that may help you in such situations. Spending time in the Fade can be very rewarding and I would be happy to help you improve the quality of your experiences there." He smiled, and I could see an eagerness in his eyes, which I attributed to him possibly gaining a willing student in what I knew to be one of his favorite subjects.

I smiled in return, happy to give him what he sought. "Actually, I would really like that. I mean, I know dreaming occurs in the Fade but really I don't know much beyond that. I've heard that demons can be a concern for mages but really I don't know any details. I've always liked dreaming though, I even appreciate nightmares. I think dreams can offer a lot of insight even if it's just your own mind talking to you."

"Excellent. I'm sure we will have ample time on the road for us to further discuss dreaming and the Fade in more detail."

Varric had remained silent up till now but finally decided to pipe in, "Fascinating as I'm sure all this is, you might want to take it easy. You're still new to all this, no one is expecting you to learn everything in a week. Make sure you take some time to put your feet up and relax a little."

"Alright, you can be in charge of making sure I do just that then. Maybe you can start by teaching me Wicked Grace. I'm pretty sure I'll be terrible at it, but it could still be fun."

"Ok, you've got a deal. Don't worry, I'll teach you how to hold your own."

We'd made it to the gates by now and the stables were just a little further on. We arrived to see the others already there, five horses saddled and ready. I was thrilled to see Angel saddled and ready for me. I immediately went up to say hello to her and she greeted me with a flick of her ears.

"Good morning, Herald," said Cassandra coming up beside me, "Do you have everything you need before we depart?"

"I think so, I got everything on Josephine's list."

She then helped me secure my bag to the saddle. "What should I do with my staff?"

At this Bryn came over carrying something in her hands, "Here, you should use this, it will hold both your staff and the daggers on your back in such a way that neither will get in the way of the other. I worked with Harritt to design it for you. You'll need to keep the staff on you back while riding and it is best to keep the daggers accessible as well so this is the best option."

"Wow, thanks!" I said taking the new harness. I exchanged the one I was wearing to try it on. The angles were a little different to accommodate all three weapons but it fit comfortably and I could still access everything with nearly the same ease.

"Alright, if everyone is ready we should leave." At Cassandra's words we all got mounted. Leliana, Josephine, and Cullen all wished us luck and a safe journey as we rode out and away from Haven. I took in the details as we left Haven behind. This place had become familiar and comfortable to me in the short time I'd been in this world. I felt safe there. Now I was riding out into the unknown. It wasn't the first time I faced a frighteningly uncertain future but this time it was different, the whole world was different. It had been a while since I'd been hit with that strange sense that this might all just be a dream that could crumble under my fingers, but it did now with a vengeance. I breathed in the cold air slowly and deliberately, felt the leather of my gloves bend and move around my fingers as I adjusted my grip on the reigns, felt the solidity of Angel as she moved beneath me, carrying me deeper into this reality.

None of this should be real. I shouldn't be here. But I was, and all I could do was hold on and follow this path to wherever it led next.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Cassandra said it would take about six or seven days to reach the main camp in the Hinterlands. I was actually a little surprised it wasn't longer but I honestly had no sense of distances in Thedas. I had a basic idea of Geography but not much beyond that.

The start of the journey was pretty uneventful. Nobody talked all that much and we just kept a steady pace, following the road. Around midday I started to feel something strange, a slight hum of magic of some kind but still too faint for me be sure of it. I adjusted my pace and brought my horse alongside Solas, "Solas, do you feel something, like some kind of magic in the air?"

I heard Varric chuckling just behind us, "I know the scenery is beautiful around here but is this really the best time for romantic confessions?"

I looked back at him in confusion for a moment then ran my own words back through my head and felt my ears get warm, "That is not what I meant Varric." I glared back at him for a moment before turning back to Solas wondering if he too had misinterpreted my words.

"What exactly is it you feel?" Solas asked, maintaining his usual calm.

"I feel some kind of magic but it's really subtle, like it's just off to the periphery." I closed my eyes seeing if there was anything else I noticed, "The mark seems to be tingling a little more strongly as well."

"Are you able to tell a direction where this magic might be originating?"

"That way," I said pointing a little ways to the left.

Cassandra had noticed our conversation and fell back to join us, "What is it?"

"There seems to be an unknown source of magic nearby," explained Solas, "It may be wise to investigate."

We set off in the direction I indicated and within a few minutes the feeling had become much more definite. "I am able to feel it too now, I believe we have found a rift," Solas announced.

"I think you're right. This probably made me a little more sensitive to it," I raised my hand to indicate the mark. It was definitely getting brighter as we approached.

"That means demons," Cassandra stated in a flat tone. She turned to me, "You have been training in two disciplines, how do you intend to approach this?"

Before I could say anything Bryn spoke up, "These rifts have opened up all over Thedas and we are likely to encounter more as we travel. These will be a test of your skills but they will also serve as further practice. You will need to gain greater experience in both of the disciplines you have been training in and should not be limited to only one."

"I agree," added Solas, "I suggest you alternate with each fight. This time you can follow Bryn's lead and next time you will join me."

"That sounds like a reasonable strategy," Bryn agreed.

"In the case of rifts," I added, "whoever I'm with will also need to watch my back while I disrupt the rift to prevent more demons from appearing. I don't know about you, but I don't want to fight any more of them than we absolutely have to. I'm sure I'll get plenty of practice in the days to come without adding to it."

"Agreed. Ok, the Herald, Bryn, and I will go in while Solas and Varric cover us. We should leave the horses here and go the rest of the way on foot." Cassandra led us to a small group of trees where we all dismounted and secured the horses. I left my staff with the horses for the time being.

"Well, this should be fun," Varric grinned at me, "You ready to chase after some more demons little Midnight goose?"

"I'm ready if you are Maverick!" He gave me a weird look at that but I just grinned. Hah! Maverick ... maVARRIC!! Well, if he was going to call me 'Goose', how could I resist?

It didn't take long for us to find the rift and about half a dozen demons surrounding it. After a brief discussion of strategy to decide our approach we made our attack. Cassandra headed off to the left while Bryn and I moved to the right. Solas put a barrier around the three of us then he and Varric started laying down cover fire as soon as we'd departed.

I followed Bryn closely as we approached the first demon. As we neared it she issued instructions as to how I should attack, gesturing with her own daggers to remind me of the technique she indicated. My heart was pounding as we approached the demon but I immediately followed through with her instructions and we took the demon down in four hits. We fought through one more before I could get a clear shot at the rift and more demons were already materializing. The disruption was successful and we took down a couple more demons, Bryn allowing me to make most of the hits, before I had to disrupt again. This time I was halfway through the disruption when I got hit in the back with a wraith ball. Solas' last barrier had worn off a short time before so I was knocked to my knees. I shouted in frustration and immediately raised my hand again to try again, not bothering to stand. This time the disruption lasted long enough for all the demons to be finished off, allowing me to close the rift posthaste.

Once it was all over I was able to take stock of myself and replay the events of the fight. I had been so focused on the moment throughout that I hadn't realized that Bryn had barely needed to do anything other than give instructions. Apparently I had indeed been learning something during her lessons after all. After the fight though she took some time to give additional instruction. We went over the fight step by step as she discussed how to improve my strategy and technique, also discussing the reasons for what she had me do.

This was the most she had ever spoken to me before. She let me ask questions and she answered them readily, it was almost like she was a different person. She also demonstrated and had me practice some of the things she thought I could improve. We spent about twenty to thirty minutes running through the battle and what could be improved before Bryn was satisfied. By that time the others had brought the horses back to the area the rift had been, so we mounted and got back on our way.

A couple hours later I sensed another rift and it was time to do it all over again, only this time I took my staff instead. I stayed near Solas who would instruct me where I should aim and suggest spells that could be effective for the situation. The group had to use a little different strategy this time so that I could get close enough to the rift to disrupt it. This time, Cassandra and Bryn went down the middle to clear a path for me to get close enough to the rift, from there the others would deflect any attacks and draw away other enemies during the disruption process.

Once the battle was finished we got back on our horses and I went over the battle with Solas, discussing strategies and techniques that could be effective in the situations we encountered or similar ones. The others got involved as well, mentioning what they though might be helpful or dangerous in various scenarios. It was a lesson of a whole different kind now that I had a couple of real fights under my belt.

"Solas, when will you teach me to make a barrier?" I asked sometime later, "It seems like a really useful thing to know and having two mages who can help protect our group is better than one right?"

"Indeed it is a very useful technique, but it is quite different from the types of spells you have learned so far, which are generally offensive skills to be directed at the enemy. Creating barriers is a different sort of magic. I had thought to wait a while longer until you became more comfortable performing in battle but perhaps I am being overly cautious. If you like we can begin at the next opportunity we can find for a lesson."

"Thanks. I'm sure if you say it's challenging, it will be, but all the more reason to start soon right?" I smiled brightly at him.

"Perhaps you are right, and you have shown yourself to be a quick learner, I do not want to underestimate your abilities." He offered a small smile in return at which I smiled even wider before pulling my horse away and moving up closer to the front to ask Cassandra about the path ahead.

As the day wore on we settled back into silence, everyone growing tired as the sun started to sink lower and lower into the sky I had a chance to reflect on the day. I recalled my first day here, waking up with the mark and heading up that mountain towards the Breach. I remembered how terrified I was, how helpless. It had been only two weeks ago and yet it now felt like a lifetime ago. Some moments my life before seemed like a distant memory. In fact I had pushed the memories of that life to the back of my mind not really able to face them, needing to focus on the present to maintain my sanity. But today showed me that I had in fact made progress, that I didn't have to be so helpless. In realizing that and feeling more confident to look into the future, I also became able to look at the past. I thought about all the things I'd left behind, the city and its multitude of conveniences, the safety and warmth of my little apartment, the information and entertainment that was all a screen tap or button click away, the whole world that was my entire existence until a couple weeks ago.

I asked myself again: if I could go back right now, would I? I still didn't have an answer. I did miss its familiarity and comfort, not to mention the safety and running water. Wouldn't I love to lie down in my own bed again? Turn on my computer and watch silly cat videos as I procrastinated doing housework? Go out into the city to visit my favorite shops and restaurants? Of course I would, just thinking of my favorite cake shop had my mouth watering. I missed my phone and my clothes and my pillows and my shower and so many other little things. But this was also not the first time I'd left behind everything that was familiar and I knew the loss of such things could fade more quickly than one might expect.

But then what about this place? It was full of peril, true, but there were people here who seemed to be going above and beyond to support and help me through it. I also had a purpose here, people needed me, I had a chance to really make a change in people's lives, to save people's lives. I was learning here too. Rather than spending my days going to work just to earn money or sitting around being lazy at home, avoiding responsibility and escaping from reality, I was using every hour towards gaining some kind of new knowledge or skills, all so that I could better fulfill the purpose I'd been given. In just a short time I had made progress beyond what I thought could be possible. Even at the best of times I don't think I'd ever had such clear direction and motivation before.

At first it seemed kind of pointless to ask myself these things, since it didn't appear that I did have a choice, but what if one day I was given that choice, and whether I remained or returned to my own world was up to me? Then again, what if I was never given that choice and either way it was decided for me, how would I cope with that? What would I be grateful for? What would I miss? So far, I wasn't missing my old life that much, but really I hadn't been here all that long, and things hadn't gotten that tough yet. Compared to that first day, everything else had been a breeze. If things got tougher I might reconsider.

Chapter Text

Fortunately we didn't encounter any more rifts that day and we were able to make pretty good time. We started looking for a good place to camp around sunset and had settled on a nice clearing a little ways off from the road. Varric and Bryn went off to do some hunting while the rest of us worked on setting up camp. Being a mage certainly made getting a fire going a lot easier in a world without matches or lighters, and we had a comfortable blaze going in no time. It took me a while to figure out the tents though. Getting the supports in the right position and then getting everything secured and tied down proved to be a bit of a complicated process. I mean, I understood how it was supposed to be set up, I was just having trouble making it happen. I was still trying to get mine set up even after Solas and Cassandra had finished all the others so Cassandra ended up having to help me.

While dinner was being prepared, Bryn took me off a ways for more training and practice. It wasn't nearly as strenuous as our sessions had been in Haven, though the dim setting still created a significant challenge for me, despite my decent night vision. Bryn talked more now as well, which made the atmosphere a little more companionable at least. After having been in those fights earlier, it was also easier for me understand the practical applications of what she was teaching me.

Dinner was simple fare of course, fresh roast meat plus some bread and cheese. The meat was nice but there wasn't quite the luxury of a wide range of seasonings out here, so it was a little bland. Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the food, I'd always enjoyed eating when camping, everything always seemed to taste better with mountain air. I was pretty sure this feeling wouldn't last once we'd spent weeks on the road, but for now I could enjoy it.

While we ate Varric told a couple stories, he truly had a gift for storytelling, not only in the construction of the story but also in the telling. He could create incredible suspense one minute and the next he would have you in stiches. As much as Cassandra liked to complain about Varric, I could see she got just as involved in his stories as I did. She tried to hide it but she truly was a fan after all.

Once the meal was finished Solas came over, "Are you ready to begin learning to create a barrier?"

I sighed, not really wanting to move, feeling content and comfortable by the fire with my stomach full and heavy. I sighed once more as I stood up, "I guess I am." I dusted myself off and grabbed my staff, "Lead the way ha'hren."

He led me to the same place as I had practiced with Bryn and began explaining the theory, "Barrier magic is very different from what you have learned thus far. Rather than hurling the spell at the target, you are sheathing them in a protective barrier, so how you direct the magic will feel very different. However, because the effects are meant to be sustained, you will be able to use a similar technique to how you learned to sustain a fire. Therefore, the challenge is in initiating the barrier, once you are able to do that you will be able to sustain it."

"What about using the barrier on multiple targets? Would I be able to cast a barrier on the entire party or are there limits to that? Would that require significantly more power than only one?"

"If your targets are within relatively close proximity to each other it is not very difficult to cast multiple barriers with only slightly greater drain on your power. It is possible to cast barriers on targets who are more spread out, but it does become increasingly difficult as you have to direct the spell in multiple directions at various distances. Such effort will require more power and a great deal more focus. It is generally much more efficient to focus on small areas at a time and cast multiple times if necessary."

At his explanation I imagined the little blue area-of-effect circle that always appeared when casting barriers in-game. Perhaps that idea would be a good guide for casting barriers on multiple people. "Ok, so how do I create the barrier then?"

"A barrier is a magical field which should be able to absorb the damaging force of both physical and magical attacks so that the target remains unharmed and the attack cannot be reflected and accidentally hit someone else. Try to hold that idea in your head as you create the spell, just as you hold the idea of fire or lightning before you cast those spells. When you are ready, you may attempt to cast a barrier on me."

He hadn't been kidding when he'd said it was different and might be difficult. My first couple attempts created nothing at all. Solas kept prompting though and I finally managed to create a flash of something. "Almost, try to sustain it now," he instructed.

A few more attempts and I was able to keep the barrier up for several seconds. "Shall we test it to see if is effective? Master Tethras, if you would be so kind?" Solas looked to the edges of the area where we had apparently gained an audience. I had been so focused on trying to make the barriers I hadn't noticed all of them standing there watching.

"What is it you want me to do, Chuckles?" asked Varric with a grin.

"Once the barrier has gone up, I would like you to try to hit me."

"How hard exactly do you want me to hit you?"

"Hard enough that I would undoubtedly feel it without a barrier."

"Gotcha." Varric approached Solas but remained a few feet away so as not to get in the way of the spell. "Ready when you are."

I swallowed down my sudden apprehension and did my best to concentrate and remember exactly what I'd just done. I took a deep breath and put the barrier around Solas.

"Now, Master Tethras."

Varric stepped up and gave a hearty swing at the mage. At impact it seemed to be partially absorbed but it still forced Solas to stumble back a few steps and the barrier collapsed.

"As I suspected, it is merely a partial barrier you have managed to construct. It is a good start but if the attack had been stronger, from a weapon or spell, it still could have caused some damage."

I tried several more times but couldn't seem to make the barrier any more effective. Finally Solas declared the lesson finished for the evening, "You are growing tired and likely frustrated, I believe it would be best to leave it here for tonight. We can try again tomorrow."

It was true, I was becoming quite frustrated, it was probably best to just let it go for now and get a fresh start with it later. We all headed back to the fire and almost simultaneously decided to retire to our tents. Cassandra went to make a final check on the horses before taking the first watch, and Solas started setting wards around the camp while the rest of us headed into our respective tents.

The tents were pretty cozy but could probably fit two people in a pinch. Still, I was quite glad we each were able to have our own tents; I generally didn't like sleeping in the same space as others, even if the quarters were not nearly so close as this. I set about removing my armor and some of the outer clothes before settling into my bedroll. I missed my pillows, I always preferred sleeping supported by multiple pillows and had trouble sleeping with anything less than two, so I did my best to wad up the clothes I wasn't wearing to serve as a kind of makeshift pillow. Fortunately I would not need to take a watch this first night. With five of us we would each get a night off from time to time.

I lay down watching the dim play of the firelight that penetrated into the tent and listening to the muted sounds of the wilderness just outside. I must have been more tired than I'd realized because it didn't take more than a few minutes before sleep took me.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I found myself somewhere near the edge of my Fade forest and just started walking aimlessly thinking over the day, and remembering the life I had before. As I walked I started to see the city where I'd lived rise up around me, tall buildings reaching into the sky and complicated network of streets and alleys leading off in a multitude of directions. Seeing all the paths around me made me reflect on my life and how I had gotten where I was. So many small choices that made me who I am, yet what choice could it have been that had landed me in the world of a video game? Would I still have ended up here if I had never played the game? What if I hadn't played so late that last night? What if I'd chosen to play a Qunari instead of an elf?

As I walked I saw the city morph from one of my favorite shopping districts into the neighborhood where I lived. Everywhere the streets were empty and quiet though, making the usually busy city appear eerie in the daylight. Once this thought crossed my mind people quickly started to populate the streets and shops until the familiar sounds of the city surrounded me. I could even smell the food being prepared in the many tiny restaurants lining the area near the station. I continued walking, I even entered some of the shops, wandering around the familiar displays, taking in this world I had grown so accustomed to and at the same time being incredibly aware that none of it was real.

I moved on toward my apartment. Apparently space was quite malleable in the Fade because I arrived almost immediately once I'd decided that was where I wanted to go. The door was open so I didn't need my key. Everything seemed to be just as I'd left it. The steep staircase leading up from the entrance lined with many shoes, the cramped apartment, which I'd done my best to keep organized and cozy. Even my Playstation was there. How weird would it be if I turned it on and tried playing the game while here in the Fade? That sounded like some kind of weird Inception thing and I almost decided to try it, but that wasn't really why I was here.

I headed up to my bedroom instead and collapsed down on my bed with its heavenly pile of pillows and lay there looking at the ceiling. This was the last place I remembered being. This was the last thing I remembered seeing before waking up in that dark cell in pain. Looking around the room, a fluffy pillow wrapped in my arms, I could almost believe this was real, that I was back, but unlike the world I'd spent the last couple weeks in, I had no doubt that all it would take was a single thought and everything I touched would dissolve beneath my fingertips.

I lay back on the pile of pillows and closed my eyes, remembering what it was like living in that world. It was already starting to feel like a distant memory and it scared me. If I could get back I should do it now, before the new world became too real to let go of, before my purpose there and the people I knew became important. It would just be my luck that as soon as I became committed to that life I'd be swept away again and left to mourn it's loss, I would rather leave now and not have to face that possibility.

But I had no idea how to get back. I had no idea what any of this was. Why was I here, really? What was I supposed to do? If I only knew the answers to those questions that might make it easier to face the future, it was the complete unknown nature of my situation that made me so nervous, that uncertainty of whether I would even be here another day or not. Without answers how could I ever be free of that uncertainty?

I lay there, eyes closed thinking back on my life and wondering how it had all led to this. Finally I opened my eyes and found myself in a different room, it was the room I'd grown up in. It was set up as it had been while I was still living there. I hadn't even been in this room for over five years, it had been much longer since it had looked like this. Looking around I felt my chest constrict, this was not where I wanted to be. The memories that could be triggered here were not ones I wanted to face right now. I ran out of the room before the memories could find me. I ran through the thankfully empty house and out into the front yard. Once I was outside, able to see the wide blue sky above me and hear the warm dry breeze whispering through the two large trees in the yard, I was able to breathe again. Outside was peaceful, clean air and clear sky, soft caress of breeze across my skin. It must be late spring or early summer, not yet the scorching heat of midsummer. This was something I did love about this place. There were few things I missed, but this was one of them. I closed my eyes and let peace return.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The next morning I woke stiff and cold, the hard ground beneath my back leaving it stiff and sore. I could hear the others had begun stirring as well. I was astounded at how I was still somehow able to wake up at a 'reasonable time'. My nickname was appropriate though perhaps 'vampire' might have suited me better in my previous life. It took me hardly any effort at all to stay up until sunrise and then sleep till the middle of the afternoon. I have never even had any desire to be a morning person. I love the night and I love the peace and dark that only the night offers. Morning is for sleep and dreams. I always dreamed best after 8am. I wondered if my vampiric proclivities would reemerge eventually or if I'd be able to adjust appropriately for this current lifestyle. So far things had worked out well enough, hopefully my unusual sleep cycle wouldn't become one more thing to worry about.

I set about re-dressing myself and putting the armor back on. I was still pretty slow at the whole process, it would probably be a good idea to practice speeding it up a bit. Once I was done I emerged from the tent. Bryn and Cassandra were already out and dismantling their tents.

"Have some breakfast and then you can help us pack up camp," Cassandra said gesturing to what was left of the roast meat from the day before and more bread.

I didn't really like cold food for breakfast but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. By the time I'd finished eating, Varric and Solas had also emerged. Breaking down camp actually progressed more rapidly than I'd expected, clearly these people had done this before. As usual I just felt kind of lost and awkward trying to help. Still we were back on our horses within probably half an hour and back on the road, moving onward through the cold morning air.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The day went along pretty similar to the day before. We tried to move at a slightly faster pace, but now that I knew what it felt like, it seemed that I had become more sensitive to detecting rifts nearby, either that or there were just more in that area but the second day we encountered five. We followed the same basic strategies we had the day before. I would alternate between partnering with either Bryn or Solas, following their lead and instructions for each fight. After the rifts were closed, we would review the battle and discuss what had happened and related tactics, practicing any practical skills that could be directly applied to the instance.

The pattern continued on the third day as well and it was sometime after the second rift that day that I decided to finally start asking Solas more about interacting with spirits. He had given me a kind of overview during our very first conversation in Haven and I remembered most of what he'd said in the game but I felt I would need to know more before long. I was still sensing presences in my dreams from time to time that had yet to make themselves known. If they were indeed some kind of spirits or demons I wanted to know more about how I could and should interact with them. I was concerned about safety for both the spirits and myself of course, but I hoped that, if I met them, they may become a source of information. More than that, I wondered if I might even be able to confide in them, tell them where I was from, and either gain their counsel on the matter or at least feel free to express to someone what I was going through.

"Solas," I said, guiding Angel to ride parallel with his horse, " I was wondering if you could tell me more about dreaming and the Fade now. I'm specifically interested in how one protects themself against demons and might interact with spirits."

"I will gladly share my knowledge on the subject with you." His countenance remained calm but I could sense a delight in his eyes and voice at the interest shown in his favorite subject and I smiled to see it. "As I have mentioned in our previous discussions, one of the key points to remember when in the Fade is that what you experience there is largely influenced by what you bring in with you. Your thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, memories, all of these can have a dramatic effect on what you encounter. The Fade is an imperfect mirror, reflecting back people and events of this world through the feelings and passions of those who experienced them. The reason there are so many demons, as they are called, is because the emotions they represent is so abundantly experienced here in this world. If there were less hunger, rage, or fear in the world and more love, faith, and wisdom then the spirits of the Fade would reflect that reality accordingly. Therefore, what you bring into the Fade will also be reflected."

He paused here for a moment looking over at me to check that I was following so far, before continuing, "Of course, your own willpower will affect things as well. If you are able to control your emotions and not allow yourself to be manipulated by spirits who might take advantage of them, they will generally not be able to do you any harm."

"Ok, so if I enter the Fade feeling angry or afraid I am more likely to encounter the corresponding demons, but as long as I don't let those feelings get the better of me I should be ok? Exactly how much control do you ultimately need? I mean, what happens when someone is going through a particularly stressful or traumatic time in their life? Anger, fear, sadness, these aren't things a person can simply leave behind when they go to sleep and dreams always seem to amplify emotions, I assume because of how they are reflected back at you by the nature of the Fade. It sounds as if someone under these circumstances could be incredibly vulnerable to demons. How does one defend themselves in such a case?"

He smiled, "An excellent question, however most encounters with spirits while in the Fade are simply caused by them being drawn to the emotions you bring in with you and their nature causes them to reflect those emotions back at you in some way, without the intent to actively manipulate you. If you enter the Fade with strong emotions the spirits within may create images and circumstances within the dream, which can further intensify your experience of that emotion. With practice and enough will, a mage can recognize such instances and regain control over their own dream.

"If the spirit does have the intention to gain possession, this is where a mage's true willpower is crucial. A person who experiences such feelings and hardship but is willing to face it and work through it themselves will not fall prey to the temptation of demons. One who instead fears the prospect of facing these challenges themselves and would rather seek an easy way out are much more vulnerable." He stopped and then turned looking me in the eyes, "I have seen how you have faced the challenges laid before you since you emerged from the Fade, and though you were lacking in skill and experienced great fear, you never failed to step forward, do what was necessary and face each challenge yourself rather than let others handle everything. I believe you are more than a match for any demon who might tempt you."

As he spoke those final sentences I thought I caught a tone of admiration in his voice but his expression remained so calm and impassive I was sure I'd mistaken it. I remained silent for a few moments, considering his words. "I think I understand. It's certainly reassuring that you think I'll be ok. What about other spirits though? You've mentioned that you have actually made friends with many spirits, how do you even start getting to know a spirit? I assume you can't just walk up to one and introduce yourself and start a conversation."

He actually gave a small laugh at this, "Actually that is essentially how you do start getting to know them, unless of course they introduce themselves first. The difficulty is finding these more benevolent spirits. There are not nearly as many as there are demons and they do not often seek out those from this world. However if you possess the qualities these spirits embody you are more likely to draw them to you. There are other denizens of the Fade, such as wisps, which are much less predictable however, there is no way to know what might attract one as they are much less defined themselves but they are also harmless."

"Wow, I had no idea it could be that easy. After hearing some of your experiences with spirits in the Fade I can only hope to be as fortunate. I imagine they could be very unique friends." I smiled thinking of the prospect of more properly introducing myself if a spirit finally did decide to show itself.

Cassandra had apparently been listening in and she took this opportunity to add her thoughts on the subject. "I recommend caution Herald. Demons cannot be trusted, it would be better to avoid them whenever possible. Besides, you are still new to your powers, surely you have not had enough training to be able to interact safely with demons. We cannot afford to lose you to possession due to carelessness."

A couple weeks ago I might have quailed under the hard look she was giving me now but I had gotten used to this intimidating stance of hers. She still made me nervous and I didn't want to alienate her but I also needed her respect, so I met her gaze with my own, "Cassandra, I appreciate your concern but I'm not about to go up to every demon I meet and shake it's hand. I have every intention of doing what I can to protect myself, which is why I am consulting with Solas on this matter in the first place, but I also want to seek out opportunities to expand my own knowledge and abilities, if there are spirits who can help me in this, then I welcome them. I know I am still inexperienced but I do not think Solas is likely to coddle me, if he believes that I have the capabilities to handle myself in the Fade then I am inclined to believe him."

She looked like she wanted to argue but Varric broke in first, "Well, I can't say any of this makes much sense to me and frankly the idea of sitting down to have a chat with demon sounds pretty creepy, but I'm pretty sure Chuckles here knows what he's talking about. He is our Fade expert after all. If he says she'll be okay in there, that works for me."

Cassandra glared at him but decided to hold her tongue. She turned back to me once more though, "Just be on your guard. You are needed and we cannot afford to lose you." With that she pulled ahead to take the lead again. Bryn, who had been leading seemed to be ignoring the whole thing, though I was pretty sure she'd heard everything. I wondered what she thought about it all.

Once Cassandra had turned I mouthed a 'Thank you' to Varric.

He smiled. "I figured it's better not to let her get going or we might be arguing all day," he said once she had moved beyond earshot. "I do agree with her that you should be careful though, messing with demons can be a dangerous business."

"I know Varric," I said with a small sigh, "That's exactly the point, that's why I'm trying to learn more about them. The surest way to run into trouble is to be ignorant of what you're dealing with."

"I suppose I can't disagree with you there," he said, sighing himself.

"Don't worry, I really do plan to be careful, I don't relish the idea of being possessed either." With that I turned back to Solas, "So, what else can you tell me about friendly spirits?"

He looked at me then, met my eyes with something like ... wonder? "I am surprised at your willingness to gain such understanding of spirits and your apparent openness to the idea that some could be friends. I thought all Dalish believed spirits to be dangerous."

"You mean just like all humans believe that all elves are nothing more than savages?" I asked pointedly.

"Ah, I take your point. I did not mean to cause offense," he turned his gaze ahead again, the usual impassive mask falling back into place. "It is just that I have crossed paths with the Dalish on many occasions. Those encounters did not go well. I found very little acceptance of the knowledge I tried to share and in the end was often driven away out of superstition."

I looked at him, studying that calm mask and remembering the pain that must lie beneath. He'd woken only recently to find this world so utterly changed and elves less than a shadow of what they had been when he had gone to sleep. I knew the Dalish in particular got under his skin.

"Ir abeles, ha'hren. I'm sorry you had such unfortunate experiences. I suppose the Dalish can be quite, shall we say, set in their ways. I took no offense at your statement, I merely wanted to point out the fallacy within it. I do hope to prove to you that I am not like 'most Dalish'."

He looked at me again then, studying me a moment, then smiled, "You have already proven that da'len."

I started to return the smile but stopped suddenly as I started feeling the now familiar tingling of a nearby rift. I turned my head in the direction of the source. Solas understood immediately and moved ahead to alert the others. "Hey Varric," I said turning back in his direction, "Is Bianca ready for a little more action?"

"Oh, she's always ready. Just point us in the right direction."

Chapter Text

We dealt with a total of four rifts that day but still managed to make decent progress along our path, according to Cassandra. I was also gaining confidence in myself as I'd now lived through closing eleven rifts in three days and was actually feeling like I might not die this week after all. Of course, I was still being closely instructed through each fight by either Bryn or Solas.

As the sun set that evening we made camp as usual, each taking on our respective jobs; Bryn and Varric took care of hunting while the rest of us gathered wood for the fire and set up the tents. Once the wood was gathered I got to set up and start the fire. I liked the job because it was fairly simple but still important so I felt useful, though truth be told I also just liked using magic to start the fire with a wave of my hand. It was a small thing but it was quickly becoming one of those little things that you look forward to at the end of the day. I almost got my tent up by myself too, Solas helping me set the final stakes this time.

The evening progressed as usual, starting with training with Bryn while waiting for dinner. We were a little quieter while we ate tonight as we were more tired, but it still managed to be a fairly companionable evening. Varric convinced Bryn to tell us a story and it turned out she had quite a flair for suspense.

After eating it was back to practicing barriers. Unfortunately, it seemed I'd developed some kind of block against them. I still hadn't made any further progress beyond what I'd managed on the first night.

"That is enough for tonight," said Solas after watching me become increasingly frustrated with myself as the lesson had progressed. "You are clearly not going to make any progress in this state."

I'd been trying to stay calm with myself but my frustration was starting to get the better of me and I felt like I wanted to attack the nearest boulder with a few exploding fireballs just so I could vent but managed to repress the impulse behind a scowl at my intended target instead. I hadn't had this much trouble with any spell before this, and it was such an important one too, I wanted to help protect the others with my power, I just couldn't understand why it wasn't working.

"You must maintain your focus to cast properly and to do that you need to be calm. Perhaps tomorrow you will be ready to try again. For now, I have something else to teach you that might help you re-center yourself."

I looked at him skeptically, "What would that be?"

"It is a sequence of movements involving the staff, a technique designed to connect your body, mind, and magic. As you move through the sequence you should feel your own magic flowing within you while simultaneously being aware of the Veil and your connection to the Fade. You and your magic become one fluid entity, and a part of The Fade, even as you are separate."

"So, its a kind of moving meditation technique?" I asked. It sounded beautiful from his description, but it also sounded difficult, especially with my frustration and anger at myself still boiling.

"Of a sort, yes. I shall demonstrate first. Remember not to watch with only your eyes, reach out and feel how the magic moves as well." He then picked up his staff to stand in the middle of the clearing we were using. He remained still for a few moments, then he lifted the staff and began to move it through the air in slow sweeping arcs. I had never seen him move in this way before. He was assuredly proficient with the staff and I had seen him fight numerous times, though I didn't exactly have time to study his technique at the time, being rather busy not getting myself killed, but I'd been able to tell he was quite skilled.

This, however, was something different. First of all were the movements themselves, it was almost like a cross between tai chi and a dance. Every motion was smooth and fluid. He did not move quickly and the motions seemed simple enough but it was so well controlled, not a single hitch throughout the sequence. Dance was always a hidden passion of mine. I'd studied some over the years but never had the opportunity to do it more seriously. Even so I'd watched enough of it and knew enough about what was involved to do it well, that I knew skill when I saw it, and this deceptively simple sequence was being done extremely well. As I continued watching I saw that his face did not bear the look of concentration I expected, instead it seemed completely at ease, peaceful.

He'd told me to pay attention to the magic as well and what I 'saw' when I did was more amazing still. I could feel the flow of the magic, as one with each physical motion. Each movement of his arms, feet, head, staff, or any other part also created a corresponding movement within the magic.

I was absolutely entranced. It was so beautiful it sent chills down my spine. I didn't know how I would ever be able to learn such perfection but I was certainly inspired to do my best with it. I was not someone who would ever relish fighting, and I was pretty sure I would hate it when I had to start dealing more in politics, but this was something I could call art. Yes, if anything could help me re-center when things got frustrating, this might just be it. After I learned it anyway.

It actually wasn't that long of a sequence, I think he'd repeated it at least twice but even so it was complete in two minutes or less. I almost gave him applause when he was done but somehow thought that might not be the most appropriate response so instead I said, "I'm absolutely speechless! That was unbelievable! It was so beautiful! It will probably take me forever to do that half as well as you but I'd certainly like to try. Where did you learn that?"

He gave a small laugh, "I don't think all those words constitute speechlessness da'len."

I could feel my ears get hot again. Why did they have to keep doing that? I laughed, trying to cover my embarrassment, "I guess you're right, sorry."

"There is no need to apologize," he said, still smiling. "I have seen many similar techniques in my travels but this is one of my favorites. I believe it is likely very old, for I have only witnessed it in the Fade. It is difficult to master but I believe it is well worth the effort."

I knew that half of the things he said he saw in the Fade were in fact things he had just seen thousands of years ago himself. Perhaps the Fade was in fact where he saw it, but it seemed equally likely that he had invented the whole thing himself. Whatever the case, I still wanted to learn it. "Well, let's get started then."

"As you wish. We will begin with the movements only. We will incorporate magic into the sequence only once you have become proficient with them."

We started slowly, just getting through the main blocking first. It looked simple when watching it but it quickly became clear that the devil was in the details. It probably took half an hour before we'd even gotten through the whole sequence once. It was about then that Varric appeared. "Are you guys still at it? Cassandra is starting to grumble about it getting late, you might want to head back to the camp soon or she might come drag you back in chains"

"And what did she threaten you with to get you to come out here to tell us that?" I asked, grinning.

"Only that I'd be chained up with you," he grinned.

"Alright Varric, thanks for the warning, we'll be back in a minute." I turned back to Solas, "I guess that's all for tonight. It's too bad, I felt like we were just getting warmed up. I definitely feel better too, I've forgotten my frustration from before."

"I'm pleased to hear you found it effective, but I suppose it is getting late and you do have the first watch. I hope you are not too tired from your efforts this evening."

"Not really. I've been going to bed kind of early the last couple weeks but I think it was mostly because of my recovery and all the changes, but I'm naturally a night person anyway, I always have more energy after dark." We started back towards the camp as I continued speaking, "I like the night, it's always so peaceful and still and with everyone else asleep no one can bother you, it's just easier to focus on things at that time."

"I know what you mean. When not exploring the Fade I have often enjoyed spending my nights with research and study. There is a peace in those hours that cannot be found at any other time of day."

The clearing was, of course, very close to the camp so it hadn't taken us long to get back. Bryn and Varric had apparently already retired to their respective tents but Cassandra was standing near the fire looking slightly agitated. "Ah, you're back, good. Solas, if you will please set the wards around the camp I shall retire."

"Of course, I should have set them earlier," Solas replied, "I'm sorry if it has inconvenienced you."

"It is fine. Good night." With that she promptly headed into her tent before we could wish her good night in return.

Solas immediately set about the work of setting the wards. I could feel his casting and the magic going up around the camp as he walked its outskirts.

I continued to watch him until he was finished. He came back to the fire once he was done, "I think it may be best for me to set the wards as soon as we have set up camp from now on."

"Will you teach me how to set wards sometime?" I asked.

He smiled with slight surprise at the sudden request, "Is there anything you are not going to ask me to teach you? It seems we barely start one lesson before you are already asking to learn five more things. I admire your eagerness da'len but it will take time for you to learn so much."

"Oh, I know that. It's just that there is so much I want to learn and I figure if I let you know each time there is something I'm interested in it might help you develop an appropriate lesson plan."

"I see. In that case I shall teach you wards sometime after you have mastered enough magic that will ensure your safety on the battlefield." I smiled in acceptance of his terms. "I suppose I shall retire now as well."

"Actually, if it's ok I wanted to ask you about one more thing before you go. It's about spirits, and since the subject seems to make the others uncomfortable I thought it might be better not to discuss it while they're around."

"Ah, yes, I believe that is a wise consideration. I am certain Cassandra would not appreciate it if you continue to bring up the subject."

"Yeah, she's trying to trust me but I don't think the conversation today did me any favors, or you for that matter," I sighed. I moved to sit down by the fire and Solas joined me, sitting a few feet away.

"So, what is it you would ask about spirits, lethallan?"

There was that 'lethallan' again. Did he use it now because my interest in spirits marked me as more his equal than simply a student? Was it not actually as intimate a term as I had thought? Or maybe I was just overthinking it. It wasn't like my knowledge of the elvhen language was very good, I only knew the phrases the game and various fics used on a regular basis. And all of their usage was based mostly on guesswork, who knew how the language might actually function here. Yeah, I was definitely overthinking things.

"So," I pulled my focus back to what I'd wanted to talk about, "you mentioned before that the rifts pull spirits to our plane against their will and their being forced across corrupts them and this is why they all appear as demons and attack us. Does that mean that in the Fade they are generally not so aggressive?"

"That is correct. If a spirit sees an opening it may try to manipulate you in a way to possess you, if that is its wish, but many spirits are content to remain in the Fade and those that actively seek to use or harm dreaming mages are the minority. When they are forced into our world by the rifts it is essentially a shock to them and this world proves too overwhelming for them, causing them to lash out and attack, all control and personality they possessed is left behind in the Fade."

I thought on this for a few moments before continuing, "You also told me today that spirits naturally reflect this world and the reason there are so many so-called 'demons' is because of the abundance of such negative emotions and states of being in this world. If there were more compassion and wisdom here, so it would be reflected there. So, would it follow that many of the beings people call demons have the potential to become something else? Pride could become Wisdom, Desire become Love?"

"Yes, that is essentially true," he answered and I could see him watching me curiously, wondering where this was going.

"Hmmm, It's sad then," I turned back to watch the dancing flames taking in the significance of his answer.

He remained silent, waiting for me to elaborate.

"You know, I've never killed anyone before." I didn't look at him, I just kept looking into the fire as I admitted things I'd been avoiding thinking about the last couple days. "I don't want to kill anyone, but I know I'm going to have to do so soon. I'm probably going to have to kill a lot of people as time goes on and I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with that. I believe in the potential within people. A lot of people do bad things for a lot of different reasons, some bad and some good. But even if the reason is bad, people have the potential to change, they can become something good. Something as simple as a change in circumstance, a helping hand, even a smile at just the right moment can change a person forever." I paused, trying to focus my thoughts and put them into words that made sense. "I don't want to be responsible for taking away anyone's opportunity to change. I mean, I think killing people is bad in general, but I know I will have to do it for some very good reasons. Yet who ultimately decides what a 'good reason' is? The people who try to kill us may feel their reasons are equally good." I shook my head, I didn't want to get lost on a tangent. "Whatever the case, if I kill them, there is no longer the chance for them becoming anything more, anything better. But I've killed quite a few demons already and is that really any better? Sure, most people say they are nothing more than monsters, and they certainly look pretty monstrous, but according to you they attack us because they have lost the ability to control themselves when they are forced across to this world and that they too are beings with the potential to change. But I have killed them and now they can never become anything different."

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, still keeping my eyes on the dancing flames before me. "I don't know, it just makes me sad. I know tomorrow we will find more rifts and I will kill more demons, because I have to, because if the rifts aren't closed more demons will just come through anyway and more people could die. And by the time we get to the Hinterlands we will have to kill people too and somehow I will have to deal with that as well. It's just sad, especially since now I have to be part of the killing too. One more responsibility I don't want but which I must take on."

I took another deep breath before finally turning to look at Solas. The look in his eyes was indecipherable, it looked like a mixture of things but I couldn't tell what. Was he surprised? Sad? Worried? Angry? I couldn't tell. "Sorry," I said looking down at my hands, fidgeting nervously, "I guess I tend to ramble when my thoughts get heavy." I suddenly felt awkward. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. Maybe I should pretend this kind of thing didn't bother me. Posturing, right?

There was a movement beside me but I didn't look up. I felt him stand up, maybe he would leave, though surely he would say something first. Then he was right there, he laid his hand across my still fidgeting ones, quieting them as he sat again close beside me. I looked up and he was so close, only inches away now. His face seemed to hold sadness and sympathy. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at him, right into his eyes. I'd looked him in the eyes before but never this close, never this intensely. My heart was pounding and I still couldn't breath. The two seconds of silence seemed to stretch for an age somehow.

When he spoke it was soft and gentle and ... full of ... awe?

"You have a rare and marvelous spirit. Your thoughtfulness and compassion, rare things in this dark and broken world, deserving to have been born into another world, a better world, a world that would never force you to endure such horrors. I am sorry you have been placed in this position and yet, that it is someone like you in this role gives me more hope than you can imagine. You have faced the challenges thus far with strength and determination. You have set yourself to seek out whatever knowledge will aid you without prejudice or bias, nor have you let the judgment of others deter your resolve."

He paused for a moment, eyes still meeting mine with full intensity and as he spoke again his hand tightened on mine, "I cannot protect you from whatever is to come, the future will find us whether we will it or not, but I promise to do everything I can to aid you in overcoming any of its challenges. Whatever help I can offer, you need only ask."

In the silence that followed I realized he was waiting for some response. My throat had gone dry and I was still trying to remember how to breathe. I swallowed and finally managed a weak "Thank you." I swallowed again and spoke a little louder, "Thank you, ma serennas. It... that really means a lot to me," I said finally shaking off some of the shock and managing a small smile.

"You are welcome," he smiled in return holding my eyes a few moments longer before finally releasing me from that intense gaze.

I looked down as he pulled his hand from mine and I had this strong urge to reach out and pull it back. My fingers twitched in response but I managed to restrain myself.

Finally he stood up, "I will retire now."

I nodded and he turned towards his tent. Before he bent down to enter I found my voice again, "Good night, Solas."

He looked back and smiled, "On nydha, lethallan."

Once he had disappeared behind the flaps I turned back to the fire and just stared into it, thoughts stalled by shock. What just happened? What was with that look in his eyes? What on earth had I done to make him act that way? What did any of it mean?

And that line: 'You have a rare and marvelous spirit'. Why was he saying that now? He was supposed to say that in the glen before walking away and leaving me alone and I'd been determined never to have to hear it. And yet I'd just heard it, ages before that scene could possibly be played out. The context was utterly different and he hadn't left afterward, in fact he'd made more promises of support. I was so confused.

I didn't think I'd done anything yet that could change things but I was pretty sure everything that just happened was nowhere near the game's storyline. Admittedly, my situation was pretty different from that of the game's Lavellan, and I guess that may have lead to some significant changes. For one thing I'd added a whole new character to the mix with Bryn, she was never part of the game at all, but now she was a companion. And Solas... I guess in the game the Inquisitor never needed to spend so much time with him at the start, just travel and a few conversations here and there at Haven, whereas I'd spent several hours alone with him almost everyday since I'd arrived. I also wasn't actually Dalish, so I probably didn't act anything like the Dalish he detested so much. Was all that enough to get this kind of reaction though?

My mind kept drifting back to his hands on mine, and the look in his eyes, my pounding heart and inability to breathe, and those words, so out of place in the timeline I remembered. I wasn't sure what it was I'd felt in those moments but it terrified and thrilled me in equal measure, which terrified me even more. I mean, I knew I would probably develop some kind of attachment to him eventually but it wasn't supposed to happen this quickly, I wasn't ready for it. There was still too much other stuff that needed to be done.

I wasn't sure how to deal with it all, what should I do? I needed to keep up the lessons, that wasn't negotiable, but maybe I should try to avoid these kinds of conversations for a while. I hadn't intended that to be what happened tonight but the conversation just kind of got away from me, I couldn't help trusting him and wanting to share some of these thoughts with him. I knew I couldn't share them with any of the others, I knew they wouldn't understand, but he would, of course he would. But maybe I shouldn't let that happen again for a while. I needed to step back a little, clear my head and figure things out again.

These thoughts continued drifting through my head for the rest of my watch as I gazed into the fire looking for some kind of enlightenment within. Finally, I went to wake Varric for his watch. Once inside my own tent I lay down, mind still mulling over the events of the evening. I settled onto my bedroll and finally allowed sleep to find me.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I'd hoped to spend some lucid time in the Fade that night but the confusion of the day led me through similar confusion in dreams as well. It was a random mix of scenes, past, present, this world, my own world, people mixing between the worlds. The general theme seemed to be me trying to resolve the situation into something predictable and yet something weird always happened. Clearly I was dealing with how out of control I was suddenly feeling, like I was falling. I knew there would be changes, but not so many so fast, and it was giving me mental vertigo.

I woke up the next morning mentally fatigued. I decided today was not a day to be thinking, I needed to just focus on the tasks. I'd get ready for the day, breakdown camp, see to Angel, enjoy the scenery and fresh air, kill any demons we found, and close all the rifts. And that is just what I did. The day passed in just this way, nothing extraordinary.

We found another four rifts that day too. So many rifts, I wondered how many were across Thedas and how long it would take to close them all. Most of them were pretty easy and I was being given a little more autonomy with each fight. The last one was a little tricky as it was larger than the others had been so there were more demons. I was trying to disrupt the rift and Bryn was fighting of a couple demons nearby. I was so focused on the rift that I didn't see the demon that came up behind me. The blow knocked me to the ground and I lost my connection with the rift. The hit had left me slightly dazed, and it had certainly caught me by surprise but fortunately I was aware enough to roll out of the way as it tried to strike again. I managed to get back up to my feet when I was hit by a stupid wraith ball. I just barely managed to stay on my feet and moved to attack the demon that hit me first. I had to take out yet another demon right after that before I could get a clear shot at the rift again. It was then that I finally felt a barrier go up around me.

Feeling the barrier made me angry. I wasn't angry at Solas, I was sure he'd been kept occupied elsewhere, I was angry at myself for having so much trouble with the barrier. I needed to learn it, and now I was more determined than ever.

That night we worked on it some more but I got frustrated with myself even quicker this time and Solas made me stop. I tried to argue but he put his foot down, "No da'len, you cannot continue in such a state. Until you can remain calm and focused you will not be able to succeed in creating a proper barrier, you will try again tomorrow." He wasn't exactly angry but there was a force in his voice that I hadn't heard before. I didn't argue after that though, we just moved on to the staff technique, which did help in the end. I was pretty sure I had the movements memorized now at least.

My dreams that night ended up being another random mish-mash, this time dealing with frustration and feelings of awkwardness. My staff would suddenly become too heavy or unwieldy, so that I could barely lift it or move it properly. Or I'd be trying to close an automatic door with my mark to stop demons from coming out of a shopping center but there was a wraith behind me that kept hitting me.

I woke up the next morning feeling pretty grumpy. As a result I basically just didn't talk all morning. I'd answer any direct questions but didn't engage in any kind of conversation. I had always preferred to just keep to myself whenever I was in a bad mood so even though I would listen in on whatever was being said around me, I made no attempt to engage myself in any of it. When I noticed a rift I would let the nearest person to me know and start heading off in the direction of the feeling.

This continued though most of the day until halfway through the afternoon Varric came up to me, "You doing ok? You seem pretty quiet today."

"I'm fine, just not really in a mood for conversation today."

"You sure? I mean, you seem pretty distant, like you're trying to keep some kind of wall between yourself and everyone else."

I looked at him and saw actual concern in his eyes, "It's nothing, just having some issues dealing with things, I'll figure it out, you don't need to worry about it." I tried to sound nonchalant and brush off his worry.

The concern didn't leave as he spoke again, "You know, we're all here to help. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but you shouldn't feel like you have to deal with it on your own. I know I like to talk, but I'm happy to listen if you need it. A good storyteller has to be a good listener too or they will never learn who their characters really are. Then again, maybe you just need something to hit really hard, I'm sure Cassandra could hold up a tree for you."

"Why would I need Cassandra to hold a tree up?" I raised an eyebrow at him.

"So you don't have to worry about knocking the poor thing down, I know you would never forgive yourself if you killed a poor innocent tree."

"Well, assuming that the tree doesn't just knock me down first, I don't believe it would really appreciate being pummeled either, just so I could relieve some frustration," I said with half a grin.

"Point taken. Maybe you could just give the tree a big hug instead."

I actually laughed at that, "You know, now that you mention it, that might actually help." Somehow, talking to Varric I just couldn't stay in a bad mood, he just had that affect.

"You see! All it took was a short chat and we've already got a solution to your problem."

"Ok, I get your point," I was still smiling, and some of the weight seemed lifted from my mind, "I'll try to open up a bit more. It's just not something I'm used to. I've always pretty much had to deal with stuff on my own, I don't really know how to talk about these things."

"No problem, when you've got a problem just come up to me and sigh, and I'll have it out of you in no time."

I had to laugh again at that, "The sad fact is that that might actually work too. I'm not sure I like being this predictable. Maybe I should rethink letting you teach me Wicked Grace, at this rate it will be impossible for me to ever win."

He grinned back, "Oh no, you're not getting out of it that easily. Don't worry, when I'm done teaching you it'll be more than possible for you to win."

"I guess we'll find out won't we?" I took a deep breath, feeling the stress I'd been under so far that day was now greatly reduced. "Thanks Varric. Somehow you always manage to cheer me up."

"My pleasure."

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon when I felt yet another rift. As we got closer I could tell there was something different from the previous ones. Though we'd encountered quite a few rifts they were generally pretty small and the demons weren't all that strong so it wasn't usually too challenging to get them closed. This one was significantly bigger and we could even see a pride demon already stalking about. We spent a few minutes planning our approach and strategy. I was paired with Bryn this time so we decided that Solas and Cassandra would work together and focus on trying to wear down the Pride demon while the rest of us would work on clearing out the smaller demons so that I could disrupt the rift.

Things started out smoothly enough, and Solas got us all started with solid barriers. There were more demons than we were used to though and more started to appear before I'd gotten enough of an opening to disrupt the rift the first time. I could usually disrupt a rift for up to fifteen seconds but I only managed five on the first try. This fight quickly became the most difficult we'd been through. Being so preoccupied dealing primarily with the pride demon and our group being pretty spread out meant Solas was only able to keep each of us covered with barriers only about a third of the time, if that. The battlefield rang with the sounds of our efforts as the battle progressed, shouted instructions, ringing metal of blades and armor, the roars of attacking demons, and the constant crackle of the ever-present rift.

I was simultaneously trying to dodge and attack two demons, which were bearing down on me when I heard a shout across the field. "Solas!" came Cassandra's voice. As I instinctively turned to face the direction where I heard the call originate I felt a barrier go up around me. Half a second later I saw Solas with the pride demon moving to strike just behind him. Without a thought I immediately reached for the Fade with my magic and cast my spell straight at him. I had no time to see if I had been successful though, as the two demons I'd been fighting were on me again, the barrier absorbing a couple blows before I was able to strike.

A few seconds later I'd killed the two demons and as I was disrupting the rift I saw that Solas still stood and wave of relief washed over me. The rift wavered, preventing any more demons entering and we were finally able to finish off the last of the demons which allowed me to seal the rift completely.

In the following silence we all just stood there for a moment collectively catching our breaths. I looked around at my companions, seeing everyone was ok. When I got to Solas our eyes met and I found my feet moving me in his direction. "Are you okay?" I asked, "I saw that demon almost hit you."

"In fact it did hit me," he said seriously, "Fortunately, your barrier went up just in time so that I suffered no injury. It seems you have finally succeeded in overcoming your difficulties casting barriers, and without a staff."

I blinked once taking in what he'd said, "I didn't even realize what I was doing, I just did it when I saw the danger, I'm glad it worked though."

"As am I," He responded with a slight smile.

I could feel the others joining us now so I turned around to face them, they seemed a bit battered but there were no serious injuries. "Is everyone ok?" I asked to double check.

"It looks like we're all in one piece, despite those demons best efforts," Varric answered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the strenuous battle it was decided to forego my usual post battle training in favor of seeking out a camping place a little early. Cassandra said there should be a river nearby so that we could actually bathe that evening. After four days of travel in the same clothes nobody objected to the prospect. I knew the water was likely to be frigid at best but I would relish the chance to get the worst of the grime off.

It took about another half an hour to locate the river and an appropriate camping spot a little ways off. We set about preparing the camp with efficiency and took turns heading to the river to bathe before dinner.

After five days of travel we'd made it to a lower elevation so the air was somewhat warmer but that didn't stop the water from being absolutely freezing. Even so I was determined to immerse myself and get as clean as I could, who knew when the next chance would be, maybe tomorrow, maybe in another week. I did my best to wash out the clothes I'd been wearing too. I could wear my spare shirt to bed and then put the other back on once it was dry in the morning. I washed thoroughly but as quickly as possible so as not to stay in the water any longer than I had to. I had to say it was rather invigorating though.

