Leliana shivered. It wasn’t nearly as cold as she remembered it so many years ago, but the mountain winds still bit deeply through any gaps in armor and clothing that it could find. Pulling her hood up and her cloak tighter, she made her way across the courtyard in front of Haven’s chantry to the small pavilion she’d set up as her work area. It was close, and between the breach and the moon it was bright enough that there’d been no need for a torch to light the way. But once under the tarps a light was needed to see the notes she’d sorted that evening before retiring for the night. It was impossible for her to sleep with so much to do, though. And so here she was, well after midnight in the freezing cold, in her makeshift base lighting a lantern so she could review reports she’d read many times now and worry a bit more over the best way to approach their needs come morning.
She should have been there. If she had been, all this would have been prevented. It was her job, her duty, to prevent threats against the Divine before they had any chance to come close to becoming a true hazard. But she and Cassandra had both been away. The Left Hand failed to prevent the danger, and the Right failed to defend against it when danger managed to sneak past their defenses nonetheless.
Tossing away the reports in frustration, Leliana sighed. No, this wasn’t the Seeker’s fault. Even had Cassandra been with Most Holy, the danger was too great for even she to defend against. They would both have died, and Leliana’s failure would have been even more complete.
It was too late. Both figuratively and literally. Her eyes felt as if they were full of dust; as she started to rub it away, though, there was a crunch in the snow behind her. Josephine, most likely, come to retrieve her once she realized Leliana was not in her bed. A hazard, she supposed, of sharing a room with an old friend. Someone less close to her probably wouldn’t have worried enough to come check on her when her bed was found empty. She quickly sorted the reports back into order and tucked them away where the wind wouldn’t blow them about, but the voice she heard next carried not the Antivan accent she’d expected, but an Orlesian one instead.
The bard froze for a long moment, the hair on the back of her neck rising in alarm. Spinning about, she stared in shock at the figure, which had stopped halfway from the chantry’s doors to Leliana’s pavilion. It-- She? --waited patiently, like she had twice before, long ago. The first time, waiting for Leliana to come to her, broken and betrayed and looking for guidance. Later, for her to return, a hero of the Blight, ready to continue the work she’d done with the Hero of Ferelden in any way she could--even if that work meant getting blood on her hands once again.
“You’re not her,” she whispered. “You cannot be.”
The figure seemed to consider her. “And why can I not be, my Nightingale? This other, the one you allow to be called Herald, they exited through one of these rifts that have formed, did they not? Why can I not have escaped in the same manner?”
She was right, of course; if the prisoner escaped the Fade, to survive to be called Herald, perhaps another could have survived. Perhaps Most Holy…
“Leliana, dear, come to me.” Justinia reached out with one hand, inviting her forward. And Leliana found herself compelled to… not to obey, Most Holy would never have demanded that of her. She asked, she suggested, but she never commanded. Justinia never needed to.
...Trust. The Left Hand felt compelled to trust, and she allowed that compulsion to move her forward. Justinia was alive. Leliana felt a massive weight lift from her soul, and even allowed herself a small smile of gratitude that she’d been wrong all this time. Everything would be fine. This Inquisition would still be necessary, of course, in order to enact the changes needed within the Chantry. But with Most Holy at its head, there would be far less opposition. Instead of being an upstart organization, it would be sanctioned. They might actually succeed where the Conclave had failed.
She was only a few feet away, her own hand reaching out to take Most Holy’s, when she felt everything shift. It wasn’t something she could place in that first moment, but the entire night was all at once too crisp, too clear, and yet still blurred. The lightness she’d felt turned to dread as she realized.
There were no footsteps in the snow alongside her own leading out of the chantry.
Senses sharp once more she halted mid-step, the hand that was outstretched snapping back and immediately reaching for a dagger. When her hand found none, she reached for another, only to find the second missing as well.
“Such a pity,” it sighed. “We had such a good game, only to be ruined by such a small thing. We should do better the next time, but then again detail is often such trouble.”
“What are you?”
Still wearing Justinia’s form as one might a mask at a ball, its mouth quirked upward at the corners. “We think you know, Nightingale. You encountered one of our kind once before, long ago. You were just as easily fooled then, though that time you required another to break the spell. It seems you’ve grown since then.”
“And what would you know?” Leliana demanded. She was furious with herself, that she’d fallen for the same trick as she had years before in the Fereldan Circle’s tower. When it happened the last time the demon even used Justinia--Dorothea--against her, and she fell for it this time just as she had then.
“We know that you feel guilt. That you wish to be absolved of it. We offered you forgiveness, hope, peace. And you have rejected it now just as you did then.”
“False hope, you mean.”
It seemed to shrug. “You would not have known the difference. It is irrelevant now, however. We have grown tired of this game. Have your guilt, Nightingale.”
“Sister Leliana? Leliana, what’s happened?”
She woke crumpled in the thin layer of snow that had blown under her tarps, freezing. Josephine had frantically thrown her own blanket about Leliana to warm her, and was in the process of pulling the bard’s gloves free to rub frozen fingers between her hands to warm them.
“Leliana, are you unwell? How did you end up out in the snow?”
Leliana tried to ground herself, but instead ended up frantically scanning her surroundings. Only when she saw the second trail of footprints in the snow did she relax long enough for Josephine to coax her to her feet and lead her back to warmth.
“There’s no need to be so formal, Josie,” she frowned. “I… I’ll be fine. I just need to rest.”