Actions

Work Header

Walking in Circles

Chapter Text

The apostates are always hooded and bound.

The hood stinks of magebane, and the steel cuffs are edged with cloth, so there will be no chance of wounds. This is not a kindness—rather, it is to keep a mage from bleeding. Such a thing may be a weapon in the right hands.

Evelyn Trevelyan watches from the safety of one of the courtyard alcoves; it is common to see the newcomers or runaways be returned to the Circle, and the templars do not seem to mind the audience. Rather, they relish the opportunity to show mages what happens if they try to escape.

This templar all but shoves the hooded figure to the ground. Evelyn grimaces in sympathy. She has fallen onto those cobblestones before and still remembers the shock jarring through her bones. “I think it’s a man,” she says. 

“Two coppers says it’s Fitz,” says Kinnaird. “That mad bastard’s never managed to stay away longer than a month.” His heavy Starkhaven accent overlays the words.  

Evelyn lets out a derisive snort. “I would take that wager, if I knew you actually had coin.”

“Fine,” says Kinnaird, unashamed, “two shifts in the scullery, then.”

Evelyn grins and takes his hand. “All right, then.” She laughs. “If you wish to spend more time washing dishes, who am I to stop you?”

Kinnaird gazes at hooded figure. “What makes you so bloody certain?”

“I am a keenly observant individual,” says Evelyn loftily. “Also, Fitz is about a head taller than that man there.”

Kinnaird squints at the hooded man. His mouth twists in disappointment. “Damn.”

“That’s what you get for being too eager,” says Evelyn. “My next shift is tomorrow, by the way.” She turns her attention back to the courtyard, just in time to see the apostate try to rise to his feet.

Evelyn winces. That is a mistake.

A templar reaches down, puts a gloved hand to the apostate’s chest and smites him. The figure jerks, his body twitching as he falls to his side. The templar yanks the apostate’s hood from his face, no doubt hoping to blind him with the bright sunlight. He gives the apostate one last hateful look, and then he strides into the fortress, likely to get the proper paperwork. 

With his hood gone, Evelyn gets her first look at the apostate.

An elf. 

He is visibly shaking, an aftereffect of the smite. He stares after the templar and then glances about himself as if looking for escape.

It is useless, of course.

The Ostwick Circle is a fortress. It must have been a military outpost long ago, for it was built out of the rocky edges of a coastal cliff. The only way to approach is a long and winding road, and the fortress itself is protected by two high walls. It is a perfect place to keep unwanted intruders out—or to keep people in.

People do manage to get out, occasionally. Fitz, in particular, is infamous for it. But no fresh apostate could manage it; and if he tries, he will likely end up injuring himself.

“Definitely not Fitz,” observes Kinnaird.

Evelyn responds by elbowing him in the side. “How do you manage to wake up every day and not put your robes on backwards?”

“Simple. My name is sewn into the back collar.”

Evelyn looks back to the elf. He is not young, not like the usual elves that are brought in from the alienages. And she can see none of the tattoos that might mark him as Dalish. He has managed to push himself upright, but even from here Evelyn can see him wavering.

On impulse, she glances at the fortress’s main doors. It is a two minute walk to the Knight Commander’s office—no one will come for the elf for at least a few more minutes. For one pained moment, she looks between the door and the elf, then a flash of defiance burns through her. She has allowed herself to be caged, to be bound, but she will not be made into a coward.

She steps into the courtyard.

“What do you think you’re doing?” hisses Kinnaird. “Andraste’s ass, Ev. Get back here.”

She ignores him, hurrying across the cobblestones. The sunlight feels hot and strange on the back of her neck. At the sound of her approach, the elf looks up. His head is shaven and his features sharp. He is not what Keldra would have called handsome, but something about him is undeniably striking. He could be anywhere between thirty and fifty; Evelyn has never been a good judge of age.

One of his eyes is blackened and it looks as if one of the templars struck him across the face. He wheezes, trying to drag air into his lungs. She knows the feeling.

“Don’t try to force it,” she says quickly. She kneels beside him and places a hand on his chest, calls what little healing magic she knows. She is unskilled with healing, but perhaps she might ease his discomfort a bit.

The elf’s eyes flick up and he regards her with distrust. “Don’t try to force your breathing,” she says, by way of explanation. “It’ll make it worse. Try holding the breath in your chest for a moment, then let it out.”

The elf does not speak, but after a heartbeat, he does as she advises. She feels the expansion of his lungs, the rise of his chest, and she calls gentle magic to her hand. At once, his wheezing eases. He breathes more normally, and when he looks at her a second time, it is with a wary bewilderment.

“We don’t have much time,” Evelyn says, letting her hand fall to her side. “When the templars take you in there, you’ll be stripped and your possessions seized. They will not be returned to you. Do you have anything that you wish to keep?”

His eyes rake over her, but he does not answer.