I usually wore my armor all evening until bed but I'd taken it off before I went to bathe so I redressed in just a fresh shirt and my coat, so I felt wonderfully light and refreshed heading back to the fire. I draped the wet clothes on some branches to dry out and returned to the fire.

By the time everyone had had a bath, dinner was ready and we all dug in to our modest meal gratefully.

"Tomorrow we should enter the outskirts of the Hinterlands," Cassandra began, now that we were all together and settled, "We will likely soon encounter more than just rifts. The fighting between mages and Templars is intense in this area. Leliana said that both sides are attacking anyone they see as a threat. Our base camps in the area are secured but we are likely to meet resistance on the way. So far we have only met demons, we will need to adjust our tactics accordingly. We are also likely not to have as much warning of an attack as we have when we find the rifts. Herald, you and Solas are able to sense other mages, are you not?"

I was a bit surprised to be singled out so suddenly but I did my best to respond, "I believe so. I haven't had a chance to get a sense of many other mages besides Solas and I have no idea of the range but I think we can give some warning." I looked over at Solas to confirm my statement.

He gave a small nod before speaking himself, "The range will depend on the power of the mage and whether or not they are currently casting but we will likely be aware of them before they are of us."

Cassandra nodded, "Good, that will be a valuable advantage."

The discussion continued for some time as we slowly ate. We planned out basic tactics how we might approach a number of likely scenarios. Both Solas and Bryn gave me pointers how to deal with fighting and defending against people in general and mages and Templars specifically. We would have to be more careful not to rely on barriers if Templars were around as they were likely to dispel them as soon as possible, they would also have armor, which demons lacked so that would alter how I could strike with my daggers. I would no longer just alternate between Bryn and Solas either, it would now be a decision based on what would give us the best tactical advantage in any given situation.

I also wasn't looking forward to the likelihood of being hit with magic from other mages. I'd done some practice with Solas in avoiding and defending against magical attacks but I was still pretty shaky on the execution of such techniques. Even so, I was feeling more confident than I had been that morning. After I'd managed to cast that barrier over Solas without the help of a staff I felt like I'd made a kind of breakthrough, that I suddenly understood magic in general a little better, that I was more connected to it.

Once all the planning was over I asked Solas if we could practice the barriers a little just to be sure that I really did have it now. Within ten minutes we confirmed that I indeed could create effective barriers both with and without a staff, definitely an advantage since it meant I could still protect the others even when I was fighting with daggers. We also reviewed useful points in defending against magical attacks, which, to my surprise, I was also able to do quite effectively now. I still felt a little nervous about repeating the performance in a real fight but I was also reassured that I did in fact have the ability.

It was generally best to avoid getting hit with magic at all if possible. If you could see, or in our case also feel, the attack coming you could often get out of the way. There were also ways to kind of bend the Veil around you so that it missed. This was a little tricky and previously I'd only managed to do it successfully about 30% of the time. If circumstances were just right you could even redirect it to another nearby enemy.

"Good," Solas said once we'd run through the various techniques, "it seems your breakthrough today has opened up your abilities in more ways than just barriers, I believe many of your spells will be stronger now. If you are satisfied perhaps it is best to rest for the remainder of the evening. I'm sure the next few days will be eventful."

"I'd actually like to practice that staff sequence a little more first, if it would be ok."

"If you'd like," he inclined his head in an acquiescent nod.

"Could you demonstrate it for me again first? I want to get a feel for how the magic is supposed to move. Now that I have the movements, I want to see if I can add in a little of the magic as well."

Without a word he took up the starting position. I could feel him calming and centering his magic within him as he prepared. This time I barely acknowledged his physical movements, focusing almost entirely on the way the magic was moving. It was just as beautiful, maybe more so now that I felt like I had a better understanding of what he was doing and how it all worked.

Once he was done I picked up my own staff and took up a position beside him without a word. I settled myself and reached for the magic, pooling it in my center. I looked at him and nodded once when I was ready.

I watched him from the corner of my eye and moved when he did, letting the magic go at the same time allowing it to follow the rhythm and movements of my body and staff. It was weak, hesitant, at first, as I tried to remember each physical motion while combining it with the now flowing magic. But with each consecutive try it became stronger and more confident, I could feel it all becoming one movement. Eventually I closed my eyes. My body, my staff, and the magic became one thing, connected, that flowed as one entity. It felt amazing.

I'm not sure how many times I completed the sequence before I finally stopped. As energizing as it had been for my spirit, my body was starting to feel differently. The motions may not have been fast but that meant they required quite a bit of control, which could fatigue the muscles faster than you'd think.

Once I finally did come to a stop, settling the end of my staff on the ground and leaning on it slightly, I looked around and saw Solas was no longer beside me but standing in the same place I had observed him from. My ears warmed at the idea that I was the one being observed this time, but did my best to remain nonchalant as I walked up to him, "So, what's your assessment?"

"It was beautiful," he said simply. His expression remained calm but in his eyes, as they met mine, I felt something more shining beneath the surface.

I looked down then, as my ears heated further, but forced my eyes back up a moment later, smiling. "Thank you, but I was actually wondering what I still needed to work on. I'm sure it isn't as perfect as you." Then, as my own ears heard my words, "Or...I mean... my technique isn't as perfect as yours," I covered quickly, hoping I didn't sound as flustered as I felt.

The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, "It can still be refined yes, there are a few eddies within your magic that have yet to be smoothed out. However, you move with a grace I doubt I can match. I have even begun to see it in your fighting style, now that you are becoming more comfortable in battle."

"Well, I guess dancing really does pay off then," I said averting my eyes again and shrugging casually, growing nervous under his attention.

"You dance?" he said, raising an eyebrow.

"I did, a long time ago. It was always one of my favorite things to be honest, but you know, life just gets in the way sometimes. It isn't exactly a practical pastime."

"If it is something you enjoy, you shouldn't give up on it so easily."

I sighed a little, "I never gave it up exactly, I just haven't been able to focus on it the way I once did. I still do try to dance when I get the chance though, it doesn't happen often but I take what opportunities happen to present themselves."

"I believe it may be time to devote a little more focus to the practice again, as clearly it does have practical applications."

"Oh really," I said, raising my eyebrows, "Somehow I don't think my enemies will care if I'm graceful or not when I'm killing them."

"That is not what I mean. You have trained your body to move with coordination and control. You possess flexibility few fighters can claim. These qualities give you distinct advantages on the battlefield. The grace with which you move is simply a pleasing side benefit."

I smiled at these words but was determined not to fall into this trap again, "You know, you're quite graceful with that staff yourself. I'd bet you'd make an excellent dance partner." I met his eyes with a kind of challenge.

"Perhaps we will have to test that theory one day," he spoke seriously, holding my gaze with his own.

"Perhaps we will," I smiled calmly, despite the reddening of my ears, but not feeling sure I could keep the facade up long I only held his gaze a moment before turning and heading straight back to camp.

What am I doing? I asked myself as I walked away, heart pounding in my chest. Was I just flirting with him? Wasn't that exactly what I'd promised myself not to do?  It had just been so easy; it almost felt natural. Maybe I could blame part of my boldness on the confidence gained from today's successes. But it wasn't just me, he was the one who started it and even kept it going, almost daring me to respond. And I had responded.

Though I didn't want to admit it, I knew in the back of my mind that I had wanted to respond ... very much.

I wasn't ready to think about it right then though, after the last couple days it was just too confusing, and thinking would just make it more confusing, so upon returning to the fire I sat next to Varric. "So are you going to teach me Wicked Grace or what?" I asked, placing my staff on the ground behind me.

"I thought you'd never ask," he smiled, pulling a pack of cards from his pocket.

Solas entered the small circle around the fire then, having followed not long after me. To my discomfort he sat across the fire from me at an angle where I could hardly look up without looking right at him. Was he doing it on purpose? I tried to stay focused on the cards as Varric explained the rules.

It did in fact turn out to basically be poker but since I'd never played poker before, it was still good to get all the rules anyway. I had little confidence that I would be able to do well at all, but went along with Varric's suggestion that we try a practice game. Cassandra and Solas both declined to join us, but, to my surprise, Bryn seemed happy to join.

We spent almost an hour playing as Varric and Bryn told stories. She had a lot of stories it turned out but I had to remind myself she was basically a spy. In the course of her work she had probably seen, heard, and done more than her fair share of strange and story-worthy things.

As expected I was terrible at the game and couldn't win once. I understood the cards but I just didn't understand the tactics of the game. I realized that it was in part a game of mental manipulation, making the other players think your cards were either better or worse than they were, or just make them doubt enough to give up. I could be secretive or misleading when I needed to be but I had yet to figure out how to do so to my advantage in this game. As for outright lying, that was never one of my strengths.

"I think we need to work on your bluffing skills," Varric pointed out as he put the cards away. It was getting late now and everyone started preparing to retire.

I sighed heavily, "Yeah, probably. It just really doesn't come naturally to me, I'm a terrible liar."

"You will need to become better then," Bryn added, "Lies and deception are tactics you cannot afford to neglect. You must learn to use proper feints in a fight, which can potentially save your life. As the Herald you may be called to visit Orlais and The Game is a great tapestry of lies, which you must at least learn to navigate, if not master because that too may be a matter of life or death. This game may serve as a training ground for such skills as may serve you throughout the coming ordeals."

I sighed and rubbed my eyes with my palms, "I know, you're right, but it's one of those things I really wish I didn't have to learn. I really wish we lived in a world where it was at least safe to be more honest. It seems the world runs on lies and the only way to survive is to fall in step." I looked up then and saw Solas, just outside his tent, giving me a penetrating stare.

When our eyes met, he nodded my way, "Good night, sleep well."

"You too, goodnight." I said as he quickly slipped inside his tent.

"Well, that is not the world we live in," Bryn said, bringing my attention back, "Best to just accept that and do what you must." She picked up her things and headed for her tent.

"I know, I will," I answered, resigned, "Good night." She gave a curt nod and entered her tent as well. I turned back to the fire and simply stared at it as I was wont to do every time I became thoughtful.

"So," Varric spoke softly, reminding me he was still there, "What's the deal between you and Chuckles?"

"What?" I turned to look at him, I could feel my brow furrowing.

"I just thought I caught some vibes between the two of you, and you do spend a lot of time together."

I looked back at the fire, considering my answer a bit, "I guess we do spend a lot of time together but it's mostly because I need him to teach me so many things, I am still a beginner at magic after all. Naturally we've gotten to know each other pretty well as a result and we also happen to get along really well, but other than that there's no deal."

It wasn't exactly a lie, there wasn't anything really between us. Sure there was that occasional flirting and that moment the night before, and the fact that I felt like he'd been watching me all evening even when he wasn't looking at me. Of course I'd been more than aware of him myself, I could feel his magic even now. But even with all that, which probably constituted the 'vibes' Varric was referring to, there wasn't anything, not really, and whatever happened it really couldn't go beyond that, especially not right now.

He looked at me carefully and I could feel his skepticism, "You sure? You wouldn't try lying to me would you? I mean, you don't spend that kind of time with Bryn, she's your teacher too, right?"

I looked over at him again with a frown, "Well, for one thing magic is a little different from weapons. Anyway, I thought we already established that I'm a terrible liar." I was starting to feel defensive, which was ridiculous because I didn't think there was anything I needed to defend.

"Ok, ok, I don't think you're lying, but I'm not really sure you're telling the truth either."

I took a breath to try to let go of the growing tension at Varric's questions, I knew he was just trying to be a friend, "I guess it depends on what you consider to be the truth. The facts are that we get along well and have a lot to talk about. I admire his skill and I enjoy learning from him and want to learn more. More than that, I don't know what to tell you." And I really didn't, anything else there might be was still undefined, it wasn't worth making any kind of deal out of it, for all intents and purposes it didn't go beyond that.

"Ok, fair enough," He said standing up, looking at me kindly, "But if anything does come up that you'd like to talk about, just let me know. You've had a lot to deal with and I'd be surprised if it doesn't get a hell of a lot more complicated really soon, so if you ever just need a friendly ear, I'm here."

I was so touched by his repeated kindness, I could feel a couple tears welling up as I smiled up at him, "Thanks Varric, that means a lot, I'll remember it."

He gave my shoulder a gentle pat, "Hey, don't worry about it. We're all in this together, the way I see it we gotta do what we can for each other or we'll never get through it in one piece." I just smiled and nodded as he headed off toward his tent. "Don't let Cassandra sleep in like you let me the other night, I have a feeling we have another tough day ahead of us and you need your rest too."

"Don't worry, I won't. Good night Varric." I gave a wave as he echoed my 'good night' and I turned back to the fire.

I had first watch again, the others knew I preferred it and were generally happy to let me take it. As I sat before the fire I played with the flames, watching them rise and fall at my command, taking some small comfort in this evidence that I did have some control over magic. It was also a distraction. So much had changed in just the course of a day and when I thought back to when I'd arrived here it felt as if a couple months had passed rather than only a couple of weeks. Closing the rift, joining the Inquisition, learning to fight, learning magic, getting to know these people who had so recently been nothing more than characters on a screen, leaving Haven, fighting demons, and countless other small things had happened; and each day seemed to bring whole new realms of experience with them. I couldn't imagine where I would be in a week or a month from now, that is, if I still didn't wake up back in my own world.

I still couldn't know that it wouldn't happen, that I wouldn't be suddenly dragged back to my world as fast as I'd been dragged out of it. There might be no warning, I might just wake up one day back in my old bed instead of my tent and it would all be over. There were no certainties either way.

I sighed and let my mind go blank, didn't do any good to worry about all that now. I played with the fire for a few more minutes, moving it in spirals and zigzags, funnels and cubes, as I continued to meditate on all that had happened.

I woke Cassandra and retired to my tent only a little late this time.

Chapter Text

It had been a few days since I had been in the Fade consciously, since I had visited the little wooded sanctuary I'd created for myself. Clearly I had trouble coming here if my mind wasn't calm enough. I guess the success of the day and the meditations of the evening had calmed my mind sufficiently to allow me to have control in sleep again.

This was something I was going to have to work on. I wanted to be able to come here on any night. It hadn't been a problem while we'd been in Haven because I knew I was safe and I was at ease with the routine I'd built. Now, out here in the world, anything could happen, and a lot already had, the kind of peace and stability I had in Haven would be a lot harder to come by out here but I didn't want that to become a great obstacle to my being able to spend time in the Fade.

But I was in the Fade now and I wanted to take advantage of it. My little forest was quiet and peaceful tonight. There didn't seem to be any spirits around so I guess trying to introduce myself, as Solas had suggested, would have to wait. Instead I started to sing. I didn't sing anything particular, just a wordless melody that moved and changed in whatever way my whims moved me, absolute improvisation. I'd liked doing this in the shower back home occasionally; it felt like I was letting the music create itself most of the time. As I walked along I started to dance along to my own tune.

I never had shoes in the Fade, they always seemed unnecessary as the ground could be as soft and obstacle free as I needed it. I continued dancing around the trees, singing, content to just wander in this way, not really having any specific idea what I wanted to do with my night. I was pretending to actually dance with a tree at one point when I noticed a light out of the corner of one eye. I had a good guess what it might be, but I pretended to ignore it as I kept up my song and dance. As I turned in a circle around the tree I saw the small light darting here and there through the trees and it seemed to slowly be approaching.

It wasn't long before the wisp came fully into view. I slowed my dance but kept singing and approached it slowly, still swaying with the music. When I was just a few feet from it I bowed deeply. Once I returned to a standing position I opened my arms wide and invited it to dance with me. As I began to move again the wisp followed, bobbing and swaying with me in time with the music.

I don't know how long I kept up the dance, I never got physically tired in the Fade, but finally the music found its conclusion and the dance finished with it. Once I'd stopped singing I couldn't help laughing for the joy of it, so happy to have shared it with this literal glowing presence.

I smiled at the small being, "Thank you for joining me, I enjoyed the dance. I'm Lyara by the way, I'm very happy to meet you and I hope we can be friends." I bowed again, it never hurt to be polite.

The wisp bobbed in air in what I took to be a pleased way and then started to pull slowly away. I raised a hand to wave goodbye but then it got closer again, bobbing excitedly before moving back a little. "Do you want me to follow you?" It bounced in the air again and then moved back slightly once more. I hesitated only half a second before I took a step towards it then another and soon we were moving quickly out past the borders of my little wood and out into the Fade.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I woke up feeling quite good, despite the soreness in my back from the uncomfortable sleeping accommodations. I did my best to stretch my stiff limbs in the small space before setting to the task of getting ready for the day. I put on my leggings and coat then headed outside. I wanted to wash my face at the river and I needed to get my other shirt that would hopefully be dry now. The others were similarly getting prepared. I nodded in greeting as I headed for the river. I may be up and awake but mornings were still not my favorite time of day and I had no desire to be conversational just yet.

When I got back to my tent, face red, recovering from the icy water, I finished getting dressed. The armor felt heavy and confining after the freedom of my dreams but I would adapt to its familiar weight soon enough. The boots too felt like lead as I laced them up.

I reemerged and joined the others in breaking my fast. I looked up at the sky, which had filled with grey clouds in the night. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later but I was not looking forward to the prospect of travelling in the rain.

While we were packing up, a raven arrived. "The Inquisition camp in the Hinterlands is expecting our arrival but they warn that the path there is likely to be very dangerous," Cassandra reported solemnly, rolling up the message and pulling out supplies to send a reply. "Apparently the fighting has heated up in the last couple days. We should be on our way as soon as possible. It would be best if we made it to the camp by nightfall, it would not be safe to make camp on the road once we've entered the Hinterlands."

My stomach tightened at the news. I'd been avoiding thinking too much about fighting other people. To say I was not a violent person would have been a significant understatement, I didn't even like pretending to hit people. I'd been doing okay against demons but that was probably because it was easier for me to see them as monsters and forget they could be more, but people were people and I couldn't forget that easily. I knew it was necessary, I wouldn't have a choice, if we didn't kill these people they would certainly kill us and perhaps many others. I knew all that, but I also knew that wouldn't make it easy, it would be hard and I would have to find some way to come to terms with it. All the training in the world couldn't help me if I couldn't deal with using those skills for their intended purpose.

I mounted Angel with trepidation thinking of what lay ahead. I think everyone was a little edgy that morning after hearing the news and as a result there was little in the way of conversation.

We found only one rift that morning which we were able to get closed quickly before moving on. The morning passed so peacefully overall that it did nothing but raise the tension.

It was just after noon when I thought I felt the slight 'tingling' of nearby magic but it wasn't a rift. Was it a mage? I looked towards Solas to see if he felt anything too but it became unnecessary as the sounds of fighting began to filter through the trees ahead. We dismounted without speaking and pulled the horses off the path to tie them up.

Cassandra looked over at Solas and I, "Can you tell how many there are?"

I shook my head but Solas answered, "I suspect there are no more than five mages, I cannot say regarding the Templars however."

Cassandra gave a nod and we moved on through the trees as quietly as we could towards the sounds ahead. There wasn't that much cover but we had the high ground and the fighters below were so absorbed in the battle they didn't look in our direction. There were four mages barely holding off three Templars. Another mage was already on the ground, likely already killed by the Templars.

 

After assessing the situation and setting a plan of action with a few quick whispers and gestures, Cassandra, Bryn, and I headed off down the hill. A few moments before we reached the Templars, Solas and Varric struck from the hill, taking down the mages. As the Templars turned in surprise in the direction of the new attack I sent up a wall of flames right in front of their faces, causing them to jump back in a panic as we reached them allowing us to take them by surprise. Fortunately these Templars did not have on the full heavy armor I knew some wore or the fight would have been a lot more difficult. The Templar I was headed for had raised an arm to shield their face from the flames. I saw the opening and struck fast under the arm as Bryn had taught me. My world shrank in that moment and my awareness focused almost completely on this confrontation.

As I removed my blade, the Templar stumbled in surprise and pain. I felt my barrier weaken as they now struggled to defend themselves by weakening the magic surrounding us but they were weakened now too and I was able to hold the barriers despite their efforts. As the Templar in front of me staggered from my attack my other arm swung forward as the first pulled the bloodied dagger back. I sank the second blade straight into their throat, though the space between helmet and armor. I pulled back the blade, blood spraying from the wound and coating my hand and part of my arm as the Templar fell, eyes wide behind the helmet.

In that moment it was like coming out of a trance realizing what I'd done, watching the body fall, the blood flow, the life of it taken at my hands.

The sounds of fighting were fading now. I looked around me and saw the bodies of both mages and Templars now on the ground. Varric and Solas had clearly made short work of the mages as we had done with the Templars. I could feel myself shaking as I looked down at the Templar I had just killed. The event replaying itself in my mind's eye, focusing on that moment of wide-eyed shock after I'd pulled the blade from the throat. I knew that moment would haunt me for a long time to come and that I would never truly forget it.

The helmet was still hiding the Templar's features and with blood covered hands I reached down to remove it.

"Perhaps it is better if you do not look, Herald," Cassandra said gently.

"Is it?" I said hotly. "I will be haunted by this moment no matter what, the least I can do is give them the honor of letting their ghost wear a face." And with that I reached down and pulled off the helmet revealing the blond woman beneath. I removed my bloodied gloves from my hands before reaching up to close her eyes. I looked a moment more upon the now peaceful face before standing up and walking off a ways, catching myself on a tree as I doubled over retching into the underbrush.

I stood up slowly, catching my breath. I could feel the others behind me watching but they remained silent.

Bryn came around, approaching me from the side so I could see her coming. She reached me and put a hand on my arm, "Come on, let me show you how to clean your weapons and armor from the blood." I followed her wordlessly as she led me away while the others took care of the aftermath.

As she helped me clean she said, "It is better to look. The first one always haunts you, but you will heal better if you have given them the respect of knowing their face." She looked at me with more sympathy on her face than I had ever seen from her. "You fought well, and you did what was necessary, nothing more, but I think you know that. You will have to find your own way to deal with it beyond that." She paused, "Would you like some time?" I looked at her a moment and nodded. "We can probably give you half an hour at best before we have to move on, alright?" she asked and I nodded again. "I will tell the others, but don't go too far, this area is not safe." I gave a final nod as I stood up and replaced my now clean daggers at my back. She gave me a pat on the arm before turning and heading back to the others while I headed further into the trees.

When I had gone just far enough that the others were beyond view I allowed my knees collapse under me as I was wracked with quiet but intense sobs. For several minutes I didn't think, I just let the emotions wash over and through me as tears ran down my face and I fought not to hyperventilate.

Finally, my breathing slowed and I was able to calm myself enough to start processing what I had done. Bryn was right, I knew it was necessary and I knew it would be again, this was far from being the last time I would have to take another's life with my own hands. The thought sent a new wave of sobs through me, despair at having to become a killer, no matter the reasons behind it, and for the first time I really did wish I could just go back to my own world. In that life I knew the chances of my ever needing to hurt anyone were extremely slim. The price of being here in this world might be higher than I truly wanted to pay.

As the sobs subsided again I looked down at my now clean hands but I felt like I could still feel the blood on them. I'd killed so many demons before now but it was so clean by comparison. Once the demon was dead it simply vaporized and its essence returned to the Fade. But people bled, and their bodies remained to decay and be consumed by scavengers and time.

I rubbed my fingers against my palms, my left hand tingling with the mark. I clenched them tightly into fists, feeling the tension all the way up my arms. I stood up and turned to face the nearest tree and hit it feeling a burning pain spread across my skin. I hit the tree again and again relishing and hating the deep reality of the pain from each strike. My knuckles burned and my own blood was now staining them, dripping towards my wrists and onto the leaves below. I raised my palms to my eyes as I allowed myself to fall back to the ground again. I reached out to grasp at the tree again and leaned my forehead against the rough bark. I forced myself to breathe slowly and evenly, fighting off yet another urge to start sobbing.

I didn't have time to indulge in any more mourning. This place wasn't safe and we would have to move on, I would have to face more enemies before the day was out, I was certain of it, and I needed to find a way to do that. The pain in my hands reinforced the sense that this was not just some dream anymore, if nothing else, the experience was real, what I felt was real, and so for all intents and purposes this world was real. I couldn't just go back to my world and my safe little apartment to escape this. I was here, it was real, and I had to face it.

I took a deep breath and forced myself to remember every moment of my fight with the Templar. I remembered the look in her eyes as she fell, the shocked look still on her face when I'd removed the helmet, and finally the look of peace after I'd closed her eyes. I saw that face in my minds eye and I honored her existence and expressed my sorrow for the circumstances that had forced us into such a confrontation that only one of us would be allowed to walk away from.

Then I replaced her face with those of my new friends. I imagined Bryn, Cassandra, Varric, even Solas, lying there, struck down by an enemy and gone from this world. Another uncontrollable sob forced its way out then and I realized new tears were streaming down my face at the prospect of losing those who had helped and supported me these last few weeks. They had fought for me, to protect me from the first, and I knew that I needed to do the same for them. I didn't even know if Solas could be killed, but I also didn't know that he couldn't, isn't that why I'd been able to cast that first real barrier the day before?

We were all in this together now, we had to protect each other. I trusted each of them to have my back and I wanted them to be able to trust me in the same way. I couldn't let despair take me, I had to be ready to face the next enemy in the same way I had this one. I had to be ready to take on every one of them that came after as well, or it may very well be one of my friends' faces I had to look down on next, and I couldn't bear that.

I breathed heavily holding onto this new resolve, rolling it around in my mind, testing it. Finally, I stood up again, holding onto the tree for support. I couldn't stop a few more small hiccuppy sobs as I pushed my palms across my face to wipe away the remaining tears. I took a few more slow deep breaths in an attempt to regain my composure. I probably looked a complete mess but there was no time to wait for the redness undoubtedly around my eyes and nose to fade. Any more time here and I'd likely just start crying again anyway. Best to start moving, it was time to go back.

 

It wasn't long before they came into view again, they'd retrieved the horses and were waiting a ways off from the bodies which I avoided looking at as I approached them. I wanted to smile, to reassure them that I was going to be okay but my heart was still too heavy to manage more than a simple nod before taking Angel's reigns and mounting. The others followed suit soon after and we started moving forward again.

After a few minutes back on the road Varric had ridden up beside me. He remained quiet for a time but I heard him take a breath as if to speak, but I stopped him before he could get a word out, "I don't want to talk about it Varric." I sighed a little before going on, "I'll be ok, I just... need some time. I need to process things on my own right now, ok?" I looked at him pleadingly. I really just wanted to let it be for now, I didn't want to start crying again, not with all of them there and not when more enemies might appear at any time.

He looked over at me worried but resigned, "Ok." He gave a small smile and allowed his horse to fall back again.

It wasn't long after that that I felt Solas approaching from the other side. As soon as he drew even with me I spoke without looking at him, "Like I told Varric, I really don't want to talk about it, ok?" It came out harsher than I'd intended but I didn't try to apologize.

There was a moment of silence and I expected him to leave but he didn't. "I thought I might offer my help regarding your hands," he said calmly.

I looked down at my hands to see the blood still oozing from the knuckles, the results of my emotional beating of a helpless tree. I'd forgotten about that. I hadn't even noticed the pain or the blood as it had dripped down my fingers, my hands were a mess again. I didn't really care though, what was a little blood and pain, it didn't matter.

"I'll be fine," I said, still not looking at him.

"If they remain in this condition it may inhibit your ability to fight and hold your weapons properly and if they become infected it will be much harder to heal. I suggest you let me tend to them." His words remained soft but there was a finality to his tone that brooked no argument.

I didn't want to be healed, I felt like I deserved this pain, this damage, and that having it would somehow lessen or at least cover up the pain I was feeling inside. But I couldn't argue his logic without simply sounding stubborn and petulant, and I knew he was right anyway. "Fine," I gave an aggravated sigh and guided Angel closer to his horse before reaching my right hand, the nearer hand, out towards him, still keeping my eyes ahead.

He took the hand gently in his. His hand was so warm, I became aware of how cold mine must be. He hovered his other hand over the damaged knuckles and fingers and I felt the healing magic flowing over and through, both cool and warm at the same time. It took only a few seconds and he released my hand when he was finished. I pulled it back, flexing the fingers to test them. The skin was still caked in blood but I could feel that the damage was healed and the skin was likely smooth and perfect beneath the mess.

"May I have your other hand now?"

I had to turn my whole torso towards him in order to get my left hand to reach but instead of looking at him I kept my eyes on my hand as he reached out to take it again in his, to repeat the process. I saw a kind of golden light as the healing magic did its work, easing the pain and stiffness, closing the broken skin. But this time he did not immediately let go of my hand, instead I felt him move his index finger to caress along my palm, sending a shiver up my arm. Finally I looked up and met his eyes, which fixed upon mine immediately. I blinked and the image I'd conjured earlier of him lying dead on the ground flashed before my eyes followed immediately by the yet unfulfilled memory of him walking away.

I immediately pulled back my hand and turned my gaze ahead again. "Thank you," I managed to say as my throat threatened to close up on me.

I urged Angel forward, to move closer to the front.

The rain started then, heavy droplets washing away the dried blood and hiding the tears.

Chapter Text

 

As expected it wasn't long before we ran into more trouble. It was only a rift this time but Cassandra and Varric still suggested that I keep to the background in the next fights, take it easy for a while, to which I protested vehemently. "No. If I start hanging back now it will just be even harder for me to get back out there later. It's just delaying the inevitable, I might as well face it and deal with it right away."

Bryn was on my side and backed me up. Solas had thus far remained silent but we were at a stalemate. I didn't feel it was a group decision, it should be my decision but the others turned to him to get his vote. I was still afraid to look at him but I needed his support in this. I was sure that if I backed off at all it would be that much harder to try again, it would give a space for the fear and despair to creep in. If I could push forward, perhaps I could overcome it quickly.

I looked up at him finally and he met my eyes and held them for several moments as I hoped I was conveying what I needed from him.

He finally broke the gaze and looked to Varric and Cassandra, "I believe the Herald is the only one who can make this decision," He pointedly used my title. "If she feels it is best for her to proceed as usual, perhaps it is best to let her do so." He then turned back towards me, catching my eyes again, "However, if any problems arise we may reassess the situation."

I tried to communicate my gratitude to him through my eyes and he gave a small nod before looking away. It was a reasonable decision but it gave me my chance and I couldn't screw it up. I couldn't let myself be held back. There would be time to deal with the emotional aftermath another time, for now I had to protect my friends and continue to prove to them, and myself, that I could be of some help.

The rift was closed efficiently. I hadn't truly been worried in this case, rifts had become routine at this point and it had been another small one anyway. The real test would be the next time we came up against more mages or Templars.

It wasn't long before that happened either. We came upon a small band of rogue Templars, and Cassandra decided the attempt should be made to reason with them, perhaps gain their trust, so she and Bryn approached them while the rest of us remained hidden and ready to attack should things go south, which they promptly did. It turned out the Templars had no interest in listening to anyone and simply attacked almost immediately. We hit them fast from our hiding place. I threw up another of my fire walls to stop their advance so we could hit them with magic and arrows. I put out the fire just before the others joined the fray and Solas placed a barrier around them. It was all over in maybe a minute.

We tried something similar with a group of rebel mages a short time after, with Solas and I trying to approach them, to much the same result. It seemed that neither group was interested in peaceful settlement, they'd been consumed by their conflict and we would have little choice but to kill any we found in order to restore some stability to the area.

We came across several such groups throughout the day as well as another skirmish and two more rifts. I'd hesitated just a bit the first time I was forced to kill with my blades again, it was by far the more intimate and messy way to kill compared to using magic, it was almost impossible to do without getting your hands dirty, quite literally. Even so, I managed to compartmentalize the experience. I was able to not think of them as people as I fought, in those moments they had to be just 'the enemy' and nothing more. It worked though, I was able to keep fighting, I was able to help my friends and at the end of the day we finally made it to the main Inquisition camp, well after sundown, exhausted, wet, muddy, and blood-streaked, but in one piece.

Scout Harding was there to greet us as expected: "The Herald of Andraste, I've heard the stories, everyone has. We know what you did at the Breach. It seems an odd position to find a Dalish elf in, but you'll get no backtalk here, that's a promise. Inquisition Scout Harding, at your service. I ... all of us here, will do whatever we can to help."

I smiled at the dwarf scout, I'd always liked her, "I'm pleased to meet you but I'm starting to wonder about what's being said in these stories everyone's heard."

She smiled back, "Oh, it's nothing to worry about. They only say you're the last great hope for Thedas."

"Oh, that's just wonderful." I said with sarcasm. I should have known better than to say anything. It wasn't a surprise but I still didn't have to like it.

The others offered quick introductions and Varric attempted to make his "Harding in Hightown" joke much to Cassandra's chagrin.

Once the niceties were completed I spoke up again, "What's the current situation here?"

Harding frowned, all business now, "It's pretty dire. We came to secure horses from Redcliffe's old horsemaster. I grew up here, and people always said that Dennet's herds were the strongest and fastest this side of the Frostbacks. But with the mage-Templar fighting getting worse, we couldn't get to Dennet. Maker only knows if he's even still alive. Mother Giselle's at the Crossroads helping refugees and the wounded but the latest reports say that the war's spread there too and a lot of people are getting caught in the crossfire. Corporal Vale and our men are doing what they can to protect the people but they may not be able to hold out much longer. It's late though so things should be calm enough for now, but it would be best to get an early start tomorrow. Right now we can offer food, fresh supplies and a chance to rest. It looks like you've already been through a lot just getting here."

We thanked her and moved off to find an area to set up our tents. The camp was actually quite large, a couple dozen large tents at least, set around a few fires scattered throughout the area. It wasn't a large force but it was a significant group and reassured me that we wouldn't be completely on our own to help the people in this area. While we were setting up our camp area, food was brought and we sat down gratefully to eat as soon as we were settled.

Everyone was exhausted and conversation was limited but Varric managed to lighten our spirits with another of his stories. It was decided that we would try to sleep early and head for the Crossroads first thing in the morning. We knew the next day would likely be as long as this one was, so we should get as much rest as possible.

Once our stomachs were full and the next day's course was set, we retired to our respective tents.

It had been a long hard day and I still felt emotionally raw on the inside, though I kept that part at a distance still. There wasn't much else I could do about it anyway; more crying wasn't going to make anything better. Killing people was always going to bother me on some level, but I was going to have to do it anyway and I just needed to get used to it. I just needed time, my mind would find a way to defend itself from the internal conflict. I was just worried about whether I'd be able to sleep.

I wished I could bathe, I felt disgusting. I removed my armor and stretched my still sore, but now unhindered limbs. I poured a little water onto a cloth to wipe away a little of the grime from my face, neck and arms before settling down on my bedroll. I hated sleeping on the ground, I wondered if I would ever get used to it.

As expected visions of the dead filled my mind the moment my eyes were closed, the faces of both those I'd killed and the frightful images of my friends my mind had conjured if I should fail. I tried to focus on the soft sounds outside instead, the footsteps and voices of guarding soldiers a short ways off. I felt the nearby presence of Solas' magic. It had long since become a reassuring comfort to me, just knowing he was near. These distractions didn't eliminate the frightful visions, but dulled them enough that, combined with my exhaustion, I soon fell asleep.

  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I found myself walking though a forest. It wasn't my peaceful little wood, this one was darker, heavier. I felt the tension inside me rising as I continued to walk. Soon I heard the sounds of fighting ahead. The sounds seemed to come from all around me and yet I knew I need only walk ahead to find them. I also knew there was no escaping them no matter what direction I turned, so I continued walking at a steady pace.

I stepped out of the trees onto a wide, open area. The fighting was fierce and ranged throughout the area. There were mages and Templars fighting against Inquisition soldiers and my friends. I saw fighters on both sides begin falling. My friends were surrounded and seemed to be fighting a losing battle; I had to do something. I struck with a chain of lightning hitting all the enemies within the vicinity of my friends. I'd never done a chain before, I was still only confident hitting one target at a time but this was the Fade and I felt fewer barriers here to doing what I wanted. The enemies I'd struck fell and others, now noticing my presence turned their attention to me and ran to attack.

Blades materialized in my hands the moment I willed them there and I braced for the oncoming attack. I struck fast and fluidly, killing with frightening efficiency as each enemy reached me. In what felt like only a few seconds it seemed I'd taken down the final opponents and all was quiet around me. Everyone should be safe now, I thought, satisfied.

I looked up taking in the scene around me but the Inquisition soldiers and my friends were no longer there. The field was now just filled with the bodies of the enemy. Had they left to fight elsewhere? Where did they go?

I looked down at one of the now still bodies on the ground. I could see eyes through the slit in the helmet, staring out in shock and death. With some trepidation I reached down to remove the helmet and look upon the face of my victim. The helmet was stuck firmly so I reached down with my other hand to get a firmer grip and pulled the helmet off. Seeing the face, I stumbled back, dropping the helmet, a scream of shock caught in my throat.

It was Cassandra.

I moved to the next body and removed the helmet to find Bryn, then Varric, and finally Solas. The blood was still flowing from the wounds my blades had left in their bodies. I could only stand there in horrified shock. How had this happened?

"What have you done, lethallan?" came a familiar voice from behind me.

I spun around to be faced with a spectral figure of Solas. His face looked sorrowful as he looked at me, and then the bodies still on the ground.

"You were supposed to protect us, we trusted you." Another voice.

I turned again to see the apparition of Bryn standing over her own corpse.

I stepped back so that both were within my wide-eyed and disbelieving view. "I... I thought I was protecting you. I don't know what happened," I looked at them, pleading for them to believe me. My eyes burned as I struggled to hold back threatening tears.

Bryn stepped forward, face hard, "I suppose we should have known better, your incompetence was clear. I'd hoped you would prove a better student but you were too inexperienced and too slow to learn."

Her words were as knives as she spoke my fears aloud. I'd tried so hard to improve, but perhaps there was no way I could be good enough, I simply didn't have the capability to protect anyone. I looked back to Solas, hoping he had words of solace, that he at least understood I had tried.

He met my eyes before shaking his head and looking back at the corpses at our feet, "I suppose we were doomed the moment it was you who gained the mark. Almost anyone else would have been better, but fate has seen fit to ensure our downfall." His voice sounded full of a heartbreaking resigned sadness and I could not hold back the tears any longer, they spilled silently down my cheeks.

But, there was something else, something didn't feel right. I looked back up at Solas then, studying him. Something felt off about him, about his words, but I felt like there was some kind of fog in my mind keeping me from seeing something. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate, trying to remember clearly the man I knew. At first it was like walking knee-deep in mud, I couldn't remember anything more than shadows. Then I caught the memory of his hands holding mine, first by the fire, then to heal my injuries, and then the rest came flooding back as well.

I looked back up at the figure before me and saw only a stranger, one wearing Solas' face as a mask. "You're not Solas." My voice was weak but my words held no question. I looked over to the Bryn shaped presence now, "and that probably means you aren't Bryn either."

Not-Bryn smiled, "We may not be the friends you know, but you still fear that we speak the truth, that your lack of ability may still lead to their end."

Not-Solas had moved and now stepped up to stand beside Not-Bryn, "And if you fail, all of your effort and all of the death you have already wrought will have been for nothing, a wasted effort."

All of a sudden it came to me, the last of the fog cleared and I realized exactly what was going on, "Wait, you're demons aren't you?" After a moment, and no response, I continued, looking at Not-Solas first, "If I had to guess, I'd say you are Despair. And you... are probably Fear," I said, shifting my gaze to Not-Bryn.

They didn't drop their disguises but their faces took on a more grotesque expression and the eyes seemed to glow eerily. "Very clever," Fear smiled, "but if you can recognize us then you can recognize the truth of our words. Can you say you do not fear failure due to your own weakness?"

"Of course I fear that, but..."

Before I could finish Despair interrupted, "Then let us help you, we can offer you the strength to prevent such tragedy." The demon with Solas' face reached out a hand, a sorrowful expression still on its face, "Let us give you the power you need to protect the ones you care about."

I looked down at the hand in disgust and fought the urge to take a step back, how dare it use his visage to try to manipulate me. I squared my shoulders and looked at them squarely, "I do not need your help. I am very familiar with both of you and I know that if I let you have reign, my failure is all but guaranteed."

Fear snarled, "and how do you plan to overcome us? We are not so weak as to be simply brushed aside. I can taste the fear in you, how will you stop it?"

I felt myself shudder on the inside but held onto my composure with all the will I could muster, though my mouth had become bone dry from my fear of them. I swallowed fighting to regain enough moisture to get out my next words, "I don't need to overcome you," I looked Fear in the eyes, "I have great respect for fear. You can be a great teacher and acknowledging your presence allows one to learn caution, to think before acting. Fear can also heighten the senses and improve performance." I took a step toward the demon, who nearly took a step back in response, good. "No, I have no wish to eliminate fear, it can be an important asset, but it cannot be the only thing. If I allow fear to overcome me it can only lead to you," I turned my focus now to Despair. "But if I can manage my fear I can turn despair into something else."

I took a step closer to the thing with Solas' face, the memory of its real world counterpart firmly in my mind. "I can turn it to something I would embrace wholeheartedly and hold onto till the end." I took a few more steps until I was right in front of the demon. I knew this was a dream, the Fade, but I could still feel my heart pounding in my chest in apprehension.

The spirit looked down on me from its greater height but now it seemed to be afraid of me. "And what would that be?" It's voice held bravado but the eyes seemed confused.

I reached up a hand and held it a breath away from the surface of the mask Despair still wore. "Hope." I spoke softly and I laid my fingers gently upon that face and caressed them softly downward, from temple to jaw.

There was a moment of stillness, as if everything had been suspended in time, then the demon gave a shudder before simply disappearing beneath my touch, leaving my hand hanging in empty air.

I took a breath and turned back to Fear, dropping my hand, and taking a step towards the remaining demon. It did take a step back this time, "Stay back," it said, nearly shouting. I took another step, "No." And another. And it was gone too.

I stood there in the now empty field, waiting, wary, not sure if they were truly gone, but moments continued passing and all remained quiet and empty. Finally I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding and allowed myself to fall to my knees, relief washing over me. I held my head in my hands and breathed deeply, slowly letting go of the tension that had gripped me throughout the encounter.

Once I'd collected myself I stood again taking in the space around me. The bodies were gone now, they'd disappeared in the wake of the demons departure. For a moment I thought I felt a presence behind me but when I turned to face it, apprehension returning, there was nothing. Still just jittery, I guessed. Even so, I didn't want to stay here. This was a nightmare, it was not something I wanted to dwell on. I set the empty battlefield behind me and started walking. I lifted my hands at my sides and with a wave banished the entire scene.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Herald."

I felt myself rising into consciousness and met the sensation with resistance. I could feel that it was far too early without opening my eyes, surely I could sleep a little longer.

"Herald, it is time to rise, we should leave as soon as possible."

I blinked, then rubbed my eyes, trying to force them to see clearly through the lingering sleep in them. "What?" I looked back to the opening of my tent to see Cassandra's head peering in.

"You should make preparations, the sooner we leave the better."

"What time is it?" My brain was still moving slowly.

"It is nearly dawn. Hurry, we leave as soon as you are ready."

I'd been doing okay with mornings thus far, but this was just way too early, I wasn't sure I'd be able to function at such an hour, especially not after the night I'd had. It took all my will to force myself into a sitting position rather than falling back into sleep. I rubbed at my eyes again and slapped at my cheeks in an attempt to wake myself up a little more. Ugh, why me? I thought as I reached fumbling for my armor with my eyes still closed. Finally I gave up and, with a sigh, opened my eyes and did my best to finish dressing without succumbing to the lure of my bedroll, which had never before looked so inviting. I rubbed my hands across my face one last time before stepping out into the still dark morning.

The camp was much as we had left it upon retiring, though there seemed to be a bit more energy among it's inhabitants as quite a few of the soldiers seemed to be moving busily about.

"Look who's finally managed to join us, looks like Midnight rises early after all." Varric's usual cheery tone could only grate on me at this early hour.

"Midnight does not rise willingly this early, and if forced to do so is at risk of stabbing the sun out of spite," I glared at him.

"Alright, point taken. I know better than to poke a sleepy panther. You might want to get some food though." He gestured towards a large pot by the fire. I nodded wordlessly and headed in that direction.

I reached the fire only to be overcome with huge yawn, which I attempted to contain behind my hands before attempting to rub life into my face again. I opened my eyes to see a bowl of porridge floating before my eyes. I had to stare and blink a few moments before I realized there was a hand attached to the bowl, holding it there. I followed the arm upwards till I found the face it belonged too. Solas stood there impassively, still patiently holding the bowl out. I took it from him, nodding my thanks, and took a seat by the fire and started poking at the thick contents with my spoon. Finally I took a bite, grimacing as I swallowed.

Solas took a seat beside me, a bowl of his own in his hands, "Do you find the porridge disagreeable?"

"It's fine, I just don't like eating this early, especially something this heavy," I forced down another spoonful.

"I see. You should eat as much as you can though, I am certain you will need the energy."

"I know. I wouldn't have taken the bowl otherwise. I'm sure it's going to be a long day." I covered another long yawn before returning to my struggle with the hot cereal. My stomach was protesting my efforts but I knew it would only be more difficult once the food cooled.

"Did you not sleep well?" Solas asked gently. I shook my head. "Do you wish to speak about it?" I shook my head again, forcing another spoonful down, bowl half empty. "I will let you finish eating, I'm sure Cassandra will want to leave soon." I nodded my understanding, eyes fixed on the contents of the bowl. He stood and walked off leaving me to finish alone.

I hadn't actually wanted him to leave, I wanted to apologize for being so grumpy but I wasn't able to string a sentence together that didn't sound like I wanted to hurt someone yet. I'd really just wanted to reach out as he stood and grab his arm to make him stay. I couldn't speak about what I'd faced in the Fade yet, but I'd have given anything to just hold onto his hand in that moment, to have the real Solas alive and solid there to help me banish the memory of the apparition that had worn his face. But I held back, I let him leave. I felt the emptiness next to me keenly and knew I'd be questioning that decision for the rest of the day.

Once my bowl was empty I collected my weapons and refilled my supply of elfroot potions, swallowing one as I did so. It succeeded in bringing me back to a reasonable level of alertness and easing some of the fatigue I still felt. Then I joined the others as we prepared for the journey to the Crossroads.

Chapter Text

It took the entire morning to make it to the Crossroads. We'd left the horses at the camp, it didn't make sense to take them when we knew we'd be running into a lot of resistance along the way.

Our small group moved along the most direct route we could while Inquisition troops took paths parallel to us on either side. The first part of the journey was quiet but as the sun began to rise into the sky we were met with increasing resistance. Mages and Templars engaging each other and us creating a steadily escalating chaos as we slowly pressed forward.

As we neared the Crossroads we converged with the other Inquisition soldiers, both those that had taken the parallel courses and those that were already there to protect the refugees. The fighting was even more intense here. It appeared as though we were not a moment too soon, our forces would have been unlikely to hold out for another day.

Seeing a small group of our soldiers about to be overwhelmed as we arrived, I swung my staff around and sent out a powerful chain of lightening, taking down their opponents and leaving our men unscathed. It was the first time I'd actually attempted such a feat and was relieved to see it work so well. Solas gave me a look of slightly surprised approval as we moved farther into the fray, and I couldn't help a small smile of pride at the acknowledgment.

I was surprised by just how many mages and Templars there were in the area to put up such a fight. The battles of the last several days began to feel like a lazy warm up compared to what we faced as the morning wore on. At the same time I had moments when I was able to marvel at how far we'd come as a team and how our integrated style was continuing to evolve. I no longer paired off with either Bryn or Solas, I moved independently now. They still kept an eye on me and called out instructions if necessary but generally it was just cues to help us coordinate. I was also now having to switch between both of my disciplines as the moment called for it. I was getting quite good at exchanging weapons on the go. It had been awkward at first, maintaining fluidity with my daggers while my staff was strapped to my back, but I was managing to adapt more quickly than I'd expected.

The whole ordeal became a big blur of fractured moments. I had to be aware of everything in my vicinity for a full 360 degrees. Watching enemies, allies, and the terrain; trying to choose which targets to take on next, which to avoid.

The fighting was long and fierce.

I don't know how long it took to clear out and secure the area but it was finally done. A significant number of both mages and Templars managed to retreat, likely heading back to wherever they were based, to regroup, but many of their number had fallen and would not be around to fight us next time. The area was littered with the injured and the dead but I could only feel numb as I took in the grim scene. We'd been fighting for hours and were all rather the worse for wear. My supply of potions was significantly depleted and now that I had a moment to take stock, every inch of me felt tired and sore.

After asking around a bit, a lieutenant told us where we could find Mother Giselle and Corporal Vale. "I guess I should go see Mother Giselle first then," I said trying to rally my energy and stand like I wasn't about to fall over.

"We will, but I suggest you have Solas look at that arm first," Cassandra said firmly.

"Huh?" I looked at my arms and saw a long gash running down my right bicep, dripping blood down my arm and soaking the torn sleeve. I was so surprised that I actually poked at it with my other hand, gasping through my teeth as I now felt the injury I couldn't even remember receiving. It wasn't that deep, but it looked rather horrific. It was the first time I'd received an injury this serious in my life, but I had a suspicion it wasn't going to be the last.

Solas reached over and without a word gently removed my still prodding fingers before lifting the arm and placing his other hand over the injury, sending healing magic into it. A few moments later the bleeding had stopped and the pain was gone.

"Thanks," I said, testing the arm. "Does anyone else need healing?" I looked over at the others.

"Nah, mostly just scrapes and bruises," Varric answered, "I'm sure there are others injured here who need a healer more than we do."

Only scrapes and bruises was technically true I guess, but there were an awful lot of those. Varric even seemed to be developing a black eye. Still I couldn't detect anything that seemed as serious as even my arm and they all seemed to be standing upright enough for how exhausted everyone likely was.

After I'd finished looking everyone over myself I gave a nod, "Alright, we'll go see Mother Giselle now then." I looked back down at my hands again, they were covered in blood and dirt, I must look a complete fright. "Um, on second thought, maybe I should wash a bit of this blood off first."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once we had cleaned off the worst of the blood at a nearby stream we headed into the Crossroads. It was a small town clearly filled with more people than it was intended to hold: refugees trying to escape the violence as well as those from all sides who were injured and unable to move on.

I found the familiar figure of Mother Giselle tending to the wounded. She had her sleeves pulled back and a large apron on to protect her Chantry robes but she was still unmistakably the woman I remembered. I knew this was the moment when I had to start living up to the position I'd been placed in. I could no longer hang back with my only goal being to survive and make sure my friends did the same; now I had to step forward as a representative of the Inquisition and what it stood for. I took a deep breath, squared my sore shoulders and stepped forward, "Mother Giselle?"

The Chantry mother stood as I approached and turned towards me, her serene countenance taking me in head to foot. "I am," her calm voice welcoming as I came to stand before her, "And you must be the one they are calling the Herald of Andraste."

"Not by any choice of mine." I tried to keep my tone light though the title still weighed heavily on me.

She gave a small laugh, "We seldom have much say in our fate, I'm sad to say."

"Do you believe I am the Herald?" I was unable to resist asking.

"I do not presume to know the Maker's intentions, for any of us," she replied as she led me a short distance away from the makeshift hospital for a little more privacy.

"I was told you asked to meet with me, why is it you have called me here?" I asked, ready to get down to business.

The discussion proceeded as I expected it would, discussing the state of the Chantry and their reactions to the current crisis followed by her urging me to go to Orlais to try and convince some of the clerics that I was not the threat some believed me to be. It was all information I already knew, and I already knew how futile such efforts would be. Still, there was something about the Revered Mother that made me want to listen to her anyway. Besides, even though the journey to Orlais hadn't done much to affect the game other than progress a particular storyline, that didn't mean that in this world it would have no significant effect or that I wouldn't be able to do something to alter the outcome at least a bit. Either way, I knew I would need to travel to Orlais in the end, no matter what the outcome might be, there were events there that would have to take place, meetings that would be significant.

"You needn't convince all the clerics, you just need some of them to doubt. Their power is their unified voice. Take that from them and you will receive the time you need." Mother Giselle finished.

"So I show up, show them my hand and tell them I'm not a monster out to destroy them?" I shook my head still doubtful but resigned. "I guess it can't hurt and I don't have any better plan right now. I hope it helps."

"As do I. I don't know if you have been touched by fate, or sent to help us... but I hope. Hope is what we need now. The people will listen to your rallying call as they will listen to no other. You could build the Inquisition into a force that will deliver us... or destroy us." She paused, looking at me thoughtfully before continuing. "I will travel to Haven and provide Sister Leliana the names of those in the Chantry that will be amenable to a gathering. It is not much, but I will do whatever I can."

"I thank you for your assistance Revered Mother. I too will do what I can, I only hope it will be enough. I will arrange for some Inquisition agents to accompany you to Haven and see that you arrive safely."

She nodded her thanks and walked away to continue her work with the wounded still coming in.

I went back to my companions, updating them on my meeting with Mother Giselle. Cassandra was clearly pleased with the result, "Good, hopefully we can put her information to good use. If nothing else, perhaps we may at least persuade some members of the Chantry to hear us out. If they are willing to listen, we may yet convince some of them."

The rest of the day was spent at the Crossroads gathering information and assisting the refugees in whatever ways we could. Solas went to assist the other healers with the wounded while Varric and Bryn gathered information and helped out with immediate needs. Cassandra and I went to go meet with Corporal Vale to check the status of the Inquisitions forces in the area after that morning's fight and his assessment of the situation there at the Crossroads. As expected many were hungry and cold and the next few days were likely to be tough. Many of the areas where it might be possible to find food and supplies were currently too dangerous for most people to venture into until order could be restored to the area. We'd made significant progress that morning but we knew we were far from finished. We helped organize what we could for the time being, but we were going to need rest before we could go out again to try and secure more of the area.

Once we'd finished coordinating what we could with our forces in the area, we too went around seeing what we could do to help the people with. While doing this we spread the word of the Inquisition. Cassandra and I mostly focused our efforts on the walking wounded mages and Templars. They kept their distance from each other but there seemed to be a kind of truce among them. Cassandra would approach the Templars, explaining the purpose and goals of the Inquisition, and petition their aid. I did the same with the mages. We invited any who were tired of the fighting and wanted to restore peace and order to head to Haven. We seemed to have some success with this and a fair number of those we spoke to seemed to actually consider our offer.

By the time the sun was getting low in the sky, I felt like a zombie. Physically I'd been drained since the fight but all the talking and helping people throughout the day had also drained the rest of my energy. For an introvert like me, having to go up and make contact with so many people in one day was extremely trying. I was glad to help these people, but it didn't stop it from being a draining experience.

Fortunately, it was around that time Cassandra rounded our group up again. We were going to head back to the main camp for the night to rest before we would head back out into the Hinterlands to start reestablishing some kind of order to the area. We also wanted to make our way towards Redcliffe Farms to determine if Dennet was still alive and if he would be willing to provide the Inquisition with mounts.

It didn't take nearly so long to return to the camp now that the way had been cleared of opposition. None of us had eaten since breakfast early that morning and we were gratified to find a simple but generous meal ready for us. I tore into it eagerly, I hadn't realized how hungry I had been, there simply hadn't been time throughout the day. Part way through my meal I was suddenly struck by a sense of guilt, "I hope we can secure this area quickly so that the refugees can get food soon too."

Cassandra looked over, "That is the plan and we will do our best, but we will need our energy to make it happen, so eat what you can. We will help them soon enough."

It turned out the immediate area was now secure enough that bathing areas had been set up under guard at a river nearby and we were all able to wash off the worst of the day's hardships. Doing so felt like removing a significant weight. I'd killed and hurt a lot of people that day and was trying to keep that reality at a distance, but it was harder to do while wearing the evidence of such actions.

Solas was sitting by the fire quietly when I returned from my bath. He had apparently gone for a bath as well, though who wouldn't after the day we had? The others had yet to return from theirs. On impulse I went and sat down next to him. I didn't look at him, and instead stared at the fire silently for several long moments deciding what I wanted to say, if anything.

"I'm sorry about this morning," I finally got out. As expected, it had been bothering me off and on throughout the day and especially as we'd headed back to the camp that evening when my mind had been allowed to drift a bit. I didn't take my eyes from the fire as I continued, "I know I was a bit rude, I didn't mean to be, I just... I'm not very personable that early I guess." I sighed then, remembering all that had happened over the last two days. So much had changed in that short time it might have been a month. "And after recent events..."

I felt him shift slightly beside me. But the silence continued and I started to worry if he was angry at me, maybe I should just go.

"There is no need for your apology, lethallan." His voice was soft and I could feel him turn to look at me, "You have been through much in a very short time and you are burdened with enormous responsibility, adapting to such circumstances is sure to be trying. It is to be expected that the strain would manifest somehow. You needn't worry for me, I was not offended." I relaxed at his words, grateful to know he hadn't taken my actions personally. "Perhaps it is I who should apologize to you."

I turned and finally looked at him in surprise, "Why?" I had no idea what he could have done worth apologizing for.

He opened his mouth to speak but closed it again, what looked like uncertainty reflected in his eyes, as he considered his words before trying again, "I should not have inquired about your night. I realize that any dreams your recent experiences may have caused would likely be very personal and therefore not something you would wish to share casually. It was therefore inappropriate for me to pry."

I looked at him, incredulous, "Is that all?" I smiled and shook my head, "I would have expected nothing less from you. After what we talked about regarding demons and emotions in the Fade the other day, it seems only natural that you would be concerned."

"Be that as it may," he turned back to the fire with a small frown, "I hope you know that I would never ask you to reveal more than you would wish. I am always willing to listen if you wish to tell me, or help if you want it, but I also understand if you prefer to remain silent."

I looked at him, watching the firelight as it danced across that perfect profile and remembered how I'd dealt with the despair demon. What would it be like with the real Solas? I pushed the image aside quickly. "Thank you," I said quietly. He turned back to me then but I looked down at my hands rather than meet his eyes again, "I may want to tell you about it someday, but I'm not ready yet. Still it's nice to know I have someone I can talk to about it if I need to."

"Always."

Something in his voice in that simple reply made me fight to stifle a shiver that threatened to run down my back and I was struck with another intense impulse to reach for his hand, to take some comfort through contact with the real man at my side, but I gripped my hands together and forced the feeling down. Such an action could only be a mistake. I knew myself and it would just be a first step down a slippery slope I didn't want to end up at the bottom of. I needed to get a grip on myself. He was my teacher, he was my friend, but we both had a lot of secrets between us, and there was a long road ahead that would be hard enough without such distractions. Admittedly, it was only really I with the secrets, but that just made it worse.

Besides, who was I kidding, what I imagined between us was likely just that, my imagination, just another fantasy. I was surrounded by an extremely harsh reality and I felt incredibly vulnerable, it would be too easy to lose myself in yet another fantasy to try to distract myself from the grim truths I now faced, I couldn't afford to lose my focus like that, I needed to be present in this reality, escaping into a dream could easily get me killed.

And then what if he just walked away again. What if he left just as he had in the game, just as every person I'd ever dared care about had? I didn't even want to think about that.

"I think I'm going to turn in now," I stood up, dusting myself off absently. I turned to see Solas looking at me, and I met that impassive gaze with my own, "Good night, Solas"

"Rest well."

I entered my tent and prepared myself for sleep. I was worried that the thoughts of the day would keep me up for some time yet but once I had settled myself down on my bedroll I felt exhaustion take me and I was out.

Chapter Text

The next day started early again, though not nearly as early as the previous one. I'd thankfully had a mostly dreamless sleep; after the previous night I wasn't eager to go back to the Fade right away, for fear more demons would be waiting. The deep sleep I'd had managed to make me feel slightly more human again ... or elvish ... or whatever. 

We were going to be travelling on foot again but the plan was to gain enough ground to establish another camp farther out, so Inquisition soldiers would be travelling in our wake to further secure the area. Our camp supplies and horses would follow shortly after.

And thus went the next few days in the Hinterlands. The fighting wasn't nearly as bad as that first day, mostly we just ran into small groups. There were plenty of fights to keep us busy however, apostates, rogue Templars, rifts, and even bandits.

As we traveled I felt the general terrain was similar to that in the game but the layout seemed utterly different. However there were quite a few occasions when I would see something eerily familiar, it brought on the weirdest sense of déja vu causing me to stare at random landmarks for seemingly no reason, and provoked Varric to start teasing me after he noticed it happen a couple of times. Solas too would look at me oddly when this happened. I quickly made an effort not to be so obvious about it.

We found the Templar base on the third day. Oddly enough it's location was one of those that did look remarkably familiar, it was on a ridge alongside a river leading to a waterfall, the broken bridge was there and everything. I almost felt dizzy with the strangeness of seeing it laid out so similarly. Was I ever going to get used to this? I had to pull myself together quickly however so we could coordinate our incursion.

Though it was a somewhat drawn out fight, once the Templars were finally cleared out everything got a lot easier, there were still a few Templars here and there in the Hinterlands but the fight seemed to have gone out of them, some surrendered as soon as they saw us, a few even agreeing to join the Inquisition. I hoped we would have similar results with the apostate mages as well.

With the Templar base out of the way we were finally able to get to Dennet and see about the horses. Things went as expected there too; he gave us a few fine horses for our party, including one of his purebred Ferelden Forders. I was happy with my horse already, but the others were happy to receive such fine mounts. Solas ended up with the Forder after it seemed he had the best rapport with the admittedly beautiful animal, and I couldn't help the passing thought that it had good taste.

Of course, before Dennet would agree to send the rest of his horses to the Inquisition we were asked to have watchtowers built and to kill the demon wolves threatening the local farmers.

After the last few days, the wolves were actually pretty easy and we sent word to Haven once we got back to camp to see what could be done about getting the towers built.

Overall, the day had been efficiently productive and we were able to camp earlier than usual. Of course there was to be no rest for me, Bryn insisted we renew my training efforts, making it clear that she found plenty of room for improvement after my performance over the last few days. Though she had become more companionable during our travels she was still quite happy to bring me down to earth (quite literally) in regards to my fighting abilities. Solas too encouraged a continuation of our lessons as well; next on the curriculum was dispelling harmful magic and beginning cold magic.

Cold turned out to be more troublesome than fire and lightning had been and I started getting frustrated again. During a short break in the lesson I voiced my returning insecurities, "Should it be this difficult? Don't mages each have different aptitudes to different kinds of magic as well as corresponding weaknesses in other areas?"

This earned me a stern look and a lecture, "As with any individual, different people possess different natural talents and weaknesses. Many mages tend to focus on only the few areas where these talents lie and choose to specialize rather than do the work required to improve weaker abilities. A mage is only limited by their power, with practice and effort that power can be used toward any number of magical techniques. I know you to be of sufficient power to be perfectly capable of performing everything that I am trying to teach you. Now, da'len, if you would pick up your staff and try again."

His voice remained calm throughout but his tone clearly would brook no argument and his use of the diminutive term effectively put me in my place. Of course, he knew what he was doing and what I would be able to do, it was stupid of me to doubt. Of course it wasn't him I was doubting, it was me, but that was all the more reason I needed to keep working, I didn't have the luxury of being able to afford doubt these days. I soon picked up my staff again and renewed my efforts.

He also insisted on my continued practice with the staff sequence he'd taught me, "It will help you to focus yourself and re-center, which will aid you in getting restful sleep. From tomorrow you will also perform it before the lesson to calm your mind before continuing work on the new spells."

I was tired and didn't want to do it, but I knew if I argued I would lose, I already knew he was right, better not to waste more energy in the attempt. It had been a few days since the last time I'd tried it though so it was pretty rough and Solas had to keep correcting me, but I eventually got through it and as usual it did reduce my frustration. I slept well that night.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The next few days continued in a similar fashion. We found the cave the apostates were working from three days later, and the large group of bandits in the area the day after that. We found indications that there were more elsewhere but we didn't know where and we didn't have time to search, hopefully some of Leliana's agents could find the location and it could be dealt with later.

At that point we started carrying our camping supplies with us, still travelling on foot. It was more awkward carrying the extra stuff around but since the enemies were significantly fewer now, it didn't cause too many problems. There was still danger however and we weren't camping with the other soldiers, so we were back to setting watches each night. Fortunately, there never seemed to be any argument against my taking one of the earlier shifts. I was pretty sure if I were to take one of the last two I might just fall asleep and it would be very likely I'd be in a terrible mood in the morning. My anti-morning reputation was becoming well known.

I continued training, at least a little, every evening, and there were sometimes games of wicked grace or other card games using Varric's well-worn deck. We also spent many evenings just talking around the campfire and I started to get to know the background of some of my companions a little better. Varric was always happy to tell stories of his various travels and adventures and though the rest of us were not quite as eager to discuss our pasts, we all had our turn to share at some point. Solas had some amusing stories from the Fade to offer, Bryn continued to share some unique experiences from her work as a spy, and we managed to get Cassandra to tell her version of how she had saved the Divine. I mostly focused on some childhood experiences that I could modify slightly so that they might have happened anywhere.

Unfortunately, I was not able to avoid all questions about my background.

"Do you miss your clan? Do you plan to return when this is all over?" Cassandra asked after I'd finished telling them about a trick I'd played on my brother, a memory that still made me laugh.

I looked into the fire for a few moments, thinking how best I might approach such a questions. "I can't really say if I will ever see them again or not..." I sighed deeply, "but I do not think it is possible for me to ever truly return. I left because I never really belonged there anyway, I was never what any of them wanted me to be, and though they may not have said anything or even realized it themselves I was always an outsider. I didn't trust any of them with who I was, except maybe my brother. My brother was the only one I was at all close to. Eventually though he found a partner and began a family and as his life took a path far removed from my own, he became just as distant." I paused again, taking another moment to find the right words, "Maybe someday I will meet them again, but I have never been able to call them 'home', and that is not likely to change." I sighed again, breathing deep at the memories. I'd always hated talking about my family, this one truth was bitter and uncomfortable on it's own but to be honest it was merely scratching the surface.

There was silence around me. Unsurprisingly, no one really knew what to say to my admission, but I was grateful for their silence.

Finally, I looked back up at them and gave them a genuine smile, "But I have you guys now, despite all the craziness we are facing you have supported me more than my entire family put together and I can only be incredibly grateful for that. We all have pain in our past and that's why we are the ones who are strong enough to be in this position. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I don't know where home is, but I feel like I'm in a position where I can make a difference and do something worthwhile. For now that's enough."

"'What doesn't kill us makes us stronger'," Cassandra repeated thoughtfully, "I like that."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

While we were walking across country one afternoon Solas suddenly stopped and started surveying the area carefully with a look of concentration on his face.

"What is it?" I asked, looking back at him, concerned at the unusual behavior.

"Do you feel anything, any magic?" he asked, not looking at me.

I hadn't noticed anything but I closed my eyes to concentrate a little better, "I think there's a mage nearby ... and maybe something else but it's really faint, might be my imagination." I opened my eyes to see him turn in the direction of the sensation and start walking towards it. I followed, as did the others.

A few moments later he finally explained, "Ancient elves set up artifacts in this area, I believe there may be one nearby. If we can find and activate them, they may help strengthen the Veil in this area against tears."

Understanding suddenly dawned on me and a couple minutes later we found Mihris, the Dalish mage was fighting off a stray demon. We helped her finish off the demon quickly and she introduced herself. Since I appeared Dalish she responded well to me and answered questions readily. I had a pretty good idea who she was but even if I were right, nobody else would know so I questioned her thoroughly for everyone's benefit before finally allowing her to accompany us on the search for the artifact in question.

We found the cave entrance within a few minutes, blocked by rubble.

"We'll need focused magical energy to get by. You, flat-ear, can you manage it?" Mihris directed the question at Solas with clear condescension in her voice to accompany her rude words.

Solas simply ignored her however, stepping towards the blocked entrance and then beckoning me forward. "I believe this provides us with an opportunity for you to further expand your abilities."

"You want me to move this? I'll do my best, just tell me what to do."

"You can see that the rubble here is actually a broken structure that surrounded the entrance, can you see the shapes?" I nodded and he continued, "You need to hold the image of the structure you are creating in your mind and focus your power toward returning these pieces to that shape."

"Does it require a lot of power to move such large pieces of stone?" I asked, looking at the obstruction doubtfully.

"The size does not affect the power requirements to any great degree, rather it is the complexity of the structure that may make it more or less difficult as you need to be able to hold the idea of the structure clearly in your mind and maintain your focus throughout the process. Once you have the form clear you use your power to give the objects you wish to manipulate a little push and they should fall into place. The structure here is relatively simple so it should not be particularly difficult."

"You make it sound so easy... Ok, I'll try."

"Do not 'try', just do what I know you can." He said, slight irritation in his voice.

I almost laughed, "'Do. Or do not. There is no try', I understand hahren." He nodded and I smiled to myself with the image of Yoda still in my mind and turned back to the blocked passage. They were wise words no matter the galaxy and for that moment I let go of my doubt, focused on the structure I wanted to restore and gathered the necessary power. I was surprised to realize just how little power it took to actually move the stone; the difficulty was mostly in directing them into the intended shape but with that firmly in mind even that wasn't much trouble. I added a little more power at the end, manipulating the material just a bit so that it would not crumble again soon.

"That took long enough," Mihris said irritably, "Couldn't the flat-ear have just done it himself and saved us the time?"

I turned on her at the sound of her repeated insult, "I would appreciate it if you never use that term again," I said darkly. "He was helping me to expand my own abilities and we are in no rush, so I do not feel that it was a waste of time, and since it is we who are helping you I believe we should be permitted to do so in the way we feel is best."

Her mouth had fallen open slightly at my speech but she shut it again under my glare and remained quiet as we entered the passage.

It was dark inside but I saw the familiar brazier. I walked up to it and could feel some kind of difference. Without thinking I sent some power into it and blue-white flames sprang to life.

"That's not normal fire," Varric said with surprise

"I have heard of this but never seen it before, it is called veilfire," Solas explained, "It's a form of sympathetic magic, a memory of flame that burns in this world where the Veil is thin."

"So does that mean that in places where the Veil is stronger the fire won't burn?" I had always been kind of curious as to exactly how veilfire worked. I also considered that this kind of fire must have existed before the Veil as well and I wondered what it had been called then. I kept these thoughts to myself however.

"Yes," he answered, "I'm sure you noticed that you only needed your own power to ignite the flames but the fire sustains itself. This is because it is able to draw that energy directly from the Fade on it's own, in a place where The Veil is significantly stronger it would not have enough access to that energy and would go out."

I found a torch on the ground nearby and lit it with the veilfire.

"We're taking the magical fire with us now?" Varric did not seem very comfortable with the prospect.

"Well, the path ahead looks quite dark, and I think I'd like to see where we're going, so... yes." I smiled at the dwarf who just shook his head, but followed as I took the stairs leading deeper into the old ruin.

I felt the demons as I reached the bottom of the stairs and whispered a warning to the others. We gathered at the bottom, the demons hadn't noticed us yet, and once everyone was ready Solas and I unleashed several magical attacks while the others charged in. There were a few more braziers around the large space, which I lit to give the others a better view. It didn't take long before the room was clear and we could proceed.

"I think I can feel the artifact," I told Solas.

"Yes, it is definitely here. You should familiarize yourself with the feeling, I am sure we will find more on our travels and it would be beneficial if we could activate as many as possible."

As we proceeded further into the chamber Mihris suddenly dashed forward, "There, if we activate that crystal, it should react to the strength of The Veil."

I stepped forward and finally saw it. It was impossible to mistake as it looked exactly like the things looked in the game. I couldn't stop myself from crouching down right next to it to look at it closely. The dark material was a mystery too me, but up close there seemed a slight shimmer just beneath the dull surface. I placed both my hands on it, unable to resist testing out the reality of this too familiarly strange object. The feeling I got from it got even stronger then, and I felt it resonate with my left hand. The sensation was strange but I had a pretty good guess as to why I felt it. I was fairly sure Solas had created these objects and since the mark was also of his magic, it seemed logical that they would match up in some way. I said nothing though and just stood up, still looking at the strange object.

"So, do I just give it a little power or what?" I asked, looking at Solas, not knowing exactly how these were meant to be activated. There was no little blue 'X' for me to trigger here.

"Yes. Like the veilfire it should only need a slight charge of magic to get it started."

I did as he instructed and I immediately felt the thing power up and the essence of The Veil did seem to become heavier.

"Excellent, that should strengthen the Veil and make the area safer against demons," Solas was clearly pleased.

I looked back at the object and was reminded of a question I'd long wondered since discovering Solas' true goal. Why, if he wished to destroy the Veil, was he so diligent about making sure these artifacts - which would instead strengthen the Veil - were activated? I couldn't help thinking there was some other reason behind it.

Before I could think too long on the matter however, Mihris was speaking again, "Well that should prove useful," she said from where she crouched, searching through some dusty relics, lifting an object from the pile. "And, looks like the ancestors have left something for me as well. It seems our alliance is concluded. Go in peace stranger."

I had nearly forgotten about the other elf but I walked up to her now, "What is it you have found?"

"It is nothing, merely a trinket I should like to take in remembrance of our success here."

Even if I could not have felt the vibration of magic clearly coming from whatever it was she had found, I could have told she was lying, she was avoiding my eyes and keeping her hands and the object hidden from view. "Please do not lie to me, I can clearly tell the object is magical in some way." I took a breath and decided to play the Dalish card, I may not feel like one but I certainly looked like one, "In times like these it is important to stand together, I would hate to think one of my own people would be so dishonest with me. I am working to help us all and I may be able to use what you have found. Won't you help me as we have helped you?"

"I... Maybe you're right. Here, take it. Go with Mythal's blessing," she handed over the amulet she was holding, placing it gently in my hand. She inclined her head in respect, a gesture I returned, and she left.

I took the amulet over to Solas, who had clearly seen the whole exchange, "What do you make of this?"

"It obviously has magical properties, but it will take some study to determine their exact nature. I shall add the item to our growing collection of mysterious artifacts."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

One of the most surprising things for me was when we discovered the oculara for the first time. For some reason I'd assumed this was not something we would encounter, that it was really just some collection sidequest meant for the game but which wouldn't make any sense in a real world.

We basically stumbled on it by accident and I knew what it was the moment I saw it, "This is weird," I said to express my surprise before walking up to it looking at it more closely. I could feel a very faint hum of magic coming from it. I bent down and tried looking through the hole in the back of it without touching it and could already see the distortion through the eyes, so I went ahead and put my eyes up to it properly.

I could hear Varric speak up behind me as I did so, "Oh that's not creepy at all. We find a skull standing on a stick in the middle of nowhere and now we're going to just look through its eyes."

"It seems to be showing the location of something," I called back to them, "or a few somethings." I slowly swiveled the skull around, noting that I didn't need to be nearly as precise in aiming it as in the game to reveal the hidden objects. There were three in total and as I found each one I'd look up again and indicate the area for the others to take note for a search later.

"Who would use a skull as some kind of magical looking glass?" Cassandra asked.

I turned back around to face them, "What I want to know is, who makes such a device, which obviously works, and then doesn't collect the objects it reveals?"

"That is a very good question," Bryn said as she walked up behind me and also looked through the skull. We watched her a few moments as she moved the skull around, before she stood up again, "I don't see anything."

"Really?" I went to look again and saw again the slightly distorted landscape with glowing areas indicating something hidden. "What about the rest of you? Can you see anything?"

The others each stepped up to look through but only Solas was able to see what I could. "It seems that only mages are able to use it to detect whatever is hidden out there," he said, looking up from the skull.

"It still doesn't explain why no one else has claimed the objects yet, surely there are enough mages around that whoever made this could have gotten one to locate them." It was a question that always bugged me in the game but now that these things were appearing in this world, I found the mystery especially aggravating.

"It is a very good question," Solas said calmly, "Perhaps the builders did not realize a mage was needed. In any case we should go and find what has been revealed as soon as possible."

"You're right, let's go," I said, leading the way toward the closest object.

Without the precise maps the game had provided, actually tracking down the objects was a bit tricky and they were smaller than they appeared in-game. We did find them after a bit of a search of the area, shards of a shimmering stone-like material, each about the size of my hand. Solas took each one, wrapped them up carefully and put them in his bag to take for future study.

We found only one more oculara while we remained in the Hinterlands, and three more shards. We told our scouts to let us know if any others were found but I hoped there wouldn't be any, I didn't want to go wandering all over Thedas searching for several dozen of the things. If we had to go about collecting them I at least wanted there to be fewer of them.

We made our way to Redcliffe only to be turned away, but as we made our way back to the crossroads we located the weird cult that was worshipping the Breach and once I'd proven I could in fact close rifts, we'd gained a hefty sum of new agents ready to help us out.

Once we finally managed to return to the Crossroads we could see that the mood of the people had changed significantly. With the area secured it was much safer for food and supplies to be brought in for the refugees. Everyone was in much better spirits, people were starting to get the help they needed and normal, peaceful life seemed to be returning to the area bit by bit.

And so it was that upon returning to the main camp, just over two weeks after we'd first arrived, we felt it was time to head back to Haven. We had done what we had set out to in this area and then some. It was time to go back and see what the next step would be on the path ahead. I was hopeful that the inevitable upcoming journey to Val Royeaux would be significantly less stressful than this one had been.

Chapter Text

The return journey to Haven was much easier than the journey leaving it had been. We took a slightly different route to check for more rifts and we did find a couple, but since we'd closed so many the first time through, the path was mostly clear and we were able to make it back to Haven in just under three days. It also helped that we focused nearly all our energy on the journey back, we continued riding later than we had previously, rather than camp early and allow time for me to work on my training. After the efforts of recent days it seemed acceptable that I have a bit of a break. Of course riding all day was exhausting in it's own right. With all the fights and stops since the start of our journey, I'd had the chance to get off the horse and move around freely at frequent intervals. I was not used to such an extended length of time on horseback and it was exhausting in a different way.

As a result, in the evenings I felt it necessary to do a thorough stretch. It was a bit awkward, I had to do it outside, the tent just wasn't roomy enough. Even outside it was not easy to clear a level area near the fire. Bryn was actually quite intrigued by some of the techniques and had me teach her. I even taught her a couple of partner stretches I was rarely able to do for the simple fact that I'd never had a partner to practice them with. Cassandra looked at us like we were crazy, it was amusing to see her cringe as she watched us. I invited her to join us as I extolled the benefits of greater flexibility but she refused tersely. Varric was mostly amused by Cassandra's horror and Solas just took in the situation with his usual neutral calm.

Still, it was all worth it to be able to get back to Haven as quickly as we did. We arrived in the early evening and were greeted by Leliana at the entrance to Haven, "I am happy to see you all return safely. Food and baths have been prepared for you after the long journey. Bryn and Cassandra, if you have a moment to give your initial reports first, I would very much appreciate it, and Herald, you may rest for the evening but please come to the Chantry first thing in the morning. We will need to discuss the current situation and what is to be done next."

Bryn and Cassandra followed Leliana into Haven. "Hey, either of you want to get a drink at the tavern to celebrate our triumphant return?" Varric asked, looking at Solas and me.

"Thank you Varric," I replied, "But if there's a bath waiting for me somewhere then I really just want to sit in it until it goes cold, but I'll try and find you there sometime tomorrow, alright?"

"Sure thing, you get some rest, you deserve it. What about you Chuckles? Any chance I could convince you to join me?"

"I'm afraid I shall have to decline this evening, Master Tethras, perhaps another time."

"Alright, suit yourselves. You kids have a good evening." And with that he walked off in the direction of the tavern leaving Solas and me still standing there.

"Shall we?" I asked, gesturing up the hill in the direction of our cabins. We silently started walking slowly up slope, but I broke the silence a few moments later, "It's going to feel so good to have a hot bath and sleep on a proper mattress. My back doesn't really appreciate laying on the hard ground night after night."

"Really? I had thought, as one of the Dalish you would be accustomed to such conditions," Solas raised his eyebrow at me in inquiry.

I felt my jaw tighten as I realized my mistake. I had to think fast. "The Dalish don't always sleep on the ground, they have aravels with bedding more forgiving than the ground and free of random rocks. I can certainly tolerate sleeping on the ground but if given the choice, I'll take a real mattress any day."

"'They? not 'we'?' Do you not truly consider yourself to be one of them?"

Dammit. It took all my control not to cringe and curse myself for my own stupidity and instead maintain a neutral face. Why did he have to be so damn observant to notice a little slip like that. Stay calm, you can deal with this.

"I thought I made it pretty clear already that I feel pretty separate from those I was raised among. Is it so strange I would speak of them in such a way? No, I suppose I don't really see myself as one of them, is there a problem with that?" I looked at him, starting to get annoyed at having to defend myself this way but proud of myself for dealing with it so well.

"I'm sorry, I did not mean to upset you. It is just that you are so unique, I seek to understand you better, I do not mean to pry into what may be personal and uncomfortable topics for you."

I sighed, letting go of my annoyance, "It's alright, I don't mind answering your questions but I would appreciate it if you didn't make them sound quite so much like you're interrogating me."

"Of course, I apologize. I will approach such topics with greater consideration in the future." Even though we'd been walking slowly, I realized we'd already made it to the area where his cabin was located.

I glanced over to where his cabin stood, then back to him, "I guess I'll say goodnight then." It suddenly felt awkward saying goodnight, I'd gotten so used to him only being a tent or two away. But it shouldn't be so strange, I hadn't felt so awkward saying goodnight to the others.

"Before you go, do you intend to seek a magic lesson tomorrow. It has been a few days, I wondered if you would wish to continue now that we have returned to Haven." It was said with an air of nonchalance, but I couldn't help wondering (hoping?) that he too felt some ambivalence at our imminent parting.

"Actually, I have no idea. I guess it really depends on what they have to say tomorrow morning. I'll probably have some time free at least but I hadn't really thought what I might do. I could come by for a lesson, or even just to talk, I still have a few questions about some of the reading I've done. Or did you want the day to yourself? I totally understand if you want to have that time for your own." I felt like I was starting to babble so I did my best to clamp down on my tongue and wait for his response.

"You are welcome at any time. If you find yourself with the time and inclination I would enjoy your company, perhaps I may even teach you a new spell."

"Something new? Well, I suppose I will have to strongly consider it then." I smiled then, "Have a good night Solas, perhaps I'll see you tomorrow." He nodded and returned the sentiment before we both turned and headed for our respective cabins.

I opened the door to my cabin to be embraced by welcoming warmth and the incredibly inviting bathtub steaming in the middle of the room. I wasted little time dropping my things on the floor and removing my armor and clothes, leaving them in a messy heap, to sink happily into the pleasantly hot water. I closed my eyes and just let the heat and moisture soak into my tired limbs.

I simply remained there for a couple minutes before I realized a strange sensation like I was missing something or had forgotten something. I opened my eyes to look around the room studying my pile of discarded clothes and other scattered belongings. Everything was there and I had all the bath items I needed set up on a small table by the bath. I couldn't think what I might be missing but the feeling persisted. Maybe it was just the change of setting, being back in my cabin instead of in my small tent. In the end I just tried to shake it off as I reached for the soap to start removing the last several days from my skin and hair.

True to my word I stayed in that tub until it had started to cool more than was comfortable. As I was drying myself I heard a soft knocking at the door, "It is Maryn my Lady." I put on a robe that had been set out on the bed then went to open the door for her. She walked in carrying something that smelled divine and immediately made my mouth water. "I expect you are very hungry after your long travels, My Lady."

"I am, thank you for bringing the food! How have you been, Maryn?"

"Very well, thank you." After setting the food out on the table she moved towards the pile I'd left on the floor. We continued to chat a bit as she gathered up the dirty clothes and set to straightening the mess. I tried to help but she shooed me away, insisting that I eat instead. I felt bad for letting her do all the work but I had to smile at the fact that she had become comfortable enough to so forcefully get me to stop doing any.

After I'd eaten I took the book I'd been reading and curled up on the bed with it to read. It was so nice to just sit in that quiet room to read peacefully again. Unfortunately I wasn't able to read long, before sleep finally came to drag me off into the Fade.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I awoke to a cold and cloudy morning but was in too good of spirits to mind. In the Fade, my wisp friend had come to visit but had also brought company along. The new spirit seemed to be very shy but with gentle coaxing revealed itself to be a spirit of creativity. I was so excited, I'd never heard of there being any Creativity spirits before but it may have been that it's natural shyness kept it from approaching anyone. Since I liked to think I was a creative person, the idea of meeting such a spirit was incredibly exciting.

We were actually both a little shy at first, it was the first friendly spirit I had the opportunity to make direct contact with, but I was able to break the ice by teaching it a song. After that, we spent the rest of the night becoming acquainted by singing and painting mandalas together; it was fantastic!

After such a wonderful night and being back in Haven I felt more cheerful and relaxed than I had in what felt like an age; I only hoped I could maintain the feeling for the rest of the day. Once I had eaten and dressed I headed up to the Chantry. It was rather nice not having to wear my armor for once, it made me feel so light and free. I was really hoping I could get away with leaving it off all day.

I walked into the war room to find that Cullen was the only one there so far, he was looking over some papers spread out on the table before him. I looked around nervously, wondering if I was supposed to be there yet, "Good morning, I'm not too early am I?"

Cullen's head shot up, obviously startled, eyes staring at me for a half second before recognition dawned, "Oh, no of course not... Good morning Herald. I'm sorry, you just caught me by surprise, you must have a very quiet step. Please come in." He was clearly a bit flustered by my sudden appearance and I couldn't help but smile as he tried to recover, rubbing at the back of his neck in that all too familiar way. "Welcome back. How do you feel about your first mission out in the field?"

"Well, I certainly learned a lot and I think it was productive, at least I hope it was." The truth was that I was still trying to process the whole experience and still didn't want to talk about many of the details.

"From what I've heard you did a lot of good work down there and you were able to convince quite a few to come and join our cause. We've even had a significant number of both mages and Templars sign on." He smiled for a moment but it was short lived as he sighed and looked back down at the papers still scattered across the table, "Unfortunately we've been having a lot of trouble getting members of both groups to work together, we keep having to break up fights. The mages and Templars were already at war and now they are blaming each other for the Divine's death. They are having trouble accepting that we are now all part of the Inquisition and must work together as such."

"And what does that mean exactly?" The familiar voice of Chancellor Roderick questioned from behind me.

"Back again Chancellor? And what is it you want this time?" Cullen was clearly aggravated by the man's sudden appearance and I couldn't really blame him.

"I'm curious Commander, how your Inquisition and its 'Herald'," he pointedly glared at me, "will restore order as you promised."

The three of us argued for several minutes, Roderick insisting that we must wait for a new Divine to be selected and allow that person to restore order and that the 'Herald' could have no authority in such matters, while Cullen and I argued that there was no time to be waiting on the Chantry's decision, that action was needed now. Finally the argument was stopped by the arrival of Cassandra, Josephine, and Leliana.

"Good morning Chancellor," Josephine said brightly, "It is good to see you, however I believe we have a meeting scheduled at this time, perhaps you may wish to continue this discussion at another time." She continued to smile at the cleric, who just glared around at all of us before finally departing.

Quick greetings were offered all around before Cullen spoke again, "I was just discussing with the Herald the difficulties we've been facing between the Templars and mages who have joined our cause. I'm afraid this is may be evidence of how the destruction of the Conclave has renewed and perhaps increased the hostilities from both sides elsewhere as well."

Leliana looked at me then, "I believe that is likely true, from what Bryn and Cassandra have already told me, you faced heavy resistance from both sides throughout your travels in the Hinterlands."

"Yes, it seemed that neither group had any interest in talking and were wholly bent on destroying the other." I spoke, trying hard not to recall in detail the violence we'd encountered, "Only those who had been seriously injured and were not able to continue the fighting would even listen to us. I don't think it will be an easy job to reduce the tensions but I think we have to try whenever the opportunity presents itself."

"We still have the Chantry to consider as well," added Cassandra, "Mother Giselle has given her support, perhaps some of the clerics could be swayed as well, as she suggests."

"I agree," Josephine asserted, "Mother Giselle is correct that currently the only strength of the Chantry is that they are united in opinion. I think having the Herald address the clerics may be a effective."

"And we should ignore the danger to the Herald?" Leliana questioned.

"Let's ask her." Josephine replied in her usual polite manner.

I took a breath, it was still strange to have my opinion so valued. "I'm mostly worried that anything I say won't make any difference but I don't see any better options right now. There is may be a possibility something can be achieved by going to Val Royeaux and we might as well take that chance." I knew that even if nothing of significance were directly achieved while there, it was where a number of significant events were set into motion and therefore it seemed worth the trip to me.

"I will go with her," Cassandra declared, "Mother Giselle said she could provide us names, use them. Let us use what influence we have to call the Clerics together, once they are ready we will see this through."

Some argument continued for a while but the decision was all but made at that point. We would go, of course we would, there seemed little point in just staying here hoping something else would come up. I comforted myself that at least there should not be as much fighting involved this time, though I couldn't say dealing with politics was all that much more appealing. Once everyone conceded to the plan, it was only left to fix the details. The road to Val Royeaux was likely to be safer than to the Hinterlands but it was still going to take a few weeks to get there, so it was decided to leave with the same party the following morning.

Once the meeting was concluded Josephine asked me to her office where she spent the next couple hours instructing me on various protocols she thought might be useful once we were in Val Royeaux.

When I finally left the Chantry, it was a relief to step out into the gray day. It had started to rain but I didn't really care. At some point in there I'd been struck anew with a wave of unreality at my whole situation. So much had happened since I had arrived here and I'd just taken it all a day at a time, getting through each task, working to achieve each goal. But here I was, back at Haven, preparing to face the clerics and Templars in Orlais after fighting through all manner of enemies in the Hinterlands. I'd killed more demons and people than I could count; I'd wandered in the Fade and met demons and spirits; I'd learned to use magic and daggers; and now I was having my opinions and views taken seriously by the people in charge here. The realization of all of that and more just suddenly flooded into my mind and was doing a pretty good job of overwhelming me. I needed the cool air outside, I needed to clear my head and get a grip before the anxiety that threatened to take over could get a firm hold.

I walked around the corner of the Chantry to find a quiet space to lean against the cold stone out of view of passers-by. I ran my hands up through my hair to grip my head as I leaned back against the solid walls, eyes closed, taking deep breaths, trying to feel only the solid stone and cold air as I breathed in and out slowly. After a few minutes, I started to feel my equilibrium return. I opened my eyes and after a few more deep breaths, stepped back out to head down the hill towards the tavern.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Lunch with Varric had the desired effect. Talking to him both raised my spirits and allowed me to feel connected to reality again, well what I had to accept as reality anyway. I just always felt a little more grounded when talking with him and it made things easier to deal with. He'd taken the news that we were leaving again in the morning in stride, and warned me not to spend the rest of my day working.

As I approached Solas' cabin after lunch, I felt even more of the tension slip away. I heard his voice say "Enter" the same moment I knocked and I promptly stepped inside, peace settling over me as I entered the familiar room. "Good afternoon, Solas," I said cheerfully.

"Greetings, it seems you are in a good mood," he smiled warmly in return and I smiled brighter at seeing it.

"Well, today has had its ups and downs but I'm feeling better now. By the way, I'm afraid we don't get to stay in Haven for long, we're leaving again tomorrow morning for Val Royeaux. You'll come with us won't you?" I asked, suddenly concerned for no good reason that he may not want to.

"Of course, I will accompany you. It is likely for the best that we depart soon, the journey will take some time and the sooner we can address the clerics the better. I'm sure we are all eager to do whatever is necessary to see the Breach closed. I also suspect that we may find a number of rifts along the way."

"You're probably right, who knows how widespread the rifts are and just getting those closed could earn us some much needed good will and support. I'm not eager to face the clerics but it needs to be done and waiting around here isn't going to make it any easier, better to go and get it done." I was speaking mostly to myself with these words, trying to psych myself up a bit.

"Yes, simply waiting offers little advantage in this case," he acknowledged before pausing and then changing the subject, "Would you care to learn a new magical technique today? The weather is less than ideal for practicing outside but I thought we might try something that is safe enough to be performed indoors."

"Ok, what kind of magic is it that I won't be at risk for hurting anyone or damaging anything?" I quipped, grinning with curiosity.

"Thus far we have focused on magic with the purpose of using it in battle, either for offense or defense. However, there are many other types of magic which serve more practical purposes. You are aware of runes, magical symbols which apply magical properties to whatever they are applied to. There are spells which work in a similar fashion, though are intended to be more short lived. Most commonly fire or cold magic can be applied to a variety of objects in order to control their temperature, this is what I would like to teach you today."

I was already smiling with eagerness to try out this new magic, I could already think of a dozen applications for such spells. "That sounds marvelous and so, so useful, let's do it."

He smiled at my reaction and set a large stone on the table, then he held out a small, smooth, round stone a couple inches in diameter, "This is what we will use to practice." He set the smaller stone on the large one and proceeded with the lesson.

Applying the magic to the stone wasn't really so difficult, the trick was in adjusting the strength and duration of the magic, whether I wanted the stone to be warm for a long time or hot enough to boil water for just a few minutes. We practiced a number of variations using the stone over the next couple hours, both hot and cold.

"Excellent," Solas said as I completed a final set of combinations to test what I'd been learning. "You have done quite well with this, I suspect you will become quite proficient with continued practice."

"It still takes a lot of concentration but I think I've got the basics down anyway. It's certain to be useful though, so I expect many opportunities to practice."

"Yes, I am sure you will." He then stood up and walked over to the bookshelf and picked something up from it before returning to me at the table. "Here, perhaps you will find this useful." He handed me a small bag with something inside. I opened it carefully and slid the object into my hand. It was a silvery blue stone, smooth and round and slightly smaller than the stone we had been using to practice. "It is silverite," he explained as I looked down at the stone turning it in my palms. "It is lightweight but able to conduct and withstand even extreme temperatures, I hope you find it useful."

I continued to turn the stone in my hand as he waited for a response and I felt a smile slowly stretch across my face. I looked up to meet his eyes, "Thank you, it's wonderful, I'm sure I'll find many uses for it." I looked back down at the small shape and suddenly laughed, "You know, I never thought I would be so happy to receive a rock as a present." I looked back up still grinning broadly to see him smiling. He had such a wonderful smile and mine only widened to see it. "Thank you, Solas." I said again, not knowing what else to say. I finally looked down again, suddenly shy. I rubbed my fingers across the smooth surface once more before gently placing it back in the bag.

"Just remember to continue to use caution as you practice, I would not wish you to burn yourself on accident, and for the time being only use this or similar materials for practice. This magic can be applied to other materials but many factors must be taken into consideration when doing so and I would prefer to practice those in future lessons."

I looked back up, nodding, "I understand." I looked out the window to see that it was getting dark again. The day hadn't been very bright to begin with but clearly the sun would set very soon. "Well, I think perhaps I should go. I'm sure we'll be leaving early, I think I'd like to just relax this evening while I have the chance." I stood up and reached for my coat, "Have a good evening Solas, I'll see you in the morning I guess."

"Yes, I shall see you then. I wish you a pleasant evening as well." He opened the door for me and I walked out into the cold air where flurries of snow were now gently falling from a still cloudy sky. I gave a wave and then turned to walk on up the hill still holding the small bundle tightly in my hand.

The walk to my cabin wasn't long but I was still grateful to walk back into the warmth of my room. I sat down on the bed and took the stone back out of the bag to admire it once more, such a simple thing yet having it really did make me happy. I set it on the small table by the bed then looked around in confusion. I was struck again by the sense that something was missing or I'd forgotten something. I looked around the room and nothing seemed out of place. I got up and looked over the bookshelves and their contents, the table, the bed, my pockets, but I couldn't think of anything that might be missing.

Then it hit me. I looked at the door and then to my hands and moved back to the bed to sit heavily upon it. It was Solas. Since we'd left for the Hinterlands he had never been beyond the reach of my ability to sense him. Whether he'd been visible or not, I was always aware of his presence and I had unconsciously become accustomed to and taken comfort from that constant presence. However, his cabin was apparently out of range of mine and the emptiness I felt where he had been was what caused the feeling something was missing. No wonder I had felt so much more at ease once I'd gotten near him again.

This was not good. I was supposed to be trying to maintain as much distance as I could reasonably manage, and yet there was this one fact that was going to make that even more impossible. It wasn't like I could just turn it off either. He would notice, and it would cut off my sense to all other magical phenomena as well. It was an asset and I needed to use it but I was about to spend a few more weeks travelling with him, I would have no chance to be without that presence for any length of time.

But perhaps, now that I was aware of it, I could learn to ignore it, like I had the Breach. Of course the Breach was something I hated, and when I travelled I was able to be far away from it, so I wasn't sure the same principle could actually be applied, but maybe it could. Realizing this situation existed, maybe I could remind myself that it didn't mean anything, that it wasn't important, and I could learn not to depend on his presence. It would be best for me to try at least.

With that resolution in mind I picked up on of the history books on the shelf to read that evening. At some point Maryn came by to deliver food and my cleaned clothes. She packed my bags again and assured me everything was in order before promising breakfast the next day and leaving. I used the silverite to heat the water for my tea and to bathe, avoiding the chance to practice the new technique would have been silly after all. The rest of the night was spent reading history until my eyelids finally became heavy and I fell asleep with the book still open beside me. 

Chapter Text

 

The journey to Val Royeaux was much longer than when we'd travelled to the Hinterlands. We kept our pace steady but made sure not to put strain on the horses. We'd decided to take a course directly north across country to meet up with the Imperial Highway as it crossed north of the Frostbacks, but just that leg of the journey was going to take over a week and then nearly two more to reach the Waking Sea where we would make the crossing to Val Royeaux.

It came as a bit of a shock to realize that I probably wouldn't see Haven again for nearly two months, I'd only even been in this world just over a month. It was so easy to forget about travel time when all you had to do was wait for the loading screen to clear. This was clearly going to be a serious consideration I would have take into account as I maneuvered through my stay in this world. Perhaps my foreknowledge could be of some use after all. Knowing what was ahead might make it easier to plan things out to make the most efficient use of time. I was going to have to spend some quality time with that large map in the war room, maybe I could get a smaller one to keep in my cabin as well.

The journey was largely uneventful. We still met a significant number of rifts. They were apparently all over the place, not surprising considering they could be found as far as the Hissing Wastes in the game. It could take ages just hunting them all down and closing them, an incredibly daunting prospect. For now, we just closed as many as we came across.

The first week, while we travelled cross-country, I still kept up some training in the evenings. I would spar with Bryn for about an hour each night, she still didn't pull any punches but I was noting real improvement in my skills and we'd managed to build quite a good rapport so that I felt comfortable keeping up some friendly banter and trash-talk making the whole experience more fun, if no less painful. Sometimes she would have me spar with Cassandra so I could practice useful techniques against a different type of opponent.

Solas had apparently decided I was competent enough with offensive and defensive magic for the time being, so the main focus of our lessons was on other practical forms of magic like we had started before we left. He also got me started with some basic wards.

Of course there were still stories and other conversation, a variety of card or riddle games, and reading. Since we knew the journey was going to be long we had a couple extra horses primarily for carrying supplies, including a few books. Varric had his writing materials handy as well. Varric even gave me an introduction to picking locks. There weren't many locks for me to practice on out in the forest, but he had a couple padlocks in a pack that I could get a start on.

And at night there was still the Fade.

Since meeting Creativity I'd been debating whether or not to tell Solas. It wasn't that I was afraid to tell him, in fact I was sure he'd be fascinated and happy to share his knowledge on all things related to the Fade. The problem remained that I still felt very private and protective of my dreaming life, it was a place where I could still be me, without any pretense. I was fairly certain at this point that the level of control I could generally exercise over the Fade was beyond what any normal mage should be capable of, and that too was not something I wanted known yet, even by Solas. In fact I especially didn't want him to know because he would understand the significance better than any of the others. He might want to see my little dream space, or at least see demonstrations of what I could do, and I just wasn't ready to let him into that part of my life just yet. I still enjoyed our lessons and conversations, more than I liked to admit, though fortunately they had been free of flirtation or innuendo of late. It was hard enough keeping myself distant, letting him into my dreams was sure to be a mistake.

So it was with some trepidation that I came to the decision to tell him about the wisp and Creativity. I finally concluded that I would have to tell him eventually and if I hid it too long it might seem suspicious, better to get it out and see what I might learn. Hopefully I could keep the focus on the spirit side of things and not have to get into more detail about my dreams in general.

I wanted to avoid talking about it around the others though, I knew anything to do with spirits still made them rather nervous. Though we were unlikely to run into much trouble in this area there was a significant amount of dangerous wildlife, so we continued to keep a watch at night, just in case one might venture too close. I waited until one night when Solas and I had consecutive watches; Solas took the first and I was on second. It was a cold clear night and was wrapped in my coat and gloves as I sat before the fire making shapes in it as I'd grown fond of doing. I sat there until the others had all retired for the night.

"You should retire as well, I will wake you for your watch." He looked at me from where he sat a few feet away. I didn't reply and simply remained where I was for a few more minutes.

Finally I got up and moved closer to where he sat. I took a breath to gather my thoughts before speaking, "I wanted to talk to you again about spirits."

He watched me, waiting for me to continue, but when I didn't, "Of course, I am happy to offer whatever insight I can on the subject."

"I met a spirit," I said quickly, getting it out there but not yet looking at him.

He kept his tone even as he responded, "I see. And I take it you found the experience upsetting?"

"Oh no," I finally turned to meet his eyes, "It's been amazing." He suddenly looked confused. I guess the way I'd been acting didn't seem like I was about to talk about something good. "I'm sorry, I was just nervous to talk about it. I guess I just don't usually like to talk about my dreams, they just feel ... private I guess, so I just felt a little awkward bringing it up."

"Ah, I understand. I would not wish you to tell me anything you are not comfortable with, but I would be very interested to hear more about any experiences with this spirit you would care to share. Can you tell me what sort of spirit it is you encountered?"

I smiled then, thinking of the spirit and the time we had spent together so far, "I met Creativity. Well, actually I met a wisp first and then the wisp introduced me to Creativity. I think Creativity is actually very shy and would not have approached otherwise."

"So you met a wisp and a spirit of creativity, it seems you have been quite fortunate indeed," he smiled, "I would enjoy hearing whatever you can tell me about them."

"Well, I actually met the wisp a while ago, just before we entered the Hinterlands, but so much happened around that time I didn't really think of telling you about it then."

"It is perfectly alright, I am aware that it was an emotionally turbulent time for you, you had much to contend with when we entered the Hinterlands," he said gently.

I nodded remembering and simultaneously trying not to remember, "I suppose so... thank you," I said, glad for his understanding. I then proceeded to tell him more about both the wisp and the spirit. I told him how the wisp approached while I was singing, how shy Creativity was at first, I told him about the wonderful things they would both show me in the Fade. Creativity showed me art and dance and music of ages past. The wisp would take me, and sometimes Creativity too, to strange little corners of the Fade, each one somehow unique and strange in some oddly beautiful way.

If Solas had been anyone else I would have said he was downright giddy at hearing my stories and had many questions. It was a little funny being the one answering all the questions for once but I found that I didn't mind at all. It was nice to have something interesting I could impart to him for once. Of course I couldn't answer all of his questions yet, "You realize, I've only known this spirit for less than a week, right? We are still just getting acquainted."

"Yes, of course I apologize if I am getting carried away. I simply do not often get to speak to someone who has had such peaceable interactions with spirits. As you suspected, spirits of creativity are extremely shy and rarely seek to interact with anyone. It is not surprising that you would instead be introduced through a mutual acquaintance. Still, that you have been privileged to make the acquaintance of such a spirit is wondrous."

His eyes were bright with his obvious joy and excitement and I just couldn't help but smile. "I guess I should have expected this kind of reaction, I know how much you love the Fade and spirits." I paused a moment as I organized my thoughts for some questions of my own. "Are spirits of creativity very rare?"

"It is hard to know. Creativity is not something this world lacks as dearly as compassion or wisdom, but due to their shy and unpredictable nature it is difficult to know how many might actually exist."

Solas stayed up through my watch as we continued to talk about spirits, but by the end I was yawning pretty badly and finally decided I'd better wake up Cassandra so I could collapse on my bedroll for a while.

"Dream well," Solas said with a smile before he retired to his own tent.

"You too," I said and went to wake Cassandra.

Once I finally lay down in my own tent I reflected back on the long conversation. I was mostly glad I told him, it was nice to get his insight and I loved seeing how excited he got when be talking about spirits, with someone who was willing to see them the way he saw them. My feelings were still somewhat mixed however. On one hand, I was doing an increasingly terrible job of maintaining distance despite consistently reminding myself I needed to be careful. On the other, this might just be the kind of thing he needed. If I could bring out that hopeful side, if I could make him see this world was worth keeping around, that it didn't need to burn, that I could help him make it something more, something better; If I could do that then maybe, just maybe, he would reconsider his horrible plans. I still needed to be careful and protect myself, but this was a thread of hope that I was willing to follow and pray it led somewhere.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Eventually we made it to the Imperial Highway. Having a real road to follow improved our speed somewhat but there were also more people as we travelled and we had to be more vigilant as we continued along our path. Most travellers gave us a wide berth. We ran into a few bandits but they were not much of a threat and scared easily. We still had to divert from the path at times to take care of rifts along the way.

As we continued along the highway we encountered more settlements. Rather than camp we sometimes took rooms in a local inn. This sometimes meant we had to share two or even one room among us but as the weather had recently been rather wet, having a warm, dry place to stay was welcome. It wasn't so terrible to just set out our bedrolls on the floor, at least the floor was level. It also saved us from having to hunt and we could bathe slightly as well. I wasn't able to continue most of my training however, not without drawing undue attention to our group and making the locals nervous. We did earn some appreciation when we closed a couple rifts for local villages tormented by the resulting demons though.

Accommodations improved as we continued, the areas near Halamshiral and Lydes offered a much higher class of amenities than any of the smaller villages, and I was perfectly happy to pay for any chance to have a real bath. Though I was nervous to face what was ahead in Val Royeaux, I was also incredibly glad when we finally reached the Waking Sea, knowing the journey was nearly done. We'd had occasional contact by raven with Haven, and agents stationed in the cities, and so we knew the clerics were expecting our arrival. A couple more days and it would be time to face them.

We boarded our horses in a local stable before making the crossing. We wouldn't really need them once we reached the city so it was decided they were best of left to rest until the journey back.

The crossing itself went smoothly enough, nobody in our group seemed to be prone to seasickness. I'd never even seen the sea till I was 17 but the few times I'd been on boats of any kind since then I had a great time and I found a longer trip was just as enjoyable. Granted, the water wasn't very rough on any of those occasions but it was certainly a good sign.

We hadn't even entered the city yet before I realized we were strikingly underdressed. The city itself almost glittered in its opulence and gave the impression that even the beggars would be required to wear masks and designer rags. Here we were in our infinitely practical armor, probably appearing to the locals as if we were a group of savages recently emerged from a cave to intrude upon their pristine advanced society.

Val Royeaux was a vast city however, the game only ever showed a small snippet from around the city center. Once you got in close you could see that the city did have a darker, dirtier side, it was just better hidden than most places. Not everyone wore the masks in the outer parts of the city, average citizens existed here too, though even among these people we hardly blended in and we received some suspicious looks. It only got worse the further in we got.

We didn't go directly to the clerics upon our arrival. Instead we found accommodations and met with our local agents who would send word of our arrival to the clerics so we might meet with them the next day. There were already rumors of Templars in the city however and the fist of anxiety gripped at my insides from knowing what I would have to face the next day. Would it all just turn out the same as it had before? Was there anything I could say or do that might change anything? I doubted I could stop the Templars from leaving, but maybe I could turn a few to our side, ...maybe?

We spent that first day in the city simply resting after the long journey. I knew this was hardly going to be the longest or most difficult journey I would face, but it was going to take me a while to get used to this much travel and I was glad to have the chance to just stay in one place for a little while. We didn't have amazing accommodations by any means, but even the simplest accommodations in this city were adorned in such a way that you could not mistake yourself for being anywhere but the heart of Orlais. What mattered to me though, was that I was able to indulge in a much welcomed, hot bath. I had never been much of a bath person before but since arriving in Thedas, they'd apparently become one of my favorite things. I also spent some of the afternoon trying to clean my armor to make it look as presentable as possible. It had held up well enough after the Hinterlands and the endless rifts, but it was starting to show the wear now.

We all met up for dinner and discussed what should be said to the clerics when we met them. Everyone had some ideas how best to approach various subjects. I did my best to listen and duly acknowledge everyone's thoughts, but already knowing I'd likely not have the chance to utilize any of their suggestions, it was rather difficult to focus as I should.

Cassandra took me aside afterward, "Herald, is everything alright? You seemed somewhat distracted at dinner."