“Anything at all?” she says urgently. She glances at the gates, then back again. “Tell me now and I’ll take it for you. It’s the only way…”

The loud clang of the door makes her flinch, but she does not look away from the apostate.

The elf’s face hardens and he speaks for the first time. “My bag. They took it—there is an artifact—” His voice might be pleasant to listen to, in other circumstances, but his throat sounds raw, and every word is dragged between clenched teeth.

Evelyn grimaces. “I’m sorry. I can’t do anything about that. But if you have anything on you, anything you’re attached to…”

The elf’s gaze darts to something behind Evelyn—the approaching templar, with her luck. But she does not turn around.

The apostate seems torn for a moment, then he glances down at himself. His bound wrists flex, as if he yearns to reach for something. “The pendent around my neck.”

She did not notice it before—it is… well, it looks to be an animal’s jaw on a leather cord. Far more crude than the jewels that most people try to keep, but to each his own. She can hear the clank of the approaching templars and one of them calls out, “Mage? Get away from him now.”

Hastily, she reaches down, hopes that her hunched form will hide her actions, and maneuvers the cord from around his neck. She tucks the bone into her sleeve just as the templar’s fist closes around her collar.

She is yanked upright with such force that her teeth click together. “What are you doing?” snaps the templar.

It is Grieves—of course it is Grieves. Pale-skinned, with blonde hair going gray at the temples. Revulsion rolls through her stomach but she forces herself to look down, to be the good little mage. “I thought he might be hurt,” she says. “I wanted to see—”

Grieves backhands her. “That is not your concern.”

She half-expects the blow, but it still hurts. She staggers back; the taste of copper floods her mouth.

The elf makes a sound. A furious little snarl that is quickly silenced by Grieves settling one booted foot upon his back. “Leave us, Mage Trevelyan.”

Evelyn walks away, refusing to wipe at the blood on her mouth until she is out of Grieves’s line of sight. She will not give him the satisfaction of seeing any pain on her face.

Kinnaird stands at the fringes of the courtyard, all but bouncing on the balls of his feet. “You are daft,” he snaps. “What were you thinking?” He helps her into the shadowed alcove, murmuring a healing spell. The throbbing in her lip fades and she gives him a smile in thanks. Kinnaird has always been adept at healing; without his aid, she is sure there would be far more scars on her body.

“What happened out there?” asks Kinnaird, his hands still on her shoulders, as if afraid she might go running into the courtyard.

Evelyn pulls the necklace out of her sleeve. The jawbone pendant is brown, smooth with age, and she cannot sense any true power to it. Perhaps it is simply an old keepsake.

“He didn’t want the templars to have this.” She tucks the pendant into her robes.

Kinnaird frowns at her. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he says. “Grieves doesn’t need any more excuses to come after you. You should keep your head down.”

Evelyn turns back to the courtyard. The elf is being dragged between two templars—Grieves and Ser Clacher, by the look of it. The elf must have been smote a second time, for he looks barely conscious.

“He’s about to enter the Circle of Magi,” says Evelyn. “He deserved one last kindness.”

Chapter Text

He cannot feel his magic.

He breathes. One breath after another—jagged little gasps at first, then slowly, everything begins to even out. His chest is a painful knot, and it feels as if every slight motion begins a fresh jolt of agony through him, but slowly things become tolerable. The throbbing dies down to an intermittent pulse of pain.

But he cannot feel his magic.

He was dragged into the fortress by two templars. He has very little recollection of his entry, and for that he is vaguely grateful. He dimly remembers being struck, falling to his knees. He thinks he remembers being stripped, freezing water poured down his body. There were voices, metal hands touching him, wrenching his arms behind his back.

Is he hiding anything?

Not that I can see.

No scars? None from a blade?

Plenty of those, but none in places a bloodmage would use.

All right, then. Lieutenant, show our guest to the lower levels.

A robe yanked around his shoulders and then a shove and—

And a stone floor.

Which is where he wakes.

Solas sits up, the robe falling to the cobblestone floor. It is cold and hard and there is a stain beneath him. He recognizes it at once—blood never truly comes out, no matter how many times one scrubs at it. His lip curls and shivers against the touch of cool air upon his skin. He reaches for a fire spell—

But it does not come.

The magic slips away, retreats from him like a tide from shore. He can sense the power just out of reach, but when he tries to harness it, the magic slides beyond his fingertips.

The sheer wrongness settles in his bones; he has to force himself to breathe calmly, to remain still.

This world was terrible enough already—silent and deadened, its inhabits little more than empty shells, his own people worn into small, weak forms, and the shemlen arisen to a position of power. The bitterness floods his mouth like bile and he has to force himself to breathe.

The sensation of entrapment is stifling; his heart pounds and when he stands, fire lances along his ribs. Bruised, most likely, although without magic he cannot tell if they are broken. He cannot straighten; his arm is clamped hard around his middle; every breath aches and burns. He walks stiffly to the door—heavy wood and bars and reinforced hinges. He cannot break through it and there is no lock to pick. It must be barred from the outside, as there is simply no way to open it where he stands.