I looked at her and could feel my jaw tightening and brow furrowing as I considered the problems and what I might be able to say to her about them. "It's difficult to say," I took a breath, still trying to put my thoughts together, "I just feel uneasy about things, the rumors about the Templars being here and ... I don't know exactly, but I have a feeling things aren't going to go as smoothly as we might hope, that something unexpected is going to come up."

Cassandra looked serious at my words, "Do you suspect some danger? Is there something you sense that might be a source of concern?"

I was slightly taken aback at how seriously she was taking my words, I'd expected her to brush me off and say there was nothing to worry about. "No, it's nothing like that," I saw her shoulders relax slightly at that, "I... I don't think there will be any danger but... I think it's going to be more complicated than anticipated."

She nodded, "I understand, I suppose it would be unusually fortunate if all our problems could be resolved by simply speaking to the clerics tomorrow. I suppose we shall just have to remain vigilant and hope for the best."

She started to turn away and head for her room but I decided to stop her a moment more, "Cassandra?" she turned and I continued, "May I asked why you accepted my concerns so quickly? I expected you to just tell me not to worry."

She raised her eyebrow at me, "Truly? Even though you have been unfailing to promptly alert the party of possible dangers for weeks now?"

"I don't think telling you when there's a rift around is quite the same thing." I said, confused by her comment.

"Did you forget about those bandits that pretended to be travelers with a broken cart? You and Bryn suspected something and positioned yourselves to act before the bandits could finish drawing their weapons and we could realize what was happening. Or that time when the innkeeper was trying to cheat us.... or was that three times?"

"I guess I just have a suspicious and mistrustful nature," I shrugged.

"I was the one who refused to believe you were anything but guilty for the Conclave, I am suspicious by nature, you however are observant and aware of your surroundings to a degree that you can pick up on things faster than most of us and make sure appropriate action is taken immediately. Your instincts have served you well thus far and you do not seem to worry idly, when you show concern there always seems to be a reason behind it. As a result, when you say you are concerned about how our meeting with the clerics will go, I am going to heed the warning and prepare myself. I may continue to hope you are wrong, but I would be a fool to disregard what you might have to say."

Cassandra looked at me with absolute seriousness to match every word. I was honestly taken aback by her opinion of me and it rendered me speechless for a few moments. I opened my mouth as I tried to find some response. "Thank you..." was all I could come up with and she nodded in acceptance. I took a breath, "I don't know if it helps, but I hope I'm wrong too." I knew I wasn't wrong, but I truly wished I were. It would be so nice to have something go smoothly, but that just wasn't how things worked.

We both turned and headed back to our rooms, mentally preparing as best we could for the next day and whatever it would bring.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

My preparation continued as I entered the Fade.

Though I arrived first in my little forest, I didn't remain there. I started walking, no direction or plan, no idea where I was going, I simply found myself wandering across a shifting landscape that I barely acknowledged as I lost myself in thought, playing out various possible scenarios in my head. I remember seeing a field and a sea and a couple different forests as I walked aimlessly, absorbed in my own thoughts.

It probably wasn't the smartest idea, to go wandering off around unfamiliar parts of the Fade by myself, but my mind was to occupied with other issues to notice.

At some point Creativity came and found me and tried to persuade me to join in a dance or song. When I declined that, suggestions of sand castles, cloud weaving, and water sculptures were presented. As enticing as they all sounded, I had to refuse, "I'm sorry, I really would like to do any of those things but I'm afraid my mind is not free enough tonight to create as I would like. Tomorrow is an important day that will lead to some difficult situations and important decisions. A lot is going to be riding on what I choose to do and I don't know what the best course is going to be. I want to use this time to at least consider things as thoroughly as possible, though doing so may just leave me as unprepared as ever. Still, I have to try, I can't simply give up."

I turned to continue along my pensive meandering way but Creativity caught my hand and pulled me along to follow, "I know someone who can help."

"What? Who?" I was suddenly hit with apprehension at the idea of going to meet some unknown entity without explanation. There were still a lot of mysteries in the Fade and I wasn't sure this was the best time for me to be meeting a new one, but my companion didn't answer my question, simply laughing and continuing to pull me forward.

The Fade didn't follow real world physics at all, it had a sort of logic all its own, so distances while traveling were malleable things. Generally, if you knew where you wanted to go you simply had to start moving with intention and you would get there pretty quickly. Thus it was, that a few minutes later we arrived in a kind of garden. There were flowers all around, fresh, brightly colored, blooming, and alive. And yet the whole area had a sense of being very old in that peaceful way that old ruins are. It was like spring in a garden that had known a thousand winters.

I wanted to stop and look more closely at some of the more unusual flowers growing all around but Creativity kept a firm grip on my hand and continued to pull me forward, leading me finally into a small clearing in what seemed to be the center of the garden. There was a fountain and what seemed like benches set around it, though both appeared more as though they had grown there, rather than having been built. I would have gone to take a closer look but that was when I saw the spirit sitting peacefully near the fountain. She had been looking out into the garden but as Creativity released my hand and I stepped into the clearing the new spirit turned to look at me, smiling.

I continued forward and at the spirit's gesture I took a seat next to her. I thought the garden felt old but this spirit felt ancient by comparison. There was a peace and stillness about her that reminded me of standing in a deep cave where water had built up formations over millions of years, or a deep canyon that had been slowly carved out by water and wind to reveal the memories of the earth layer by layer. It was not hard for me to guess the name of this spirit, "Wisdom?" I asked with a kind of awe.

Her smile grew, "So you are Creativity's new friend, I have heard much about you."

"From Creativity or from Solas?" I queried.

"Both." She continued to smile serenely, confirming what I suspected in that she was the same Wisdom who was friends with Solas. She looked over at Creativity who was in the process of painting an image on the ground. Creativity rarely spoke when a picture or dance could express what was needed. "Apparently, you are troubled by some difficult considerations and decisions you have before you and Creativity hopes I may ease your worries so that your own creative spirit will be free to play again."

I reached out my hand to Creativity who took it happily, "Thank you, my friend. I hope you are right and that we will be able to play again soon." At my words Creativity gave a lovely little dance around the clearing before skipping away, back through the garden, leaving me alone with Wisdom.

"So, what are these concerns which weigh so heavily upon you?" Wisdom asked.

"I have many, though not all are of immediate concern." I took a breath before I continued, "But before I tell you anything, would you promise not to tell Solas anything about what we discuss? You can tell him we've met of course, I intend to tell him that myself, I think I'll have to, but many of the things I may want to talk to you about, he can't know, at least, not yet." I was excited and apprehensive to be talking to Wisdom. She was exactly the spirit that I thought might be able to help me cope with my current situation or even figure out exactly what my situation was, and work through the challenges ahead. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep everything hidden in order to play the role I needed to maintain here. If I just had someone I could tell the truth too... At the same time, I knew she had been friends with Solas for a very long time and I could not risk her telling my secrets before I was ready.

"I will keep your confidence as well as I keep his. Whatever secrets you impart to me will not be shared beyond our knowledge without your consent."

"Thank you, that is all I ask." I paused again to gather my thoughts and decide exactly what I wanted to tell her now. I wasn't ready to discuss everything, better to focus on the immediate concerns for now and deal with other matters once those were resolved.

And so I began to tell her about the mages and the Templars and the meeting the next day. I told her what I expected to happen - though not why I had such expectations - and my thoughts and worries about how I might deal with it. I then followed with the decision I knew was coming, as to which group I would recruit to aid the Inquisition in closing the Breach and my fears that circumstances may not turn out as I expected and that I might make the wrong choice or that I may not even have a choice in the end. I told her a myriad of worries and possibilities that had been haunting my thoughts on just this one matter.

Through it all she simply listened, asking questions here and there to clarify some points. I don't know how long we were there before I finally ran out of words and fell into silence.

After I'd finally finished, Wisdom let the silence stretch for a few long moments before she spoke, "What is it you fear? Do you fear you will make the wrong choice?"

I shook my head, "No, not exactly. Some of these decisions I think I've already made and, as long as no new variables come in to mess things up even more, I should be able to stand by them. Even so, I am afraid of veering off the path. I have a pretty good idea where certain steps will lead but there are places where I want to try to make... adjustments, some small and some quite significant, but if I do that I don't know what the outcome will be. The further down that road I go, the more uncertain the results become, and I'm afraid that the fear of such unknowns will prevent me from taking the actions I believe could help, because what if I'm wrong, what if I make it all worse? Do I even have the right to change things on the hope that it will make things better in the long run?

"My whole life I've always just stayed quietly in the background, living small and hidden in my corner of the world, having no power to effect much change and never trying to gain such. Now I am thrust into a situation where I have more power than even those around me realize. I am not afraid of making the wrong decisions, I'm afraid of both acting and not acting on the decisions already made. I am also afraid of having that power to decide taken away."

And there it was. The truth of my fears laid out bare. I was afraid I wouldn't change things and lead them... us to a future that would likely lead to more suffering. I was afraid I would change things, intending to prevent such suffering and, in doing so, just make things worse. And more than anything else, I was afraid I'd be taken away from here and never get the chance to do either, resulting in who knew what.

Wisdom took her time before responding, "But you have already made your decision." It was not a question and I nodded in response. "Why is it you have made the choice to change what you can?"

Why did I? "Because I have hope that it will be better for everyone. That if it works, everyone will be happier and safer."

Wisdom said nothing. What could be said? The decision was made. I wasn't here to ask for advice, I was here to think through it all and find the answers myself, she just knew when to ask the right questions to help me get there. Not everything was solved of course, I was just more firmly set in my course now, I'd be able to face the next day at least.

Wisdom stood and beckoned me to follow. We walked on through the garden in a different direction from where I'd come in, passing more unique and unusual plants. I'm not sure where the change occurred but I soon recognized we'd crossed into my own little forest. As we approached the stream that ran through it I saw another spirit sitting against a tree along the bank, watching the water flowing by.

Wisdom finally spoke, "I can tell there is much you still wish to tell, but the night is nearing its end. Hope will keep you company until morning and we will speak again another time."

She turned and walked back the way we'd come and I went to sit next to Hope. I felt a gentle pressure on my shoulder and was slowly guided down until my head was pillowed in Hope's lap, a hand upon my head, lightly stroking my hair. And so I remained until morning returned me to the world.

Chapter Text

I found I was just as nervous the next morning as I had been the night before, but I did at least feel more resolved in how I might face what was ahead that day. As usual, I just did my best not to dwell on things and tried to focus on getting ready instead. When I headed downstairs to meet the others for breakfast I wasn't really hungry, my stomach seemed a bit too knotted up for food, but I forced down a little anyway. 

We didn't need to get to the city center very early so we were able to take our time that morning, even so I could sense everyone was a little on edge. As a result, Varric kept up a steady stream of banter and small stories to keep us from all becoming too somber. Truthfully, I was grateful for his efforts, it did help and I tried to do my part and respond appropriately. I would have been useless at keeping our spirits up on my own, but I was willing to help support Varric in his efforts. A couple times Cassandra looked like she almost wanted to admonish me for some of the silly behavior as 'unbecoming of the Herald' or something, but she would usually start grinning herself, her reprimand losing all its strength before it could even reach her tongue.

It was telling too, how I was able to be even just a little silly around them. Most people who know me would probably call me calm, quiet, sedate, or even aloof most of the time. I could often be friendly but never silly, outgoing, or even talkative. I only ever relaxed around people I'd come to trust and consider fairly close friends and it happened to be a very rare occurrence. That I felt I could let go of some that usual reserve around them meant that I had truly become comfortable around them and trusted them to accept me even if I acted slightly ridiculous.

I knew I should be worried at this clear sign of my growing attachment to these people but really I could only feel relieved to have been able to connect so well with them. For a while at the beginning I had thought that they would never really accept me and that I would always feel like an incompetent outsider among them. It was nice to be wrong. And more than nice to feel I really was a part of the group now. As Cassandra said the night before, I had done my share in watching out for everyone, and it had earned me her respect and trust. I would do whatever I had to to ensure all their welfare, even if that meant acting a little silly every now and then.

Once we'd finished breakfast we headed back out into the city, towards the Summer Bazaar, the largest market in Val Royeaux, located at the center of the city. We were all dressed as usual in our armor and we stood out like sore thumbs. More than a few people were blatantly obvious in their efforts to keep their distance and did little to hide the murmurs of distrust and even gasps of outright fear on occasion that were amusingly similar to that particular scene in the game. I was so nervous, it was really hard not to just laugh as a result, but I figured it would probably set the wrong tone if I did.

An Inquisition agent approached as we neared the market informing us that the Chantry mothers were waiting, and warning us of the Templars also waiting. Cassandra met my eye then, remembering our conversation of the night before, before turning back to the agent, "Only one thing to do then." She said as she started walking, leading us into the market.

The market, like everything else was both strange and familiar. Many elements were recognizable but it was also so much larger, with a profusion of shops and merchants, all elegantly dressed; their wares, shimmering in the sunlight, filled the area. There were also a lot more people, but that seemed to be the case in almost every area we visited, the persistent buzz and hum of humanity going about its business any place there was at least a moderate population. There were quite a few people milling around and visiting the stalls and shops, but it was clear the crowd was concentrated at the far end of the bazaar.

Cassandra was in the lead but I followed close behind her as we approached the crowd, which cleared a wide path for us as we proceeded towards the center of the throng. There were many whispers behind gloved hands as we passed but just as I had when walking past the onlookers that first day in Haven, I kept my eyes forward, focused only on those we were meant to meet.

We soon reached the front and approached the raised platform upon which stood the Reverend Mother, Ser Barris beside her, and a number of other clerics in the background. Once we stood at the head of the gathered crowd, the Reverend raised her hands and began to speak, "Good people of Val Royeaux, hear me." The speech and its clear animosity towards us - me - as familiar as it was aggravating. "Together we mourn our Divine; Her naive and beautiful heart, silenced by treachery. You wonder what will become of her murderer. Well, wonder no more. Behold, the so-called Herald of Andraste, claiming to rise where our Beloved fell. We say this is a false prophet, the Maker would send no elf in our hour of need!"

At her passionate pronouncement the mutterings and comments from the surrounding crowd grew in volume and I new my moment had arrived, now was when I had to take on the mantle that had been thrust upon me and try to do some kind of good with it. I did my best to swallow down my nerves before taking a breath deep into my center, raising my voice to resonate as far as I could, "I have made no such claims. I have come today because the Breach in the sky is the true threat and I seek your aid in sealing it to protect us all. I implore you let us talk and work together to stop this threat before it is too late!"

My voice gained strength as I spoke, gaining confidence with each word. It is always that first step that is the hardest but once you gain a little momentum it all becomes much easier. I heard the crowd quiet a bit once I'd finished, waiting to hear the response to my appeal.

"It is already too late," the Reverent Mother's voice rang out, "The Templars have returned to the Chantry! They will face this 'Inquisition' and the people will be safe once more!"

On cue, Lord Seeker Lucius stepped up onto the platform, followed by a few Templars, while a moderate contingent of Templars continued to wait just off to the side. I felt myself tense up, bracing for what I knew must come next. Seeker Lucius crossed in front of the Reverend mother while a Templar stepped up to her and struck her hard in the back of the head as she watched the Seeker. My body gave a slight involuntary jerk as I watched the assault. It was a far more infuriating sight in person than it had been on a screen and I felt a powerful urge to throw a fireball at the man's face.

My reaction was apparently noticed because I felt a gentle touch on my forearm as Solas sought to... calm me? Reassure me? Hold me back? I wasn't sure. It wasn't necessary though, I knew this wasn't the moment for such rash action, though the contact did surprise and confuse me slightly. It was something I had no time to think about now though, I had to focus on more important issues.

I saw the Reverend Mother fall, and Ser Barris moved as if to assist her but the Lord Seeker reached him first, "Still yourself, she is beneath us."

Ser Barris looked uncertain and worried as he stepped back, looking to the Lord Seeker, the Reverend Mother, and finally me.

I let the fire in me come out in words then, "Striking an unarmed woman for nothing more than words? Do you think that is supposed to impress us? Such are the actions of cowards, not honorable men. I would expect better from an order such as yours."

I glared at him as my anger continued to boil. I knew that this wasn't actually a man, but the envy demon in disguise. In a way, that made it worse, it was sickening to see how readily these men followed such a monster simply because he wore a familiar face.

The demon Seeker met my glare with his own, unperturbed by my anger, "Her claim to authority is an insult, much like your own. Your words hold no weight here," he declared, turning and striding back off the platform returning to the waiting Templars.

Cassandra quickly moved to follow the Seeker, trying to salvage the quickly deteriorating situation, "Lord Seeker Lucius, it is imperative that we speak with..."

"You will not address me," he interrupted, not even bothering to look at her.

"Lord Seeker?" her confusion was plain on her face and I felt for her.

Lucius turned back to her and the crowd and gave his monologue criticizing the Inquisition and the Chantry and claiming the Templars were the only ones doing what was right. "If you came to appeal to the Chantry you are too late. The only destiny here that demands respect is mine," he finished.

"You seem only interested in making this division worse," I stepped forward to speak to all the Templars, knowing this 'Seeker' could hear no reason. If I could make some of them doubt, even just a few... "but what we need is to work together. One of your own already commands the Inquisitions forces, and others too have answered our call and offered us their aid. I know there are those among you that wish to see this chaos come to an end and see peace return. Please, join us as they have, help us to end the madness which threatens all of us. We can only succeed if we are united."

"Ha, you make an impassioned plea. If your commander was such a staunch and loyal supporter of the order then why is it he abandoned it to follow a false Herald?" he retorted with a sneer.

"But Lord Seeker," Barris stepped up quickly, "What if she really was sent by the Maker? What if..."

But he was silenced quickly enough, "You are called to a higher purpose, do not question," said the Templar who I still wanted to throw a fireball at.

This allowed the Seeker to finish his predictably infuriating speech, "I will make the Templar order a power that stands alone against the void. We deserve recognition. Independence! You have shown me nothing, and the Inquisition...less than nothing. Templars, Val Royeaux is unworthy of our protection! We march!" With that he turned and strode away, leading the soldiers out of the Bazaar.

On their way out, I noticed a few of them look back at us, a look of uncertainty in their eyes. Ser Barris met my eye for a brief moment too, before joining the rest of the contingent and marching away.

As I watched them leave, I felt the heat of my anger dissipate. I wondered if my words were enough to reach even one of them

"Has Lord Seeker Lucius gone mad?" Cassandra asked, still in shock at the whole proceeding.

"Whether he has or not, it doesn't look like he will be willing to help us, we can only hope others do not share his view," I answered before turning back towards the platform. Whatever vitriol the Reverend Mother might have thrown at us she did not deserve what had happened and I would make sure she was alright before I would leave.

She tried to dismiss me at first but was coaxed into speaking with me, answering my and Cassandra's questions, and beginning to reveal her own doubts and uncertainties in the face of all that was going on.

By the time we had finished speaking I saw that much of the crowd had dispersed, leaving the space strangely quiet by comparison. As we started moving away we saw an arrow shoot down and land several feet just ahead. I turned to see if I could catch a glimpse of the archer but unsurprisingly I found nothing. Cassandra moved ahead to retrieve the message attached to the arrow.

I almost laughed to actually see the messy writing and barely decipherable drawings on the message indicating where other messages would be hidden.

"Not quite the message I was expecting after such a dramatic delivery," Varric commented.

"What should we do about this, Herald?" Cassandra asked, waiting for my instructions.

Somehow, without really trying, I had become the default leader of our little group. I knew it was probably inevitable and yet it felt strange realizing the position I was now in. I had never had any standing of this kind. No one had ever sought my judgment or direction on almost anything. On one hand, it was nice to be listened to, for my opinion to actually have some weight, but on the other, it was an awful lot of responsibility and I could only hope I was ready to shoulder it.

"I think we need to split up. Varric, you go with Solas; Cassandra is with me; and Bryn, I'm sure you'll be fine on your own. We each find one of these messages and while we're at it we can see what else we can find out: see how people are reacting to what happened today, see if there are any useful rumors. We should also do what we can to try and encourage support for the Inquisition, or even recruit new agents. Let's meet back here in an hour."

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Upon reconvening an hour later we shared the results of our efforts. It wasn't much but a couple new agents had been recruited and it seemed that public opinion for the Inquisition had improved slightly, or at least people were considering that we might actually be able to do something, especially now that the Templars seemed to have abandoned them. As for the Red Jenny clues, we found we now had a time, a location, and a key.

"I've heard of the Red Jennies," Bryn said, "but I'm not sure it would be wise to follow these instructions, it seems rather suspicious, I doubt it would be worth the risk to see what this is all about."

Since I knew exactly what it was about, I wasted no time before giving them my thoughts on the matter, "This time is for tonight and it isn't that far. The inquisition still has a long way to go towards gaining the support we need, I'd rather not turn down any opportunity we don't have to. After what we've been through so far, I'm pretty sure we can deal with any threats that might present themselves." The others just nodded, accepting my decision without further question. Am I ever going to get used to this? "This meeting is going to be pretty late, looks like we might not be getting much sleep tonight so perhaps we should head back to the inn and get some rest before then."

We started heading out of the Bazaar, but just as we were leaving the main area, a woman stepped out, "If I could just have a moment of your time," she said approaching us carefully. I'd almost forgotten about this encounter.

"Grand Enchanter Fiona?" Cassandra asked in surprise.

Of course, that is who it was, or at least the image of her. It was never made clear whether this Fiona was an imposter, the result of a change in the timelines due to the time magic Alexius was using, or something else entirely. Still I listened closely to everything she had to say since chances were high that I would choose to side with the mages as I always had in the game.

The leader of the mage rebellion suggested a possible alliance and expressed her suspicions of Templar involvement at the Conclave. She finished with her formal invitation, "Consider this an invitation to Redcliffe. Come and meet with the mages, an alliance could help us both, after all." She finished with a brief farewell and hope to see us soon before walking back into the busy marketplace.

I watched her go before turning back to the others, "Come on, let's get back to the inn, I'm starving."

 

 

The messenger found us outside of our accommodations with the invitation to Vivienne's Salon. The invitation was set for the next day, it didn't give me much time to prepare beforehand, especially considering the late night activities planned for tonight.

I handed the invitation to Cassandra to look at once I'd finished. She then passed it to Bryn. "You need to get a dress," Bryn stated matter-of-factly.

"Surely that won't be necessary," Cassandra objected.

"She has been invited to an Orlesian salon, whatever this Vivienne de Fer wishes from her, she is likely to encounter a number of other Orlesian nobles as well. If we seek to gain support, it seems wise to at least make a good impression," Bryn explained.

"She's probably right," I confirmed. "Somehow I doubt they will be particularly welcoming to an elf in any case, but showing up in armor would likely solidify me as the savage they see me as already. Besides, I'm sure the very idea would utterly scandalize poor Josephine. Anyway, I might as well pick up something nice while I'm here to be used at whatever similar diplomatic functions I might be forced to attend in the future."

Cassandra gave in with a sigh, "I suppose you are right. I am grateful it isn't I in your position."

"We sometimes must play the role we have been given, rather than the one we would choose," I stated with a light sigh.

"True enough," she relented.

"I don't mind a pretty dress now and then, but I can't say I care for social functions such as this. Still, I guess I have to do some shopping tomorrow. Do you know anything about Olesian fashion Bryn?"

"I know a little, I can help you make an appropriate selection if you like."

"Thanks, I'd really appreciate it."

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

The rest of the afternoon was pleasantly uneventful. We did our best not to dwell on the events of the Bazaar over lunch, it wasn't like we were going to be able to find any answers in our soup. Instead we speculated and strategized about the evening's agenda and the intentions behind the Lady Vivienne's invitations. It was a bit tricky for me to engage in the conversations much, I didn't want to risk giving anything away. I mostly kept to reacting to their speculations with statements like, "If that's the case then...", essentially hypothetical reactions to proposed scenarios.

After lunch Bryn and Cassandra left to meet with some of the local agents, and send whatever messages were deemed necessary. Bryn was also going to stake out the location for the night's activities so we wouldn't be going in totally blind. I'm not sure where Varric disappeared to, I assumed he found some bar or pub somewhere. Solas and I apparently had the same idea, choosing to simply read in our rooms.

I did ok for an hour or so, reading, taking notes, but then my concentration started to waver. I thought a change of scene might do me good so I went out to take a walk. I returned less than half an hour later, getting tired of all the pointing and muttering that seemed to follow me everywhere. I'd left my weapons in my room but my armor and ears were more than enough to draw attention, especially after what happened that morning. I was sure gossip had spread all over the city by now.

I tried to read some more after returning to my room but found myself becoming distracted, so I tried to do some stretches, but it was hard to stay in any one position long enough, I was starting to get aggravated with myself. Surely, I could get through one day...

Finally I just threw my hands in the air, stuffed my notes in my book, picked up the tome and strode out the door. A few moments later I was knocking lightly on Solas' door. I was kept waiting only a few seconds before he opened it to greet me.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you," I smiled lightly, "I just thought if you had a few minutes, I had a few questions about what I've been reading."

He nodded with a small smile and nod in return, "Of course," and gestured for me to enter. "I would be happy to answer your questions."

Like mine, his room only possessed one chair, so I made myself comfortable on the floor instead, setting the book out before me.

He cleared his throat and I looked up to see him looking slightly confused, "That is not necessary, you may have the chair, I am comfortable enough standing."

"Oh," I said, realizing it probably did seem a little strange for me to just come in and fling myself to the ground like that. "No, it's fine, I prefer this and these Orlesian rugs really are quite comfortable. Besides, it's more difficult to think if I have to sit properly in a chair, this is much better."

"I was not aware that the position of ones body could have so great an effect on one's ability to think," he replied, curiosity at my reasoning plain in his still impassive countenance. I'd clearly spent too much time with him if it was becoming easier to read the minute variations in his expression of seemingly perpetual calm.

"I grant that the mind can continue thinking in any position, but the mind and body are very much linked," I started. "I find that remaining in a single position while thinking can lead one to think in similar patterns or maybe you just get stuck and can't figure out a way forward. Changing one's physical position can make it easier to change mental perspectives as well. For me personally, if I am free of the convention of sitting properly in a chair, then my mind feels more freedom to explore unconventional thoughts as well; and if my body feels a freedom to move and adjust in more ways, then so follows my mind. It may not work for everyone but it has always been an effective method for me." I looked up at him wondering how he would respond. Admittedly, I was starting to feel slightly silly, sprawled out on the floor as he stood above me. Perhaps I shouldn't have behaved so comfortably around him. And yet something about the situation made me feel just a little bit playful. I probably needed to watch myself more carefully, it was becoming far too easy for me to let down my guard around him.

He looked down at me, I did my best not to fidget under his thoughtful gaze as the moment stretched.

"That... actually makes quite a lot of sense," he stated finally. He then stepped forward and sat down in front of me, legs crossed, hands on his knees, facing me across the book I'd laid out earlier.

I was completely stunned, it was the last thing I'd expected.

My surprise must have shown clearly on my face, "After such an endorsement for the practice did you really expect I would not seek to try it for myself?" he asked with a glint of mischief in his eye.

"I uh... I don't know... I just thought you would prefer the chair."

"That would normally be the case yes, but perhaps it is time I too seek out a new perspective," he replied, still oh so calm.

I did my best to regain my composure, "Ok, well why not? Clearly I'm in full support of new perspectives, so... um...," I looked around a bit unsure how to proceed, "welcome to the floor." I fell back into silence, not knowing what else to say.

Mercifully, he broke it for me, "I believe you had some questions."

"I- Yes, that's right," I was grateful to have something else to focus on, to distract me from my discomfiture at his surprising actions.

We spent probably another couple hours there discussing my questions and various points in the book. We were still there when there was a knock on the door followed by Cassandra announcing herself.

She entered upon receiving Solas' permission to do so, "Solas, have you seen The Herald?" she said as she stepped through the door and before she caught sight of us sitting on the floor with books and papers lying around. She looked baffled at first and then seemed to become slightly flustered as if she'd walked in on something vaguely scandalous, "I hope I am not disturbing you."

"Oh no, it's fine, I was just studying," I said with a smile.

"On the floor?" she asked, the confusion on her face almost comical.

"Well, there was only one chair," I pointed out pleasantly.

"Why not bring in the chair from your room?"

"Because the floor was already here," I answered, grinning at her inability to formulate an appropriate response. "You were looking for me?" I finally queried, deciding to save her from trying to fully understand the situation.

"Yes, Bryn and I have returned and we thought you might like an update before dinner."

"That's probably a good idea, give me a few minutes and I'll come find you."

She nodded and left, quietly closing the door behind her.

"I guess we'll have to continue this discussion later," I told Solas as he helped me gather up the scattered notes.

"It would be my pleasure," he responded simply.

"Really? I'd think you'd be sick of me and my endless questions by now," I teased, "watch out or I'm going to start asking you for lessons on speaking Elvhen pretty soon."

"If it is your wish to learn more of the language, I would be more than happy to assist you in the pursuit."

"Well, now you've done it, as soon as I actually find the time for it, language lessons are getting added to the schedule. You will never be rid of me at this rate," I smiled enjoying the banter.

"You assume I am trying to get rid of you, which I am not," he stood up, book in hand, as he spoke and reached his free hand out to help me up.

"Good, because I won't let you anyway." I took the offered hand, returning the grip as it wrapped firmly around my own. Once standing, I met his eye and accepted the book back. It was a friendly look but inside I meant those words in more ways than he could know. I headed for the door but was struck with memory halfway there. I paused, suddenly nervous, not knowing how to say it but knowing I needed to tell him. I turned back, "I almost forgot, there was one other thing I wanted to tell you."

"What is that?"

"I uh, I met Wisdom last night. I was worried about today so Creativity took me to see her."

He walked towards me and stood close enough he had to look slightly down to meet my eyes, "and was she able to help you?"

"Yes," I felt suddenly more aware of his presence than I had all afternoon, "She helped me think through things effectively, it was exactly what I needed."

"She is good at that, I'm sure there is much you can learn from her. You are very fortunate indeed, to have made such good friends in the Fade already." His voice was soft gentle and bordering on reverent.

"I feel incredibly lucky. And at the end of the night she introduced me to Hope. We didn't speak, but it was nice just being near such a spirit for even a short time," I smiled up at him as I recalled the meeting.

"Thank you for telling me. I am always interested to hear of your experiences in the Fade and I am glad you are willing to trust me with them."

I felt suddenly caught by his eyes on mine, speaking more than was in his words, and for a moment I was sure he would reach out, some how bridge the short distance still between us. But the moment passed and I managed to find my voice again, "Thank you, I'm glad I have someone I can talk about it with." I took a small step back as I continued, "Though, for now, I guess I should go see what Cassandra has to tell me." I forced my eyes away from him to glance at the door instead.

"Yes, perhaps you should," he stepped back as well, letting me breathe normally again with more space between us, "I shall see you later."

I nodded and gave a small smile before turning back to the door and heading out.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

The early morning hours saw the five of us sneaking into the estate indicated by the notes. Overall the scenario went down pretty much as it had in the game. There weren't really that many enemies and they fell fast. I knew the fireball was coming so deflecting it wasn't a problem either. And when Sera stepped out to interrupt the posturing villain's monologue, I had to fight not to laugh at the familiarity of it all.

Sera was never one of my favorite characters, her personality just didn't naturally mesh well with mine, but I couldn't really disagree with her ideas. 'Little people' were important too and she would make it easier to for me to remember to take them into consideration, so I never had a doubt that I would accept her request to join the Inquisition. It was also admittedly quite funny to fight the reinforcements sans breeches. If they hadn't still been so hell bent on killing us, I'd have felt bad at killing them with such a disadvantage.

Once all the action was over, I asked Sera several questions, mostly for the benefit of my other companions, before I accepted her offer of help, "Alright Sera, I think you and your friends could be useful."

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Get in good before you're too big to like. That'll keep your breeches where they should be." She then ran off to an alcove and retrieved a hefty sack, dropping it at my feet with a snicker, "Plus, extra breeches because I have all these– you have merchants who buy that pish, yeah? Gotta be worth something," she finished with a proud look on her face.

I looked down at the large sack of what probably was indeed a pile of now dead men's breeches at my feet, "Um, thank you?"

"No problem," she grinned. "Anyway, Haven, right? See you there Herald." She gave a wave and made as if to leave.

"Wait, are you sure you don't want to return with us? We'll probably be heading back in a few days."

"Nah, I got some things to do on the way anyway and maybe I can pick up a few tips for you too." She paused a moment, thinking, "Unless you think you reeaaallly need me, like your current body guards can't handle themselves," she said looking over Varric and Solas in particular.

I did my best not to imagine the expression Solas likely had on his face right now, "I think we'll be okay and if you think you can get anything useful for us I won't stop you, but you're free to join us if you want to."

"No probs, I'll get you somethin' good, yeah? See ya later Herald," and away she dashed, back into the night.

I looked back down at my feet, "Does anyone know where we might donate a pile of breeches?"

Chapter Text

I rose early the next morning, despite how late we'd been out that night. The Salon was in the evening and I wanted to be sure I had enough time to find a dress and get ready. Bryn and I had eaten and were heading out before the others had come down. Since they didn't really need to do much that day they could enjoy the luxury of a late start.

We didn't have a ton of money but it should be enough to get a decent dress. We did get a nice little 'bonus' from those bandits we'd met on the road after all, might as well put that to good purpose.

I opted for something quite simple by most Orlesian standards, no lace or frills and without the great poufy skirts that were most popular. The dress was made of a simple but smooth, almost satiny, fabric. It was sleeveless and high-necked; form fitting from the neck to just below the hips and then it flared out to create a subtle mermaid shape. To make it even better, it came in dark purple. Since neither the design nor the color were exactly in demand I was able to get a good deal on it, leaving me with enough to still buy a nice pair of simple slippers to go with it. I was pretty sure wearing my boots would ruin the effect.

For me it was perfect. Not being a popular design, and therefore less common would mean it would stand out and be memorable. Since I was going to stand out anyway, might as well do it with style and to me this dress was gorgeous, so I could hold myself with confidence wearing it. I could be elegantly unconventional and I would be willing to wear it again should any other occasions arise that might require such apparel. I decided to forego a mask, personally I felt I carried too many layers of facade as it was, I didn't wish to add more than was strictly necessary.

Because some slight alterations and adjustments were needed, so the dress would fit my smaller elven stature we didn't return to the inn until early afternoon. Fortunately it wasn't going to take me too long to get ready so I had time to eat some lunch first. My hair had started growing out but it was still short enough that I didn't need to do much to it other than smooth it down with a bit of pomade. I'd bought a few more basic cosmetics that morning as well, while waiting for the seamstress to finish her work, and so it was I was able to make up my face more than I had since entering this world, and doing so felt good in its familiarity.

Once I was ready I gave myself a final once-over in the mirror before heading downstairs. The others were waiting. They wouldn't be accompanying me, much to Cassandra's chagrin, as they were pointedly not on the invitation. I wasn't that thrilled about it either, to be honest. Still they would see me off at least, which was a comfort as the butterflies started to rise in my stomach. I'd gotten so used to having them nearby at all times.

Arriving downstairs I was met with three slightly shocked stares. I almost felt the need to glance behind me to see what was so surprising to them.

Bryn just looked like she might laugh, "Have none of you seen a woman in a dress before?"

"We haven't seen her in a dress before. If you haven't noticed our overall theme generally consists of leather, metal, and dirt, occasionally accessorized with blood," Varric said as the shock dissolved and he walked up to me to look me over with a critical eye. "You clean up pretty well, Midnight. Shining like a star now," he gave me a firm pat on the shoulder, " those people will never suspect you are the total barbarian we know you are."

"Thank you Varric. I'm so glad my disguise tonight is effective," I grinned, shaking my head in amusement.

Cassandra came up next, looking me over a little more closely, "You do look very nice, I am sure you will do well at the Salon," she conceded, "though I still do not like it that you are going alone," she added with a frown. "Are you ready to leave?"

"I think so, is the carriage here yet?"

"I will go check," She answered and headed towards the entrance.

I turned towards Solas who had been silent so far. "Do you think the dress suits me?" I asked a little shyly.

"It is lovely, and you wear it well. I assume your Dalish upbringing offered little opportunity to be so attired, but your bearing in no way betrays such a background. You seem born to stand within such circles." He spoke in his usual calm and matter of fact tone but his eyes held mine firmly and they seemed to shine with a certain admiration.

I felt my blood rise to my ears again, it was becoming an awfully familiar feeling at this point but I tried to laugh off the awkwardness, "If all I had to do was stand there this might not be so bad, after wearing armor everyday this dress is awfully light. I'm more worried about being weighted down by an endless stream of meaningless polite small talk and empty smiles."

"I'm sure you will do admirably. However, I do agree with Cassandra and wish at least one of us were able to go with you," a look of concern crossed his face.

"If it were up to me we'd all be going together but unfortunately I did not write the invitation. I suppose a day had to come eventually when I'd have to be on my on for something. It could be worse." I spoke as if to reassure him, but I was really just trying to reassure myself. I hated social events full of strangers so much. I was pretty sure I would much prefer taking on a hundred demons by myself than attend this salon.

"The carriage is here," Cassandra said, returning, "are you ready?"

"As much as I'll ever be," I took a breath, squared my shoulders and turned for the entrance.

I stepped into the carriage and felt so alone as the door closed, cutting me off from my companions. I felt the last of my sense of security fade away as we moved beyond even my ability to sense Solas.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The journey to the chateau took maybe 40 minutes, it was located on the outskirts of the city which could accommodate larger estates. In that time I did my best to rally my spirits and prepare to meet with Vivienne and whatever other nobles I may have to encounter.

I walked slowly up the steps of the chateau, breathing slowly to keep myself calm. I handed the name card over at the top of the steps as I had seen the guests ahead of me do, and heard my name called out as I stepped into the large space. It truly was impressive. It was my first time actually inside one of the elaborate structures that Val Royeaux was famous for. I felt like I was in some kind of fancy museum rather than someone's house. I found myself gazing around to take in the lavish atmosphere as I continued into the room.

I had no idea who anyone was, or where Vivienne was, or what I should do with myself until I found her, so I found a spot where I could see a large portion of the grand hall, and where I could stand as naturally as possible seeming to admire the space around me.

I hadn't been there long before a couple nobles approached me and proceeded to question me in a curious but friendly manner. It turned out I didn't need to say much, they told me of the stories they'd heard about me and from even the simplest responses to their questions a dozen new comments were shared. After a few minutes there was actually a half dozen nobles eager to hear more. I was occasionally able to ask my own questions, trying to find out more about Vivienne, or even some of them, but it never took long before the conversation was redirected towards me or the Inquisition.

It was quickly getting tiresome but I had to be grateful that these people all seemed to have a generally favorable view of the Inquisition so I decided it would be best if my goal for the evening was to maintain and hopefully strengthen these opinions.

Finally, a man pushed forward through the still increasing audience around me, arrogance and derision dripping from his every word, "The Inquisition? What a load of pig shit."

He continued to slander the organization in his crude manner, strutting before those gathered as if he were imparting great knowledge to them.

I finally spoke up, knowing I could not simply remain silent in the face of these aspersions, "The Inquisition is trying to see that the Breach gets closed, and is working to bring peace and order back to Thedas."

As expected, he countered with thinly veiled threats and an effort to challenge me on the spot. I was pleased when he was suddenly frozen in place, mid-gesture as he'd been reaching for the saber at his back. I'd been hoping this would be another instance where events mimicked the game closely; I did not really want to deal with the pompous bastard myself. Whatever standing my novelty may have lent me for the evening, as an outsider and an elf I was aware that a single misstep could have serious consequences.

Thus it was with some relief that I saw Vivienne descend as she spoke smoothly in censuring the upstart marquis while he remained frozen before our little audience. Finally she turned toward me, "My Lady, you're the wounded party in this unfortunate affair. What would you have me do with this foolish, foolish man?"

I gave the man a hard look, as if I were assessing him and considering my decision, "I believe the marquis has learned his lesson." I finally said, looking back to Vivienne.

She nodded and turned back to the trapped noble, "By the grace of Andraste, you have your life, my dear. Do be more careful with it." With a snap of her fingers the ice shattered.

Even from her small demonstrations I could tell she was quite a powerful mage, and that she most likely favored ice magic. There was a crispness and refinement to her use of it that clearly felt to me as if she'd made it a part of herself. I had no doubt she would be quite competent in other magic as well but clearly had a preference. Noting this, however, made me wonder if I'd be able to ascertain other mages' preferences. If I could it might prove to be useful information. I'd need to test the theory the next time I had the opportunity.

Once the marquis was freed of the ice, he quickly walked back through the crowd, trying to maintain a dignified gait but the speed of his steps belied the fear behind them. Still, the crowd paid him little heed as he strode away, all attention remaining focused on Vivienne and myself.

"I'm delighted you could attend this little gathering. I've so wanted to meet you." She took my arm in hers and led me through the gathered people and away to a more private corner of the great room.

If this was what she considered a 'little' gathering...

Once we were away from the mingling throng she proceeded with the expected introductions and niceties, before getting to her primary reason for inviting me there, "With Divine Justinia dead, the Chantry is in shambles. Only the inquisition might restore sanity and order to our frightened people. As the leader of the last loyal mages of Thedas, I feel it only right that I lend my assistance to your cause."

Knowing that this was coming I'd had considerable time to decide what to do. Vivienne was the only member that I was unsure I would actually want to recruit in reality. Not only did I not agree with many of her views regarding mages and the circles, I just didn't care for her personality. If the game was anything to go by, no one really got along with her, and she always seemed to look down her nose at everyone but those in distinctly higher positions than her. She was powerful and not unintelligent, but I worried how she might affect the dynamic I was trying to create with my inner circle. My goal was to have a strong team in which every member could trust each other under any circumstance and I felt that with her tendency to hold herself above everyone else that might not be possible.

In the end, I decided I would recruit her and focus on utilizing her connections and knowledge in a more consultative function, at least for the time being. I didn't hate the woman and I knew she had resources that might be valuable, I just didn't want her out on the field with us for weeks or months at a time. Yet, I also wanted to give her the chance to prove that my impression of her was wrong. As with everyone else in this world, she was more than just a character in a game now, she was as much a real and full being as any of the others. Perhaps she would surprise me and I would change my mind and let her come along at some point.

So, with all that in mind, I asked a number of questions, ones I remembered from the game and whatever else I felt seemed relevant, to at least get a good baseline for her in this world. Finally, I gave her my decision, "I believe the Inquisition will be happy to have you Lady Vivienne."

She smiled at the acceptance, "Great things are beginning my dear, I can promise you that."

With that she led me back towards the party. The rest of the evening was spent meeting nearly everyone in attendance. I was introduced over and over and forced to answer the same questions repeatedly, all with a gracious smile plastered across my face. I was grateful for Josephine's lessons, my acting training, my experience in customer service, and all the other jobs which had required me to build rapport with clients quickly; I utilized all the skills acquired from these experiences to get me through the evening. I drank and ate little, I had no desire to get drunk in such a setting, and the constant need to smile and answer questions made eating difficult. Not that I was very hungry, nerves and anxiety rather killed my appetite. Even so, I did try to eat a few canapés here and there as the nobles amused themselves with their own stories.

I don't know how long I was there enduring the endless small talk, every hour felt like a week. I was not able to excuse myself from the festivities until about half of the other guests had already left.

Vivienne herself saw me to the entrance, "Thank you again for attending, my dear. I know my guests delighted in meeting you and you conducted yourself in a most befitting manner. I must say I was quite pleasantly surprised, I had not expected one of the Dalish to be aware of the social graces appropriate to such a setting."

Internally I winced at the condescending compliment but on the outside I just smiled, "You are too kind Lady Vivienne, I must admit I have had some help learning some of the finer points of protocol for certain circumstances, but I am pleased to know such lessons have been effective. It was a pleasure and privilege to attend such a gathering."

"I look forward to seeing you in Haven, my dear. I hope you will take care until next we meet."

"You do not wish to travel back to Haven with us then?" I asked, hardly daring to hope that would actually be the case.

"Oh no, I'm afraid that there are a number of matters which require my attention before I leave on an extended absence from Val Royeaux. As soon as they have been attended to I will join you in Haven. Worry not, I will not be long behind you."

I smiled cordially in response, "Then I look forward to your arrival. Thank you for the pleasant evening. I bid you Good night."

I offered a slight wave as she bade me a good night in return before I descended the stairs to meet the carriage waiting for me. I waited until we were out of view of the chateau's entrance before flinging myself across the seat in utter exhaustion. I massaged my face, stunned that it hadn't cramped up from all the forced smiling I'd had to endure.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a bit proud. I was sure Vivienne wouldn't have hesitated to criticize any of my behavior if she had found it lacking. She may have done so with kindly, and well-meaning condescension, but she would have done it. Instead I had received praise. If I could pass myself off as having enjoyed such an ordeal, then surely I could improve my skills at Wicked Grace.

I was beyond happy the night was over though, and I was grateful that we wouldn't have to make the long journey back with Vivienne along, I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle it just yet. I was also glad I'd insisted that we spend one more day in the city before heading back. I was going to need a long night's sleep and some serious retail therapy to help me recover from tonight. There was one little shop in particular that I was absolutely determined to visit.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I got back sometime well after midnight, I'd been nodding off all through the trip back, and it was all I could do to drag myself back into the inn after exiting the carriage. All I wanted to do was collapse onto my bed and not move again for a very long time. Heck, I might just collapse on the floor, I wasn't sure I'd make it to the bed.

I walked through the entrance into the large front room, silent and empty in the dark, except that it wasn't completely empty or completely dark. Solas was there reading by candlelight, but he looked up at my entrance. I didn't think I'd made any noise so he must have sensed my approach as usual. I contemplated just heading directly to my room but my feet automatically moved in his direction instead.

He stood at my approach. My eyes were cloudy with sleepiness already, and my mind must not have been completely conscious either because I almost walked into him before I realized I had reached my destination. I blinked a few times as I took in the view of the wolf's jawbone necklace he always wore. Huh, I've never looked at it this close before. Finally, I realized I had to look up to see his face clearly since I was standing so close. Once I finally moved my eyes up the line of his body, I saw him looking down at me. His cool blue eyes met my squinty sleepy ones for a moment but it was just too hard to focus so I looked back down and without thinking just let my head fall onto his shoulder instead, closing my eyes as it became my impromptu pillow, temple and one eye pressed against the cloth of his tunic with my face angled just inward towards his neck, breathing in the comforting scent I remembered from the first time I'd ended up too close.

"I take it you had a long evening," he said, careful not to move. He seemed rather stiff and awkward at the moment but I hardly cared. I just nodded slightly in response without lifting my head. "Were there any problems?" I shook my head, chin pressing slightly into his chest as I awkwardly tried to complete the movemnt. "Did the meeting go well?" Nod. A short pause then, "Have you been drinking?" I shook my head again.

"Just tired," I managed to murmur "Too much small talk, too many fake smiles." I frowned, shaking my head again trying to forget the long night.

"We should get you to bed then," he gently placed a hand on my back and carefully tried to maneuver me towards the stairs.

I wasn't quite successful at stifling a whimper at losing my standing pillow but I didn't resist as he guided me forward. Instead I just leaned sideways so that part of my weight was on him. He gave a small sigh as he was forced to move his arm around my shoulders to support me properly. If I had been halfway conscious I would have been deeply embarrassed to be acting in such a way but as it was I couldn't make myself care, it felt nice, warm, safe.

We slowly made our way up the stairs and down the hall, finally stopping at a door. "I believe this is your room," he said gently, to prod me into action.

I hesitated a moment, reluctant to leave this comfortable position but I also knew I wasn't likely going to be able to stay standing much longer. I fumbled a bit to pull out my key and finally pulled myself away so I could open the door. He let his arm drop back to his side as I turned toward him, immediately missing its warmth. I woke myself up just enough to look at him and speak, "You didn't have to stay up waiting."

"Cassandra was up for a while but I offered to take her place once it got quite late."

"I see, thank you anyway. It was nice to come back to a friendly face," I paused, trying to think through the returning fog of sleepiness, "You make a good pillow too," I smiled.

"It was no trouble. You should sleep now, we can speak more tomorrow. Dream well."

"Good night," I gave a little wave as I entered the room and closed the door. I stayed there, leaning against the door, forehead pressed to its surface, as I felt him return downstairs (he'd left his book hadn't he) and then as he came back, passing my door and continuing to his own room farther down the hall.

Finally I turned towards the bed. Somehow I managed to remove the dress, letting the fabric pool at my feet, before collapsing onto the bed's welcoming surface.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I slept late, I was in no hurry to start my day. I was in serious introvert recovery mode. Having to spend so much time interacting with so many strangers was incredibly draining for me. I seriously believed fighting a hundred demons would have been invigorating by comparison.

The plan was to stay one more day in Val Royeaux, mostly because I knew I would need the day to recover and I wanted the time to do a bit of shopping while I was here. It would be a rest day for everyone so they were all a little slow to rise that morning as well. Even so, I arrived for breakfast after everyone else had already finished.

They greeted me as I sat down to join them but didn't try to engage me in conversation just yet. They'd gotten used to my usual morning demeanor and generally let me be until I spoke first, signaling I was ready to communicate with others without thinly veiled hostility. Today I probably could have happily gone half the day without speaking at all, but felt that might be more than I could get away with, so I finally opened by asking what everyone had done the evening before while I was out.

Solas and Cassandra had had a fairly quiet evening. Bryn had gone to meet some people she knew in the city, though she didn't say if these people were friends or some kind of contacts. She'd also managed to find someone in the alienage where we could donate those breeches and said she'd show me after breakfast, as I wanted to make the delivery personally. Varric gave a rousing retelling of the actions of some shady characters he'd met in a local bar.

Eventually it was my turn and Cassandra asked me about the Salon. "It was fine, no problems. I met with Madame Vivienne and she will also be joining the Inquisition. She'll join us in Haven after she's finished making arrangements here. I thought we could use her connections, she has a lot of political and social standing as well as magical knowledge so she can probably be useful in a primarily consultative position. Though she is polite enough I have a feeling she'd ruffle more than a few feathers if we spent much time together, myself included, so I won't likely suggest including her in most of our travels. Aaaand the rest of the night was spent exchanging small talk with countless nobles eager to bask in the acquaintance of the 'Herald of Andraste'. I was apparently the main attraction of the evening and it was absolutely exhausting, it will take me a few more days to fully recover from the ordeal I'm afraid. So, I intend to spend today shopping and enjoying some quiet time. Then tomorrow we can start the return journey to Haven."

I finished my little monologue, after which a few questions were asked before I was allowed to finish my breakfast without speaking further.

Once I'd finished eating, I headed out into the bustling city with Bryn and a sack full of breeches. We passed them on to a kind elven woman in the alienage who thanked me profusely. Bryn said the woman was known for being active in helping those less fortunate within the alienage and that she could be trusted that the donation would benefit those who needed it. It was such a small thing but apparently outside donations were a very rare thing. I only wish I'd had more to give. I decided that if I came back I'd figure out a way to do something more.

Once that was done I parted ways with Bryn to continue shopping on my own.

I spent the next few hours leisurely wandering in and out of various shops. I got a lot of stares but I wasn't going to let that stop me from enjoying the day so I just ignored most of it. Mostly I just looked, but I did want to pick up a few gifts. I had to stick with smallish things so they wouldn't take up too much space on the way back. I spent a lot of time in a shop that sold soaps and scented bath and body items. I bought most of my gifts there, as well as a few things for myself since bathing was quickly becoming the most indulgent luxury I ever got. I found a small necklace for Maryn too. I knew she would accept nothing fancy but hoped this was something she would like. Finally, as my energy started to get low again, I made one final stop before heading back. Once my shopping was finished, I carefully carried my small stack of parcels in my arms as I made my way back to the inn.

 

 

It was getting late in the afternoon, and well after the lunch hour when I got back to the inn but I was able to get something quick to eat anyway. Once my stomach was a little less empty I retrieved a box from the last shop and found myself in front of Solas' door, a hundred butterflies suddenly assaulted my stomach as I lightly knocked. "Please come in," came the reply and I opened the door and stepped through, trying to smile normally as I entered.

"Good afternoon Solas, I hope I'm not disturbing you. I just wanted to deliver a little gift I picked up this afternoon." I walked over to the small table where he was sitting and set the box down on top of the book there. He looked slightly confused at first then turned to the box to open it. My heart was pounding with nerves. What if he doesn't like it?

He opened the box to reveal four small perfectly round frilly cakes. After a moment I spoke up again, "Two of them are mine but you can have the other two. I already gave cake to the others as well. You don't have to have two, but I will eat three cakes myself otherwise. You can choose which you want, just don't take the one with the purple swirls, that one's mine."

He gave a small smile at my slight babbling, "Thank you, that's very kind. I suppose it would be irresponsible for me to allow you to eat three whole cakes on your own, therefore I shall take the two on the right." He moved the book aside so that there was now space cleared on the table.

Before he could say anything I quickly and carefully removed said cakes from their box and set them down with their little paper doilies on the table along with a fork I'd borrowed, "I hope you enjoy them," I smiled as I picked up the box again and turned to go.

"Aren't you going to join me?" He said softly as I stepped towards the door.

I turned back, nerves peaking again, "I... I'm always taking up your time, I thought I'd leave you alone for once."

"Not at all, I enjoy your company. I would be happy to have you join me in appreciating such a treat," He stood up and gestured towards the rug we'd sat on the other day.

"On the floor?" I asked in surprise.

"You seem to favor it. If you find it suitable for study I don't see why it should be any less so for cake. Consider it an indoor picnic."

I couldn't help the smile that spread over my face then, "Sounds perfect then."

Once we were situated, a kind of awkward silence fell over us. We'd always spent time together under the context of some kind of lesson. I had questions and he would explain things. This was the first time we were just spending time without any purpose. Normally silences between us were comfortable but this time I felt like we both wanted to talk, we just didn't know what to talk about.

"I'm sorry about last night," I finally blurted, still staring at our untouched cakes. "I didn't mean to just kind of ... fall on you like that. The night just took a lot out of me and I was half asleep and..." I felt like I was just babbling again so I took a slow breath and tried to put my thoughts together, "I just needed someone to lean on for a minute, I'm sorry if it was awkward for you, but thank you for being there." I picked up my fork but still didn't move to cut my cake.

"I was surprised, but I did not mind. I knew you were not fond of small talk, I did not realize it would be such a trial for you to attend an event of this nature." I could feel his eyes on me as he spoke but I wasn't ready to look up. "You said you did not drink though, it has been my experience that most people do so under such unpleasant circumstances."

I met his eyes then, he seemed genuinely curious at my behavior. "No, I did not drink more than was necessary to be polite. Perhaps I could have relaxed a bit more if I had, but I likely would not have been able to maintain quite the level of decorum that I did. As an outsider and an elf I wasn't going to have much leeway for mistakes if I wanted to earn any respect at all. So, in part it was a tactical choice. Also, it would have just made me even more tired in the long run. I actually don't care to drink all that often, especially around strangers."

"A wise strategy then, you continue to surprise me."

"Well, you know how I hate to be predictable," I grinned and finally sank my fork into the soft cake. I put it too my mouth and a moment later had to fight to resist the moan of pleasure that threatened to escape. I had no success hiding the expression of pure ecstasy from my face however, even as I raised my hand over my mouth, eyes closed as the confection melted across my tongue. "Oh gods that's good!" I finally said as I swallowed, "You have to try yours."

"Well, it seems you are recovering then, the cake apparently makes an effective restorative," he smiled.

"Oh it does, it really does," my second bite produced a very similar reaction. "I also had a nice quiet night with Creativity last night, which helped a lot." I explained between bites, "We made water sculptures by the river, no speaking necessary, just the sound of the water, it was very soothing."

"It sounds wonderful," he smiled and finally brought his first bite to his lips.

The expression as he closed his eyes, tasting that first bite sent my heart rate through the roof. Most people probably wouldn't have thought it so remarkable but his expressions were never very dramatic, this was a new one though and the pleasure was almost palpable in the air. "See, I told you it was amazing." I took up another bite myself, and as it melted on my tongue I imagined what it would be like to taste the cake on his tongue. The sudden thought caused me to swallow to fast and I nearly choked.

"You are right, the cake is excellent," he agreed.

We finished the rest of our first cake in silence, simply relishing the sweet treat. I did my best to only focus on my cake and avoid looking at his face when he took a bite. It didn't do any good though, I could still see the expression from that first bite burned into my memory.

I was so glad to have the second cake there; one just wasn't enough. If anything the second was even better. If I hadn't been trying to maintain some amount of dignity I would have thrown myself flat to the ground to squirm in delight at every bite but instead I settled for silently savoring each bite with a constant smile. Even so the cake was gone all too soon, "I'm starting to feel sorry I let you have two cakes," I teased.

"If it is any comfort, I truly appreciate the generosity of your sacrifice," he smiled back.

"Then it was worth it." I beamed. I meant it too, it was worth it to have him so enjoy the gift and allow me to enjoy it with him. I gathered the box and doilies and set them on the fire. It was a sign of what a luxury this was to have produced actual trash this way. Though food packaging trash was incredibly common in my world it was nearly unheard of here.

We sat quietly watching the paper blacken for a few moments before a thought hit me, "You know, I wonder what would have happened if Cassandra had been there to meet me last night instead."

"I'd imagine that the armor would have made a far less comfortable pillow," he responded with rare humor.

"True, but could you imagine her face if I tried anyway?" I started to giggle as I pictured the image. I then looked up and saw him considering the image as well and that just did me in, I was soon in stitches on the floor laughing uncontrollably as I imagined Cassandra's look of confusion and awkwardness.

I started to calm down, but when I looked up and saw Solas looking at me like I'd gone mad, it set me off again. His shock did become more amusement and I saw him smiling too. I wished I could stop the laughter so as just to admire such a rare expression on his lips.

A few minutes later the tremors of laughter were finally subsiding. "I'm sorry," I said for the tenth time, wiping the laughter tears from my face "I don't know why that was so funny."

"There is no need to apologize," he said as he stood up. "It is good that you can laugh like that. You should enjoy it whenever you can." He stepped over to me and reached down his hands to help me up as was apparently becoming a habit. We gripped each others wrists and he pulled me up without a hitch. I was again standing much closer to him than expected and found myself looking directly at those entrancing, still smiling lips. I quickly moved my gaze up to his eyes, but that wasn't any better according to my heart rate, so I took a step back, even though we still held each others wrists.

"Well, I think we have properly spoiled our dinner, but I guess I'll see you downstairs later anyway," I let go of his wrists as I spoke and he released his hold on mine as well.

"Yes, I shall see you later."

I turned and walked out of the room, quietly closing the door behind me. I went back to my own room, leaning back on my door once it was closed, my heart still pounding in my chest, "Oh dear, I'm really in trouble."

Chapter Text

There were a couple advantages to travelling. First, it was a lot easier to keep my distance even while in close proximity. And second, I had a lot of time to think.

I needed both of those things right now. I was beginning to realize that whatever resistance I'd been putting up until then had pretty much been for naught. After the whole cake thing I couldn't lie to myself any longer. I'd bought that cake for only one reason really. I'd bought cake for everyone just so I would have the chance to give some to him. I wanted to give him a gift. I wanted to see him smile. I wanted... I wanted him.

I also had to finally accept that he seemed to be responding favorably to me as well. I didn't know if it was the same as I was feeling, but it must be something. Looking back over the time we'd known each other, remembering so many small instances I had tried to push aside as meaningless, the reality was clear. There was something there between us, enough that Varric had seen it ages ago.

I was usually the one who sought out Solas' company but he always accepted it, and if I tried to leave him alone, he would often convince me to stay. Though we rarely touched, he was usually the one who initiated the contact. How many times had his hand reached for mine, whether to comfort or heal or give assistance? There was always a reason for it but it happened too often to mean nothing. And how often had our eyes locked, communicating mysteries silently across distances that seemed simultaneously infinite and immediate.

No, I could no longer deny it; I wanted him. It was scary how much I wanted him, wanted to love him. Perhaps I already did love him but it was clear I was still too scared to be able to admit it to myself. No matter what, it was risky. In a way it seemed like the road I was heading down was inevitably going to take me to only one place, but even if that ended up being true, I wasn't ready to go rushing down it headlong. I'd take it step by step, give myself every opportunity to change direction or fine another option.

There was still so much to do, such a long way to go, and we both had so many secrets still between us. No matter how much I wanted, nothing could be done about it now anyway. I could only hope that this admission to myself would make it easier to bear. If I stopped wasting energy in denial then I could accept it, and just move on while acknowledging its existence. Also, knowing that he was somehow drawn to me as well, perhaps I could use it to my advantage.

I looked back on some of our conversations now with new eyes, remembering things I'd said and his reactions. At the time I was merely thinking out loud, but when I applied those ideas to his situation and likely view of the world, I could see their significance. I'd been blind not to see it before. No, not blind, I'd seen it, I just hadn't allowed myself to believe it. I couldn't believe that my words could have any effect at that time, not when I felt so helpless and ignorant. I wasn't so helpless anymore and I had to start recognizing that.

I'd been trying to avoid having too many 'in-depth conversations', afraid of furthering a connection I thought I might still avoid, but that was over now. The connection was already there, might as well exploit it for both our sakes. Drawing him in further would also create an equal pull on me, but I was already in this deeper than I'd intended, what was a little more? Nothing could be gained without some kind of risk. I still feared the results, but running wasn't going to be an option anymore. Gravity had taken hold now, the best I could do was try to steer this thing down a course we might all survive.

I wasn't helpless anymore either. I was no longer simply trying to survive one day at a time. Even though there was still much I could do to improve my skills, I could more than hold my own now. Not only that, but I was beginning to step into the role I'd always known I'd eventually have to take on, taking initiative, making decisions, taking control. This power was going to fall into my hands whether I wanted it to or not and since I had it, it would do no good to shy away from it. Better to take it and see what good might be done with it.

 

Such were my thoughts as we made the slow journey back towards Haven. I'd ponder these things day after day, reexamining them and my memories to further confirm my new course.

Outside my thoughts, everything else continued as normal. The journey back was much like the journey there had been, except that none of the inns tried to cheat us this time. Though the journey was going to be long again, I was glad to be moving and I looked forward to getting back to Haven. Orlais had been interesting, but the peace of Haven would certainly be welcome.

With all my new revelations it was a temptation to simply avoid Solas for a while, but not only would such behavior be noticed, it would not be beneficial in any way. Fortunately it turned out fairly easy to return to the travel routines that had already been established. It also helped that, on the road, there were no opportunities for us to be shut up in a room alone together. However, whenever I ended up behind him I had this annoying tendency to notice various features: the shape of his shoulders beneath his famously understated apparel; the curve where the base of the skull met neck; and I had a particular fondness for the way his ears curved at the tip just so... and such thoughts could be perilous when your mind was idle during long hours of riding. Still, how had I managed not to take such notice of these things before? It was a very good thing that the back view was all I had to deal with the majority of those hours of riding.

I was lost in such thoughts at one point when Varric rode up beside me, "Someone seems to be concentrating very hard on something," he said in his usual teasing manner.

"Huh?" I said, a bit lost after being suddenly pulled from my guilty reverie. "Oh, sorry Varric, I must have zoned out for a bit there." I did my best to keep from looking guilty. If there was ever a time to practice my poker face it was clearly now.

"I see. Though I couldn't help but notice the direction this zoning happened to be aimed," I could hear him grinning but I refused to look at him.

"I assume it was aimed somewhere in a generally forward direction," I said casually.

"I would have said it was a rather specific forward direction myself," he countered.

"If you say so, though having been zoned out at the time I can't say I noticed what particular direction that might have been."

He actually chuckled then, "You know, I actually believed you when you said you were a bad liar but you seem to be learning fast. I'd better watch myself the next time we play cards."

"Apparently lying is a necessity in my current line of work. You can blame the Salon at Vivienne's for my rapid improvement. Spending an evening doing one of my least favorite things and convincing everyone I was having the time of my life proved to be a rather effective lesson," I shrugged.

"Well congratulations on your fine progress, just be careful you don't get so good you start convincing yourself."

"I don't know, lying to oneself can be useful, even necessary at times. ...But no," I finally looked at him, "I do try to keep it too a minimum. I do prefer to see and face the truth whenever possible."

"Well Midnight, I guess I can't blame you for wanting to keep some things to yourself, we all have to have a few secrets I guess," he smiled.

I smiled back, grateful for his understanding and refraining from pushing me on the subject. "I think if anyone makes it through life without at least a few secrets, they never truly lived in the first place."

"True enough." There were a few moments of silence before, "Did I ever tell you about the time..."

As I listened to his story I determined that it was about time I started spending more time near the front of the group. If the direction of my eyes was so obvious to Varric it wouldn't be long before everyone else noticed too, better to stay in a position where it couldn't happen. I was supposed to start being a leader anyway, might as well start doing so on the road as well.

 

***

 

As we moved away from the more populated areas I felt a tension I hadn't known I was carrying slowly start to slip away. I was grateful once we finally left the highway to trek across the wilderness once again. I may have been quite the city girl in my other life but I was enjoying the world away from civilization these days, except for the baths.

My nights in the Fade continued as well. Sometimes I was left to my own devices, but more often than not Creativity and my wisp kept me company. Hope visited now and then, sometimes joining, sometimes simply watching. I didn't mind, I loved just having it within view. Hope had been something I'd often struggled to hold onto throughout my life, so having it near brought me comfort little else could. I did not see Wisdom, but I was fairly certain she was waiting for me to come to her.

I finally decided it was time to do so the night after we left the highway. I wasn't on watch that night so I would have the full night to spend in the Fade, and I wanted to have as much time as possible. I was still nervous about telling her the truth, about exposing who I really was to anyone, especially one so close to Solas as she, but I did trust her and the weight of my secrets was becoming increasingly difficult to bear on my own. I knew I could continue to keep them, they were not unbearable but I worried they may affect my judgment in ways I could not foresee. If I was going to tell anyone, Wisdom seemed the best choice. She would probably be able to help me gain appropriate perspective in dealing with my past as it related to everything happening now.

That night I entered the Fade, as usual, in my own small demesne, the rustle of leaves and the dance of water through the small stream comforting in their familiarity. I did not linger there this night though, I moved quickly out of the forest and across the Fade to find the strange garden of Wisdom.

I soon found myself on the outer edges of the carefully cared for ornamental jungle. I took a little time this time to examine a few of the more unusual specimens but did not linger long, delaying would serve little benefit and the night was only so long. I hoped I might have more time in the future though, to explore the strange maze of unique flora sprouting and curling everywhere in a strange ordered chaos.

I found Wisdom by the fountain again, as if she had been waiting for me, and perhaps she had. I was still unsure how much of my thoughts and feelings were accessible to spirits. I had to assume they had some sense of them at least, but I hadn't been able to determine how deep that went, especially since the friends I'd made here so far were not exactly the talkative types.

She was facing me as I entered the area surrounding the central fountain. Somehow the shape of the fountain seemed different today, still the same size and general configuration, yet altered in some subtle way I couldn't pin down. It was hard to be sure though as I hadn't exactly had time to study it the last time I was here. I approached and offered a soft "hello" as Wisdom gestured for me to sit down.

I took note this time that the bench, though appearing to be stone, did not have the same cold and solid feel of such. It was warm and welcoming somehow, while still remaining firm. It was an odd sensation that held my focus for some moments until I could pull my attention back to the spirit before me.

"I am glad you have come to visit again," She spoke with a gentle smile, "I suspect you have much you wish to talk about."

"I do," I replied thinking carefully how I would begin to approach the topic, "though it will probably seem rather strange and complicated, and I'm afraid there is much that remains a mystery even to me, but basically I would love the opportunity to tell someone the truth about who I am since I don't think I'm supposed to be here."

"Why don't you tell me what you can and we can puzzle out 'supposed tos' at another time," she replied with a smile. She radiated a kind of serenity that left one with the distinct impression that she truly wished to know anything they might wish to impart.

I took a breath and decided to just get the main point out of the way, "I'm not from this world," I stated bluntly. I watched for a reaction but she simply waited for me to continue, so I did.

I continued talking for a long time, just as I had at our first meeting. Wisdom listened patiently as I explained how I woke in this world, where I was from, and my various theories as to what this world might actually be. She only asked a few questions to clarify a few points but otherwise let me continue uninterrupted.

Finally, I stopped, not knowing what else to tell her about myself.

"So, all your memories up until waking in Haven are of another world and you therefore question the reality of this world which you are experiencing now, but you have determined to proceed as if it were real, despite your doubts. Is that about right?"

"Yes, in a nutshell, that's pretty much it."

"That certainly is a unique situation and I am not sure what to make of it yet, but I believe you have only told me half of the story. What is it that you continue to hold back?"

I didn't even try to argue, I knew it would come to this I just wanted to get the rest of it out of the way first. I took a deep breath, "Well, this is probably the strangest part and it is what concerns me much more than whether this world is real or not."

"A secret that causes you more worry than even whether the entire world is real? I must admit you have even my curiosity piqued with that."

I smiled weakly, but I was still a little terrified to share this secret. What if she did tell him? "You do promise you will not tell anyone? At least not until I'm ready?"

"As I said previously, I will keep your confidence. If I feel what you say should be shared, I would first consult with you and seek your permission regarding it," she answered firmly.

At her assurances I decided to take the risk. I took a deep breath and began, "The thing is, in the world I'm from, I already knew about this world. It was part of an elaborate story created for entertainment there. Thedas in this age, the places, the events, and many of the significant people were part of it and from what I have seen so far, things match up pretty closely to what I already knew." I took another slow breath, "For the most part this allows me to predict a number of events and I was already familiar with most of my companions before I met them, I even knew a little about you." I paused a moment her, and took another breath before continuing, "but what is particularly of concern is, I know who Solas is."

I stopped there, looking Wisdom in the eye, waiting for her to understand. She looked at me impassively for a moment then stood up, turned and began what was clearly a slow thoughtful walk.

"I don't know every secret he has of course, but I know who he is, I know about the orb, and...I know what he plans to do to the world." She stopped the slow pace, her back still to me but listening. "More than that I know he is a good man and that he feels tremendous guilt as well as extreme loss. He is alone in a world utterly unlike his own and feels wholly responsible for it and that he must do something to put things right. I know that not only from my world, but also in knowing him here. I care about him, I don't want him hurt, but I also care about this world and feel that he must be stopped somehow. If things continue down the path they did in events I am already familiar with, then it will likely turn to war in the end, destruction of many more lives, and heartbreak for both him and me. If I can somehow convince him to change his course before it reaches that point...

"I know you are his friend and I would not ask you to share his secrets, which I trust you to keep as well as those I have just shared with you. I hope you will believe me though when I say I want to help him. I even intend to tell him the truth eventually, though I do not believe it is yet the right time. I know he won't tell me the truth on his own, but the truth is the only thing that offers a chance at making a real difference, therefore I must be the one to bring it all to light between us. Still, I'm afraid of his stubbornness; or that I will simply not be able to do enough, will not be enough; that nothing might be able to turn him from the course he has set; that the end is inevitable."

I sat there in silence, only looking down at my hands, trying not to think. I had no idea what Wisdom might make of this revelation, whether she would be angry or understanding. Would she try to stop me? Help me? Remain neutral? I hadn't known her long and could only guess at her reaction.

I don't know how long the moments stretched, time is a strange thing in the Fade, sometimes stretching out and others snapping by. I thought I should be more anxious but in the strange peace of Wisdom's garden I felt more resigned to whatever might come. Somehow I felt I made the right choice, as though this step needed to be taken, whatever it might lead to.

Finally, I felt the spirit turn towards me again. I looked up to meet her eyes as they penetrated deeply into mine. A few more moments passed that way and I did not shy away from her gaze, letting myself be as open to her as I could.

"Banal nadas," she spoke softly but the words were clear. The words sounded familiar but I couldn't recall their meaning. She must have seen my struggle though because she translated a moment later, "Nothing is inevitable."

Recognition struck me then, words Solas had spoken himself in the game.

"Do you truly wish to stop him, to prevent him from bringing back the world of his people, the world he destroyed?"

"I wish to stop him from causing more destruction or making more mistakes. At this point I cannot see that it is justifiable to sacrifice one world for the hope of another, and even if it is, what right does he have to make that decision? Still, if he could convince me that his course truly is the best for the world, and that it would be sure to succeed, I would support him in it. I aim to give him the chance to defend his choice, and I hope that he will, but he must do so on the field of reason and offer sufficient evidence; I will not accept arguments based wholly on his guilt and loss."

Wisdom continued to study me for more long moments. "It seems that you do know him, better than I would have thought possible. What do these stories you claim to have in your world contain, I wonder, that they would give you such insight and yet allow you to feel such compassion for someone who destroyed one world and would seek to destroy another?"

"The methods available for storytelling in my world can be quite elaborate and not everyone who knows this story feels the same about Solas, but there are many who do. I am not alone in my concern for him or this world, even though it was no more than fiction to any of us. Such concern led to many people exploring the possibilities behind his choices, his feelings, his past, and any other mysteries that remained unexplained; to this end new stories were created and shared. The Solas in the story I first discovered him in is incomplete within it, but I have encountered many stories, created by others looking for answers, that have tried to fill in the missing pieces. Now I am here and a seemingly real Solas is before me, so I seek to find those missing pieces for myself, I seek to challenge the outcome proscribed by a work of fiction in another world and attempt to find a better way forward for everyone."

Wisdom took in my words and continued to consider a while before responding, while I waited patiently. A soft breeze blew through the garden bringing with it a blend of the exotic scents, which was both calming and stimulating allowing my mind to explore a variety of avenues with clarity and without anxiety.

"You explained earlier that you are not even sure this is real," Wisdom spoke slowly, as if she were carefully trying to construct her phrases, "Are you not worried that if that is the case, that what you experience is designed to lead to only one outcome? Will not such concerns affect your approach?"

I looked away as I was forced to consider that possibility again. "Yes, it does worry me, until I know the nature of my situation here, how can it not be? But I have decided to proceed as if it is real. I may not be able to forget that this may all be some illusion but I can still make decisions based on the assumption that it is not. Otherwise I would only fall into despair, unable to move forward at all. I must believe there is some hope, some possibility to divert the outcome from the path I have seen lain out, or I will not be able to find a reason to take another step forward."

Again there was a long silence. Wisdom slowly returned to sit upon the bench again but continued to remain silent. I don't know if we were there for a few minutes or much longer.

Finally the silence was broken, Wisdom's tone soft, despite the seriousness of the words, "For all that I have seen and learned in this world, I cannot guess what brought you here with the knowledge you possess or why it might have been done. I do not know if what you seek to do is possible or not. I have known Solas for a very long time and he does not turn from any course he devotes himself to lightly." Another pause, but brief this time, "However, I have noticed changes in him since he encountered you. Something about you or your presence has had an effect. I do not know where it may lead but it seems something has been changed. I cannot even tell you what outcome I should hope for. My friend has suffered a long time and I can only wish for him to somehow find some peace. Perhaps you can find a way to achieve what I have been unable to, what he may never be able to on his own."

I looked at Wisdom, taking in the thoughtful but sad words, feeling myself moved by the sincere admission.

"You said he has changed. Can you tell me in what ways he has changed?"

"He awoke to darkness. He could see only what was broken, what was lost. A barren wasteland lay before his eyes filled with empty shells that call themselves people. He saw failure: his hope for a safe world and a whole people, torn apart, its soul ripped out, and it was all his doing. The Veil he created to save the world became instead a heavy blanket of shadow that could only smother everything he knew and cared about. He has tried to see through these heavy shadows, tracking the history of ages through the Fade, the one place where anything still seemed real to him. Yet, outside the Fade he remained blind, unable to see anything more than emptiness and loss."

The picture she painted of the world he saw was not surprising to me but hearing it put into words, so beautiful yet heartbreaking, by someone who had known him so long and so well, made the pain I knew he hid so well more real to me and I felt tears track down my cheeks as she spoke.

"Yet now he paints pictures with his words, of a world that bears some light and color after all. That which was dead, now breathes ever so slightly; that which was cold, now brings some comfort. When he speaks of people he now uses names where once he used titles and labels. When he speaks of you, he is very careful of what he says, I hear in him words that he gives no voice to and he fights to shade their meaning from my view, and perhaps from his own as well, which leads me to believe you are the significant factor in this shift." She met my eyes then, "I believe you have become a light, a beacon pulling him forward, and as you grow brighter you illuminate what is around you and he has begun to discern the shapes of this new world that had appeared broken and shapeless. At first he followed for the sake of his goals, he now follows for the sake of himself, though he is unwilling to see that yet."

I had to smile just slightly at the last comment, "Well, I can't blame him on the last point. I've only just been able to admit something similar to myself as well."

"Yes, I can see that it may be a hard path for either of you to follow, and there remains a long way to go yet. Though you question the reality of this world and your experiences in it you are able to see all its details and be affected by them as if they are whole and real. The world to him remains mostly dark and hazy, shapes revealing themselves only where your light illuminates them but you are still the only thing with any brightness, you are still only a lantern's flame in a dark cave. You must grow brighter if you are to achieve your goal, you must shine on the world as the sun would. If he can see this world in the fullness of daylight and value it as you already do, perhaps he can begin to hope that it may grow brighter still without having to light fires across its expanse. I fear though that you will in fact need to find a way to also outshine even his memory of Elvhenan for as long as he values that world above this one he may not be able to let it go."

I could barely take in her words now. It was hard for me to believe I might already have as much influence as she said. Of course I knew from the game and the stories that Lavellan was perhaps the only one who might ever have a real chance at making a difference, but it was still difficult for me to accept that I was Lavellan now. I could still barely wrap my head around being the Herald and this made me almost feeling dizzy with how hard it was to accept. No, I was definitely feeling dizzy. I had to look away from Wisdom and close my eyes, breathing deeply to regain some footing in whatever passed for reality around here.

"I don't know if I can," I finally breathed, struggling a bit to get the words out. "Fighting a memory, especially one sure to be highly romanticized, is going to be extraordinarily difficult, assuming it's possible at all." Looking at this fact, one I hadn't quite realized though it was hardly surprising, made me that much more uncertain of myself.

I felt a gentle hand rest on my shoulder then, "You are only at the beginning of your journey but you have made significant progress already, in more areas than this. You have allies and friends who will help you along your path and I am one of them. All you need to do is continue moving forward. Simply be who you are and take the steps you believe in and the path will lay itself out before you. I will guide you the best that I can and I will keep your secrets. A time will likely come when all must be illuminated but I agree that this is not that time, revealing such things at this time would harm everyone."

I looked back up at Wisdom, her hand still upon my shoulder, her serene but kind countenance still focused on me. "Thank you. It helps just knowing someone else knows and that you don't disagree with my choices. It will also be a great comfort to me to know I will be able to talk to you about all this, even if its just to sort out my own thoughts."

She smiled then and removed her hand, "I believe it will be time for you to wake soon. Hope is waiting, they will stay with you till you do."

Hope entered the clearing from the garden, they took my hand as I stood to follow. "Thank you again," I said before turning to go.

"I will see you again soon," she stood to bid us farewell as Hope and I walked out of the garden.

Hope and I continued walking hand in hand through the Fade, through peaceful, though strange, landscapes. We continued this way in calm silence until I finally woke.

 

***

 

I woke with a smile, the peace of Hope's company still with me as I thought over my conversation with Wisdom. Despite the challenges ahead it felt like such a weight off my shoulders to just know that someone else knew my secrets and would still be there to stand by me through all this.

It was then that it hit me. I don't know how I could have forgotten but the memory came flooding back all of a sudden. Wisdom was going to die.

 

Chapter Text

The morning was tough. The direction my pensive contemplation took was well off the mark from what I had expected just moments before my horrified realization. 

There was so much I had wanted to think about. Talking to Wisdom prompted a myriad of thoughts I wanted to consider in depth: remembering events of the game; comparing them to what I'd experienced so far here; pondering how the changes might affect future situations; considering what steps I should or should not do to gain the best chances toward achieving my aims. The last was going to be especially difficult, I knew my mind would surely spend a lot of time wandering down rambling tangential roads of irrelevancy, making the process all that much slower and harder to navigate. I also wanted to work on all the speeches I should compose to argue various points why I thought Solas' plan to destroy the Veil was the stupidest idea possible. Such attempts also had a tendency to devolve into disjointed babbling in my head so I was going to need lots of time to refine them into something that could ever be presented to their intended recipient.

Such issues were among the wide array of what I'd wanted to spend the morning contemplating, but instead I was now worrying about Wisdom and trying to determine if there was anything in my knowledge of this world that might offer some way to prevent her death.

I'd only just met the spirit but I already knew she would become yet another valuable entity to me in this world. I didn't want to lose her, I wanted to protect her in any way I possibly could. Unfortunately I knew hardly anything about how spirits were summoned or bound, so I couldn't begin to guess how they might be protected from such things while they were in the Fade. It wasn't something I'd done any research on before I ended up here, and I hadn't had a chance to finish playing the previous games either so whatever knowledge may have been available there, was not available to me now.

My only real options to learn more would be to ask Solas or Wisdom directly. Perhaps I could find something in a book, but that would depend entirely on my luck finding a book that actually had the information I needed in it, and even then there was no certainty I'd be able to use the knowledge effectively.

No, those two were likely my only options. Any other mages I was likely to meet, might know how to summon or bind a spirit, but I doubted they would even consider the idea of trying to protect a spirit from such a fate.

Telling Solas might be a little tricky though. I wasn't sure the best way to approach the subject without revealing the reasons for my concerns. I couldn't let my foreknowledge be suspected.

I wouldn't have to worry about exposing that secret to Wisdom, but how do you go up to someone and tell them you know they are going to die?

 

 

It was hard to get through breakfast and breaking down camp without letting myself fall into obvious brooding. My usual morning reticence helped to cover some of the moodiness at least.

It was a relief once we got moving. I moved up to take the lead before we'd gone far. I'd found I quite liked the position, as long as I knew where I was going. It allowed some semblance of privacy, or at least the feeling of it. I knew I was within clear view of all the others, which was a kind of comfort actually, knowing they were all back there; but even though I knew they were there, they were beyond my view and I could almost feel like I was alone. I liked this feeling, especially when I wanted to get lost in thought about something serious. I knew I would be too easily distracted behind anyone, especially if they turned or looked like they were going to. At the front I wouldn't be bothered by any random or casual movements but would also be able to hear if anyone did approach to speak with me.

Eventually we fell into one of the comfortable silences that naturally seem to happen for varying lengths throughout a day of travel. While I liked hearing the banter, stories, and random conversations, I also often enjoyed just listening to the sound of the trees and other rustlings of wildlife that was the backdrop to the steady tread of our horses' hooves making their way along the forest paths. After a time, I was able to let the peaceful atmosphere quiet my melancholic mood into a more meditative mental state.

I took the opportunity to take in the details of the world around me, listening to each sound, from the crunch of gravel and leaves under hooves; to the rustle of birds in the tree branches; to the soft breaths of my companions. I watched the pattern of the light through the trees; how the shadows fell across the road; the colors and shapes of the countless trees and other flora surrounding our path.

I stretched out my other senses too, the ones I used to feel the Veil and manipulate magic and the Fade. I'd never taken the time to just study the feeling, the connections, the subtle folds and flow, ridges and rhythms, the loops and lilt. I'd only reached for these things when I meant to use them, never just to study the sensation of them and how they wove into the reality this world embodied. Was it real? That question still wouldn't go away. But it all felt so real, more real than most anything in my life ever had been before I... before...

I decided to let that last thought go unfinished. I had enough worries to haunt me in this world as it was, I didn't need to invite more from another world that should have no influence on this one but for the fact that I had somehow now come to exist in it.

Maybe it was the other world that was the dream. Perhaps something about my passage through the Fade after the explosion of the Conclave caused me to live a whole alternate lifetime in my mind and forget whatever life I'd had here previous. It was a rather far-fetched idea, especially since it apparently included some kind of prophetic understanding of what was to happen after waking up again. But really, it was no crazier than half the other alternatives I'd come up with, so might as well add it to the pile.

I let my mind float back into a kind of aimless drifting for several more long moments, not focusing on any one thought too long.

 

 

I felt a shift his presence a moment before I heard the rhythm of one set of hooves alter behind me. I knew it wouldn't take much to halt the approach, I had a feeling he'd know if I didn't want to talk to him. I was still unsure what I would say but, I doubted delaying would help matters. 

He pulled up even with me after a couple minutes and we simply proceeded that way in silence for a while longer. It was rare for him to approach me like this and I knew he must have a reason for doing so, but I was content to let him find his own time to speak, as he was content to give me ample opportunity to decide whether or not I was in the mood to speak with him. He'd likely picked up on my mood that morning and was therefore taking greater care in his approach.

It seemed we were both becoming increasingly perceptive of each other's emotions. It was a far cry from mindreading, fortunately, and it had certain benefits, but I couldn't help being concerned about this development. I was not particularly comfortable with the idea of being easily read without my having any control over the matter. I was already somewhat bothered by how perceptive Varric was, this was another level beyond that. It was something that seemed to be getting stronger over time as well, albeit very slowly. Where would it end? Just how far would this perceptiveness reach? What if I didn't want it? I wondered if there was some way I could control it, even block it if necessary.

Finally, Solas did speak, "I thought I would enquire if you were well this morning, you seemed somewhat more preoccupied than usual upon waking, I was concerned you may have had some kind of upsetting experience in the Fade. As we have faced nothing of much note since we left Val Royeaux it seems the most likely explanation."

He spoke softly. The others were some distance behind us by the sound of it, though I'd apparently moved a bit farther ahead than I'd realized. Still, anything to do with the Fade or Spirits was something we'd agreed it was best not to discuss directly in front of them. He must have been concerned indeed if he would broach the subject now.

I took a few more moments to collect my thoughts and decide what to say before I responded. "I am well now, the peaceful travel today has helped settle my mind a great deal. My night itself was actually very good, I was able to see Wisdom again. It was helpful for me to simply talk to her about some of the difficult realities of my current situation. She helped me to see things more clearly."

I saw no reason to hide that I'd talked to her, she would probably tell him as well. I just didn't need to give him the details.

The silence returned for a few moments as he patiently waited for me to continue and I tried to decide what I would say. I wanted to share my worries, but how to do so in a way that wouldn't give anything away?

"I'm very glad to be making friends in the Fade. It is something that I never imagined might be possible. Even just experiencing greater consciousness in my dreams has been a fascinating experience, despite a few frightening or difficult moments. But having friends there, spirits who want to know me and communicate with me is unbelievable and amazing. Their friendship is just as real to me, and I care about their well being as much as that of all the friends I've made here. This world is in so much chaos right now though, so much danger, and we are in the thick of it. A large part of what keeps me going, of what has allowed me to overcome some of the most difficult challenges I've faced so far, is my desire to do whatever I can to protect those I care about here, those who have done so much to protect me."

I could feel his eyes on me as I paused to prepare what I wanted to say next, but I kept my eyes ahead, maintaining my focus fully on what I wanted to convey.

"This morning I woke up feeling awe and joy at the friends I've gained in the Fade, but not long after, I was hit with a realization that I found incredibly disturbing. The chaos around us now is not only on this side of the Veil. The rifts, the Breach; those all reach across into the Fade, forcing spirits through that may have been more than content to remain in the Fade. So much of Thedas is in turmoil and there is a lot of fear. With the Circles broken and mages threatened by those that fear them, some might turn to desperate measures. Even without the current troubles there is likely always a risk a spirit may be summoned and bound." I took a breath, trying to calm the rising emotions in me, "I am now worried too for our friends across the Veil. Tragedy can strike anywhere, especially at times like this. It can happen without warning, things we believed would be there forever can be taken away in a flash of fate."

I finally turned to meet his eyes, full of what seemed like thoughtful surprise. "I want to do what I can to protect the spirits too, but I don't know how. Is there anything you know of that could ensure their safety, or at least improve it?"

From what knowledge I had, there was no way to protect spirits while they were in the Fade, but I looked to Solas, hoping he knew more, that there might be some way.

He held my eyes for a few moments before looking ahead, brow furrowing in thought. "It is a good question," he finally answered. "It is one I believe few in this world have thought to ask. It does you great credit that you have thought to do so, and more so your reasons for seeking to answer it." He looked back at me again with a small smile though the folds between his eyes remained. "The truth is that I do not know if there is some way we may protect our friends. There are amulets I have read of, which can be used to protect spirits manifested in this world from binding, but I know of nothing similar that may have the same effect within the Fade."

He paused then taking a slow breath before proceeding, "I have generally believed that those spirits I call friends are very capable of staying away from danger but under the current circumstances it would be unwise to take their safety for granted. If none of us are safe, why should spirits be an exception? I share your concern and though I do not possess any answers for you at this time, I believe it will be worth the effort of seeking them out. Perhaps we might research this problem and find an answer together."

He looked at me again, waiting for a response. I also saw from the corner of my eye that our discussion had caught Cassandra's attention and she was moving forward to join us.

"I'm not sure how much help I can be," I said, "But I will certainly do whatever I can."

He gave a small smile and nod in acknowledgement of my answer just as Cassandra reached us.

"Is everything well? Are there any problems we should be aware of?" She looked from me to Solas and back.

I turned to face her, making some space between my and Solas' horses so she could pull up a little closer. "No, everything's fine. I just had some concerns regarding some magical theory, which I was struggling with. Unfortunately it is a rather complicated topic and will require more extensive study before my questions can be resolved. It is a rather frustrating matter but not of any immediate concern." I finished and looked back over to Solas who was giving me an unusual look I couldn't quite decipher.

"I see," Cassandra said, considering my words.

Apparently our conversation had the appearance of being too interesting to pass up, because now Varric and Bryn were closing in as well.

Cassandra spoke up again, "I admit I know little of magical theory. Templars and Seekers are trained to recognize magic and stop it if necessary but few know much about how it actually works. What kind of magical theory is it that you are currently concerned about?"

The others had reached us now and were listening in.

"Are you sure you want a lesson in magical theory Seeker? It can be pretty dry stuff." Varric chimed in.

"Oh, you never know, it could prove to be something interesting or insightful," Bryn commented.

Cassandra looked at them both and then back to me, "Could you give a brief description of the topic? Then maybe we could determine if we would like to hear more."

I exchanged a quick look with Solas before answering, "I'm afraid it's a little difficult to explain, I think Solas would be better able to explain it."

He nodded in acknowledgement and proceeded to take the cue and started to expound upon some magical technique or other in a rather oblique way that sounded convincingly impressive and simultaneously incomprehensible. I felt I was able to glean some of the meaning of his words but it was clear that it was utterly baffling to the others.

He didn't speak for long but it was enough to create the desired effect.

Cassandra looked somewhere between confused and annoyed. Bryn and especially Varric just seemed amused.

"I warned you Seeker," Varric laughed, "it can be dry and completely incomprehensible, are you still glad you asked?"

"Were you able to understand any of that Herald?" Cassandra asked pointedly.

"A little but not very well," I answered, "hence my dilemma. It will likely require more study to be able get it all figured out."

"It seems I underestimated the effort required in your becoming a mage," She said with a slight frown.

I smiled at her concern, "It's not always that bad, there are many things which are much easier to understand, probably even for non-mages. I just have a penchant for asking Solas difficult questions with answers that tend to lead to even more difficult questions. Solas has been very patient with me in that regard."

"Not at all," Solas countered, "You ask very insightful questions which also prompt me to look deeper into matters I had not previously thought to explore. It has proven to be an educational experience for us both."

Varric grinned and looked like he wanted to say something. The mischievous look I caught in his eye made me grateful Cassandra managed to speak up first.

"It seems another reason we should be grateful for your presence Solas. You are apparently an effective teacher, It is clear the Herald has benefitted greatly from your knowledge and experience."

"Thank you, Seeker," Solas said with a polite nod, "It is generous of you to say."

From there the conversation continued along familiar territory: speculation on events to come, thoughts on events behind us, general banter, and Varric finding an excuse to tell another of his seemingly endless supply of stories.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The final days of travel back to Haven were uneventful. The closer we got, the more eager we became to arrive, causing us to travel longer and pick up our pace.

I think we were all more than a little happy once we finally caught sight of Haven one afternoon. It was hard to believe we'd been gone a month and a half, and most of that was taken up in travel time.

It felt good to see the familiar scene of the town before us as we approached the stables. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the place but coming back felt something like coming home. I had learned to associate the place with safety and peace even though I had actually spent very little time within it's walls. Still, I hoped I'd get to stay here for a while before trekking off again as we would inevitably have to do.

We received many greetings as we dismounted and walked our mounts the final distance to the stables where attendants swiftly took the reins to lead the horses off for some well deserved pampering and food.

By the time we made it through the gates the news of our return had clearly spread and Cullen, Leliana, and Josephine were all there to greet us with promises of food, baths, and rest.

Once the pleasantries were out of the way, however, Leliana turned to me, "Herald, we would appreciate it if you and Cassandra could join us briefly to discuss your experience in Val Royeaux before you retire to your cabins."

I nodded in response, "Of course."

It was strange, parting from the others as I joined those currently running the Inquisition. We'd spent the last few weeks in each others' nearly constant company and now we parted without ceremony or comment. I felt like I should say something to them but what was there to say? I would probably see them the next day anyway. Still, it did feel odd and as usual Solas' receding presence was especially noticeable.

We walked up to the Chantry chatting lightly, Josephine asking about any remarkable events on the road. As we walked I caught stronger hints of magic than I recalled being there when we'd left, "Have we gotten more mages?" I asked to confirm my suspicions.

"Yes," Josephine answered, "a number of the mages you helped in the Hinterlands have joined us here. There are still not that many, not enough to aid with the Breach, but they are proving themselves useful."

"That is when they aren't antagonizing the Templars who have also joined," Cullen countered, annoyance in his tone.

Leliana joined in then, "I believe the Templars have also done their share to provoke the mages, if you recall the incident a couple days ago."

Cullen grunted bitterly in response before continuing, "Tensions between the groups remain high and it is sometimes challenging trying to get everyone to see the bigger picture and work together. There have been many changes around Haven, but unfortunately there has been little progress made in this area."

By this time we had made it back into the war room. "It is true that we must try to find a way to ease these tensions," came Josephine's voice, "but we can address the matter further tomorrow. For now we would greatly like to hear the Herald's account of event's in Val Royeaux. We have received Cassandra's and Bryn's reports but we would like to hear your personal assessment of the situation."

I looked around, a bit taken aback to be put on the spot all of a sudden. I should have expected something like this but didn't think we'd just quite jump into it this way.

I proceeded to recount the events of our encounter with the Chantry mothers and the Templars. Cullen asked many questions regarding the Templars which Cassandra and I did our best to answer with as much detail as we could, though we lacked any of the information he truly wanted and he seemed increasingly bothered by what we were able to tell him. Leliana and Josephine asked mostly about the Chantry clerics, making notes as they considered how they could leverage the situation, now that the Templars had left, to the advantage of the Inquisition.

We were there for what was probably close to an hour before everyone was satisfied that everything relevant had been covered and we were free to get some rest after the road.

Before anyone moved to leave however Leliana addressed me again, "We would appreciate your presence when we meet again tomorrow. We've agreed that you have shown great insight and been instrumental in our progress thus far so we would invite you to assist us in deciding a number of other matters as well."

I took a deep breath hearing these words, it was again something I'd expected, but it still felt strange to hear the request. Bracing myself for the new level of responsibility I would now have to take on I replied, "I would be honored, if you feel my presence would be beneficial."

"Excellent," Josephine smiled, "We will expect you in the morning. There have been many developments since you left that you may be interested to review."

"Thank you, I'll see you in the morning then," I nodded in acceptance.

With that done we all left the war room. I wished them all a good evening as I finally made my way back towards my cabin.

I entered the familiar space to find everything warm and welcoming, my bags and supplies had been brought to my room for me. I went through one of the bags which contained my purchases from Val Royeaux. I set aside the gifts, which I would deliver the next day, and pulled out the bath items I had picked up for myself.

The bath was steaming invitingly as I freed myself of my weapons armor and other garments. I slipped carefully into the water and let the heat relax the worry and stiffness. There would be new worries tomorrow, but for this moment I would simply enjoy being back in Haven, safe in my own little cabin. This room had not so long ago felt strange, a vision out of a dream, something that could not be real. Yet now it felt real and natural, a place I could belong. The 'real world' I knew seemed such a far away place now, and in this moment, that's where I wanted it to stay, far far away.

Chapter Text

The first evening back had been pleasantly uneventful. I'd enjoyed my bath, soaking in the water for a long time, shortly after which Maryn delivered some food, which I happily dug into. This was followed by a relaxed evening of reading until I fell asleep earlier than usual. 

The extra sleep allowed for me to wake up very well rested the next morning.

I still felt a little apprehensive at the prospect of actually taking an active part in the war room meetings but I'd always known it was coming.

After weeks of being in armor, it was nice to have a day I could enjoy being free of it. I'd gotten quite used to it and it was relatively comfortable, but it still felt freeing to be out of it. Although, thinking about armor, I realized I should really try to go see Harritt in the next day or two. I wanted to see if I could get a few repairs done and some changes made. In fact, I realized I should probably make a list of anything I want to get done while in Haven. I wasn't sure how long I would get to stay this time, though perhaps I could get some idea from today's meeting. I would need to make the most of what time I had.

Maryn brought breakfast while I was halfway through getting ready and I took the opportunity to give her the small gift I'd picked out for her. Unsurprisingly, she tried to refuse the gesture but I insisted that she had earned it with her diligence and efficiency, and that I wished to show her my appreciation with a small token. Finally she relented and shyly took the simple necklace.

After eating, it wasn't long before I was ready to head up to the Chantry. The weather was getting warmer now and the sun seemed to be shining a bit brighter. It was quite a lovely day out and I took a deep breath of the crisp fresh air to calm a few fluttering nerves that were starting to act up before finally making my way out into the town.

Josephine and Leliana were already there when I arrived, and Cassandra and Cullen arrived only a few minutes later. The meeting started with greetings and a bit of small talk. Things soon got down to business though, and I was first given general updates and a rundown of the current state of the Inquisition and its forces. A lot of changes had been made around Haven and more people had joined our cause from areas nearby. Josephine and Leliana had also been working hard to bolster what connections we had or otherwise influence them toward our cause. The Hinterlands had continued to see improvement, and work on the towers for Dennet was nearing completion as well.

The next portion of the meeting consisted of each advisor giving a brief outline of the topics they had which required attention, and once all relevant topics had been laid out each one was addressed as seemed appropriate.

There was a lot to learn. I had to be brought up to speed on quite a few issues I'd known nothing about up till then. I had to become aware of things like supply lines, troop movements and distribution, land borders, and a slew of other nitty-gritty details. Fortunately the Inquisition was still relatively small but it was also growing quickly so such concerns would only increase over time. I wasn't allowed to just sit back and listen either. My input was sought on nearly every point. I had to ask tons of questions, trying to learn how everything was connected and how one action in one area might affect those in another.

I wasn't sure if they were testing me or were in fact really interested in my opinions, assessments, and ideas. Or perhaps they were encouraging my participation so that I would feel free to speak up whenever I might have something to add. I suppose in the end it didn't really matter. They explained everything and answered all of my questions and listened to whatever I had to say and took my words just as seriously as they did anyone else's in the room. It felt pretty strange at first but after a while I stopped worrying about it and just got into the flow, focusing on each issue as it arose and doing whatever I needed to, to understand and deal with it effectively.

It was a slow process however and we remained in that room for hours. Lunch was brought and consumed while discussion continued with very little disruption.

Eventually, about halfway through the afternoon, it was decided that all matters of greatest priority had been sufficiently dealt with and that we would adjourn for the day and convene again the next morning.

I had to admit I was glad to finally get out of the room after so long. I hadn't had the chance to move around that much and was feeling very stiff and confined. My brain was also feeling rather mushy after trying to absorb and deal with so much information.

Stepping back out into the fresh air outside the Chantry left me with such a feeling of relief and freedom I couldn't help give myself a good stretch in the sunlight, letting my arms spread wide out and up over my head as I took in some deep breaths of the cool air.

"Politics and planning not agree with you much?" Bryn's voice asked from just off to my left as she walked up to greet me.

"I can't say it's one of my favorite things, no, though I think it will go a little smoother once I have a better handle on things. There's so much I still don't really know or understand, so it's pretty overwhelming." I sighed and stretched again, twisting my torso to loosen my back, "Anyway, what can I do for you today, Bryn?"

"Oh you know, just thought I'd come by to schedule your next torture– uh, training session."

"Ah ha! I knew it! All this training was just a cover for your true aim of making sure I fall on my ass as many times as possible each day."

"Well of course," She grinned slyly, "If I told you it was torture you wouldn't let me throw you around so much. As long as you actually think I have your best interests at heart you leave your guard down."

"I hardly let you throw me around," I mock-glared in return, "It's simply further evidence of your intentions. If you truly wanted to train me you would teach me how not to get knocked onto my ass by you every two minutes."

"How do you know it isn't part of my elaborate training strategy?" she asked, still grinning, "What doesn't kill your ass makes it stronger and my aim is make sure your ass is the strongest in all of Thedas."

"Oh, is that the plan? I think I'm going to have to suggest you give it a little more variety then. It's getting a little bored endlessly getting smashed to the ground. It's a pro at that by now. My ass demands a new challenge."

"Fine," she said with a shrug, grin becoming a little more evil now, "tomorrow. Join me on the training ground after you finish in the war room. We'll see if that ass is ready for the next level." She then turned and started heading back down the hill, "See you tomorrow."

I watched her go for a moment, wondering just what I'd gotten myself into. She never went easy on me in training and I was guaranteed to end up with some bruises and sore muscles no matter what, but she wasn't above dishing out some kind of retribution to make you regret offering even a hint of challenge. Still, I was interested to see what this 'next level' would entail. It was also going to be good to have the training session to look forward to. Bruises or no bruises, it had to be better than sitting in the war room for hours, barely moving.

After being in there so long today, the last thing I wanted was to be cooped up anywhere inside staying in one place. I needed to be outside and moving for a while. I just felt restless and didn't think I could stay still for long.

Unsurprisingly I soon found myself outside Solas' door, hand poised to knock as it opened.

"Good afternoon lethallan, I wasn't sure I would be seeing you today." He greeted me in his usual impassive manner but I could somehow tell he was glad to see me.

I smiled as he opened the door wider to invite me inside, "I wasn't sure either, I thought they might keep me in that meeting all day," I answered. "And actually, I'm kind of tired of being inside, would you care to join me for a walk. I thought I might walk around the lake to stretch my limbs after all that time hunched over maps and stuff."

"Of course, I would be happy to join you if you wish for company." He pulled the door closed behind him as he stepped out to join me and we began heading down the path together. "I had thought perhaps you would choose to spend any free time you had today on your own. There has been little chance for you to have private time while on the road. I thought that might be something you would seek out once we returned to Haven."

His tone was even and betrayed no particular emotion but I suddenly wondered if there was more behind what he'd said than he let on. I glanced over at him, "Is that what you wanted? You don't have to come with me if you'd rather enjoy time on your own, you know, I would totally understand if you need some space or something. I know I tend to come by and bother you a lot, but anytime you want me to go, you just need to say so, I won't be offended." I hadn't considered before that maybe he would want a day to himself or something. He usually seemed to welcome my company but maybe sometimes he was just being polite.

He answered quickly though, before my head could spin out of control worrying over such things, "No, you misunderstand me. If I required time alone I would inform you of it, I was more concerned about you. You have often indicated that you greatly value your private time, thus I was simply somewhat surprised that you would seek out company when you have had so little opportunity to be away from others over the last few weeks." He met my eyes and I could see slight concern there.

"Oh... Sorry, I didn't mean to read so much into what you said. It's just..." I took a slow breath of the pleasantly cool air and let it out slowly as memories flashed briefly through my mind. "I do enjoy time alone and I have spent much of my time that way in the past but a lot of times it was because there weren't many whose company I truly wanted to be in, and those I did... well, many of them apparently didn't feel the same. Often those that did spend time with me seemed to do it because they wanted or expected something from me, not because they honestly wanted my company. I guess I'm just not used to people I like being around, also liking to be around me."

I paused again to gather my thoughts as we passed out of Haven's gates, sun reflecting in flashes off of armor as soldiers practiced or otherwise passed through the spreading sea of tents. I took in the view with the mountains and forest in the background, the Breach just off in the periphery, as memories of another life that simultaneously felt very immediate and a million miles away passed by my mind's eye. How had I come to be in this place? How had I been given this opportunity, to see and experience all of this? It was a wonder to me. It was a whole new world but it was still the same old me and all the baggage that I'd carried in that world didn't just get to be left behind.

"The people I've met here have been kinder and more supportive than I could have ever dreamed. I've enjoyed everyone's company more than I could have hoped. I suppose it's pretty obvious too that I do spend much of that time with you in particular. You've been an excellent teacher of course, but it isn't just that... I really enjoy talking to you, I enjoy listening to everything you have to say, and I just enjoy your presence. Sometimes, being alone isn't that appealing when I could spend the time with you instead. I don't know... it's like being around you brings me the same relief as being alone without actually having to be alone. But despite all that, I worry that it's all just going to turn out to be an illusion. Maybe it will turn out that the only reason any of you still tolerate me is because of this." I held up my left hand studying the palm. The mark was quiet and invisible in the still bright sun, but I felt it. It had become a familiar sensation but it didn't take much effort to feel the flickering of the power over the palm and up the arm.

I could feel his eyes upon me then, even as we kept walking out past all the soldiers, Haven and its inhabitants fading behind us. I couldn't turn my eyes to meet his though, unsure of what I would see there. I was afraid, so afraid of so many of the possibilities that lay before me. If it weren't for the mark, would any of them have cared at all about me? Would they have paid me the slightest attention? Doubtful. And even with the mark, even if they stuck around, there was still no guarantee how long I would be able to stay. There was still that possibility that it might all just disappear one of these days.

The silence stretched a few more moments before Solas finally broke it, speaking gently, "It cannot be denied that the events at the Conclave and the mark you now bear are what placed all of us together in this current situation. That first day upon the mountain, each of us knew with certainty that if we could not ensure your safe arrival at the Breach, doom was all but certain for all of us, and thus we took it upon ourselves to do everything we could to see that you would reach that final goal.

"While I cannot deny that without the mark, your path may never have even crossed ours, I can assure you that it is far from being the sole reason any of us have remained at your side through these last weeks. When you awoke upon your return to Haven, the Breach in the sky closed and many dubbing you 'The Herald of Andraste'; you were not obligated to remain or continue helping this cause, nor would anyone have held it against you if you had chosen not to, considering how ill prepared you were for such responsibility. Yet you immediately focused all your energy upon preparing yourself for the trials ahead. However unprepared you were before, you would do what was necessary in order to continue.

"I admit that, initially, I was unable to determine what drove you to accept this duty with such resolve, but it has become clear that you truly do care about the world around you and the people in it and you would protect them in any way you were able. You promised me as much that first day when you came to my cabin seeking my aid in learning the ways of magic. You stood there, with almost no skill or power and pledged to do whatever was necessary to protect me for no other reason I could determine than because I had helped you. Every kindness that has been shown to you, you have sought to repay with interest, even if it is only in small things. You laugh at Varric's incessant jokes and enjoy his stories, you accept Bryn's punishing instruction with little complaint, you respond patiently to Cassandra's sometimes provocative questions and warnings, and you continue to listen to my endless tales and explanations of magic and the Fade. All of these things and more you have done wholly without guile, accepting all of them with nothing less than sincere appreciation. And upon the battlefield you fight with a ferocity that is hard to reconcile with the Lyara I know outside of it, but I know you do it to keep those around you safe, as much as you do it to survive."

It was so rare to hear him, or anyone for that matter, speak the name I had taken in this world and a shiver went through me to hear it roll off his tongue so smoothly.

"This has not been lost on those around you. It is easy to see what you do and the kind of person you are. Knowing this, who would not wish to be in the company of someone like you? Who could do anything but dream to be among those you would value so highly?" He paused before speaking more softly, "That you would single me out as someone whose company you particularly welcome, is an honor. I will admit that I too very much enjoy yours as well. I had not expected to find someone I could so freely confer with. It has made my time with the Inquisition much... easier than I expected."

He was silent then and I felt I was barely able to breathe listening to his words, hardly able to believe them, no one had ever said such things about me before. I'd been told many beautiful things before, but more often than not they turned out to simply be manipulations and I'd lost faith in words a long time ago. But this was different. His words were not the usual flattery I was used to, and more than that I could feel the truth in them, that he completely believed every word. It was almost palpable, as real as his presence was beside me.

It was still hard for me to accept most of what he'd said. He made me sound like such an amazing person and how could I hope to live up to such expectations. I finally turned to look at him, intending to refute some of these claims. His eyes, which had moved to stare ahead as we'd continued walking, quickly moved to meet mine once I'd turned, and something fluttered low in my stomach at the look he gave me and all I could say was "Thank you," voice barely above a whisper. "I.... Thank you." I found myself at a complete loss of words and no idea how to respond.

Then without thinking or realizing what I was doing I reached out across that short distance between us to take his hand in mine.

The moment my hand made contact was like a shock went through both of us. I sensed the sudden, surprised tension in him and I was immediately sure I'd made a mistake, but it was too late to stop. Instead I gave his hand what I hoped was a friendly, reassuring squeeze for just a moment before loosening my grip to pull away again.

I never got the chance however. My hand had barely begun to slip back out of his when he returned the pressure, strong fingers holding firmly onto my own. When he didn't release the pressure after another moment I returned the grip again.

I looked away then, as my ears went pink and my heart pounded, but I held on still. We continued walking that way, neither of us saying anything.

The pull of his hand had shortened the distance between us as we continued along our path around the wide lake and I was intensely aware of his presence beside me, and the familiar warmth of his magic, both seeming on the edge of brushing against my own. I had never been so overwhelmed by such a simple touch before and I let myself savor every moment of it. I felt every point of contact between us, his hand in mine, the shield of his palm enclosing my smaller one. I longed to brush my thumb across the back of his hand, but I was afraid to move and break the spell.

I'm not sure how long we remained that way, silently walking in the sun; taking in the world around us, and each other's presence. Finally Solas did speak though, "How was the meeting this morning? I take it there was much to discuss upon our return to Haven."

I nodded, "Yeah, there was a lot, but I'm also really new to everything so there's a lot I need to learn and I really had to take my time to make sure I understood everything that is going on. So many things to take into consideration and they seem to want my input on nearly everything. It doesn't help that I was sitting there in pretty much the same position the entire time, I felt so stiff and restless after just the first hour."

"Why did you not change position? Surely you were free to move about the room." He turned to look at me questioningly, "You have never hesitated to make yourself comfortable and move as you feel is necessary in any of our lessons."

"I don't know," I shrugged, "With you or the others I feel more comfortable, it's usually a pretty casual setting. I guess I just thought moving around a lot wasn't appropriate in there and I needed to be more professional or something."

His eyes narrowed at me as he gave me rather critical look, "I believe you would do better to forego such protocol in this case." I looked at him with curiosity, and he continued, "You have made it very clear to me that your thought processes are clearer and more flexible if you feel the freedom to change your physical position and perspective. It would be a disservice to everyone if you were to give any less than the best you know you are capable of, simply to conform to some perceived standard of behavior that will bear no weight on the actual decisions to be made."

As he spoke the pressure of his hand on mine had noticeably increased and I could almost feel the resoluteness of his words radiating from him. I couldn't really argue his logic either. I didn't know how I'd make it work exactly, but it probably was unlikely I'd be able to keep myself from moving without it becoming a distraction in the end. I needed to move or it was going to drive me crazy.

"You're right, as usual," I squeezed his hand back, "Somehow you are always able to help me see past my own silliness to just do what needs to be done. Thank you."

"Your thanks are not necessary, but you are welcome."

I could hear the smile in his voice and he gave one more small squeeze before our hands relaxed into a more comfortable grip again, though now his thumb took up a slow rhythm as it softly stroked across the skin beneath it. I couldn't help the smile it brought to my lips, though I turned my gaze away towards the scenery to hide it out of embarrassment.

The rest of the walk around the lake was unremarkable. We continued to converse casually about what I'd learned in the meeting, Haven, magic, and other little topics, not staying too long on any one thing. We took our time as we progressed along our route, wandering from the path now and then to look at some interesting thing that caught our attention. All the while, our hands remained connected, neither of us seemed willing to loosen our grip or let go.

Despite our slow pace it all passed too quickly, and we soon found ourselves approaching Haven again from the opposite side of the lake as the sun began to get low in the sky, lengthening the shadows that stretched across the ground to reach for the opposite horizon. I sighed quietly as soldiers came into view again.

As if it had been planned we both gave one final squeeze of our hands before letting go, relinquishing the connection just as wordlessly as it had been held.

I was sad to feel the distance between us return. Though he still stood as close, it suddenly felt so much farther. It brought me back to reality though, as if our walk had been some kind of dream. It felt like there were fewer real concerns out away from everything, but back amidst people and life, all the problems and worries we'd set aside for the afternoon would not allow themselves to be forgotten.

As we finally walked back through the gates of Haven, I turned to Solas, "Why don't we get something to eat at the tavern, I'm starting to get hungry."

"That seems a reasonable suggestion, I would be happy to accompany you."

We walked into the tavern and found Varric at his usual table talking to Bryn. It was the first time I'd seen her in here and was slightly surprised.

"Well look who it is, nice of you two to join us and grace us with your presence," Varric greeted in his usual warm manner that always seemed to border on teasing. "Don't tell me you two were having another one of your marathon lessons. Even Lightning here gave you the day off, it would be horribly unfair of Chuckles to make you work."

"No, there was no lesson today," I mock glared at him for his accusation, "I had a perfectly relaxing afternoon. We just got back from a walk, as a matter of fact. The weather was nice, so I thought it would be good to go out and enjoy it."

Varric gave me one of his impish grins in return, "I see, you and Chuckles on a nice long walk together. How come I don't see you inviting anyone else on one of these walks?"

"I'm sorry, Varric," I replied casually, tone relaxed, "I hadn't realized you'd be interested in such a past time. Would you like to join me for a walk tomorrow?"

Varric looked slightly startled at the question and then looked suspicious, not sure if I was being serious or not.

I turned to Bryn next, "You're invited too, it might be a nice cool down after our lesson tomorrow."

Bryn just smiled, "I'm afraid I have other duties to attend to, perhaps another time."

"Varric?" I looked pointedly back at him.

"Uh, I can't say I really care for walking as a relaxing pastime, so I think I'll pass."

"Ok, well, I think Cassandra would just look at me strangely if I ask her so, Solas, would you care for another walk tomorrow?"

Solas had remained placidly silent beside me this whole time but I could feel an undercurrent of amusement coming from him, "If there is time after our lesson, and the weather is accommodating, I believe I would consider it."

"Alright then, so Varric, how about I just come by tomorrow evening and we play cards or something?"

Varric just chuckled and shook his head, "You got it Midnight, I'll bring the cards but watch out, I won't go easy on you, even if you are still a beginner."

I knew he'd get back at me eventually for averting his attempt to tease me, though I really couldn't figure out why he tried so hard. What I did know was that it was unlikely I'd be able to win a single round at cards tomorrow, "Challenge accepted."

Chapter Text

 

The days in Haven quickly fell into a routine again.

Every morning, and sometimes lunch, would be spent in the war room. There continued to be much to learn and consider but I had decided to take Solas' advice and follow my impulses to move about the space more freely, and also adjust my position on the chair when I felt the need.

When I first began implementing this plan, on the second morning back in Haven, it did get me a few strange looks, particularly from Cullen and Josephine. I did feel somewhat self-conscious, but I generally just did my best to ignore the looks and continued with business as if nothing was unusual. I figured they'd just get used to it over time.

After the meeting had concluded for that day, I asked Josephine if she could have a sofa of some kind placed in the room. She gave me another curious look but surprisingly didn't ask questions, "I'll see what I can do," She simply replied with a polite smile.

I had my sofa by the next day and from then on things got a lot more comfortable for me. So many postures opened up for me. It continued to be a bit awkward for a while, but as the days passed it simply became part of the routine, Leliana and Josephine would even occasionally sit on the sofa with me. Many items of business didn't require use of the map so it was pretty easy for me to stick to my nice new sofa a large portion of the time.

If the meeting did not extend into lunchtime I frequently went back to my cabin to eat and don my armor. I occasionally had lunch with Varric but it was harder to keep things short if I did, and I didn't want to be late meeting Bryn.

Despite my increased comfort in meetings, it was still difficult to stay in that room focusing on the various concerns of the Inquisition for several hours straight. As a result, I was still glad to have training with Bryn to look forward to afterwards, at least, that's how I felt at first. From the first day back in training, it became clear that Bryn intended to do more than simply fulfill her ominous promise. The lesson was certainly effective in getting me moving and stretched out after the long meetings, however this was generally accomplished by subjecting my body to wholly new levels of rigorous torment.

The 'next level' Bryn had hinted at involved my fighting, sometimes multiple, opponents of a variety of disciplines. She got soldiers from around Haven to spar with me. It was clear that each opponent, or set of opponents, was meant to present different challenges I was supposed to learn to deal with. However, I never seemed to have the chance to face the same opponents twice, so I felt like I never got to master anything in particular as I simply struggled to deal with each new encounter.

I would start to improve slightly by the end of each lesson, despite the exhaustion starting to slow me down. However, I never got to do much with what was learned, as the next day would present me with a whole new challenge, sending me right back to the beginning again.

I did my best to discern her logic and had a guess at the reasoning for her use of such methods. I had had to fight multiple opponents on quite a few occasions already, and frequently they offered challenges that had not been introduced in lessons before. It was also not unusual for Bryn to push me past my capabilities, but this time she seemed to be determined to outdo herself.

Though I thought perhaps I understood the principle of what she was trying to do, it was difficult for me to accept it in practice. If I didn't already trust Bryn to the extent that I did, from previous lessons, our travels, and shared battles, I would likely have refused to continue and demanded a new instructor as I quickly reached new heights of frustration with each lesson. As it was, I was in no mood to be conversational with the other woman, either before or after the lessons during this period. My mood simply would not allow me to speak to her in a civil manner, so I opted to just not speak to her. She seemed utterly unfazed, by my determination to ignore her outside of the training area however.

If it weren't for the magic lessons, which followed in the late afternoons, I'd probably have had to start bashing training dummies to try and relieve myself of some of the frustration afterwards.

Solas always seemed to somehow be aware of my state of mind though, and was ready to accommodate it. Rather than wait for me at his cabin each day he would often come down to the training area near the end of my lesson. He had amazing timing too. He'd always appear right when I thought my nerves were completely shredded and I was at risk for throwing my daggers at something and just screaming. I really hated feeling that way, I truly wanted to maintain my calm, and had always considered myself a very calm and controlled person in most circumstances, but every lesson just seemed to test my limits, I felt like I was being pushed to the very edge of my restraint.

It was at the moment I felt my control strained just up to the point of breaking that I would sense Solas approaching, his simple presence giving me the stability I needed to finish off the lesson without completely losing it.

Of course the control that remained once the lesson was over was minimal at best. I'd take that last bit of control to gather my things and just walk out, refusing to look directly at anyone, and head directly towards the lake, Solas keeping pace but remaining silent as I tried to bring myself back into some kind of equilibrium. This sometimes took a while; I'd usually just keep walking for as long as it took until I felt I could interact with another person and was therefore ready to face Solas and start the lesson. If I were honest with myself though, I probably only calmed down as quickly as I did because it was Solas, not that I imagine anyone else would really want to be around me at that point. In part it was that constant patience at my side, silent and steady, just letting me deal with the frustration as I needed to, without pressure or expectation, that often pulled me back as I acknowledged my gratitude for having him there willing to deal with me in this state.

Once the requisite level of calm had been achieved, so that I could at least look directly at Solas without feeling I might lash out at the slightest provocation, we would find a nice open area and begin the lesson.

Magic lessons were in their own way more challenging too, but seemed to progress in a way that worked with the mental state I was still coming down from. On particularly bad days we'd start with staff techniques, not the slow, rhythmic type, but more aggressive motions that could be uses in conjunction with magic or as simple melee attacks. It wasn't sparring, just practicing motions and short sequences. Despite my exhaustion it felt good to channel my pent up anger and frustration into sharp, striking movements I could master relatively quickly. Also, something about swinging that staff around in violent sweeping arcs just felt really cathartic.

Once I was ready to focus wholly on magic again we would start with the real lesson. Each afternoon we worked on new offensive techniques first, followed by defensive, and finally practical. Now that I had sufficient skill on most basic techniques and how magic worked, he worked with me to combine techniques or incorporate additional side effects to spells I already knew. All the foundational work had been completed so expanding those skills to start using them more creatively and give them more finesse was the current focus.

The lesson always ended with a slow, meditative staff sequence, which finally brought me back down to a calm and relaxed state at which point I would start to feel the exhaustion of the day seep in.

 

 

Where most mornings and afternoons were pretty routine, evenings tended to vary a bit. I'd usually get dinner once my lesson with Solas ended. Sometimes I'd eat alone in my cabin, others the two of us would go to the tavern and join Varric. If I didn't have dinner with Varric I would sometimes meet him afterwards and we would play cards, usually with a couple other friends Varric had made around Haven. I was finally showing some improvement and was starting to win a few hands here and there. Then there were some evenings spent quietly reading, usually by myself, but occasionally Solas and I would spend the entire evening together reading our separate books and I would ask him questions as they came up.

We never mentioned nor attempted to repeat the handholding of that first day back. It was obviously a sign of our mutual regard, though I think we had both been kind of aware of it before, but those moments, in which we had been so connected in that small physical way, had kind of solidified things. At the same time neither of us was prepared to do anything further about it. Without speaking about it, it seemed we'd both accepted it for what it was: we were clearly drawn to each other and felt a comfort and connection with the other that didn't exist for us elsewhere. As a result, there were no more questions as to whether the other wished to be left alone. If one of us chose to seek the other's company it was simply accepted without resistance.

When night fell and the trials of the day had finally caught up with me I fell into The Fade to wander through dreams and spend time with my spirit friends. I could also devote some of that time to reviewing the training of the day, hoping to somehow improve enough to face the next day's opponents with better success. Still, the stress of some days ended up manifesting as nightmares. When such nightmares struck, my friends would usually find me and bring me back to my peaceful forest where I could escape the worst of my insecurities and fears, allowing me to wake the next morning refreshed and ready to face the morning meetings with a clear head.

 

 

And so went most of my days back in Haven: a daily rollercoaster of emotion and exertion. Overall, the days seemed to blur together except for a few notable occurrences.

One of these was Sera's arrival. No one was quite sure exactly when she actually showed up in the town but she was quick to cause a bit of a stir. One morning a during the middle of a meeting, a rather flustered guard came in to inform us that an unfamiliar elf was rather aggressively demanding to see the Herald and claimed to have been personally invited by me. I didn't even have to ask to know who it was.

After sending the guard to show her in I turned back to the others in the room, meeting Cassandra's knowing look first before explaining, "It looks like Sera has arrived. I'm sure you remember Cassandra and I telling you about meeting her. As I've mentioned, she might be a bit... challenging to deal with, but I also believe she could be very helpful."

It wasn't long before the door opened again admitting the cheerful elf, "Hello, Sera," I smiled in greeting as she entered.

Sera returned the smile, then turned back to the guard with a rather smug look on her face. "See, told'ya she knows me," she said before sticking out her tongue at the frowning guard who closed the door behind him. "What's up Herald? I got some good stuff for ya on the way here, should be really helpful yeah?"

"Sera, I'm glad you made it. I'd like to introduce you to some of the other members of the Inquisition." I went around and quickly gave names and basic job descriptions, knowing Sera was not likely to be interested in many details.

"Right, right," she responded after I was done, "So then, nice to meet you and blah-dy blah, other shite and ... whatever. So, when we gonna get that friggin' hole in the sky shut, yeah?"

I tried not to laugh at the others' slightly scandalized expressions, though Cassandra really just looked exasperated. "Um, we're working on that," I answered, "but it's going to take some time since we really need to get some more help first. In the meantime, you said you have some useful information for us. Do you think you could write down all the details for us and I'll find you to pick up the information later?"

"Oh yeah, sure, no problem. I'll just go find some writey things and I'll leave you to do all your Heraldy stuff. See ya later, don't have too much fun."

With that she strolled back out of the room, not waiting for a response. Once she was gone I turned back to the others. "I told you she was unique." I shrugged at them, "Basically, keep things simple and direct and don't act superior or overly serious and she should be manageable. She has contacts across Thedas and can definitely handle herself in a fight. All things considered, I don't think she'll cause us nearly as much trouble as the continued tensions between mages and Templars are."

Cullen sighed at my last comment, "I suppose you do have a point there."

Josephine added, "If the Herald is confident Sera will be an asset to our cause, then I see no need to worry over the matter any longer, shall we continue?" And with that we returned to our previous discussions.

A part of me was slightly grateful for Sera's arrival though, it did add a little spice to the hour. As important as I knew these meetings were, they were not my preferred way to spend my time. Perhaps I would have Sera report her information in person from now on. I'd avoided it today so as not to overwhelm the others, but it might provide a nice distraction in the future. Definitely something to consider.

Later, I found Sera in the tavern, unsurprisingly. She'd apparently convinced Varric to loan her some writing materials in order to fulfill my earlier request, though the dwarf himself didn't seem to be around at the moment. The papers were all kind of scattered about the table and I could see that she did indeed enjoy adding strange drawings to most of her notes. The words themselves were written in a surprisingly legible scrawl.

"Looks like you've been hard at work," I said, sitting down across from her.

"Oh yeah, I've made it all neat 'n' pretty for your people to look at, yeah? Lots of good stuff here." She gathered up all the slightly wrinkled sheets into small pile and gave them too me.

I looked them over a bit and couldn't help smiling when I saw 'BEES' written in giant letters across one of the pages. "Ok, looks like everything's in order then. I'll let you know if I we have any questions, thank you." I smoothed out the papers and laid them down on the table before looking back up at the quirky elf, taking in the freckles and choppy hair more closely now, seeing how it matched up with my memory of the game version.

I was starting to get used to seeing those images made real here now, probably because it had all been real to me for some time now and my memories were starting to feel more and more like some distant dream.

"So, what do you think of the Inquisition?" I asked, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the other elf a little better in person.

The rest of the conversation went by fairly predictably. Complaining about the war between mages and Templars, saying how weird the Breach was and how we needed to get everything back to normal. Pretty typical Sera all the way, and since I already knew what to expect I had no problem responding to her.

I was still a bit nervous at the prospect of adding her to the party once we hit the road again, but I knew that was mostly because I'd just become very comfortable with the group dynamic so far. I'd always known that would eventually have to change and I was pretty sure that once we all got used to it, it would be fine.

 

 

Another notable event was, of course, the arrival of Vivienne. She'd apparently entered Haven late one afternoon with a certain amount of pomp, and headed straight to the Chantry to meet with the other leaders of the Inquisition. As her arrival had occurred only just after I'd finished my lesson with Bryn, and it was common knowledge among those I worked with just what kind of disposition I was likely to have at that time, it was decided that no one would come to fetch me, and Madame Vivienne would simply be informed that I was currently unavailable and would meet with her later that evening.

I discovered all this as I approached Haven with Solas, tired but calm again. An agent was waiting to meet us while we were still outside the training grounds. She quickly updated me on the situation and informed me Lady Vivienne was in the Chantry awaiting my return.

I thanked the agent for the message before turning my attention back to Solas, "I'm so glad they didn't try to come get me earlier, I'm quite sure I couldn't have dealt with the woman while in that mental state. Fortunately, I've already discussed her with the others so I'm sure they were able to deal with her without any trouble."

"You dislike the Enchantress?" he asked, simply.

"Dislike is probably too strong. I just find that her persistently superior manner rubs me the wrong way. She has a very set view of things and does not seem aware that her view might not in fact be the best for everyone." I sighed slightly and tried to release the tension those aspects of her brought up in me. "Still, I don't believe she is a bad person, she wants order and peace as much as the rest of us do and it is generous of her to offer her help. I guess I just don't see us becoming best friends anytime soon."

"I see," he responded and was quiet for a few moments before continuing, "I have heard that she is a very talented and powerful mage, did you find this assessment to be accurate?"

"I haven't had the opportunity to see her use much magic yet, but yes, I think she is quite a powerful mage, much stronger than most we have met on our travels so far. I believe she favors cold magic, the sense I get from her is very crisp and sharp and, of course, cold. I'd actually been meaning to ask you if it was common to be able to sense the differences in mages to determine what type of magic they favor or whether such sensations might instead or also indicate personality traits?"

He looked at me then, giving me one of those deep penetrating looks like he was looking for something. "If one is sensitive enough, yes, it is possible to sense such things. What you feel may indicate both magical preference and aptitude, as well as personality. In many cases magical preferences are indicated by personality. I must admit that one of the reasons I chose to begin our first lessons with fire magic was because of what I could sense in your own aura. However, truly powerful mages will not allow themselves to be limited to their particular predilections but will seek to expand their abilities in as many ways as possible."

"So what does it say about a personality if one's affinity is fire?" I looked over at him sideways, grinning slightly, wondering what kind of answer I would receive.

"Such things can vary depending on the person. Some might be hotheaded or impulsive." He did not look at me as he spoke and I turned my gaze forward as well, listening to what felt like more than words as he continued speaking, "It is clear that you are neither of these things, however. Your fire is not one that burns fervently and fleetingly on the surface. You possess a fire of deep passion, it fuels your actions and gives you strength. It is a fire that may burn hot to push you through the darkest hours, or remain an ember that lies in wait, but which adds a spark visible to any with the vision to discern it. It is a fire that is difficult to extinguish and lights a path for all those wise enough to follow."

I could feel his eyes on me then and I felt the color rise to my face hearing his words and feeling the sincerity behind them. If he were anyone else, I would have thought such words were meaningless tripe, meant to flatter and manipulate, but from him they were different, from him I could feel their truth. If I were the type, I probably could have swooned right there and the very idea made me blush even more from embarrassment. As it was I had no idea how to respond. It was too bad we were so close to Haven at that point or I might have reached for his hand again, it was the only thing I could think of that might begin to express how his words had affected me.

"That... thank you, ...that's very nice of you to say," I managed to get out finally, forcing myself to turn and meet his eyes. I nearly stopped breathing when I did, feeling as though, in that moment I could have simply fallen into those eyes, sinking into the clear blue depths and losing myself.

Though the contact lasted probably only a few seconds, the intensity of it made it feel so much longer before we both managed to turn our gaze back to the path ahead and the gates of Haven we were quickly approaching.

It never failed to surprise me how simple moments with Solas could suddenly turn deeply intimate and profound. How had I ever thought I could resist this man? The reality of him so exceeded everything I had ever imagined of him and it was incredibly overwhelming. This still frightened me to no small degree, yet left me feeling helpless to resist it, not that I particularly wanted to anymore, no matter what my logical mind might advise.

"Would you like me to accompany you when you go to meet the enchantress?"

I almost jumped hearing his voice breaking through my reverie.

I thought for a moment before answering, "I would like it very much, however you represent everything she disapproves of in a mage: no loyalty to the Chantry, self-taught, consorts with 'demons'... I'd prefer to keep you under her radar for now, as well as the fact that you're my teacher. I do not believe she is aware just how recently I've come into my magic, much less how I've been trained, she likely assumes I was trained in my clan. I don't think I need her to be aware of the truth of the situation just yet. I've already informed the others in this regards too. For now, I'd like to see what conclusions she draws for herself, and enlighten her when it seems most... appropriate."

I smiled at the laughter this prompted from Solas, "Though I am aware how much you dislike The Game, I do believe you will be more than capable of rising to the challenge." His eyes met mine again, mirth sparkling in them as he smiled.

"Well, thank you for your vote of confidence. I suppose time will tell," I smiled back.

We'd finally made it up the hill to where his cabin lay. "I suppose I should not keep Lady Vivienne waiting any longer," I said glancing in the direction of the chantry, "Perhaps I will see you later."

I looked back at him and he answered with a small smile and a bow, "Until later then." He then turned and walked towards the cabin as I headed further up the hill.

A Chantry Sister showed me to an office now inhabited by our latest arrival. After knocking and gaining admittance, I stepped inside to see a space nearly as large as that of Lady Montiliyet's office. It was sparsely decorated, yet I noticed a number of treasured items had been transported all the way form Orlais to accompany her ladyship. Despite how recently the space had become occupied I could already feel how Vivienne's energy and magic had filled the space. It was not unpleasant, rather cool and smooth, like white marble; but neither was it welcoming and comfortable the way Solas' cabin felt to me.

"Ah, my dear, it is so good to see you again. I am pleased to see you are in good health, though you do seem a little tired."

She beckoned for me to sit in a very plush chair, though I hadn't been aware such fine furnishings were available in Haven.

"Yes, it has been a full day for me, I find myself quite busy these days. I am very sorry though that I was not present for your arrival. I trust you were welcomed properly and you are happy with your accommodations," I said smiling and gesturing to the room at large.

"Oh yes my dear, the Lady Montiliyet was particularly accommodating, I believe the conditions will be quite adequate for what must be done. The Inquisition has made a valiant start but it is clear we have our work cut out for us. The power balance has been shattered with Justinia's death and order has be been lost with it. If it is not restored quickly, countless more lives will be lost. Mages, Templars, and innocent people of all kinds now look to the inquisition to decide their fate."

"Yes, it is an incredible task but order must be restored, continuing this war benefits no one. We are grateful for your assistance Lady Vivienne, I'm sure you will prove to be a valuable ally in our cause." I nodded graciously in her direction.

"I will certainly do what I can," Vivienne replied, "but it is you who will have the real impact in these matters. For almost a thousand years the world believed it was in the hands of the Maker and now many believe you are the agent of his will. Whatever the truth, that belief gives you power."

I frowned at the reminder of my having become some kind of religious idol. I managed to all but forget it most of the time but of course it was going to follow me everywhere in the end.

"I am aware of it, though I have never claimed to know the will of the Maker. I don't think anyone should make such a claim, not me and not The Chantry."

She looked at me seriously then, "Perhaps nobody should, but if no one leads the way, too many will be left behind in darkness. You have the opportunity to be the light that leads them in a new direction."

"It is not a responsibility I am eager to take on," I answered just as seriously, "But I realize it is not really my choice at this point, so I will do my best to make use of the position I have found myself in, though I am glad to know I have some very good people to support me in that endeavor."

She seemed pleased with my response and we continued talking a while longer. She was interested in the mages we had managed to recruit thus far and our efforts to ease tensions between them and the Templars who had joined our cause as well. We didn't go into great detail on either matter though and after a few more minutes the conversation came to a natural close and I took my leave.

 

Another day, another new member of the Inquisition.

I was tired and hungry, my only thoughts now were of food and books, perhaps with company.

Chapter Text

I'd been back in Haven for nearly two weeks before talk of going back out in the field started coming up again.

It certainly wasn't a surprise, I knew it wouldn't be long before we'd be on the road again and I'd been working on preparations for that eventuality almost since we'd gotten back. Amidst all the lessons and meetings I'd found time to see about getting some of my gear upgraded or replaced. I was having a new set of daggers made that would be a little nicer than the very basic ones I'd been using. My armor was being repaired and upgraded as well, some pieces were going to be replaced or adjusted and some new enchantments would be added. After some consultation with Solas it was decided to enhance my staff a bit too. I had enough experience with the basic functions that I was ready to add a few new bells and whistles.

The weather in Haven was still relatively cold due to its proximity to the large range that were the Frostbacks, but outside the mountains things were getting warmer and I didn't think I'd be needing my coat as much. Still, in case of weather, I'd commissioned a cloak of moderate weight that would be more practical on the road. It had also played a key role in some of my magic training as Solas taught me how to apply spells to the material as needed to protect against weather in more ways than the material alone was capable of. I could make it warmer or cooler and could make it repel water so that I might stay dry in the rain. I already knew that I would value that ability quite a lot in certain areas.

Talk of the next journey was brought up one morning at the usual meeting after Cullen informed us that the watchtowers for Dennett were due to be completed in a matter of days. He was eager to acquire horses for more of our forces and suggested that it was time to prepare for a journey back there so that I could personally attend to sealing the deal. Leliana seemed to think the return trip was a good idea as well, as the bandits we hadn't had a chance to address last time were becoming more of a problem lately.

Nothing was finalized but it was mostly decided that I should expect to leave sometime within the next week.

In the wake of this decision a number of other small changes seemed to happen in short succession, and I could feel my time in Haven was winding down. I started looking over the supplies I had and making lists of what I might need. I started thinking over all the things I wanted to be sure to do and people I wanted to speak with while I had the chance. I knew I would be leaving soon, but it was not yet sure how long I would be away this time. It was sounding like it would be a short trip, yet in my gut I had a feeling we would be gone for quite some time.

The day after that, Leliana approached me with the information about Blackwall. I expressed my agreement regarding her concerns about the Grey Wardens and told her I would definitely look into it and that she should also do what she could to find out anything else. She seemed pleased that I took the matter seriously.

This worked well in my favor, I was glad to have her in a good mood, hoping it would make what I wanted to speak with her about next easier. I'd already decided to visit her that day in order to confront her regarding the use of her more... aggressive methods for dealing with certain threats. She had recently announced on several occasions how she would 'take care' of certain individuals who were posing some admittedly serious problems for us, but who could probably be dealt with in other ways. From what I'd observed of the others around the table they did not completely agree with our spymaster's tactics either, but she always got the job done, so no one really called her out on it.

I'd considered doing so in the middle of a meeting, hoping the others might back me up but decided I would try to appeal to her myself first, and avoid making a bigger deal out of the situation than it needed to be. As expected she was not so happy anymore once I explained my problem.

"We must deal with these threats decisively," she declared, "we cannot risk such occurrences being repeated. If people are aware such actions will be dealt with quickly and harshly they may think twice about trying, and those that do will not be a threat a second time." She was glaring at me, anger showing in her eyes and in the strain of her voice, though the volume had not risen.

"You are free to present your arguments for the punishment you feel is most applicable to the situation but I do not think it is right for you to pronounce summary judgment. If no other options sound reasonable we may follow your suggestion, but if we consistently act without mercy we become just as bad as those we fight against." I was doing my best to remain calm, but righteous indignation was starting to seep in.

"We cannot afford to be idealistic at this time, we must act to protect the interests of the Inquisition and it's people," She stated with an air of finality.

"This is exactly when we need to be idealistic otherwise what is the purpose of the Inquisition? I was under the impression that our purpose was to establish order and bring the world back from the edge it has been tipping itself over. How can we say we are doing that if we are becoming just like those who caused these problems to begin with? We have to be better, we need to give people hope that things can be different, that there are other answers besides violence and pain. If we only show interest in preserving 'our interests' then it seems to me we are doing nothing more than seeking to make the Inquisition a power for it's own sake. If that is what we want, please inform me so that I can go elsewhere and try to support Thedas, rather than just another power hungry organization."

The other woman just kind of stared at me for a few moments, slightly stunned and unsure how to respond.

"I can see you are very passionate about this matter," she stated finally, sighing slightly before continuing, "You are right, we are hear to help the people and try to make a better world for those who have suffered so much. If you believe that to do this we should look into other methods of dealing with certain problems I will do as you wish and bring all further matters forward for discussion. Tomorrow, we will discuss what actions are warranted on those cases you mentioned."

"Thank you, that is all I ask. I realize these are dangerous times, but if the Inquisition is to truly help people, I believe we must try to do things differently than they have been done before. We need to be the change we want to make."

 

All in all I was quite pleased with myself at the results of the confrontation. I've never been a confrontational person and facing people that way has always kind of terrified me. I could definitely do it when needed, but I have never enjoyed the prospect. Too often it has not worked out in my favor, whenever I'd tried in my own world, but my position here was so different, and I was treated quite differently because of it. I had never had any kind of power before, and having it now still didn't sit that easily with me, but since I did have it, it was my responsibility to do the best I could with it.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

A couple days later a departure day was decided. We'd get three more days in Haven, and then my party and I would all be heading out for the Hinterlands. As usual it fell to me to inform Solas and Varric, who took the news in stride as usual. I let Sera know too, and, as she was the newest addition to our group, I gave her a list of recommended things to bring and a quick rundown of what to expect. I don't know that she really paid me much attention but she seemed enthusiastic at the news at least.

Originally the plan was to just go to the Hinterlands and come back: Meet Dennet, find Blackwall, take care of the bandits, try to get into Redcliffe, and then return. However, things changed a little when Krem finally showed up.

I'd been keeping an eye out for the mercenary in question but had started to think he might not show up until we'd gotten back. However, when I walked into the tavern for lunch that afternoon I saw Varric sitting at his usual table talking to a warrior sitting across from him.

I actually didn't recognize the man at first, but as I walked farther in, Varric looked up from his conversation and grinned, and waved me over to the table. "There you are Midnight, I was hoping you'd drop by today. I've been telling my new friend here that you are the person to talk to."

I looked over to the other man and recognition dawned just as he began to introduce himself, "Cremisius Aclassi of the Chargers at your service. I'm here on behalf of our commander to offer the Chargers services to the Inquisition."

"The kid here says they have a pretty strong team," Varric piped in, "I thought you might be interested in hearing a bit more. I'm sure the Inquisition could find a use for a group of experienced mercenaries."

I smiled, knowing it was pretty much a given that I would be letting the Chargers into the Inquisition. I put out my hand to shake the newcomer's, "It's nice to meet you. You've caught me at a good time, so why don't you tell me all about these Chargers and your commander."

 

Things continued to work out at the next war room meeting. We'd had Harding and a group of scouts and agents head north to follow rumors of Grey Wardens in the area as well as some issues with bandits. We'd received word that day, that some of inquisition soldiers were suspected to have been captured or killed by these bandits at the Storm Coast, and I knew they must be the Hessarian. Since our forces in that area were still very limited, it was suggested my party might go there to try and take care of the problem once we'd finished in the Hinterlands, at which point I told them about the Chargers and suggested it would be a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

The trip to the Storm Coast would add significant time to our overall journey but it was decided to be the most efficient use of time and resources. All in all, everything seemed to be coming together smoothly.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

My mood always seemed to darken, as I approached the training grounds these days. I was starting to feel rather beaten down from Bryn's training the last couple weeks. If there was going to be any real benefit to leaving, I was starting to think leaving behind this daily abuse would be at the top of my list. I really wanted to believe in her methods, but I hardly felt like it was doing me much good. I had no idea what I was supposed to have accomplished at this point. Bryn pushed hard during the lessons but never said anything negative about my overall progress. Maybe that was just because I didn't give her much chance to these days, not really wanting to speak to the woman once she'd pushed my nerves to the edge. I really just didn't know if anything I was doing was right or if I was improving in any way.

As I approached the area we always used, I was surprised to see only Bryn there, apparently my opponents for the day hadn't arrived yet.

"So who am I fighting today? Three people, twice my size, wielding oversized axes, or did you find a giant for me to take on?" I tried not to sound too sarcastic or bitter, but I'm sure I failed.

"We will be doing something a little different today," she responded evenly, "Though we are leaving in three days, Leliana has asked me to help train a few of our recent recruits and you are going to help me."

"Me? I'm hardly past beginner myself. I've just spent the last two weeks having my ass handed to me, I don't think I'm qualified to be training anyone."

Now she did start to look irritated, "You have spent the last two weeks struggling against the most experienced and challenging opponents I could dig up around Haven. And truth be told, I've pretty much run out of suitable opponents as so many of the soldiers we have here are relatively new. In facing such overpowering opponents and the frustrations of your failures, I am sure the conditions you were forced to contend with stuck in your mind and you have replayed them countless times trying to discover ways you might have improved your performance, or am I mistaken?"

I was a bit taken aback by her words, then thought back over the last few weeks and realized it was true. Even when my mind was calm, the memory of my frustrations always remained and I would often review parts of each lesson, thinking how I might have evaded or countered the moves. I couldn't help the thoughts that would pop up throughout the day, no matter where I was as some new idea would come to me as to how I might have responded better to some strike that had knocked me down or otherwise gotten past my defenses. I had even taken significant time in the Fade to return to some of my earlier methods of fighting shadow opponents in an attempt to practice these new ideas, always wishing I could have the chance to face the same opponent again in order to try out what I'd worked on.

"I did, yes, but why didn't I get the chance to use any of that preparation and face the same opponents again?"

"Because there isn't time," She said, looking at me seriously. "I knew we wouldn't have more than a few weeks in Haven before we would have to leave again. I needed to expose you to as many new situations as possible. I needed you to see how much you still needed to learn. The majority of opponents you have faced in the field have not been seasoned fighters and you have had a significant amount of support from your magic and your companions, but there may come a day when you will have none of that."

Her voice remained even as she spoke but I could also hear the passion that came through her words as she spoke, "When I was first assigned to be your trainer and to join the party on your travels I was told that my first duty was to keep you safe. I take my duties very seriously, and in my experience, the best way to keep anyone safe is to make sure they can do whatever it takes to keep themselves safe. If there were time, I could use different methods but such limits require drastic measures. I needed to push you to the very edge of your abilities to cope, I needed you to know the frustration of constant defeat and to feel you were always on the edge of the next defeat. I wanted you to feel as much of that fear as possible in an environment where no one is trying to actually kill you so that your mind would push you to find as many ways as possible to avoid another loss. You are now well aware that there are opponents out there that could take you down at any moment, and you are now taking significant steps in your mental preparation against such eventualities. When we return to Haven again you will have the chance to face some of these opponents again and see if your preparation has been sufficient.

"But today, you will play the role of the enemy. The recruits we will be training started around the same time you did, but have not received the intensity of the training you have, and have not yet seen real battle. As a result, you will have a great advantage over them. But they will need to face real enemies soon, and they must also be prepared. You will not go easy on them." This final statement was said with an air of command that would accept no argument. "If you allow them to feel safe with you as their opponent, they may be willing to let down their guard just enough in battle that it may cost them their lives. You will teach them to take every fight seriously, as I hope you have now learned to do."

I stood there for a while simply processing everything she had said, trying to understand it. I had to admit it did make a kind of sense, but I wasn't sure it really could have worked the way she expected it to. I also didn't see any way to properly test it. As far as I could see, there was nothing I could do about it right now but accept what she said and hope her methods were as effective as she claimed. At least she seemed truly earnest in her intentions, she did believe this was what would help me most and she had helped me a great deal up to this point. It seemed the best option for now was to trust her, if nothing else, the past two weeks was unlikely to have made me any worse.

But now, I was to play the enemy and help her train soldiers that hadn't been with the Inquisition any longer than I had. I didn't see how I would be good enough to be qualified for this position, unless she really just wanted to train us all together. I couldn't really complain, it would be nice to have a break at least, after the last couple weeks I thought I probably deserved one.

I finally met her eyes again, after thinking this all through for a minute or so, "Alright, so I'm just supposed to spar with these recruits? Give them some practice?"

Her eyes flashed in that kind of evilly mischievous way she had, "No. You are their opponent. I expect you to deal with them exactly the same way your opponents of the last weeks dealt with you."

I looked at her, disbelieving what she expected me to do and opened my mouth to say something but was stopped by one of her infamous glares that could have probably stopped a dragon in its tracks.

"Yes, you can do it," she said. "Trust me, you are more than up to the task. Besides it will be easier for you than it was for those I made face you. Do you know how much I had to threaten to get all those soldiers to agree to repeatedly knock down 'The Herald of Andraste'?"

My mouth just opened on its own again at that but nothing came out. How was I supposed to respond to that? I generally did my best to forget the whole thing about being this 'Herald' but I suppose all those around me were very set on remembering it and I really shouldn't have been so surprised at such a revelation. I hadn't even considered what it might have meant to any of those soldiers I'd been facing to have to purposefully knock me down over and over again and see how angry I clearly got at the experience. It was a testament to Bryn's ability to intimidate, despite her slight figure, that she was able to persuade all of them to keep at it for the duration of each lesson. Though I still wasn't so certain my skill level was at the level she seemed to think it was, there was little point in trying to argue the point with her. I would have to put in my best effort. And if it did somehow help these recruits...well, it was the least I could do.

I took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh, "Alright, I'll do my best. When will they get here?"

"They should be here any minute. Remember, you are not to go easy on them. You are to take any opening you see and any chance to knock them down you get. If you trust me to train you, then you will accept the same rules in training them. And remember you are the Herald, they will be afraid to strike you, we must do our best to taunt them into doing their best." She gave me a pointed look, waiting for me to acknowledge these terms. Once I did she went on, "Good. Keep in mind, the better they are trained now, the longer they will live later. Ah, here they come now."

I turned to follow her gaze to see three young armored soldiers heading our way: two men and one woman. All three were larger than me, though this wasn't particularly daunting as almost everyone was, aside from Bryn. I'd long since learned that size just meant you had to adjust your technique appropriately to make use of your own advantages and exploit the enemies weaknesses. It was as much strategy as physical ability. Of course, ability was my main concern at the moment.

You're still alive, I reminded myself. That in itself was a feat I hadn't expected to manage a couple short months ago. I realized I really wasn't doing myself any favors by forgetting what I had already accomplished and if I was to be of any use in training anybody, much less face real enemies again, I would need to have some confidence in my abilities.

As the three approached, I saw them start to look nervously at me and at each other, murmuring among themselves. It was pretty obvious that they had not expected to be doing this training with the Herald present and I did feel kind of sorry for them in that moment.

At Bryn's instruction I stood back silently as she met the young soldiers and began to explain the plan for the afternoon. It was kind of funny to be honest, to not be the focus of Bryn's attention for once, to see how she approached other students. I could tell she intimidated them, even though she was being downright friendly compared to what I'd gotten used to.

"I'm sure you are all familiar with the Herald of Andraste," she finally turned and gestured towards me for the benefit of her new students. "She will be your opponent and you will do everything you can to defeat her."

I was torn between wanting to laugh and giving them all hugs at the looks of sheer terror this statement evoked. Was I really that intimidating? If I were any normal person, rather than The Herald I'm quite sure the situation would be very different. Actually, it really was bothersome that their fear of me really just stemmed from the nonsense title I'd been given and had nothing to do with what I could actually do. I decided that if they were going to respect or fear me at all, I wanted it to be for more than a label. I also needed to follow through on Bryn's expectations of me and encourage them to give their best.

I caught Bryn's eye, "Mind if I add something?" I asked.

She gave me a judging look for a moment before nodding, "Yes, I believe these soldiers could benefit from a few inspirational words from the Herald."

I stepped forward to better meet the eyes of the young warriors before me. "I've been told that you have been with the Inquisition about the same length of time that I have. When I joined, I had no skill with weapons whatsoever, but I have worked hard and practiced nearly every day to improve." I began a slow pace in front of them as I continued speaking, "It is true that I have experience in real battle, and that should give me an edge, but if you have been working hard every day, then you should have the skill to hold your own against me. I expect you to show me exactly how much you have learned. I want to see that you are worthy to be members of the Inquisition. I want you to prove to me that you are ready to face the enemies of the Inquisition, and you will do that by showing me what you can do, so you will not hold back, you will show me everything you've got. Do you understand?"

I looked directly at them again as I asked the final question, putting an air of authority in my voice.

The soldiers gave a few hesitant yeses and nods in response, still looking pretty nervous, though they did seem to be standing a little taller now.

"What was that?" Bryn's voice came out loudly as she stepped up next to me. "The Herald asked you a question. Do you understand?"

"YES SER!" they called out in unison finally pulling themselves up to stand tall and firm in front of us.

"Good. We are both expecting to see your best, so you'd better not hold back," Bryn glared at the three. "Right, let's get started. You will first face The Herald one at a time so we may assess your abilities."

She gestured the slightly smaller man forward first and the others stepped back to give us some space as he prepared his sword and shield.

I'd had plenty of time to mentally prepare now and I was actually eager to see what these young soldiers could do. I mean, if they were fairly new then they shouldn't pose nearly the challenge my recent opponents had, I should actually be able to hold my own for once.

As it turned out, I'd either greatly overestimated their ability, or otherwise severely underestimated my own, possibly a little of both. The truth was, they were not even a challenge. I had each of them on the ground in seconds. I probably could have taken them down in one or two moves but wanted to give them a chance to at least show me something. Every move they made felt slow and stiff and formulaic; they were incredibly predictable and gave me all the time in the world to act.

Bryn was frowning after the performance but made no comment yet, "This time, all of you against The Herald at once."

The results were much the same, even with all three of them. They were uncoordinated and hesitant. Their numbers mattered very little as I already had plenty of experience against multiple opponents. It looked like I would have plenty to teach them after all.

Bryn came to stand beside me as they all stood back up again and resumed their positions lined up in front of us, she was grinning slightly. "What is your assessment Herald?"

"To be honest, I'm really surprised. Are you sure they didn't just arrive last week? I truly expected more if they have been training regularly."

"Did you hear that?" she stepped up to face the soldiers head on, looming despite her small stature. "And the Herald was taking it easy on you too. I hope you are ready to work a lot harder for the next couple of days because your current performance is unacceptable."

The shorter man mumbled something under his breath and Bryn and I both turned to look his way.

"Do you want to say something soldier?" Bryn demanded.

He looked a bit nervous to be singled out but held himself tall as he spoke, keeping his voice steady, "The Herald is blessed by The Maker, we cannot possibly hope to achieve the same skill given to the Chosen of Andraste."

The others nodded at this and Bryn and I exchanged looks. I really shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, but it was quite exasperating and Bryn quickly made her displeasure at the excuse known.

"I have personally been training the Herald every step of the way and I can guarantee to you that every bit of skill she has attained has been through effort and dedication. She performed just as badly the first time I met her as you did today, worse in fact, but she has fought each day to become better than the last and in a few short months she has made herself ready to face all but the strongest most experienced opponents out there. If you want The Maker's blessing you'd better be prepared to work for it. Is that understood?" she all but shouted at them.

"YES SER!" they shouted in return.

I hoped they believed her words and would take the training seriously from then on, but her words hit me as well. It was rare when she actually commented on my performance, mostly just giving instructions. She was the type to tell you when you did something wrong but she neither praised nor censured. Her only expectation seemed to be that you put forth your best effort to achieve the best you could. Hearing her comment now on where she believed my abilities to be, came as a bit of a shock. I had to believe her, she was not one to make such statements lightly, if she said it, she meant it, and it made me feel both proud and afraid. I was proud to have actually achieved such an assessment from this woman I couldn't help but admire, but also afraid of letting her down. I knew I would have to keep working, so that I never would.

The rest of the lesson progressed in a familiar way despite my role being quite different. Even so, I felt I learned a lot that day. I was finally able to see for myself how far I'd come, how much I had become capable of. With the realization, my whole outlook on these training sessions changed. Even at the best times, I always dreaded them a little; constantly getting knocked down and losing every fight with Bryn and the opponents she set me up against had part of me believing I deserved it, that I had no right to stay standing, that I couldn't possibly be meant to succeed at such a level. Inside, I berated myself for every failure despite the fact I was facing people who had years and years of experience and training beyond me. I was only ever facing opponents near my own level on the battlefield.

Her methods had been effective. After facing so many challenges in training, I only fought all the harder once I was in the field and the stakes were so much higher, afraid of what a failure there might cost me.

Now though, I was aware. Working with these young soldiers, who were so like I was a very short time ago, and seeing clearly the contrast between that person and the one who stood in that training circle now; I believed in my ability for the first time and it made the whole experience different. Where before I dreaded it, I was now enjoying it, and I knew I would probably also start to look forward to it. I wanted to continue pushing myself simply for the excitement of challenging myself and seeing what else I could achieve. Like so many young girls, I had dreamed at times of being some great warrior who could defeat frightening enemies and protect people. Hell, Xena, Warrior Princess had totally been my idol for years. And now here I was, doing just that; I was becoming a warrior who could protect those I cared about and inspire others to become their best selves as well.

 

At the end of lesson, Bryn instructed them to all be back promptly the next day before letting the soldiers leave. As they left, I noticed Solas approaching to meet me for our magic lesson. I put away my weapons and moved to grab my staff from where I'd set it off to the side. I then turned to find Bryn facing me.

"Good job today. I think we'll be able to make something of those soldiers in the end," she smiled.

I hadn't seen her really smile in quite some time and I found I was glad to see it again and smiled in return, "Yeah, I think so. I think we finally managed to get past their resistance at the beginning." She nodded in response, still smiling, before turning to finish clearing up the training space. "Bryn," I called and she turned back again, "Thank you."

She gave another nod, "You're welcome. I'll see you tomorrow."

This time I nodded, before turning and heading out to meet Solas just as he arrived.

Chapter Text

The last days in Haven passed in a flash. Final preparations were arranged and plans made. In the War Room we tried to cover as many topics as possible before Cassandra and I left. Bryn and I kept training the three soldiers and they did make some marked improvements in the three days we worked with them, though we strongly encouraged that they keep up the work because we just may decide to test them the next time we were back in Haven. 

Magic lessons continued as usual and other small preparations were made in what spare moments remained. Fortunately, I was still able to keep most evening hours free for study or just resting.

The last day in Haven proceeded as usual but there was an air of finality to the end of each portion of the day. Farewells and good wishes ended the morning meeting and final training with the young soldiers. It just felt a little strange, knowing I'd be leaving it all behind again. Despite the challenges and frustrations and general hard work of the last few weeks, I'd become comfortable here. At the same time, I always knew it couldn't last, and I didn't truly want it to. I was never someone who could handle long stretches of routine. Still, Haven had become the center of this world for me, it was the place I could return to, it was a place I felt safe. I couldn't exactly call it home, but it was the closest thing I had right now. I knew that too would change one day but for now I wanted to hold onto it and enjoy it as much as I could.

The magic lesson was kept short that last day. Most of the time was spent simply reviewing and practicing everything I'd been working on the last few weeks. Though it was never as frustrating as combat training had been, there had been a fair share of challenges, and seeing everything come together at the end, so much smoother than it had ever been, was very satisfying.

Once I'd finished demonstrating that I had a good handle on all these skills, Solas declared us finished for the day.

"Why don't we take the long way back?" I asked indicating the path around the far side of the lake. We had never actually gotten around to taking another walk after that first day, at least not one that didn't simply serve the purpose of me working out the worst of my frustrations after lessons with Bryn. The weather hadn't helped either, too many cloudy and drizzly afternoons proved to be less than inviting. Today however was gorgeous, and it was my last chance to just enjoy the idyllic scenery of the area without any other immediate worries or concerns.

"As you wish," he answered simply and we started off at a relaxed pace.

We simply walked in silence for several minutes and I reflected back on that day, not so long ago, when I was first preparing to leave for the Hinterlands. I knew it was only a few months earlier but it felt so long ago now. It was strange to realize how far I had come in such a short time, how much I had accomplished, and yet how much there still lay ahead. I had been so frightened that time, my skills still so rudimentary that I had to wonder how it was I had in fact managed to survive this long.

The truth was, it had only been possible because of how much help I'd had. I hadn't been left on my own once since I'd first woken up here. There was always someone at my back, ready to step in and help whenever it was needed. Before coming here I'd never known what that was like, so many times there was no one there, and even when there was, too often it had been proven that I couldn't trust that person to actually be there when they were actually needed. Here, I felt like I could trust any of them, all of them, to be there, without even having to ask. It was an amazing feeling and I could hardly believe it was real.

"Are you ready to depart tomorrow?" Solas' voice broke through my thoughts and brought me back to the present.

This man beside me, was probably the one I trusted the most, and the least. I knew his plans, his intentions, and I had no reason yet to believe those might change. But at this moment, right here and right now, he was with me completely and he would do whatever was needed to help me survive, of that I was sure. The presence of him near me, constant and steady, was an anchor in all the chaos and uncertainty of the life I had here.

Since that first walk, we'd tended to keep just a little more space between us. It was small enough no one else likely noticed any difference. I maintained the distance because I did want to bridge it again, but I knew it just wasn't a very good idea right now. I couldn't know his reasons for also adhering to the change, but I suspected it might be something similar. Still, today, with these thoughts rolling through my mind, I especially wanted to reach out and touch the man beside me, reassure myself he was indeed real. Instead, I just focused on the presence I felt beside me, merging it with the man in my view; that was real enough for now.

"I think I am," I answered after a few moments. "I feel a lot more ready than I did the last time we headed out to the Hinterlands. It's hard for me to believe how far I've come in what really is quite a short time."

"You have worked very hard and your progress is a testament to that."

"I've also had really good teachers. Seriously, I don't think I could have asked for better. You and Bryn deserve your fair share of credit too." I looked up and over to catch him with a sideways glance, smiling as he looked over too and met my eye.

"A teacher is only as good as their student, you have been remarkably open to the lessons we have had to teach, and allowed us to push you to your limits so that you might go beyond them. I believe there are few who would be so willing to place as much trust in their teachers as you have."

His words surprised me, but thinking back over everything, he was right. I'd really placed so much trust in those around me, especially in him. "I guess I have put a lot of trust in you, in everyone. It certainly isn't something I normally do, but everything that's happened from the Conclave to now has been so far from normal for me, almost nothing about it bears any resemblance to my previous life." I paused, thinking, "You guys helped me right from the beginning, you had my back and supported me every day since; and I desperately needed that support, without it I could never have even survived. I guess I knew I needed to take that risk and put faith in someone else for once if I had any hope to continue surviving. I guess the gamble paid off." I finished, drifting back into silence as various memories drifted through my mind.

I nearly jumped when I felt his hand touch mine, fingers lightly brushing my hand as if asking permission. It didn't take me long to decide to grant it. If he was willing to offer the contact, I had no desire to reject it. This would probably be the last chance we would get for a while anyway, might as well take advantage of it.

"You have been in a better mood after your lessons with Bryn the last few days, I take it they are going more smoothly now?" He asked, as his hand slid smoothly over mine, closing over it in a light grip before renewing the gentle stroking of his thumb against my skin that I relished so much.

"The last few days have been different. I've kind of switched roles. We've been training a few of the Inquisition's soldiers. Even though I am in the role of the opponent and teacher now, I've learned a lot about what I've been learning all this time that I hadn't realized. All those days of struggle and frustration, I felt like I was getting nowhere, that maybe I was just wasting my time. I trusted Bryn, but those lessons were really pushing me to the edge by the end there. Now though, after working with those young soldiers, after seeing just how far I have come, and after hearing Bryn explain what she had been doing...it's just...I don't know, I guess I understand now, and I believe in myself more." I felt his hand squeeze mine slightly at the last comment. "Do you remember that day I finally learned how to make a proper barrier? Well, the first day training those soldiers kind of felt like the same sort of breakthrough, as if all the training I'd been doing, everything I'd been learning, finally coalesced and I just...got it."

I paused then, thinking back over that day's lesson, "Since the beginning, there's been a part of me that dreaded lessons with Bryn, even on the good days, but now I think I actually enjoy them. If just feels good to improve a skill this way, now that I realize I have been improving all along. It's probably kind of silly that it took me so long to realize, but now that I do it's like a weight has been lifted."

It had become usual for long pauses to stretch between responses in our conversations so I was not bothered in the slightest as we continued on in silence a while longer before he spoke.

"I am pleased her methods have proved to be so effective for you. I must admit, I was unsure of the efficacy of driving you to such extremes these past weeks. I was often tempted to object but for the fact that, no matter how frustrated and aggravated you became each day, you never gave any indication that you no longer wished to be trained in this way. Each day you let yourself be pushed to the edge and then you did whatever was necessary to let yourself return from that precipice in order to gain enough focus to redirect your energy towards your magic training." He paused again there, looking over at me and waiting for me to meet his eyes before continuing, "I admire the amount of control you have demonstrated. I have to wonder what has allowed you attain this level of command over your own emotions and reactions."

I looked away again, thinking, remembering...

"Losing control over myself and my actions is one of my greatest fears I think," I began, speaking slowly, trying to form my explanation. "There are many times I've seen what happens when people let their emotions, anger, fear, pain, just take over completely, causing people to react solely based on these feelings, and I don't think I've witnessed a single instance where the results of it were good, they are always such naturally destructive things when left on their own. In the aftermath, sometimes the pieces can be picked up and what was broken can be repaired, but often cracks remain and pieces are lost. Other times, the damage is irreparable and valuable things are lost forever. Even with some control it is so easy to unintentionally cause harm."

I took a slow breath, heavy with memories before continuing, "I remember the moment I learned what could happen if I let such things take over. I was still very young and it was such a simple small thing, but I will never forget it. I, and a group of other children were taught how to construct a very simple doll from string and a little cloth. Once the dolls were made the final step was to paint on a face. Rather than do this with the other children I went off on my own to complete my doll, excited to make it as cute and perfect as the one the teacher had made. Unfortunately, my small hands didn't have the dexterity or skill required to create the image in my head. I looked at my imperfect doll and became angry and frustrated at my failure." I laughed a little then, "I don't know why but I decided to bite the doll's head in my anger, which only resulted in smearing the paint, ruining the face even more and making me that much angrier. I gripped at the doll in my anger, scrunching it in my hands, wanting to rip it apart but finally flinging it away instead. The next thing I felt was guilt at having done such a stupid and unkind thing to the poor doll. It was not the dolls fault, it was mine, and perhaps for a moment I hated myself for it, and this just fed into my frustration even more and I felt such a destructive urge fill me, as if I wanted to start ripping apart everything around me and shred it to pieces."

I stopped speaking, lost in the memories. It was still so clear after all this time and I wondered where the doll was now. Probably still lost in some box far away in another world.

"It was that moment, as I peered over the edge into my own overwrought emotions and saw what they wanted, that I realized exactly what was happening and what would happen if I took that final step and let them take over. Every act of destruction I committed only added to the mess inside, feeding it, making it stronger, only to wreak more destruction. It was a horrible vicious circle and in that moment I could imagine it consuming me completely, turning me into some kind of monster. That vision was so horrifying I immediately fought to rein myself in, holding myself still as I fought with my anger and tried to bring it back down. I think I cried as I sat there fighting the anger inside along with the fear of that anger. Finally, I did calm down and went to retrieve the poor doll, holding it close and promising it only love from that moment, feeling like I had to apologize for how I had treated it. I kept that doll for many years and it became beautiful to me, smeared face and all. It was a reminder to me."

I could feel him watching me as we continued our slow stroll. I started to return from the hall of memories to feel the breeze again and hear the sounds of the world around us, our footsteps beneath us.

"I was very young but the fear was real, and the fear of those moments has stayed with me ever since then and I do my best to avoid those kinds of emotion, especially anger. Whenever I do feel these emotions rise in me, I do everything I can to control them. I try not to hold them in, that can be just as dangerous in the long run, but I do my best to find safer, controlled ways of expressing them or dispelling them. Fortunately, it takes quite a lot to really upset or aggravate me anymore. I do have to commend Bryn on her ability to pull off such a feat as well." I smiled slightly, with a small shake of my head.

Another long silence stretched between us as we both mused over my story.

"It is most impressive how you have successfully achieved such mastery over negative emotions that might lead to destructive behaviors," he said finally, "I think very few could make such a similar claim." I could feel a question coming then, "but what of other positive emotions? Do you maintain similar control over happiness, hope, or love?"

I sighed, "I'm not really sure. Sometimes I feel the control I've built up has made it harder for me to feel the good emotions as strongly as I might; that by keeping such tight reign on the bad has also not allowed me to experience the good as freely either, but there are other possibilities too. There have been fewer occasions for such feelings in my life.... Plus, too many of those instances only led me to more of the pain. I think I can be pretty mistrustful and cautious with happiness, afraid it's just a trick and if I let down my guard it's just going to hurt more in the end. I know I shouldn't be, but it is hard to let go of that kind of fear, especially when it has so often been backed up by experience." I actually felt tears welling up as I spoke these words, the sadness behind their truth filling me, but I struggled to hold them back, I did not want to start crying now, I wanted to enjoy these moments rather than dwell on such things.

"I believe I understand," he responded gently after another pause, though I got the feeling there was more behind his words as well. "It seems this ability serves you well in many instances, but I do hope you will find happiness as well and feel free to embrace it fully."

I smiled at the sentiment, "Thank you, I hope so too. Though, despite all that has happened since the Conclave, I have found more pleasant moments than I had expected." I looked up at him meeting his gaze with my smile, a genuine one though the wetness in my eyes had not yet fully receded.

"Right now, for example, is very pleasant." I leaned towards him slightly to bump the length of my arm against his, nudging him over just a bit while I squeezed my hand in his. "At this moment, I feel at peace. I'm out here on a beautiful day, with someone who's company I enjoy, and for this moment all the craziness and horror feels like it is in another world altogether. And right now, it can stay there. The moment will pass and everything else will return again, new problems will arrive, but this is why I do any of it, for moments like these; not only for myself but for others as well. That's what life is, right? There's always something, some problem, some trial, but every now and then we can take a break and just enjoy a few moments of sweetness that makes it all worth it." A tear did fall then, not from sadness but because I really meant what I'd just said and felt slightly overwhelmed at my own sincerity just then.

I paused, slightly embarrassed now, and shook my head with a small laugh, eyes on the ground, "Ugh, listen to me, this probably all sounds so ridiculous."

"It is not ridiculous," he said softly but seriously, "it is a worthy goal; one which I believe too many forget is of value." We had stopped walking at some point and I felt him move so that he was facing me and I knew he was looking at me now. I forced myself to look up and meet his eyes as he spoke again, "This is a pleasant moment for me as well, one of many I have been privileged to share with you, and I thank you for the opportunity."

He reached his free hand out and brushed away the stray tear with a soft stroke of his thumb, which led his hand to naturally cradle my jaw within its gentle hold. I didn't move, I think I stopped breathing, afraid to break the spell. Then to my further surpise, he lifted my hand up to his lips and lay a gentle kiss against the back of it, holding it there an extra moment as his eyes remained locked onto mine, before slowly letting our hands return to our sides, still holding on to each other, the hand on my face brushing finger tips forward down my jaw to my chin, before finally breaking contact and returning to his other side.

I swallowed, mouth suddenly dry and heart racing, "You're welcome," I managed to get out, too stunned to think of any further reply and trying to remember how to breathe.

We stood there another couple of seconds, but then, in some unspoken agreement, we began our forward progression once again.

My mind was reeling with incoherent thoughts that mostly just ended up in replaying those moments over and over in my head. I felt so unsure how I should react. Should I say something? Should I pretend it never happened and just wait for him to say something?

What I really wanted was to stop right there, turn around and kiss him for real, but I was too terrified to try. Was it too early for that? Was it safe to make that kind of change? Would it help or make things worse?

I wasn't sure but as each moment passed I felt it was too late to find out and would be better if I just let things be for now.

Besides, the way things were going, chances were there'd be other opportunities, if I felt it was worth taking that risk.

After a minute or two of silence he spoke again, which was a relief since I had no idea what I might possibly say at that point. "If you don't mind a change of subject, I wondered if I might ask you a question."

"You can certainly ask, though whether I can answer I suppose depends on what kind of question it is," I answered, curiosity piqued at the unusual request, though also glad for a new topic of discussion.

"One of the aspects about you I have often found most curious is how different you are from other Dalish elves I have encountered. From what I have seen, their beliefs in various gods such as Mythal, Andruil, or Fen'Harel, is central to the culture. Yet in all our conversations you make no mention of them, therefore I am curious as to what your beliefs actually are on the subject. I suppose I am simply interested to know what your thoughts are on Dalish beliefs in general and the Elvhen pantheon in particular?"

Whatever I was expecting, it was certainly not this topic. Though I really couldn't be too surprised, it was probably bound to come up sooner or later. I also had to struggle a bit to keep my amusement down at the casual mention of his other name.

"Well, I have expressed that I have always felt a kind of disconnect from my family and the people I was raised around. With that came a questioning of their beliefs. I thought the stories interesting but I'm afraid religion of any kind is not something that has really made a lot of sense to me personally. As for the gods themselves, it's hard to say," I said, pausing then as I hastily tried to put my thoughts together, "I don't feel like I really know enough to be able to say I believe anything in particular other than I believe that they probably did exist in some kind of historical context, but have not been present in the lives of elves as anything more than stories for a very long time. Why do you ask? Are my beliefs on the subject important? I was under the impression you didn't hold such beliefs in high esteem anyway." I looked at him, trying to get a better read on his thoughts, which seemed more opaque than usual for some reason.

"It is true," he answered, glancing my way but not holding eye contact, "I do not approve of the ways and beliefs of the Dalish, I suppose I have made that clear often enough. Even so, I recognize that it is part of your background and I wish to know more about you. As I said, I have noticed that you do not seem to hold many of the same views as other Dalish and I find this pleasantly surprising and yet undeniably puzzling, it has long piqued my curiosity. You say you don't know enough but surely you have heard many stories."

"Of course, I have heard many stories, of these gods, and many other things besides. In fact, I am actually interested in trying to get some books on the subject through the Inquisition at some point, so as to see what other variations might exist. I don't doubt that there are kernels of truth hidden within, but in the end all we are really left with is stories. I know very well how stories work Solas. It hasn't been all that long since the Conclave, yet as 'The Herald', how many stories now surround me? How much of those stories are accurate reflections of who I am or what I've done? Certainly there is truth within them too, but the facts have already long since been fragmented. Even some of those closest to me believe I am some sort of chosen one and have attributed divine guidance to many of my actions since I first closed the Breach; all of this in a matter of months. The stories of the Elvhen gods are so much older than that, told and retold over thousands of years. How much truth is left in them and how is it to be determined which elements still possess some truth? I do not deny that I do have an interest in the pantheon, which is why I know the stories and am interested to find more, but I am also aware that these stories cannot give me the kind of truth I seek, the knowledge I need to make any real kind of judgment or opinion on the topic.

"I can understand how you must feel about the kind of religious fervor the Dalish and also many Andrastians frequently demonstrate. I grew up around it and know it very well, yet for some reason it never made much sense to me and I became resentful of having these beliefs constantly shoved in my face and being looked down on for even questioning any of them. Honestly, I wouldn't care what anyone believed as long as they didn't do things like that or worse. I mean, the way whole wars can be started over a difference of beliefs just...arggghh drives me crazy." I was actually shaking my fist in front of my face at this point and getting rather worked up. I took a moment to take a deep breath and try to relax again, before laughing lightly, "See, crazy."

Solas was staring at me again, in seeming wonder. "You never cease to amaze me. Your clarity of vision is beyond any I have yet to encounter. If anyone deserves to find the truth one day, it is you."

His words fill me with a strange sense of happiness and hope, and just a hint of trepidation. To have him view me this way, to know without knowing how I knew, that there was real admiration behind those words, was more than satisfying. As for the comment about the truth, I hoped that it meant that he might be honest with me one day, fully honest. Yet even if that did happen, what might happen after?

But I didn't want to think of that just now, I wanted to enjoy this day and his company beside me, so I didn't try to hold back the smile I felt rise to my lips as I looked at him. "Well, I hope that satisfied your curiosity for the time being. Though, I feel like I've been doing most of the talking lately, perhaps you will do me the courtesy of returning the favor. You tell me endless tales of what you have seen in the Fade, lore and history, and you have taught me much of magic but I find myself just as curious about who you are as you find me."

I was a little nervous to make such a request but, in all honesty, it was a fair point and a natural thing to be curious about so why not?

"You are right," he answered with little hesitation, "it is only fair, and I promise to reciprocate the favor. However, this is not the time nor place so I beg your indulgence to have a bit more patience." He canted his head to draw my attention to the fact that we were finally nearing the end of our path.

How had we gotten so far so fast? It must have been the long silences.

"You know, we could always just turn around and go back the other way again." I couldn't help the laugh that came out at the look he gave me then, a hint of panic as he tried to determine if I was being serious or not, "Alright, I'll let you off the hook this time, but I'm going to hold you to that promise."

"Of that I have no doubt."

Chapter Text

The rest of our walk had passed pretty uneventfully after that. We'd reluctantly allowed our hands to release their hold on each other as we got near Haven again and I shifted the topic of conversation to something a little more relevant to matters at hand.

"You know Sera will be coming along with us tomorrow right?" I mentioned as the training grounds came back into view.

"Yes, I had heard she would be joining our party. I have not spoken with her since her arrival in Haven. If I remember correctly, she had a rather unconventional manner. Do you expect she will cause any difficulty?"

His tone remained nonchalant but I could tell he was concerned. It wasn't surprising, she didn't come across as the most trustworthy person upon first acquaintance, after all.

"It's been just the five of us for a while now," I began, "and we've gotten pretty comfortable in our dynamic as a team, so I think any new addition will mean some level of adjustment." I sighed slightly before continuing, "To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what to expect from Sera, she has a distinct personality that will probably take some getting used to, but she also has a rather unique outlook on things, which might prove useful, or at least interesting."

"Hmmm," he looked thoughtful as he took in my words, "I suppose that is a sensible way to look at it, as long as you don't believe she will become a disruption to achieving our objectives."

I laughed a bit at his phrasing, "Oh, I'm sure she will be a disruption in a variety of ways, but no, I don't think it will get in the way of what we are trying to achieve. However, I am afraid that the two of you might have some difficulty dealing with each other." I glanced up at him apologetically as I explained, "She doesn't like magic or anything related to it, and she hates ... 'elfy-ness', and I think these attitudes might become rather...irksome?...to you."

I glanced up at him again, but he showed no outward reaction to the news, "I also think that your own enthusiasm for the subjects will be equally irritating to her," I added.

I could tell without looking now that he was not pleased but he was trying to control it. 

"What do you mean she doesn't like 'elfy-ness'?" he finally asked. "Does she not feel a kinship with her fellow elves?" 

I could tell he was confused but was glad he was making the effort to understand. 

"Well, I believe it just isn't that important to her," I started, but moved on before he could argue, "To her, people are people whether they have pointed ears or not. In her view, there are people on the bottom who just want to live their lives, but are victimized by those above; and there are those on the top, who cause suffering for those below them for their own selfish purposes. Her aim seems to be helping those on the bottom and stopping the abuses of those at the top, race and background are irrelevant. I can't say I disagree either. Overall elves have gotten the worse deal and that should change, ultimately because no race is intrinsically better or worse than another." 

He looked at me then, as if trying to read something beyond my words in my eyes. "You truly believe so?"

"I do," I answered without hesitation. He turned his eyes ahead, clearly thinking. 

I knew this was going to come up at some point or other, and it was one of the things I liked about Sera. I wanted him to start considering that all these people could have equal value, were equally real and valid. Still, I didn't want to dwell on it now. It was enough to give him a little food for thought.

"I'm just telling you this so you are aware and won't let yourself be easily provoked. I'm also hoping you'll try not to provoke her either. I don't expect you to become best friends, but neither of you are going to be able to change each other's nature, so arguments or confrontations are not likely to benefit anyone. I'm not sure where her fear of magic stems from, but it affects her pretty deeply from what I can tell, and in ways I'm sure neither of us will be able to truly understand. There's also no chance she'll be able to avoid it completely, you and I are both mages, the rifts and Breach are magical, and we'll likely meet plenty of other such phenomena. I guess what I'm asking is that you try to accept her as what she is, and do what you can to avoid adding stress to the situation. She's here to help after all, and I think she will do what she can to that end."

I took another deep breath before looking up and meeting his eyes. I saw a sense of quiet resignation in them. "I understand," he answered. "Your request is a sensible one and I will do my best to follow it."

I smiled, "Thank you, that's all I ask. There's probably going to be moments your patience will be tested but I know you'll do your best. I'd have the same conversation with her, but I don't think she would appreciate it very much." 

Once we'd reentered the gates of Haven we decided to part and finish preparations for the next day's departure. I had a bath planned and wanted to take full advantage of the amenities offered by my simple cabin before heading out on the road for what was likely to be at least a couple months.

I was delayed in these plans however when I discovered a note from Vivienne, asking that I come see her as soon as possible. I had no idea what she could possibly want but I thought it best to go right away and find out. Hopefully, whatever it was wouldn't take too long.

I had not spoken to Vivienne often since her arrival but she sometimes joined our meetings, especially on matters regarding various nobles and she had already proved to be an asset to our cause. In fact, it made me feel a lot better that I wasn't bringing her along in our party because, not only was she going to be very useful in her current capacity, she really seemed to be enjoying it.

She greeted me pleasantly as I entered her office again. I noticed it was not quite as empty anymore, there were more books now, most of them carefully lined up on rather nice shelves that seemed to have been recently built in. A number of letters and other papers were stacked in neat piles upon her desk.

"Thank you for coming, my dear. I do not wish to disrupt your preparations for your journey but I wished to discuss a small matter with you that gave me some concern." She gestured for me have a seat across from her and I took it graciously.

"Of course, what is it I can help you with?" 

Her face took on a more serious expression as she started, "I believe one of those travelling with you is an elven mage called Solas, if my information is correct."

I had no doubt she'd made sure of this fact before calling me in here, "Yes, that's right." I said simply, waiting to see where this was going.

"I hope you will understand that I found it very concerning to discover that he is an apostate and one who is apparently self taught at that. I am aware of course that as one of the Dalish, you were raised outside of the Circle as well, but your people are known to have their own well established traditions in training mages, do they not?"

"They do," I offered simply, keeping my face and tone neutral.

"Then I am sure you understand how potentially dangerous a mage who has not been properly trained can be. I have heard this Solas has claimed to be an expert on the Fade and has some knowledge concerning the nature of the Breach, but I urge caution in trusting such claims. I am only concerned for your wellbeing, my dear. If you feel bringing another mage is beneficial I'm sure I can find someone more suitable. I will even accompany you myself if you would like."

I guess it wasn't that surprising to hear her say these things but it wasn't something I really wanted to be dealing with. To be honest, I was half surprised she hadn't heard yet that I'd only recently become a mage and that Solas was in fact the one who was currently teaching me all the magic I knew. Though I'd asked this not be directly revealed to her yet, I had no way of controlling what others might say. To be honest, I didn't even know what others might in fact know about the situation, it was not something I discussed with those outside those closest to me, and all our lessons took place away from where others might see. Even if, by some miracle, she didn't learn that Solas was my current teacher, she would almost certainly discover my own recent acquisition of magic before long. I'd probably have to deal with that once I returned to Haven again. Still, despite all this, it did bother me to hear her opinions on Solas, who she hadn't even met.

I kept myself pleasantly neutral as I responded to her concerns however, as it would do no good to start an argument. "I thank you for your concern, Lady Vivienne, it is very much appreciated. However, I do not believe you need to worry on this account. Solas has been a member of our party for some time now and he has not given any of the other members any reason for concern. He has, in fact, proven to be a great asset to the Inquisition and I have seen no indication that this will change. I understand your misgivings, but I believe they are unnecessary in this case, and though your offer is greatly appreciated, I do not wish to make any changes to my party at this time."

She frowned slightly at the response but otherwise did not reveal her feelings. "Of course, the final decision is yours, I only hope your assessment is correct. I simply felt it was my duty to inform you of my concerns."

I smiled lightly in return, "And I thank you. I hope you will continue to inform me of such things, I do value your knowledge and experience and am sure they will prove very useful in many instances." I stood up then, pushing the chair back slightly, "Was there anything else you needed?"

"No, that was all. Thank you for coming to see me, I wish you well on the journey," She smiled courteously and inclined her head.

I nodded in return, "Thank you. Have a good night."

I left the room, sighing once I'd shut the door behind me. Though somewhat uncomfortable, the meeting had not gone badly. Hopefully this would mean I could enjoy the rest of my evening, and my waiting bath, in peace.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The next morning saw us get a bit of a late start because Sera had apparently slept in and someone had to go and get her. Bryn and Cassandra flipped a sovereign and it was Cassandra who went and came back around fifteen minutes later with a scowling Sera whose bag looked like it had been packed very hastily.

I have no idea what Cassandra had said to her, but Sera didn't do much more than grumble quietly as she got her stuff situated on her horse. Cassandra glared at her as she oversaw the preparation and Sera just kept sending sideways glares back at Cassandra every so often. 

The rest of us kind of looked on silently, not wanting to provoke either of the women, who looked to be in a less than a social mood. All I could do was sigh and shake my head, it was not quite the way I'd hoped for the day to start.

Finally, it looked like Sera was as ready to go as was going to be possible. "Alright, let's go," I finally announced to the group before giving a final farewell to Leliana, Josephine, and Cullen; mounting Angel; and taking the lead alongside Bryn as we headed out, back towards the Hinterlands.

 

I can't say the trip was exactly uneventful. Having Sera along, definitely changed the dynamic. Still, things went smoothly enough. I hadn't talked to any of the others about Sera, I knew things would shake themselves out well enough between all of them, and I had really only talked to Solas about her for his benefit. In the game I remember him spending a lot of time trying to connect her to her elvish heritage and becoming confused and frustrated with her. I wanted to forestall those attempts and try to get him to look at her as...just herself. I didn't expect any kind of quick results, but hoped I could at least nudge him in the right direction.

There was a slight problem in the mornings however. Sera was not exactly a morning person either, but where I tend to prefer silence as a result of mornings, she seemed to like complaining about everything rather vocally. Of course, this grated on my morning nerves more than a little. Still, I stayed quiet the first couple mornings, hoping she'd settle down as she got used to the routine. However, when she was still doing it on the third morning I'd had enough, "Sera!" I said loud enough that everyone turned to look at me. Even Sera seemed a bit shocked at my significantly less than friendly tone. "Shut. Up." I finished, glaring at her over my breakfast. 

If it had been any other time of day I'm sure I would have dealt with things differently, and it didn't help that I hadn't slept well that night for some reason. However, I was gratified to find that it seemed to work. She was quiet for the rest of the morning and on following mornings she was usually able to keep the griping to an occasional grumble, which I was able to tolerate well enough. 

I did catch a bit of conversation between Sera and Varric later that morning, as we packed up camp, however.

"...scary,"  I heard Sera say softly, or as softly as Sera ever got.

"Well, at least if anything attacks in the morning we can be sure it's going to be dead before we even pick up our weapons," came Varric's wry reply.

Although I wasn't exactly proud of my outburst, I couldn't help but smile at the comment.

In the evenings Sera's boisterousness was more easily appreciated and she livened up the long hours on the road as well, though perhaps sometimes a little more than most of us appreciated, but it helped pass the time nevertheless. 

She proved her worth to everyone when we finally came across a rift late on the third day. Her speed and accuracy with that bow removed any doubts as to her usefulness the other members of our party might have still been harboring. Even I was pretty impressed to actually see her capabilities.

The routine in general didn't change much. In the evenings I didn't have any formal training with Bryn, instead I would spar for a while with her and Cassandra while the others looked on from the fire. Varric and Sera would bet each other on who would get the next hit in. Solas just looked on quietly or read during these times.

A little later in the evening I would train with Solas for a while as well. The first night we tried to do this in the same area as the sparring but Sera soon started complaining loudly about us 'magicking' too close to her tent, prompting Varric to suggest we head off into the wood a ways, where we wouldn't bother anyone but the trees. He gave a sly wink my way when he said this, and I gave him a scowl in return. However, there weren't any other options so that's what we ended up doing.

This was fine for the most part but being away from the eyes of the others was definitely a recipe for temptation. We generally remained pretty focused on the lesson overall, I was still learning how to combine a variety of effects with the major attack techniques as well as how to aim and direct spells with even more control, which did take quite a bit of concentration. It could be a very tricky business, and perhaps working away from the others was sensible. Even so, without the others watching, I noticed the distance between Solas and me narrow considerably. We stood closer together and our eyes met more often, than we tended to when other were present. In camp we never even sat next to each other, which may have seemed a little strange looking back, but I generally avoided it because it made me hyper-conscious of his presence and it became harder to pay attention to anything else. That and it was too tempting to reach out and touch him.

But away from everyone else, it was all too easy to find those small excuses for contact, small touches and light brushes of fingers on hands, arms, or shoulders. 

After practicing the usual magic techniques, Solas had declared he wanted to begin teaching me a new staff technique, something a little more complex than ones we'd tried before. As usual this required learning the correct movements and positions first. He wasn't lying when he said it was more complex either. However, though he would start out simply demonstrating the movements he would also sometimes physically adjust my position. Usually he did this in such a way that caused him to stand behind me, holding my arms or shoulders to guide me into the correct position. Every time it happened I had trouble breathing and I could feel heat rising up the back of my neck as I became aware of his every move, and every point of contact. I had a feeling he rather enjoyed the reaction and therefore did it more often, fingers lingering slightly longer than was actually necessary, almost, but not quite, caressing the areas they touched.

I really wanted to get him back for doing this, but as the student, I had fewer valid excuses to try and touch him in return, and the unspoken rules of the game dictated that there must be some kind of excuse.

I decided that my revenge had to come in another form. I had continued my habit of riding at the front but I could often tell when he was discreetly watching me in much the same way I used to watch him from behind when we had returned from Val Royeaux. In these moments I would sometimes gently run my fingers along my ear, almost as if I had an itch, or was brushing some hair aside. Or I'd reach back to my neck as if to massage or stretch it, fingers stroking as I slid my hand down it's length to my shoulder. 

It was a delicate balance, I had to be careful how often and exactly when I timed such actions so they wouldn't become horribly obvious to everyone else, only my intended target. And I knew he saw, I knew he noticed and understood exactly what I was doing. And if I'd been in any doubt, in the evening as we practiced, he was not quite as gentle when he corrected my stance and grip on my staff, fingers pressing more firmly into the skin, the breath of his instructions brushing across my ears as my fingers had done earlier in the day, my heart pounding as he stood at my back feeling more real than he ever had previously. 

It was several nights of sweet torture, which made it hard to sleep, the tension following me into dreams once I did. I did not dream of him, I did not allow images of him into my dreams for fear of inadvertently calling him to me in reality. I was still unsure how certain things worked in the Fade but that was one border I still did not want him crossing in any way. Even so, the emotions found other ways to manifest themselves within the Fade. Even very subtle, barely noticeable elements could alter themselves to reflect the subtlety of the emotions brought into it. The touch of the breeze, the smell of flowers, even the vibrations of sounds, could change in such ways as to pull at the tensions within. 

I'm not sure what it was about the place but my little forest seemed to be drawing even more spirits. As usual most still kept some distance from me, they just seemed to like being in the area. However, around this time one new spirit did come closer. They never spoke and always kept some distance yet seemed to trail after wherever I went, a kind of silent and generally unobtrusive presence that tended to appear and disappear throughout the night. There was nothing that seemed malicious about them and my friends didn't seem bothered by their presence either. I thought it was rather strange but not knowing what kind of spirit it might be, it was hard to know what might be strange or normal in this case.

It was probably good that the journey to the Hinterlands wasn't that long. Although there was little in the way of danger on the road there, the building tensions held their own kind of danger and I'm not sure how things would have gone if it had kept up that way much longer.

 

As usual though, travel left me with lots of time to think. Whenever I managed to stop thinking about Solas, I was remembering. I reviewed the memories of my past life and how distant it was becoming to me now. I remembered the first journey to the Hinterlands and how much had changed since then. I remembered the events of the game and did my best to keep key events laid out in my mind so that I could try to prepare for them. I also reminded myself of all the significant differences from the game I'd had to face, and how many others were likely to emerge. Travel time was not the only element I was going to have to consider. 

One of the constants of the game, and pretty much every fanfiction I had ever read, was the standard four-person travel party. It didn't take me long in this world to figure out that that was definitely not something I was going to adhere to, and travel time was going to have a lot to do with that. It didn't make sense to just leave a bunch of people in Haven or Skyhold for months at a time while only three people accompanied me across Thedas. It made a lot more sense to bring them all with me. For one thing, we could be much more efficient in achieving various goals. We could easily split into teams in order to achieve multiple objectives. We could have members act as scouts if needed. We could also have backup support in case someone was injured or sick. There was just so much more that could be accomplished with everyone present. It would be so much safer and efficient. 

Besides, if we ever ended up meeting a dragon, or something else equally threatening, I would be happy to have all the help I could get. There was no way I was going to take one of those on with only four people, not if I had any choice in the matter. I was more interested in not dying than in proving to absolutely no one that all I needed to kill something a hundred times bigger than me was three other people. I trusted my people and knew they were tough as hell, but I was not that stupid or arrogant. I was only getting one chance at this, there were no saves or replays, or at least I was going to assume there weren't, and I wasn't about to risk going down now if I had any way it might be prevented, especially with as far as I'd come.

Yep, I was basically decided that I was going to drag every single companion along with me everywhere I went, unless otherwise prevented by extenuating circumstances.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

We arrived at the main Hinterlands camp having faced nothing more than one rift and a few wild animals that lost their taste for confrontation with a few well-placed fireballs.

We'd made good time and arrived late in the afternoon so it was decided to just stay in the camp for the night, before moving on to business the next day.

According to the local agents, things weren't perfect but still much more stable than before. The outpost of bandits was still an issue and would be first priority once we set out the next day. The completion of the watchtowers was already making things safer for those travelling through the area, however, and we would be sure to let horsemaster Dennet know. Then we'd just have to locate Blackwall, before heading to Redcliffe. Overall it seemed like it would be a fairly simple and straightforward journey.

With a plan of action decided we pretty much took that first evening off. Well, not quite, Bryn brought in a couple of the soldiers at the camp to add to my evening sparring session; she said she didn't want me getting lazy just because we'd had hardly anything to fight the last few days. 

The magic lesson for the night was pretty low-key. It was kind of a relief actually, having others around certainly helped keep us on task. Then, after the evening meal Varric managed to get a few of the soldiers to join our card game and the rest of the evening passed pretty smoothly, finishing in a somewhat early bedtime so we could have a prompt start, come morning.

Finding myself in the Fade that night however, I was surprised to find myself, not in my usual little forest but instead on the edges of Wisdom's garden. 

I'd been meaning to come back for some time, but since remembering what was going to happen to her, I'd been unsure what I would say or do when I saw her again and ended up just putting it off night after night.

Apparently she thought I'd waited long enough, and I couldn't blame her, so I just headed into the garden, looking for the spirit in question. I didn't have to go all the way to the center of the garden this time. Instead I found her a little ways down the path I was already on.

I still had no idea what I should say to her, and I wasn't sure what she'd thought about my long absence. Perhaps it was cowardly of me but I remained silent, studying some of the strange plants, and just waited for her to speak first.

"Solas has been asking some interesting questions recently," she began after several moments. "He seems very interested suddenly in a way to protect spirits who reside in the Fade." She paused and I turned to see her looking at me. "He did not say anything but I got the feeling you were somehow involved in instigating these inquiries. Of course, I became curious as to what would prompt you to be concerned about such things when you already have so many other considerations."

I sighed and turned back to one of the flowers in front of me, a large blossom with blue petals. I lightly stroked the petals, feeling their velvety softness beneath my fingers as I tried to put together the right words. I knew there was no point in dancing around the subject but I didn't want it to come out too bluntly.

"I wanted to come sooner, but honestly I didn't know what to say...or rather how to say it. It was something I remembered just after waking, the last time I spoke to you." I paused again and took a deep breath but still kept my eyes fixed on the flower in front of me. "According to what I know of events in this world, sometime in the future a group of mages will summon you out of the Fade. They will try to force you to fight in order to protect them and it will twist you into a demon. We will try to save you but though we might succeed in returning you to yourself, it will be too late and you will die." I took a breath before continuing, "I'm not sure how much time we have, at least several months, but I was hopeful we could find some way to prevent it by then. I didn't tell Solas any particulars, only my concerns over spirits in the Fade, but he seemed my best chance of finding some answer that would save you." I turned back towards her then, "Were you able to give Solas any useful information? Do you have any ideas for how you may be protected?"

I saw sorrow in her face and dropped my eyes, turning away again.

She spoke softly, "There is no knowledge I currently possess that can prevent such an eventuality. In Solas' time no one considered such measures, as spirits drifted freely among the people. If the leaders sought to bind a spirit for service or sacrifice, it was considered their right to do so and no one would dare seek to stop them. Since the construction of the Veil, many things have changed but there are few who have ever sought to protect spirits, why protect something that is not viewed as having any true life of it's own?" She came up to me, standing in front of me, placing her arms on my shoulders and forcing me to meet her eyes, "Do not give up hope. You said there is still some time, you and Solas may yet find an answer. It is a worthy endeavor and even if you are not able to discover an answer in time to save me, I hope you will not give up, you have many friends in the Fade now who I am sure you would equally wish to protect."

I looked up to meet Wisdom's eyes, feeling a few tears escape and roll down my cheeks as she gently pulled me in for a hug. I wrapped my arms around her and let her do the same. It had been so long since I'd been held. It was a rare thing for me, even in my own world, but it felt nice now.

We remained that way for probably a few minutes before I finally pulled back, "Thank you. We'll keep trying, I promise."

She smiled back, "I'm glad. Speaking of friends, your own little demesne seems to have become quite popular of late."

"Yes, I've noticed there are quite a few spirits around lately, though they mostly keep to themselves, and I mostly just let them be. I don't want to frighten them off or anything, but I have wondered why there are so many. I've never seen so many collected together anywhere else in the Fade." I was grateful for a slight change of subject. I was feeling better that I'd revealed the truth to her but it was not something I wanted to dwell on for obvious reasons.

"It is true," she said, and began to walk slowly farther down the path, as I followed beside her, "it is not a particularly common occurrence, and I suspect there may be a few reasons for it. First, you created the space to act as a kind of sanctuary for yourself. In the Fade such a place does not simply appear to be a sanctuary, you have endowed it with the nature of such, it is a place where one may feel a kind of safety and peace and therefore, spirits attracted to such places are drawn there. I also believe the emotions you project may have something to do with it. The emotions themselves are not unique but there is a particular quality to them that is different. I can only assume that this is because of your unique origin. This quality may be something that also draws spirits to you. I do not think you should be afraid to approach the spirits around you however, many are naturally shy but will respond if prodded just a bit, and I'm sure your other friends in the Fade will be happy to help as well."

I laughed slightly, "Well, I can't blame them for being shy, I'm not exactly the outgoing type either. I suppose one of us has to make the first approach though, and spirits are probably easier for me to approach than people anyway."

She laughed at this, "It is interesting that you think so, it seems you and Solas have more in common than I'd realized."

I raised an eyebrow at her, "How so?"

She smiled, turning her head to look at me, "There are many things but now I speak of your affinity to spirits and the ease with which you communicate with us. Perhaps it is because you both come from different worlds than the one you are in now, or perhaps it is something else, but you both seem more at ease in the Fade." 

She then turned to look behind us and I followed to see what she was looking at. I saw two spirits following who quickly dashed away again at our attention, as if they were children caught while playing some game we were not meant to see. One I recognized as the spirit that had been shadowing me frequently the last week, the other I hadn't seen before but they seemed somehow similar in nature. Wisdom laughed at their antics, "It seems you also share shadows, though it is interesting that they let you see them."

"Yes, I've seen one of them often over the last week but the other, this is the first time. What sort of spirits are they, they seem similar somehow?" I asked, hoping she could enlighten me. "Wait, you mean they are following Solas around too? Why?"

She laughed lightly again, "Yes, they follow him too but they are more careful to stay out of his line of sight, though I have no doubt he is aware of their presence. And yes, they are related in a way, it is not unusual to see them together, they are...cousins of a sort. As for who they are, I think it is best if you try to discover that for yourself." She smiled again.

I looked around me then to discover we had some how gotten back to my own demesne.

"This really is a pleasant place," Wisdom said, "I may have to come visit myself from time to time, especially if you decide to avoid me for so long again."

I felt a little guilty at her words, "I'm sorry, I won't stay away so long again."

"It is fine, I understand why you did it. Come, let us see if we cannot get you acquainted with a few more of the spirits you have enjoying this little sanctuary you have created."

Chapter Text

I woke up feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I wondered if talking to Wisdom always had this kind of effect. I really needed to start trusting in that more and try to spend more time with her. I always felt a little intimidated by her though. I knew how old she was, even just the fact that she was wisdom personified made me feel like she was someone due a great deal of respect and therefore shouldn't be disturbed by anything less than issues of great import. She'd done nothing to reinforce this impression however and I knew it was just my own insecurities speaking, but it was still hard to get past.

I was more curious about those spirits who were following me around though; two spirits who were apparently somehow similar, and were following both Solas and me around. I surmised there was something about both of us that was drawing on the nature of these spirits, but I was unsure what that was.

It wasn't exactly the most pressing matter though. It was way too early in the morning and it was time to get ready to go out and rid the area of some nasty bandits. Though I was still struggling with my morning lethargy and crankiness I could feel quite a contrast from the last time I woke up in the Hinterlands to prepare for battle. I had a lot more training under my belt now, and our group had another member. While none of this in any way guaranteed safety, it certainly had to help. All in all I was feeling a lot more confident and less afraid.

We located the bandits late that day but decided to wait for the next day to take them out. I didn't sleep well that night, nerves kept me awake and restless most of the night. I knew this would mean I'd likely get tired early the next day, but I simply couldn't settle my mind. Despite my newfound confidence, it had been a while since I'd been in a real fight against other people. Life had been relatively peaceful for quite some time and it was proving difficult to get myself back in a mindset to actually fight people again.

The restless night made it easier for me to get up the next morning, though I did have trouble getting any breakfast down, my nervous energy had me eager to get moving.

By the afternoon, the bandits had been cleared and we'd gathered all the information we needed from the place. All in all, it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. It was grueling, I have to admit, we'd had to sneak around a fair bit to keep from raising the alarm and many of them were well trained. There were too many of them for us to be able to take at once but we successfully managed to keep each encounter pretty contained.

We made it back to Dennet's farm late the next day. He was quite pleased to get the news about the towers and other progress that had been made towards stabilizing the region. We were invited to join him and his family for dinner where we discussed the sending of mounts to Haven, along with enough people to manage them. It didn't take much coaxing to get Dennet himself to agree to join as well.

So far the trip out to the Hinterlands was going without a hitch. The area was safer without a bunch of bandits and mercenaries running around, and the Inquisition would have a large supply of fresh horses in a little over a month.

Next our attention turned to trying to find Blackwall. It took a while though to track down the Warden who wasn't a Warden, the only information we'd had was that he was somewhere in the area so we had to ask around a lot to find out exactly where he was. We got misdirected a couple times before we met someone who seemed to actually have some accurate information.

As we approached the area he was supposed to be, we heard the sounds of fighting and moved quickly to find Blackwall and several other men fighting yet another company of bandits. Apparently we were just a little too late to catch the start of the fight, though I was impressed our timing was so good we showed up for it at all. They were putting up a brave fight but they hadn't seen the pair of archers that were preparing to fire from a ridge. I had Sera quickly put a couple of arrows through the both of them. After that we just watched as the 'Warden' and his band of conscripts finished the rest off.

We approached as he gave his little speech to the conscripts and sent them off. He watched us warily as we approached but otherwise showed no reaction.

Once the other men were gone I approached carefully, "Warden Blackwall?" I asked, though I had no doubt who was before me, yet another familiar face.

He looked me over again, more carefully and clearly suspicious, "You're no farmer. Why do you know my name? Who are you?"

"I'm an agent of the Inquisition, I know your name through our sources. I'm here investigating whether the disappearance of the Wardens is connected to the death of the Divine," I stated matter-of-factly.

As expected he denied the Wardens could be involved in the Divine's death and that he had no knowledge of the other Wardens' whereabouts. I continued questioning him a bit to make everything look convincing. "Well, it seems as though this is a dead end. I suppose we will continue our investigation elsewhere." I started to walk away, waiting for the response that was not long in coming.

"Inquisition. Agent did you say? Hold a moment," he said and I turned, listening. "The Divine is dead and the sky is torn. At times like these, thinking we're absent is almost as bad as thinking we're involved. If you're trying to put things right, maybe you need a Warden, maybe you need me."

Ah, more familiar words and that odd, but also now familiar, sense of déja vu. I took a couple steps back towards him, looking him over as if considering, but really I was internally sighing at the strange fortune that had placed me in this position in the first place, giving me the authority to simply let this man join our party or not and knowing the others would accept my decision.

"Alright, Warden Blackwall, the Inquisition can always use good people and we accept your offer," I said with finality.

"Good to hear. Perhaps I've been keeping to myself for too long. This Warden walks with the Inquisition," he replied.

"The Inquisition welcomes you. Now you may choose to either join our party and assist us on our journey or you can head for Haven and assist our forces there." Of course I wanted him in the party but only thought it fair to offer a choice.

He looked over our group and then back at me, "Well, if it's all the same, I feel I would be of more use out in the field, if you'll have me."

"Of course, I wouldn't offer otherwise. Let me introduce you to the other members of the party..."

I gave introductions and everyone seemed accepting of the new addition. Cassandra seemed slightly wary, Solas was polite, as was Bryn, Varric was his usual warm welcoming self, and Sera immediately started teasing him about his beard and it was immediately clear they would get on pretty well. I'd made sure we had a spare horse for this eventuality, which could easily be offered to Blackwall without us needing to get another from Dennet.

I was pleased that everything seemed to be going as it should, but it also made me nervous. In my experience things were never this easy and I was worried something horrible was going to happen any moment. I reassured myself that things would probably be fine until we at least got out of the Hinterlands. Who knew what we would find on our way to the Storm Coast but here at least things seemed to be following the anticipated pattern and I didn't see any reason why that would change.

 

With Blackwall in our group, Bryn now had a new adversary to draft into our evening sparring sessions. Blackwall's style was distinctly different from Cassandra's so it was definitely good practice for me. He got on pretty well with everyone too, and unlike Sera, did not alter the group's dynamic in any dramatic way, in fact he helped temper some of Sera's disruptive tendencies. There was also the added benefit of yet one more person to share in the night watch duties, which everyone appreciated.

There was a slight issue with tents the first night, we didn't have an extra one of those on hand and would have to pick one up when we passed by the next Inquisition encampment, so Bryn and Cassandra shared accommodations. The next day we passed through a camp on the way to Redcliffe, so it was an issue that was quickly resolved.

We arrived at Redcliffe early in the afternoon, and unsurprisingly there was a rift just outside the main gates leading to the village. It wasn't active yet, but I knew that would change soon once I got close enough for it to react to the presence of the mark.

It wasn't a big rift however so I had Sera and Blackwall hang back and only provide support if it was needed, while the rest of us went in to take care of the situation as quickly as possible.

As I got close I felt something different about the area around the rift and realized this must be the result of Alexius' use of time magic. I shared a quick glance with Solas, who clearly had noticed it too, before calling out to the others, "Be careful, there's something different about this rift."

Unlike the game, the pockets of altered time were not locked in one place, they seemed to drift. They were also larger than I'd expected, making them difficult to avoid. Of course, they were also invisible, so Solas and I were the only ones who could sense the areas at all, but even we had trouble determining exactly where the borders lay, and avoiding them completely. It was no small challenge trying to avoid invisible time pockets while also dodging and fighting off demons.

Passing into one of these altered regions gave the strangest sensations. Everything inside either slowed down or sped up. This included not only movements but also thoughts, reactions, everything. It was as if whatever was in one of these areas was actually moving at a different time from everything else. It wasn't that I felt different myself, but I looking out past the borders of these areas things appeared to move either remarkably fast or unnervingly slow. Overall the experience was incredibly disorienting and nothing in the game remotely prepared me the situation. Solas and Varric tried staying back out of range of the time distortions while Bryn and Cassandra stayed near me as I tried to disrupt the rift, which fortunately also seemed to disrupt the time effects.

Though we managed to get the demons killed before too long, Varric and Solas' attempts to attack from outside the effective range of the distortions turned out to be more hazardous than helpful because the speed of the arrow or spell might move at a different rate from that of the target, making accurate aiming nearly impossible.

Sera ran up as I finished closing the rift, "What kind of freaky shite was that?!" She was clearly upset and I could only imagine how strange it looked from the outside. Honestly, I was a little freaked out myself.

"The rift appeared to alter the time around it," Cassandra explained, though she too was noticeably shaken.

I turned to all of them, "Whatever it was, it wasn't good. We need to find the cause of this, but be on your guard."

I looked towards Solas and our eyes held a moment. I could tell he wanted to discuss what we had just witnessed and experienced, but this just wasn't the time. First things first, get into the village and get whatever information we could. Of course, I already had most of that information, but the only way forward was through, and I didn't want to waste time getting there. We could talk about stuff later, I just wanted to get things done now.

I was not usually so impatient, but the time distortions had bothered me more than I'd expected.

The gates finally opened now that the rift was gone and the guards allowed us to pass, offering thanks and some praise for eliminating the threat. Too bad they weren't aware that the true threat was inside the walls.

We were about halfway down the road to the village when an Inquisition agent ran up to meet us, giving us the news that we were not expected but that the tavern was available for negotiations. We were met by another messenger at the entrance to the town, to welcome us, inform us of the Magister's delay, and invite us to speak to the now former Grand Enchanter while we waited.

Significant looks were exchanged among some of our group at the news of a Magister now being in charge but I just followed the man further into the town.

Solas fell into step beside me as we walked, "The Veil is weaker here than in Haven. And not merely weak but altered in a way I have not seen."

I nodded, "I can feel it too. I can't put my finger on exactly what is different, but it really bothers me. Hopefully we can get some answers while we're here."

He was not kidding when he said the Veil was altered. I had to assume it was due to the time magic being used but I had no words to describe exactly how that change felt. All I knew for sure was that it felt wrong and was surely dangerous. Of course, anyone who knew anything about science fiction could tell you that anything that had to do with manipulating or otherwise messing with time was bound to cause all manner of problems.

Another notable thing about the area was not only the Veil, but the sheer concentration of mages in the area. I had never been in such proximity to so many mages and the ripples and waves of magic around me was a new sensation. It was rather overwhelming so that it was difficult to pick up any individual source of magic, but I could feel a variation of sensations as I passed by groups of mages, subtle differences to the magical signatures they each gave off.

Before we entered the tavern I decided to split us up, there was no need for everyone to head into the tavern. So, I sent Varric, Sera, and Blackwall out to into the village to see what they could find out from the villagers and mages populating the area and offer help where they could.

I then entered the tavern with Cassandra, Bryn and Solas following. The tavern was neither big nor small and there were not many people inside, probably because word of the Magister's arrival had spread.

I saw Fiona standing near the center of the room where a few tables had been cleared for the meeting. Unsurprisingly there was no hint of recognition in the woman's eyes as we approached.

"Welcome Agents of the Inquisition," she greeted politely, "What has brought you to Redcliffe?"

"Actually, we are here because of your invitation. When we met you in Val Royeaux, you asked us to come." I answered, keeping my tone neutral.

"You must be mistaken. I haven't been to Val Royeaux since before the Conclave," she did sound truly surprised at the news.

"Well, someone spoke to us in Val Royeaux who looked exactly like you, that person invited us here, and so we came. They seemed to want an alliance and we are interested in discussing the possibility," I continued evenly, knowing I wasn't likely to learn any more than I already knew, but not wanting to give away that fact.

"Someone who looked like me? I suppose it could be magic at work but..." Her voice trailed off in confusion for a moment but then she looked back at us, voice becoming firm again, "Whoever or whatever brought you here, the situation has changed.

"The free mages have already pledged themselves to the service of the Tevinter Imperium."

Cassandra and Solas made surprised and clearly disapproving comments on the news behind me, though Bryn remained silent as usual.

Fiona, merely looked regretful and worried. "As one indentured to a Magister, I no longer have the authority to negotiate with you," she shook her head and looked unhappy at the pronouncement.

"It seems like a mistake to pledge yourself so quickly in this way, rather than consider other options," I stated matter-of-factly.

Of course she spoke up quickly to justify the decision, "Most of Thedas blamed us. The attacks on my people grew worse and we had no allies. Our only choices were to take a last stand here in Redcliff or I could take the only offer of help extended to us. We had no choice."

I couldn't tell if she was pleading with me to understand or simply trying to convince herself. Still, the whole thing made me mad. Maybe it was just because I knew the mess her decision caused or maybe I was just getting edgy, but it aggravated me how she could have made such a deal on behalf of all the mages who had followed her here, without allowing them to have a say.

I was going to say something along these lines when the door suddenly opened again and loud footsteps echoed as several people entered through it, first and foremost the Magister Alexius.

"Welcome my friends I apologize for not greeting you earlier," he smiled and inclined his head graciously in our direction before moving to stand next to Fiona.

"Agents of the inquisition, allow me to introduce Magister Gireon Alexius." Fiona gave the introduction in a rather formal and stiff manner but the Magister did not seem to notice or care.

The man himself was clearly a strong mage, though his magic seemed to have a strange and unnatural quality to it, similar to that of the Veil. It seemed his use of time magic had somehow altered him as well and it only increased my sense of unease at the situation.

The encounter that followed, however, played out pretty much as I expected. He announced his authority over the southern mages in Redcliffe as well as the village and castle. He recognized me as the survivor of the Conclave. At a bit of prompting he explained the details of the agreement he'd made with the mages, which visibly upset Fiona as it was revealed that the deal wasn't quite what she was expecting.

Overall, nothing was surprising in the situation and I just let it play out. I didn't see any advantage to revealing any of my cards and making a fuss so I just proceeded in trying to open negotiations for mages to aid in sealing the Breach, knowing fully well no such agreement was about to occur.

Apparently I put up a convincing show, I really didn't think Bryn could have too much to complain about my lying skills today. I'd managed to keep my glance casual when Alexius introduced his son Felix, but when he stumbled and fell towards me a few minutes later I was expecting it and ready as he fell against me and slipped the note into my hand.

"I'm so sorry, please forgive my clumsiness my lady." He spoke and met my eyes for a moment, clearly looking for me to trust him.

I nodded slightly and answered, "It's alright."

An instant later Alexius was gripping his sons arms, "Are you alright?" the panic and worry were clear in his voice and for a moment I did feel sorry for the man.

Of course, despite his son's assurances, the Magister insisted they return to the castle and that the negotiations would have to be postponed.

"I shall send word to the Inquisition. We will continue this business at a later date," he announced before departing with Fiona in tow.

Once they were gone, I turned back to the others and opened the small piece of paper still clasped in my hand: "Come to the Chantry, you are in danger." Below the words was a time about an hour from now.

"It could be a trap," Cassandra said, clearly suspicious after taking a look at the note herself.

"It could also be answers," I countered. "We will need to be cautious but I think we need to do what we can to find out what this is all about.

"I agree," Bryn added, "I suggest the rest of us continue gathering information from the villagers, whatever we can. We will find the others and let them know to also meet us by the Chantry just before the time written here," she handed the note back to me.

I nodded at the suggestion, "Is that ok with everyone? Let's use our time here well, I'm not sure it would be a good idea for us to stay the night so we ought to get whatever information we can before dark. Solas, Cassandra, can you start with the people here? Bryn and I will let the others know what's going on and we'll meet you by the Chantry in an hour."

I left the tavern with Bryn beside me and was about to continue down the path to find the others when her voice stopped me, "That was an impressive performance in there, I underestimated your ability to deceive it seems." She stepped forward so that she was facing me. We were almost exactly the same height but there was always something about her that intimidated me despite how much time I'd spent with her.

"How did you know?" she asked, giving me a hard look.

I did my best to remain calm, not yet quite sure what was going on, "Know what, exactly?"

"You seemed to know that the Magister had no real intent to negotiate with us or give us anything we wanted. I doubt anyone else would have noticed, but the whole conversation from the very start felt like some kind of act, on both sides. And then, his son, I got the feeling you were expecting something to happen even before he fell. I want to know what gave you this foresight." Her voice was slightly hard, though not accusatory and there was just a hint of true curiosity there as well.

Fortunately, I was pretty sure I had a plausible excuse she might accept without much further questioning. "Well, they are both mages. I suppose it was a combination of gut feeling and my ability to read them a bit through their magic."

Her eyes narrowed slightly, "Do you think they are able to read you in a similar fashion?"

"I doubt it. Solas says it is a rare ability. And with most mages all I get are general impressions, the stronger the mage, the stronger the impression, but it is far from exact. I suppose this time it was clear enough when combined with all the other circumstances." I was almost relieved at the direction she'd chosen to take this information but it was clear I had underestimated Bryn. Beneath that quiet, and unassuming manner she kept up much of the time, was someone who was constantly alert and aware of everything going on around her. It was far too easy to forget she had been a spy, probably still was while we traveled, before she showed up to start training me. It made me wonder what other observations she had been making over the last few months.

She looked at me, still studying me, and I hoped my explanation would be enough to satisfy her.

"You are fortunate then to have such abilities," she finally said, "and I'm glad to see you are able to put them to some use. I had worried magic might in fact become a distraction to you. I am glad I was mistaken."

I gave an internal sigh of relief, "So am I, I think I'll need whatever advantage I can get before all this is over." I smiled, "Shall we go find the others and give them the update?"

"I'll let you take care of that," she smiled back, "I have a few things I want to check on. I'll see you by the Chantry."

 

 

By the time I found Varric, it was almost time to meet up with the rest so we headed back to the Chantry while he told me how nervous most of the villagers seemed to be. A few people were supportive of the Imperium's takeover but most didn't like it, not least of all because it seemed Fiona hadn't really consulted anyone before committing them to this agreement. I had to admit it was what I found the most disturbing as well and wondered if she had done so willingly out of desperation or whether she had somehow been coerced.

We arrived at the bottom of the hill in front of the Chantry and waited for the others. We didn't have to wait long, the rest got there within a few minutes. I was getting antsy though, I could feel the rift inside now and I was pretty sure I could sense another mage. I was actually kind of excited, I was really eager to finally meet Dorian. He was always one of my favorite characters and it was rather frustrating to know that he likely wouldn't actually be joining us for some time. Still, I'd been afraid I'd never even make it to this point so just meeting him was something I was totally looking forward to.

"So, what, we gonna just rush in there and shout BOO at whoever we find?" Sera giggled, "And when they jump I shoot an arrow in 'em yeah?"

I smiled and shook my head, "Not quite. We want to get information before we put arrows in anyone." I made my tone a little more serious then, "I think I can sense a mage inside already, it might be Felix waiting for us. However I also feel a rift in there, it's active and there are demons so we can't wait here long. Let's deal with the rift and then we'll deal with the mage, but be on your guard. I think we might also find more time distortions so be careful."

"Is there only one mage inside?" Cassandra asked.

"As far as I can tell, yes." My hand was itching from the mark and I was eager to get inside now, "Is everyone ready?" They all nodded, "Okay, let's go."

We headed up towards the Chantry and then paused outside the door before opening it and heading inside. Like the building in Haven we walked into an antechamber first but we could already hear sounds of fighting inside. With the main doors closed behind us we went through the second set and into the main room where a large green rift hung in the air. Down towards the other end of the room we saw the figure fighting and I had to use every ounce of my self-control to keep from smiling. He took out two demons and then turned towards us, "Good, you're finally here. Now help me closed this would you."

And then I did smile.

A few instructions called out to the others and we were moving forward. I did my best to maneuver around the time distortions, Bryn and Cassandra in my wake, as I made a beeline for the rift to get in and disrupt the stupid thing.

Once I got the rift disrupted and the distortions were shut down for the time being everyone made quick work of the demons and I had the rift closed in short order. I was pretty proud of us actually.

The shining smug figure of Dorian was already approaching before the rift had fully shut. He was watching the connection closely, and the way the rift closed in on itself, clearly curious. "Fascinating. How does that work exactly?"

It was so hard not to start smiling again, or even laugh at the familiar line, but I knew it would seem really strange if I did. He seemed to be keeping himself from picking my hand up to examine it. I lifted it and looked at it myself, pretty sure I couldn't give him any kind of good answer.

He laughed at the gesture though, "You don't even know, do you? You just wiggle your fingers, and boom! Rift closes."

I looked back up at him, nodded, and smiled, "Yep, that's pretty much it," I wiggled my fingers a bit to emphasize the statement before putting my hand back down. "Now, would you care to tell us who you are?" I asked, figuring it would probably be a good idea to let him introduce himself now.

"Ah, yes, sorry to get ahead of myself, a bad habit of mine," he grinned back in what was a truly charming fashion, though if I didn't already know who he was I might think it a bit strange. "Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous. How do you do?" He gave a little bow followed by a small flourish to the rest of the room.

"Another Tevinter, I recommend caution Herald," Cassandra commented behind me.

"It seems you have some rather suspicious friends," he nodded in Cassandra's direction, "However, Magister Alexius was once my mentor, so my assistance should be valuable, as I'm sure you can imagine."

"Will Felix be joining us?" I asked

"I'm sure he's on his way. He chose the time so he have a chance to ditch his father before meeting us here."

Once all that was cleared up, I figured it was time to start asking the right questions to get everyone filled in. It was a bit frustrating at times, having to play the role of ignorance and make sure the others got all the information that would be pertinent to the situation. Fortunately, Dorian is great at explaining things, I didn't really have to ask that much to get him talking, giving the details of how Alexius had been using time magic in order to gain control of the mages and also trigger the strange time distortions around the most recent rifts. Having experienced these distortions for myself now, actually had me much more worried about the possible effects of such magic if it was left unchecked, I hoped the others felt the same.

I hadn't noticed Solas' approach until he was standing right next to me, adding his own comments of concern regarding the manipulation of time. At first I thought he'd come closer due to his own fascination with such unusual magic but then I got a sense from him of something else that had nothing to do with curiosity, something more like defensiveness, or protectiveness. It didn't take me long to figure out that he did not trust Dorian, which was not exactly surprising, but it was disappointing to see him have such a strong reaction so quickly to someone claiming they wanted to help.

"So, how do you know so much about this magic?" I asked trying to move the conversation along, hoping Solas wouldn't do anything I wasn't expecting.

"I helped develop this magic," Dorian started and I could feel the suspicion rise in Solas. "When I was still his apprentice, it was pure theory, Alexius could never get it to work. What I don't understand is why he's doing it. Ripping time to shreds just to gain a few hundred lackeys? It doesn't make sense."

"He didn't do it for them." Felix answered, right on time, walking out of the shadows and into our gathered circle.

Dorian smiled broadly at the new arrival and greeted him warmly.

Felix proceeded to tell us about the cult his father had joined, the Venatori, and their apparent obsession with getting to me. Of course I knew I was the target all along, I knew Corypheus was out there somewhere with the intent to get to me and the Anchor on my hand, but hearing it actually said, brought it into reality. I was the primary target of someone very powerful and very bad, and I knew I would have to face him sometime in the months ahead. I felt part of myself go cold at the words.

"So, how do you think we should handle this?" I asked after Felix and Dorian finished their explanations.

Dorian answered, "You know you're his target. Expecting the Trap is the first step in turning it to you advantage. I can't stay in Redcliffe. Alexius doesn't know I'm here, and I want to keep it that way for now. But whenever you're ready to deal with him, I want to be there. I'll be in touch."

With that he offered his farewells to Felix, asking him not to get killed, and left. The other man answered then turned back to us and gave a small bow in our direction, "I must be getting back before my father misses me. Good luck," and he left as well.

It was a little sad to see Dorian go already, but I didn't really have time to dwell on it.

Varric was the first to speak once both men were gone, "So, what are we supposed to do now?"

It took me a moment to realize I was supposed to answer this question. I still wasn't used to being in this kind of leadership position.

"For now we just finish gathering information and then we leave Redcliffe, we can talk about what we learned here after that."

I was surprised not to get any argument, not even from Cassandra, but with that decided, we headed back out of the Chantry and into the sunlight outside.

It was a bit strange walking out into the almost idyllic scene after the dealing with rifts and cult plots to kill me. So many dark dealings and constant threats, and yet the sun still shone through the tree branches and the birds still sang. Even though the town was anxious, people still did their best to go about their day as usual, even chatting and laughing with friends here and there. I felt like there was something to consider in these seeming incongruities, but I didn't have time for it just now.

We broke into groups and did some more talking to people, encountering some familiar things along the way. I was particularly disturbed to find the shed full of Tranquil skulls was a real thing here. It sent a distinct shiver up my spine.

A couple hours later, we all met up at the gates of Redcliffe and made our way back to the nearest camp.

I was feeling pretty good at that point. Everything had proceeded as it was supposed to, no hitches or problems. The reality of the time distortions was worrisome but as long as we took care of Alexius in the end, we should be able to halt the expansion of the effects of the time magic.

Our errands in the Hinterlands were done, now we just had to head north to the coast, fingers crossed the journey there wouldn't be too difficult either.

We arrived in the camp late in the evening to find a scout waiting for us with a message, and a concerned look on her face. "My Lady Herald?" the scout came directly up to me with the news, which was the first surprising thing.

"Yes," I asked, a little uncertain, wondering what was going on.

"My Lady, I bring urgent news. A dragon has been sited in the Hinterlands, not far from here. It has already destroyed a few homes and if something is not done soon, many fear it will result in much loss of life. It will certainly cause problems for travelers in the region."

"What?!" I could do nothing to hide my shock at this news, and I could feel my good mood begin to crumble.

"A dragon, My Lady. The locals are asking the Inquisition for help and we thought you and your party would be the best equipped to handle this situation."

For a moment all I could do was stand there a little stunned.

I was going to have to face a dragon.

Tomorrow.

Shit.

Chapter Text

I'm not quite sure how long I just stood there just kind of staring blankly at the messenger, probably not that long but it felt like forever. I felt like any minute someone else would speak up and say it was impossible, that we should gather up a small army to send after the dragon rather than go after it ourselves.

However, I soon realized that it was apparently also my job now to be the first to respond to these situations as well and everyone was waiting on me. This is why being in charge sucked.

Finally, I turned to face the others, "Cassandra, as far as I know, you're the only one of us who's faced a dragon before, do you think we are capable of handling this situation?"

She seemed to consider this for a moment before answering, "Yes," she said firmly and I felt my gut clench, "As long as we work together and plan appropriately, I believe we are capable of taking down a dragon."

I let out my breath in a small huff and turned back to the messenger, "Alright, it looks like we're going dragon hunting. I'm sure we'd appreciate as much information on this dragon and where to find it as you can give us."

As we got the information from the scout and began making preliminary plans of action I focused wholly on the technical side of things, taking in the information and plotting things out in my head as if it were all just theory. Focusing on the strategy that way also gave me the feeling this might actually be doable. The truth was, it was not exactly easy for me to wrap my head around the idea that I would actually be facing a real dragon. I hadn't even seen one yet, so imagining myself anywhere near one felt merely like that: pure imagination.

Still, I had this image in my head of standing in the middle of a field, face to face with a dragon, whose head alone was ten times bigger than me, and completely freezing. I realized that such a scene was pretty unlikely but I would still have to be facing a huge creature with nothing but my little daggers and a few spells, a large part of me definitely felt as though I would surely be completely inadequate to the task.

There was only so much we could do that night however, until we got a good look at the dragon itself and the area we would be fighting it in, we could only cover general strategies and techniques. Even so, we had a good preliminary plan in place before we were through.

There was no sparring or other training that night. It had been a long day and we needed to save our energy for the encounter ahead.

Once we'd finished eating, I started feeling the urge to be alone. I wanted to get away from everyone and have a chance to think without any other distraction. I declined Varric's invitation to play cards, and instead stood up, excusing myself and walking out of the circle of warm light and conversation.

I walked far enough from the camp until I couldn't hear anything but the rustle of leaves and grass in the breeze, or the odd sound from local wildlife. I stood there in the night, breathed in the cool clean air with slow breaths, and looked up to the sky, the moon large and stars filling the vast expanse of sky.

I found a large rock to sit down on as I simply took in the world around me. It had been so long since I'd simply stepped away from everything to take in the beauty of the world itself. The only times I was ever really alone was in Haven, anytime I was out in the world, there was always someone around or something to be done, but in this moment I could put everything behind me and feel the comparative silence and stillness of a world away from humanity. I stared at the sky as I pressed my fingers into the cold stone beneath me, taking in it's reality and wondering for the millionth time if it was all a dream. To be fair, I used to wonder the same thing in my own world on these rare opportunities as well.

I wasn't sure if I was more annoyed or glad when I felt his familiar presence approaching. I wondered if he'd been sent to check on me or had just wanted to. It seemed as if it might be awkward if it was the latter. What would the others think? Would he care? Would I?

I really did just want to be alone right now though, I wasn't in the mood for any company, not even his.

He stopped once he was standing beside me, but I didn't turn to look at him. He shuffled just slightly and I could sense the indecision in him.

"I'm sorry," he finally said, "The others were getting worried about you being out here alone. I volunteered to check on you. I'm sure you would prefer to be alone, but I thought you might find my presence the least objectionable." He paused for a few moments and I still said nothing. "If you prefer, I will go back to tell them you are fine and explain that I will be able to sense if you find yourself in any distress, perhaps that will satisfy them for a while."

I could feel him watching me, clearly uncomfortable. It wasn't his fault, and he was probably right, anyone else would probably aggravate me a lot more right now. I also doubted Cassandra would accept me staying out here on my own much longer no matter what.

I let out a sigh and finally said, "It's okay, you can stay." I patted the stone beside me, inviting him to sit.

After another moment's hesitation he did.

He kept some space between us and just looked out at the world with me. For the first few minutes I was still conscious of him being there, but his presence was so familiar and comfortable to me at this point that in the end I was able to let go and lose myself in the quiet of the world around me again.

I probably could have stayed that way for half the night, lost in the peace I'd managed to find. But, of course, I wouldn't be allowed to do so. Eventually, a gentle hand over one of mine is what started to bring me back. It simply sat there for a few minutes before the grip began to tighten slightly. Finally, I turned my hand over to return the pressure.

This was apparently what he'd been waiting for because he spoke again shortly after, voice barely above a whisper, "The others will likely be getting worried again soon. I'm afraid it would be best if we return to camp before they send someone else."

I sighed again before giving his hand another squeeze and nodding silently. We stood up together, still connected. I turned to face him and finally met his eyes, "Thank you," I told him.

"For what?" he asked with slight surprise.

"For being you. For understanding. I'm glad you're the one who came out here."

"You're welcome," he said simply.

I was hit with another of those sudden impulses to close the distance between us. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and feel his around me, pulling me close...

Instead, I let go of his hand, "I guess we'd better go." I turned and headed back towards the camp and he fell into step beside me as we walked back silently. The others were likely start looking for us soon after all.

A couple minutes later we walked back into the circle of our campsite. The rest of the camp had already become significantly quieter but our area still had everyone out chatting, a small burst of laughter as Blackwall apparently finished telling a joke about nugs or something. I wanted to appreciate the warm mood but I couldn't help feeling somewhat resentful of having to come back in from my contemplative peace. I knew they meant well, but for the first time I was actually feeling stifled by having to always be around these people without a break. Honestly, it was probably a miracle this hadn't happened sooner.

"What did I tell you Seeker," Varric spoke up the moment we walked back into the circle of tents, "Chuckles will make sure she's taken care of." He winked our way at the last words. Unfortunately I was not in a mood for teasing, and I just frowned.

"I was not concerned about that Varric, I simply believe it is best that the Herald remain closer to the camp," Cassandra turned to look at me, "It will be easier for all of us to protect you if could refrain from venturing too far."

My frown only deepened at that and I felt the urge to argue but knew there was nothing to be gained by doing so, not right then anyway. It would be better for me to wait and gather my thoughts before presenting my argument when I was calmer and less likely to react emotionally. "I'm going to bed," I said instead, and headed straight for my tent.

Once inside I felt slightly better but still couldn't shake the feeling of being trapped. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep this up forever, I needed to regain some independence if only to maintain my sanity. I'd probably only gotten this far without it because of all the other concerns that had taken precedence.

Before I'd come to this world I was nearly as independent as it was possible to be, I dictated as much of my life as I could get away with. I needed to prove to them that I could handle being at least that much distance from them. And if they didn't believe it, I'd do it anyway. I could be very stubborn when I wanted to be.

I understood that I came here helpless and unable to protect myself in any way, but that had changed. There was still much more I could learn, but I was far from helpless, I didn't need to be watched like a child every minute. Besides, it wasn't like I was planning to take any kind of extreme risk, I just wanted to be able to have some space when I needed it.

Once I finished removing my armor I fell back on my bedroll, draping my extra shirt over my eyes to help block out the excess light filtering in through the tent fabric. I decided I needed to get or make an eye mask at the next available opportunity.

Fortunately, I was tired from the full day and I fell asleep fairly quickly. I hadn't forgotten I'd have to fight a dragon the next day but at the moment, it didn't seem real enough for me to worry too much about it. I was more immediately concerned by not being allowed to the time to myself I wanted. I would have to confront them about it soon. I didn't like confrontation but when it was necessary I could do it. I'd convince them I could take care of myself well enough to be allowed some distance. But not tonight, no, I needed to sleep, I'd take care of both these problems tomorrow, right now I just wanted to escape into the Fade.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Upon entering the Fade my first impulse was to find some quiet spot and try to enjoy a little more of the solitude I had sought while awake. I was pretty sure I could convince my spirity companions to leave me be for a little while at least.

But then I remembered I had a dragon battle scheduled for the next day, it was not something I could just ignore and hope for the best. Dying by dragon was not on my agenda for the week. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and if there was any way to prepare for something like that, this was the place to find it. In fact, once the idea occurred to me it wasn't more than a few moments later that I already had a plan formulated, and I was going to need a little help.

I quickly found Creativity, Hope, and Curiosity, told them what I needed and they were off in a flash.

A few minutes later, my friends had returned with a veritable contingent of spirits apparently eager to help. Among them were Determination, Valor, Caution, and even a spirit of strategy. Honestly, it was more than I expected. Where were all these spirits coming from? I was going to need to expand my forest soon if they kept showing up.

Once everyone was gathered we headed out into the Fade in search of memories. It wasn't hard to find what I was looking for either, many of the spirits in our party were familiar with such things.

Together we witnessed nearly a dozen different battles with Dragons, some successful, others... not so much. It was a strange experience overall, especially considering my purpose. Memories were not like video recordings of an event. Emotions from the event permeated the atmosphere and colored what we saw. It took some getting used to but I was ultimately able to get what I needed from the memories.

We watched these battles from different angles and through different emotional lenses, the spirits around me all adding suggestions and ideas about what was done well, what could be done better, other options or approaches worth considering or avoiding. They were all quite lively in their discussion and it was at times hard to follow as they eagerly put forth their opinions.

Courage would suggest some daring maneuvers, while Caution urged patience and forethought. Determination pointed out where it was best to keep hold of one's ground. A spirit I could only think to call Conscientiousness, reminded me when to be mindful of my companions position and actions, and other small details. Creativity and Strategy ended up being quite the team when it came to offering up some really interesting approaches.

The spirits got so into it that we had a full-on dragon battle roleplay going, to actually try out some of the ideas being suggested and to play with situations that were not shown in the memories we'd witnessed.

From both the memories and the roleplaying I was able to get a good idea what it would be like to be face to face with a dragon without actually being in danger from one. Even knowing I was safe, they were certainly impressive and intimidating. They were equal parts beautiful and horrifying, and the Fade was capable of recreating them in extraordinarily realistic detail, though when the emotional atmosphere reflected fear, they could become quite a bit more terrifying than I expected was likely to be realistic. The first time seeing one I simply stood there transfixed with fear and awe for a full minute before I remembered what I was supposed to be doing. It was a good thing it happened in the Fade, it would probably be disastrous if I'd done that in the waking world.

Eventually I felt that the night was coming to an end and I would need to wake up and do this for real. I thanked each of my spirit advisors as we returned to the little forest.

Once we'd returned, most of the spirits moved out among the trees again, but Determination stayed with me, moving with me silently at my side as I walked along the edges of the forest and finally began the job of adding on to it.

The place was starting to get downright crowded, at least compared to the rest of the Fade. I suppose I was glad they all seemed to like it here so much, and it certainly was convenient, as the night had just proved, but it still seemed strange to me, that so many would congregate like this.

I didn't have time for this particular mystery just then however. There seemed no danger, and Wisdom didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with it either so it was more a matter of curiosity than anything else. Perhaps one of these days I'd have the leisure to consider it further and see what I could learn but I could feel this world of dreams beginning to fade around me. I gave a final nod of farewell and thanks to Determination before returning to the waking world.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I heard a few rustlings outside my tent as my mind returned to consciousness. I didn't have to open my eyes to know it was still quite early. I simply lay there for a few moments more, taking my time transitioning from the dreaming to the waking world.

As the movement outside increased in volume however, I decided it was time to start moving or it wouldn't be long before someone came to check on me. Thinking of this however reminded me of the night before and I felt the slight heat of aggravation rise again in me as I finished stretching across my bedroll and finally sat up. I would definitely have to take care of the situation soon, make my needs known and get them to understand and accept my own decision on the matter. I was not about to let them all hover around me constantly, worrying over my safety. If I was willing to go out and face a fucking dragon for these people I sure as hell deserved a few quiet moments to myself now and then.

Of course, I'd deal with it all after the dragon was dead. If the battle went well and I was able to utilize some of the ideas I'd picked up in the Fade it would probably add some weight to my arguments. That, and if things didn't go well and I ended up as crispy dragon toast, it would all be moot anyway.

And with these happy thoughts I finished gathering my armor and headed out into the morning air where I would have a little more space to put the rest of it on. Despite, the lingering irritation and the knowledge of what was to come later that day, I had to admit it was a pleasant morning. The air was fresh and the sky beautifully full of the still diffused morning light of the just recently risen sun, dancing through the trees and across every surface, soft wispy clouds accenting a still pale sky. At least it looked like it was going to be lovely weather for a dragon fight.

I was tightening up my boots when Cassandra came over to sit beside me. "May I speak to you for a moment Herald?"

The peaceful, beautiful morning had put me in a rather good mood so I felt ready to talk to people and accepted her request, "Is this about the dragon?" I asked, not sure what else might be prompting her need to talk to me.

"No, it is actually about last night."

My eyebrows went up in curious surprise at that but I remained silent, waiting to see what she had to say.

"Solas explained your displeasure at not being allowed some time to yourself," she began, "He argued well on your behalf and we discussed the matter and, though I still feel uneasy about it, we are all agreed that you deserve some freedom. I will no longer force you to be under such direct protection at all times. I only ask that you remain near enough that we may assist easily if needed and try to avoid any excessive risks, though I am confident that you are sensible enough to do so anyway."

I did my best to keep my face neutral and my tone pleasant as I responded, and repress the flare of anger that surged up, it was not her fault after all, well not primarily anyway. "Thank you Cassandra. I appreciate your willingness to accommodate me in this matter. I understand your concern but I don't plan to place myself in any unreasonable danger, I just really need some space at times."

She nodded at my words, "I suppose I can understand the feeling. It can be trying at times to always be around others, especially if it is not something you are used to."

I looked back down at my half tied boot as I spoke, "Yeah, before the Conclave I spent a lot of time on my own. Now that things have settled down a bit and I'm feeling more secure in my own skills I'm starting to feel a little stifled by the constant company. It's just good to have a break sometimes, it helps me think."

"Well, we will do our best to allow you such opportunities now, I'm sorry to have caused you such frustration."

"It's alright, I'm glad we could resolve this without too much trouble," I gave her a nod of acknowledgement then returned to my boots.

She stood up then, "I'll leave you to complete your preparations, we should leave as soon as we are able."

I gave another nod and she walked off to attend to her own tasks.

Once left alone I was able to let the anger rise up again. In truth I was kind of annoyed at all of them right now, but the one I knew was particularly at fault... I pointedly did my best to avoid looking in his direction, this was not the moment to deal with it.

I set about finishing up with my boots and making sure my armor was secure before continuing with other morning preparations.

We were hopeful that we'd be able to return to the Inquisition camp that night, once the dragon was taken care of, but there was no way to be certain about that. We couldn't be exactly sure how long it would take us to find the dragon, and once found it we'd still need to formulate a plan and finally try to kill the thing. After my time in the Fade that night, I was hopeful that we'd be able to use some of the ideas the spirits and I had worked on, but there was no way to know exactly how long the battle might take. So, we were going to pack everything up just in case.

We were well practiced at packing up camp by this point though, so once breakfast was done, everything was loaded onto the horses in pretty short order.

I noticed Solas trying to make eye contact with me throughout the morning but I just wasn't ready to deal with him just then, especially with the others so close by. Still, I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to avoid it.

We set out on the road as the morning sun rose high enough to cast everything into that bright glow only mornings seem to have. The scout who had given us the message about the dragon was going to move along ahead of us and lead us to the location where the dragon had been sighted last. She'd gotten us started in the approximate direction before moving on ahead to confirm the path.

I was riding up front as usual and was not surprised when Solas urged his own horse forward to join me. In fact, I'd positioned myself a little farther ahead than usual because I knew he would do just that, and I couldn't think of any way to put off the inevitable conversation.

He moved his horse up even with mine but remained silent for several long moments. I considered just waiting for him to say something but finally decided I would break the silence myself. "Cassandra came and talked to me this morning about the situation last night," I started. "Apparently, it was decided I would be allowed the freedom to have time to myself when I need it." I kept my voice even, but I still wouldn't look at him.

"You do not seem pleased, I had thought that is what you wanted," he said carefully.

"Yes, it's the outcome I was hoping for, I just don't really like how it came about," I finally turned and gave him a hard look, though I tried not to glare.

His surprise was obvious, "I'm afraid I do not understand."

"Cassandra told me you argued on my behalf and then the rest of them all discussed it before finally deciding I'd be allowed my freedom. Do you see anything wrong with that picture?" His confusion was obvious so I just continued, "Where was I while all of you were deciding what I could or could not do?"

I was doing my best not to let my voice get any louder, I didn't want anyone else getting involved just now, but the irritation was rising up again and I couldn't keep the edge out of my voice. My throat was also getting dry. I hated emotionally charged confrontations, it always made me nervous. At least my voice wasn't shaking yet.

"I have little enough control over my life right now," I continued, looking ahead again so I could focus on verbalizing my thoughts. "This whole matter stemmed from people making decisions for me. Just because things are now decided in my favor doesn't make the fact that I have been entirely left out of the decision process any better. I think I have a right to at least be present. It would be one thing if I was not around to speak for myself, but I was there, in my tent, only short distance away. If it was so urgent to talk about it right away, someone could have gotten me. Or, you could have waited until I was ready to deal with the issue on my own terms." I paused a moment to let the words sink in, and glanced his way. I couldn't really tell what he was thinking at that moment, it felt like he'd closed himself off, but I directed the next words right at him, breathing slowly and softening my voice, "Listen, I understand that you had my interests at heart and you wanted to help, and I do appreciate that, but I need to be allowed to speak on my own behalf, I need to be involved in the decisions that affect my own self." He looked up then, meeting my eyes, "Back me up, by all means, it means a lot that you support me, but I have to be a part of the process. Otherwise it's ultimately no better than what Cassandra was doing in the first place. I truly appreciate your desire to help, but sometimes I need to do things myself, and at the very least, I need to be included in decisions that are going to directly affect me. ... OK?"

He held my eyes with his, as he was apparently processing my words. It was hard to tell what he might be thinking. It seemed like a mix of things, though the confusion seemed to be gone at least. I watched as he took a deep breath, first looking down, then straight ahead. I turned my eyes forward again as well, allowing him time to choose his words.

As the silence stretched, I started to get worried at his lack response.

Finally, he did speak, "Ir abelas."

The words were simple, but I could feel the weight in them.

"I am truly sorry, and you are right to be angry," he continued. "You made it clear at the time that it was not an issue you wished to deal with at that moment, but rather than let it be, and allow you to handle it as you saw fit, I stepped in to deal with it for you. I admit I was only thinking of the result. I knew how frustrated you were with the situation and only wished to eliminate the cause of that immediate frustration. I acted on impulse, without considering the implications of my actions, it is inexcusable."

I sighed, and looked over at him, all the anger gone now, "No, it was a mistake. You tried to be a good friend and ended up going about it in a... not quite ideal way." I took another slow breath, "It's alright. I think we can just leave it at that."

He raised his eyebrows in surprise at that, "I am surprised you would forgive me so quickly. I am certain I do not deserve it."

"Really?" I raised one of my own eyebrows at that. "You listened to what I had to say, you seem to understand why I was angry in the first place, you took responsibility for your actions rather than argue, and you apologized. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't forgive you. It's a minor offense in the great scheme of things, and I'm sure you will be more mindful of similar issues in the future, I see no point in holding a grudge. Besides, I hate being angry, remember? I'm happy to have an excuse to return to my usual calm self." I gave him a reassuring smile.

He smiled back, shaking his head slightly, "You are too generous with me."

"Nonsense, I am just the perfect amount of generous," I gave him a little wink and he gave a small laugh at that. "Anyway, if I stay mad at you, I can't tell you about what I did in the Fade last night."

"Well you certainly have my attention now. I will agree to concede your level of generosity if you sate my curiosity and reveal the nature of these activities which seem to have given you an air of eagerness despite the imminent prospect of facing a full grown dragon in battle."

I couldn't help the smile that came to my lips now. I wasn't actually sure it was truly wise to tell him the details about my activities in the Fade, but at the same time I had been quite open with him regarding my interactions with spirits there. I also knew he would really like hearing about it, if our past conversations were any indication, and something about seeing Solas happy, really made me happy too.

"Well, that's the point actually, I'm not really eager to fight a dragon. I know my skills have improved but I hardly feel ready to face that kind of challenge, even now that we have a couple more people. But I realized the Fade offers a lot of possibility not available here in the waking world. I asked my friends – Creativity, Hope, and Curiosity – to help me find spirits that could help me prepare."

I knew I had his full attention as I continued to explain in detail what I'd accomplished while dreaming. He tried not to interrupt too much but he did interject with questions on a regular basis. I think we pretty much forgot about the others during that time, I know I was gesturing fairly dramatically at times, which I probably wouldn't have done if I'd been conscious of others possibly watching. I'm also pretty sure I had a stupid grin on my face for at least half of it. I must have, because he was smiling a lot more than usual and seeing him smile always made me want to smile in return.

I don't even know how long it went on. It wasn't until we caught site of the scout heading back toward us, that we noticed anything else. The conversation kind of just died and we sat blinking at each other for a couple moments as we remembered where we were and what was going on. It felt kind of like waking up as I suddenly became aware of the world around us. I couldn't believe I'd gotten so caught up in things to forget the others, that was not something I generally was able to do, even if I wanted to.

Now though, the scout was getting closer quickly and I heard movement from behind signaling the approach of the others to meet her.

It was at that moment that I felt the heat rise suddenly to my ears and face. Usually, one or more members would come up after some time to see what was going on or try to join the conversation, but this time they had all stayed back and left us alone the entire time. I was 99.9% certain that was not a coincidence.

Of course Varric caught my eye as he moved up even with me, and gave me a very obvious wink, which I did my best not to roll my eyes at. "So, you two seemed to be having a lively conversation. Anything you care to share?"

"Probably just a bunch of stupid elfy magicky shite," Sera said loudly, sticking her tongue out at Solas who frowned but remained silent.

I decided the best course was to stay calm and play it off as casually as possible. "Actually, we were discussing some ideas I'd come up with for fighting the dragon."

"Truly?" Cassandra asked, clearly skeptical.

"Indeed," answered Solas, "She has some truly inspired ideas that may in fact prove quite effective."

"You two seemed to be enjoying the conversation far too much for it just to be a strategy meeting," Varric remarked, also plainly skeptical.

"Well," I shrugged, "I guess it was a bit more than that. I happened to be dreaming when I came up with these strategies, a situation that Solas would understandably be interested in."

And that's when the scout reached us, forestalling any further questions, though Bryn gave me a look that clearly stated that she wasn't fooled and knew we weren't telling them everything. I just shrugged. Hopefully, the strategies would be useful and that should be enough to convince them I wasn't lying at least. It didn't matter right then that they probably all suspected the growing attachment between Solas and myself now. It wasn't any of their business though, and I didn't have to say anything about it if I didn't want to.

The scout informed us that the dragon was still in the region it was last sighted and we should reach the area in about half an hour.

Everyone became pretty focused after that. The scout described the layout of the area and I shared a few of the strategies I'd gained from my work in the Fade as we traversed the final stretch, and explained the basics of the plan I was formulating.

We heard the dragon before we saw it, the powerful roar reverberating through the air. A small shiver ran through me, an equal mix of fear and excitement in anticipation of seeing my first ever dragon.

Chapter Text

We found a safe place to tie up the horses, leaving the scout to watch over them and wait, while we headed in the rest of the way in on foot. Wide swathes of scorched trees and ground were evident throughout the area, indicating we were getting close.

Several minutes later we approached the area the dragon had claimed, keeping ourselves out of view while we took in the situation. The dragon was perched on a large outcropping of rock overlooking a fairly open area below. Even from a distance I could tell it was huge. I was now especially glad for the preparation I'd had in the Fade because I could already feel my heart rate rise seeing a dragon in the flesh. I really would have been content to never get any closer.

I did briefly miss my phone though. I was never much of a selfie taker but if there ever was a time for such things, this would have been exactly the perfect moment.

I wasn't able to dwell on the idea long however, as Varric's voice broke through my reverie, "Do you think it'll just attack once we walk out there or are we gonna have to get it's attention?"

"We should formulate a plan before we even attempt to approach. This is a full grown, high dragon, it will not be an easy fight" Cassandra cautioned.

Blackwall spoke next, "Perhaps the Herald has a plan with all those strategies she says she dreamed up."

There were a few moments of expectant silence as the others waited to see how I would respond.

I took the time to think things through before giving them my answer.

I looked away from the dragon still on its perch, to meet the eyes of my companions. "I know we discussed a number of strategies last night, take out the wings and eyes, go for the limbs to hobble it and wear it down till we can get in for a more deadly strike. This could work, but it will take time and the longer the battle drags on the less energy we're going to have. We're also going to end up with a dragon that is panicked and likely to thrash around and strike erratically. From what I've gathered, a lot more people have died by getting stepped on in similar situations than stories would have you believe?"

I shook my head, remembering some of what I'd witnessed in the Fade, "I think we should try something completely different. We need to dictate the pattern of this fight as much as possible, which means we need the dragon to be able to move freely and normally, so we can predict and even control it's movements. Then we need to prepare a precise attack at the right moment to take it down as quickly as possible."

"And what sort of plan do you propose to achieve such an outcome?" Cassandra asked, clearly skeptical but also curious.

Now that I had everyone listening, I got right into my explanation without any further preamble, "First, I don't think we should waste time taking out the wings. If it tries to fly off and attack from above we take cover and use barriers until it lands again. While it's on the ground Varric and Sera will take charge of directing its attention. We want to keep its focus directed ahead. Noise, lights, chaos, whatever, so that it is not so aware of what else is going on around it. Solas and I will support the distraction efforts as well as keep defenses in place. Cassandra and Blackwall you should position yourselves to be ready to strike at the earliest opportunity. You have the power and the more appropriate weapons to strike the necessary blow on something this large, but you will also be in the most dangerous position, as you will have to get in very close. The weakest point seems to be right where the head and neck meet. If you can get a strike from a good angle below the skull we can potentially kill it in one blow. I can't really tell you precisely where the best spot is to kill it quickly, I'm afraid, so I suppose that might require some luck and maybe a little trial and error, just be aware that any failed attempts are likely to draw the attention of the dragon so be on your guard. If you think you can behead it quickly, that is also an option, I'll leave it to your judgment. Finally, Bryn, you're fast and have a keen eye so I'd like you to help us coordinate our actions, help us direct our efforts as seems most appropriate and step in when and where you feel extra help is needed."

As I finished speaking I looked around at the faces before me. Solas looked a bit smug, Bryn appeared slightly amused, and the others just seemed vaguely stunned.

"Well shit," Varric said, breaking the silence. "And you got all that from a dream?"

"More or less," I shrugged, trying not to seem too pleased with how my idea had apparently been received.

"Can't I just put an arrow in its eye?" Sera asked, not quite convinced.

"Well, you could, but only if you want to make it really angry and cause it to strike out unpredictably. It would probably be better if you just annoyed it, hit it in the nose with grenades of some kind and keep it facing in a generally forward direction."

That seemed to get Sera a little more excited as she started looking through her bag pulling out various random bombs she held in there for throwing at enemies. There were no bees at the moment, but she did have a rather interesting assortment with her at all times and she often went about collecting various materials she could use to construct more. She never failed to raid the supply chests at the camps we stopped at. To be honest, I was pretty sure she had simply invented a number of them on the go and probably never even bothered to test them. I guess she would get her chance today.

Cassandra was nodding now, "It does sound like a good plan."

She looked up at me, with what seemed to be a new respect in her eyes. I hoped I was wrong in also detecting a hint of awe there as well. I was uncomfortable enough being the Herald and I didn't like the idea of my successes being attributed to that position.

She then looked at the others, "Are there any objections to this plan?"

There seemed to be a general consensus that we would try my plan, and fall back on the original plan if it didn't look like it would work. We gathered up our things, and made our final preparations before finally heading out into the open area ahead of where the dragon still perched, looking out over the land before it.

At first, it didn't seem that the beast even noticed our presence. As we got a little closer however, I could tell it was watching us. We held our weapons out ahead of us, more to hopefully appear threatening to the dragon than with the expectation of needing them immediately. The truth was, we weren't sure what we could do to actually provoke the dragon into fighting us. It might very well feel perfectly content and safe from its lofty vantage point and choose not to move. I was also afraid it would simply fly off and find another location to perch, forcing us to go chasing after it to make a new attempt.

This is exactly what I thought was happening when it did finally open its wide wings and leap off the escarpment, flying over our heads. I followed the impressive shape with my eyes as it passed overhead, a dark but magnificent shadow gliding across the sky. It seemed at first as if it would just keep going out and out, but then I saw as it began to make a slow arc back toward us, letting out a great roar.

"Brace yourselves," Cassandra said firmly as Solas and I raised the barriers.

I saw the first fireball emerge, followed by three more, but we held our ground a few more seconds until we could clearly determine the path of the bombs streaking towards us.

"Move," Bryn called and dashed to the right, the rest of us following closely.

I could already feel the heat from the fire before it hit the ground and I felt sweat break out as I was touched by the intensity of it, which only increased as it hit the ground, sending out a tremor to accompany the new wave of heat.

The craters continued to burn as we turned back to follow the dragon's path across the sky. It made a slow turn and we could tell it was preparing to make another pass.

I saw Sera prepare an arrow as the dragon began its approach. She let the arrow fly just as the dragon released a new set of fireballs towards our position. A couple seconds later, while we were getting out of the path of the burning projectiles heading our way, we heard a great roar from overhead followed closely by Sera's whoops of joy and the subsequent explosions behind us.

"Ha, take that you giant freakin' lizard," Sera shouted, as we stopped again to watch the dragon's course across the sky, "Take it right up the schnoz!"

I deduced that she must have aimed for the nose as I'd instructed earlier. I had to admit, it was a rather funny image to think of the dragon with an arrow through the nostril, and I would have laughed if I wasn't so focused on the current trajectory of the beast in question. It was heading our way yet again but the angle was different.

"It's landing!" Bryn shouted.

And indeed it was. It approached the ground, beating its giant wings forward to slow it's progress, sending great gusts of wind toward us as we got out of the way and quickly began trying to position ourselves to begin executing the strategy I'd suggested. I hoped with all my might it was going to work the way I'd anticipated.

Varric and Sera moved to a position in front of the dragon, while Blackwall and Cassandra started angling to find the best path to get in close to the dragon once it's attention was aimed in the right direction. Solas and I moved off to the side between the two other groups so we could keep both in view and offer whatever support was needed most.

Once everyone was in position, barriers in place all around, we got to work.

I sent up some brilliant flashes of lightning between where Sera and Varric stood and the dragon to direct its attention in the right direction so they could take over most of the distraction efforts. It was a newer technique for me, and a bit trickier than simply shooting lightning out from my position, but I needed to manifest the lightning only in the area ahead of the dragon or the visible trail of lightning would have directed the dragon's attention towards me instead. The trick worked however, perhaps a little too well as the dragon immediately began shooting fire straight at the lightning still flashing in the air. Varric and Sera were not directly in the dragon's path, but they were close enough they had to have gotten a strong blast of the heat. As long as the barriers held, they shouldn't even be singed though.

Once the flames had cleared I already saw flashes and bangs landing just ahead of the giant head and what looked like Sera, dashing across the beast's field of vision, prompting it to stalk forward in pursuit.

We were far enough off to the periphery, partly concealed by some meager shrubs, that the dragon took no notice of us, though we weren't that distant. Once, the dragon's focus was where we wanted it, Bryn began signaling Cassandra and Blackwall to begin their advance.

Solas added to the smoke from the earlier fire to help conceal their approach, as they moved up quickly but carefully towards the body of the dragon.

Another burst of flame erupted and I added more energy to the barriers of those in it's path.

We needed to adjust our position, to follow the still moving dragon.

"They're running out of room," Bryn stated. "I'm going to move up ahead and try to direct them around."

Solas and I nodded our understanding, then she gave a few quick signals to Cassandra and Blackwall, before running off.

She seemed to be trying to keep to what trees and shrubbery there were, but I was worried the movement alone would draw the dragon's attention away from where it should be. I reached out with my magic, feeling the veil around her and kind of twisted and warped it so that it partially concealed her, like it was blurring the space around her. I had to keep my eyes on her so that I could move the affect with her until she reached her destination. It took a lot of concentration, but she finally made it without catching the dragon's gaze and I could release the effect. I struggled to recover though, it took more energy out of me than I realized.

"What did you do?" Solas asked, surprised curiosity clear in his voice.

I looked over at him briefly but careful not to lose focus on those I needed to keep defended. It took me a moment to figure out what he meant and another moment to actually consider the question. "I don't really know," I finally replied, "I was kind of acting on instinct."

The dragon was starting to change direction now, Bryn must have started maneuvering the others to lead the dragon around. We started to adjust our own position to match when an explosion suddenly went off to the side of the dragon's head rather than in front of it. It wasn't a large explosion but it caught the giant creature's eye. Unfortunately, Solas and I were directly in line with where that eye was now looking and a moment later the rest of that immense head had turned to follow.

"Can you do it again?" Solas asked with surprising calm.

"I think so," I responded, fear rising as I watched the dragon rear up and turn its whole body toward us now.

"Do it. We have to move. Now."

I didn't have to question the urgency of the command, the danger was pretty clear as the dragon's eyes fell right on us.

I reached out for the Veil as I had before, blurring the space around us as Solas cast something I didn't recognize and we started running out of the way, only seconds before a blazing trail of flame went up behind us. It was a lot harder to manipulate the Veil to follow while actually being the one moving, but there was no shortage of proper motivation, so I managed to pull it off.

Once we'd gotten to a safer location, a few trees and a lot of smoke obscuring us from view for the moment, I let up on the blurring effect before it could drain my energy too much, and I turned back to him, "Wait, can't you just fade step us out of here or something?"

"I could but we are not trying to escape, I just needed to buy us some time," he said matter-of-factly.

"We're not?" I looked over to where the path of fire still burned and saw two figures standing right where we'd been standing just a moment before, but these figures seemed utterly unfazed by the blaze around them.

" I could not fade step and cast my other spell simultaneously, but it seems we are now in the best position to distract the dragon. I think we should hold it's attention ourselves until the others can strike, but I can go alone if you would prefer to remain here," he said, utterly serious as he met my eyes.

"I'm coming with you," I answered firmly, doing my best not to consider what that would actually mean.

He simply nodded, then gestured to the figures still standing in front of the dragon as it gave another roar and moved to advance in that direction. I realized that the standing images looked quite similar to us, though perhaps a bit less detailed. "I cannot maintain them much longer, if you are ready, I suggest we get closer and do our best to hold the dragon's attention. Hopefully the Seeker and the Warden will find their opportunity soon."

"Okay, let's do this," I said.

"I will fade step us back into position, are you ready?" He looked at me and I just nodded with determination, refusing to think too hard about what we were about to do.

He took my hand and then I felt as the Veil warped and wrapped around us, similar to what I had done earlier but... more. It was more encompassing. While I often used the Veil to conduct my magic to a location, I could now feel that we were what was being conducted through it. It was a strange sensation.

I felt myself walking, hand still in Solas' as he pulled me forward along with him, but in only a couple steps the magic had pushed us back to a location near the one we'd left a short time before, back in full view of the dragon. The hand around mine gave a quick squeeze before returning to grip his staff as I did the same.

We then proceeded to put on the magic display of our lives. Fire and lightning were the most useful for this purpose, allowing us to create brilliant flashes and attention grabbing booms, as we wove back and forth across the dragon's path, swinging our staffs fiercely with the ends lit up like beacons, all to hold the dragon's attention. We made sure to hit it regularly as well. A dragon was not a cat after all, it was unlikely to keep up the chase if it did not see us as a threat. The hardest part in all of it was trying to get the dragon to keep its head as low as possible. When it reared up high, it was out of reach for our people to strike the vulnerable area behind the skull.

We maneuvered ahead of the dragon, doing our best to keep a reasonable distance away from it and dodging fire periodically. The barriers absorbed the damaging effects of the flames, but the heat was still intense and I felt the sweat running off me in streams.

Now and then, I could occasionally catch glimpses of Cassandra and Blackwall through the smoke and flames as they tried to get in close enough without being trampled. I had no idea where the others might be but I was fairly certain they were at least safe for the moment.

Time got lost as we continued our intricate dance before this great beast. It couldn't have been very long, but the seconds seemed to stretch the longer we things went on. I could tell the dragon was getting fed up and we had been lucky it hadn't taken to the sky again yet. Still, it seemed to be losing patience and there was no way for us to know how close the others might be to success. We needed to do something.

"Solas, if we hit it with ice do you think we could stop it from moving for a moment, or at least slow it down?" I asked, gasping for breath from exertion.

"It is worth a try," he answered. "In any case, we will not be able to maintain this pace for much longer. Gather your energy, when you are ready we will cast together and hope the others are ready to strike."

I nodded and began to collect the energy I would need. That's when I saw a figure finally appear off to the side. "It's Bryn," I called over to Solas. I then did my best to signal her and communicate our intentions. She signaled back and immediately ran off again.

"We need to hold on for a few more seconds, she's gone to let them know what we're going to do."

This time he nodded his acknowledgement and we both hoped we could somehow keep this dragon on the ground long enough.

We moved up closer, hoping to tempt the dragon in and bring its head a little lower. It worked. I could see Bryn moving up along the Dragons flank at high speed towards the head. I looked at Solas who had clearly seen her too. We waited a second more but we knew the dragon wouldn't be in a better position than now.

In unison we cast with everything we had in an attempt to freeze the dragon into place. It felt like a wave of magic pouring out of us and finally slamming into the immense shape before us. Then there was a moment, like the world had stopped, as we expended the last of our energy and held our breaths to see if it would be enough.

For a moment, I thought we had failed, as the giant head still seemed to be in motion, but I blinked and then saw the ice begin to coat the head and neck, sparkling shards forming all along the surface until it seemed as if its scales had been transformed into a crystalline substance rather than just covered with it. For a moment everything seemed frozen in time. Then the head gave a shudder, causing me to jump a little in surprise. This was followed by a jerk and then another shudder that caused the entire frozen sheath to shatter in to a million glittering fragments as the dragon gave a final roar before the head dropped to the ground, followed by the rest of the body, which gave one final shudder and finally went still.

The silence was deafening in the aftermath. All I could do was stand there and stare at the immense body before us that now lay unmoving, where moments before it had been full of fearsome life. I was struck with a wave of both relief and regret. We had succeeded. I had just faced a dragon and together we had killed it. We had rid the area of a source of extreme danger and lived to tell the tale. At the same time, we destroyed what was, in many ways, a magnificent creature. I knew this was the way it needed to be, but I could regret that such a necessity existed.

I was vaguely aware of the others also standing in the strange quiet of the scene before us. I wanted to move towards them, I wanted to see if they were okay and hear their account of the fight we'd just finished. But instead of taking even a step forward, I found myself gracelessly lowering myself to the ground before my legs could collapse under me.

I'd used up everything I had in that last blast of magic. I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't worked. I could tell without looking that Solas was not much better off, as he sat down beside me, with only a little more control than I had managed. I dropped my head into my hands and tried to take slow deep breaths to ease the shaking in my limbs and the slightly dizzy feeling in my head.

"Are you all right?" Solas asked softly.

I nodded into my hands and immediately regretted the movement. "I think so. It just took a lot out of me. I'll take an elfroot potion in a minute, that should help."

"I'm afraid the potion will produce limited benefits in this case," he replied, "it is not intended to remedy the effects of magical exertion. Lyrium potions would prove more efficacious in this instance, only we do not have any. Unless we can obtain some from a nearby camp, we will have to settle for traditional rest. It may be necessary for us to camp here for the night."

"Sounds good to me," I said with a tired smile, though my head remained in the one position it seemed to be okay with. "Do you think you could just ask them to build my tent around me, I'm not sure I'll be able to move for a while."

I smile when I hear the soft chuckle this provokes. "Perhaps you can ask them for yourself," he responds.

I hear approaching footsteps and Sera shouting excitedly. "Hey, wat you guys just sitting around for? We just killed a giant freakin' dragon, it's time to celebrate, yeah?"

"Are you to alright?" Cassandra asked next.

Fortunately Solas was willing to answer for us both, "We are uninjured. However, the magic required to freeze the dragon was significant and the effort has left us exhausted. I'm afraid we have neglected to carry any lyrium potions among our supplies, so we will require rest before we are able to travel."

Cassandra considered the information for a while before deciding she and Bryn would go back to the scout to send for the lyrium potions and extra hands to manage the collection of the dragon's remains, which were of course extremely valuable. They would then return with the horses and the rest of the supplies to make camp. In the meantime, Sera, Varric, and Blackwall were charged with getting a fire started and finding food.

I was only half aware while all of this was happening. I was doing my best to stay awake, but it felt like a losing battle. At least I wasn't feeling so dizzy anymore.

Once Cassandra and Bryn had left, Varric and Sera both announced they would do the hunting and headed to the trees without further comment.

"Alright," Blackwall watched as the two rogues departed, "I suppose that leaves me to take care of the fire," there was a note of resignation in his voice. "Will you two be all right if I go to gather some wood? There's not likely to be any immediate danger but I won't be far off so give a shout if there's any trouble."

I just kind of gave him a thumbs up without raising my head. Fortunately Solas was a little more eloquent, "Thank you, I'm sure we will be fine for the time being."

Blackwall left and it was just me and Solas, and the corpse of the dead dragon.

We just remained where we were, silent and still for several moments.

"I wish I had my bedroll," I was almost mumbling but knew he heard me, "this position is really uncomfortable but I think I'm about to fall asleep and I doubt the ground is going to feel much better."

I knew I was pretty much babbling at this point. It was partly to keep myself awake, and partly because I was so tired. Exhaustion did weird things to my brain and had a way of making it harder to edit myself around people I felt comfortable with.

"Can you tell me if there are any rocks behind me, perhaps I should just lay back." Despite my discomfort, I still couldn't get myself to raise my head and look at what was around me, which I really should just have done rather than making idiotic requests at Solas.

"Do you think you could walk a short distance if I could offer you a slightly more comfortable option?"

There was something in his voice and it left me feeling slightly warmed. It was enough to get me to turn my head so that I could look at him. His eyes met mine when I did and for a long moment I just stared, letting myself get lost in that soft grey-blue gaze. It took me a little while to remember that he had asked me a question, and a while longer to formulate a response, "I think I could manage it, ...if it really will be more comfortable."

"I believe it should be satisfactory."

I had to raise my eyebrows at the slightly amused (or maybe mischievous?) tone.

Before I could question the meaning of his statement, he was standing and reaching down to help me to my feet. I took a deep breath and caught his arms, allowing him to pull me up. I was glad that he didn't just let me go once I was on my feet again, I was feeling far from steady, even without the spinning in my head. Instead he put an arm around the middle of my back, "You may lean on me if you need."

I'd have laughed if I wasn't so taken aback by the proposition, but I also wasn't in any mind to reject such an offer, so I immediately put an arm around him in return and leaned my head and a little of my weight against his side and shoulder, relishing the warmth that flowed through me at the contact. More comfortable indeed.

Thus situated, he led me a short distance till we came to one of the larger trees in the area. "This should at least provide better support for our backs."

I didn't really want to leave the position I was in already, but my legs were becoming even shakier and I knew I wouldn't be able to stay standing for much longer. He had to be exhausted too, he was a little better off than me, steadier, but I could tell the fight had taken a lot out of him as well. I gave him a slight squeeze, which he returned, holding me to him for a few short moments, much to my exhausted delight. Finally though he released me and brought me around to take my arms and help lower me gently to the ground again, before sinking down beside me and leaning his head back against the bark, letting me catch a glimpse of the extent of his own exhaustion. I watched him for a while, the rise and fall of his breath, the closed eyes that made him look almost peaceful, though the strain beneath the surface was still apparent and I couldn't help wondering what he might be thinking.

I soon felt my tiredness begin to overtake me again though. I scooted in a little closer and crossed my arms over my stomach, hugging myself a little, before leaning over to pillow my head against his shoulder and closing my eyes. A moment later I felt one of his arms slip behind me. He wasn't holding me, the arm was loose, hand simply resting next to my opposite hip, but I could feel it there and I could only feel happy in that moment as I finally drifted off.

Chapter Text

"Eeeewwwww!! Why would anyone want to snuggle up with old baldy brains?!?"

Sera's shout jerked me awake so suddenly it took me a couple seconds to remember where I was. I'd even halfway managed to reach for my weapons before being hit with a wave of dizziness that forced me to shut my eyes and lean my head back, breathing slowly to fight off the accompanying wave of nausea.

"Did you have to scare her to death?" I heard Varric ask.

"It is scary, nobody wants to be sleeping on that moldy ol' sleeve. I wuz just doin' her a favor, yeah?"

"Somehow I think she'll survive it," he chuckled.

I could hear Varric's footsteps approaching our tree a moment later, "Sleep well? You looked pretty cozy there before the rather abrupt awakening." His voice was much closer now, that familiar teasing tone evident and I knew without looking that he was smiling.

Unfortunately, I just was not in the mood right now. "No, not really. While Solas' shoulder is preferable to a rock for a pillow, this is not exactly the most comfortable way to sleep for me. And in all honesty I'm feeling pretty shitty at the moment." I grumbled at him. I wanted to glare at him too, for good measure, but didn't dare open my eyes again yet.

There was a moment's uncomfortable silence before Varric finally responded. "Sorry Midnight, I'll leave you to get a little more sleep. We can wake you when Seeker and Lightning get back."

"Can you bring me an elfroot potion?" I asked before he could walk away, my anger melting under the threat of a headache that seemed to want to get started. "Maybe it will help take the edge off."

I heard a little rustling then, "Here you go, hope it helps."

With a quick thanks, I reached out a hand for him to drop the bottle into, opening and draining it in one quick motion, a testament to how often I'd had to use one in the middle of a fight. A moment later I felt some of the soreness leave my muscles and the worst of the dizziness and nausea cleared up. I could still feel the weight of a deep fatigue in me but the potion did enough that I could finally open my eyes and take in the scene.

Blackwall had clearly come back since there was now a fire burning brightly a short distance away. On the other side of the fire I saw Blackwall himself watching us, trying not to look like he was watching. Sera had her back to us and seemed to be working on getting the results of her hunt over the fire to cook. Finally I looked over at Varric, "How long have you guys been back?"

"Not long. Sera arrived just before the shouting started," he smiled apologetically. "I got here a little before that and Blackwall already had the fire going. He said Chuckles was awake, probably keeping a lookout, until he got back and then fell asleep too. Speaking of which, he seems to be sleeping a lot better than you."

I finally turned to look over at my side to where Solas still slept, taking in the peaceful expression, the slow rise and fall of his chest. I envied him, being able to sleep so soundly right now. He was probably off in the Fade at this very moment. I'd been sleeping too lightly to dream properly. Despite my exhaustion, I didn't seem to be able to properly relax.

I didn't realize how long I'd been looking at Solas until Varric started speaking again, "You still going to tell me there's nothing going on between you two? It getting pretty obvious that isn't the case."

I took a deep breath and let it out again before turning back to towards Varric, "I guess it's not nothing. More than that though...