Caged. A caged animal.

He takes a step away from the door and then another, until his back is to the far wall. His robe remains on the floor. It is a thin, flimsy garment but he can already feel cold creeping into his muscles. Part of him wishes to leave it there, to ignore any offering of these people—but, no. He pulls it on, belts it at the waist with a thin cord.

He will not let himself be weakened, not for the sake of his pride.

They come for him in a day.

He is not give food nor water. Not that he expected any, but it is galling to realize how weak he is—the templars seize him, smite him, and all but drag him from the cell.

And he cannot stop them.

He is led up countless stairs—his bare feet are numb, and his legs burn with exertion by the time they reach a new door. It is opened and he stands before an office.

Light spills through an open window—the thin, watery light of a cloudy day. The breeze carries the tang of sea salt and and the spicy scent of beachgrass. The room itself is circular, at the top of some tower, and it is comfortably sized. A large, ornate desk with neat papers. A well-used quill and ink bottle. Colored glass of a woman wreathed in flame decorate the other window, and there is a fur rug to chase away the chill.

Behind the desk sits a man. He is reading from a slip of parchment, and he does not look up when the two templars walk inside. But neither of them call out nor make any sound at all; that man knows they are here, but he chooses to take his time. Perhaps it is because this man is truly busy or perhaps it is to remind these men who holds the power over them.

“Leave us,” says the man, and the two templars do not hesitate. They bow and leave the room, shutting the door behind them.

The man finally looks up from his reading. Solas is no great judge of mortals, but this man cannot be young. Age has settled into his face, and it reminds Solas of wind-worn stone. His dark hair is gray at the temples and his mouth is lined. But he wears the heavy templar armor with ease, and when he rises to his feet, it is a smooth gesture. “Sit,” says the man, but he says it with surprising politeness.

There is a wooden chair. Solas sits.

The man goes around his desk, to a pitcher and two goblets. The man pours one, brings it to the desk, and sets it before Solas.

Solas does not touch it.

The man smiles thinly. He takes his seat again, folds his hands beneath his blunt chin. “There are rumors,” he says, “that the water in this tower is spiked with magebane.” He leans forward. “I am pleased to inform you that those are simply rumors. I cannot abide the taste of it.”

Solas picks up the goblet and drinks. The water is cool, a balm to his parched throat.

“I suppose you think you’ve been brought here for some nefarious purpose,” says the man. “That’s what people think when they are summoned to my office.” He gives Solas a shallow nod. “I am Knight-Commander Cynesige. I am in charge of the templars at Ostwick. I believe it is my duty to welcome every mage to this tower, as you are my responsibility.”

The cool water turns bitter on Solas’s tongue. He forces himself to swallow his sharp reply; his wrists ache and his ribs are still bruised. He knows all too well the kind of welcome an apostate faces here.

“You’re probably wondering what will happen now,” continues Cynesige. “Well, it’s nothing too complicated. Your abilities and grasp of magical theory will be tested. If you are deemed proficient, you will be Harrowed. And if you complete your Harrowing, you will take your place among the mages here. So long as you are compliant, you won’t be ill-treated. You might even find it a comfort not to be on the run. There is comfort in safety, and that is what the Circle provides.”

Cynesige speaks as one who has spoken those words hundreds of times—and perhaps, he even believes them.

Solas has known men such as him before. Generals sworn to their master’s sides, blinded by loyalty and faith, they would burn whole cities if given the order. There will be no swaying of Cynesige, no way to bribe or even threaten him. He is confident, comfortable with his power.

“May I ask you a few questions?” says Cynesige. It is a clever tactic—bringing terrified apostates into a place of light and comfort, giving them a seat and water and a polite man asking polite questions. After the fear and darkness of the dungeons, most people would likely be tripping over themselves to hold onto such treatment.

Solas does not look away, does not tense, does not so much as blink. They want to know who he is, where he came from, how he eluded the templars for so long. They want to know if there are others like him.

“Ask what you will,” he murmurs.

“Where are you from?”

Solas does not lie. “A village to the north. It was destroyed years ago.”

“Do you have family?”

“Not anymore.”

Cynesige’s eyes sharpen. “Were they killed?”

“Not by magic,” replies Solas.

Cynesige nods. “You have never been in a circle before.”

Solas does not answer.

“You grew up among the Dalish?” says the Knight-Commander, and this is as reasonable an explanation as any. Solas inclines his head and lets the man draw his own conclusions. “I see. Well, I know this is probably not pleasant for you, but I think after some time you will realize that the Circle is better than the alternative. You will be kept safe here, safe from others and safe from yourself.”

“And if I wished to leave this place?” says Solas, very quietly.

Cynesige’s gaze does not waver. “You are a mage. You will never leave.”


The Harrowing does not live up to its name.

He is given lyrium—enough of the stuff to choke on. The tang and chill slide down his throat, drawing a line of ice to his stomach. It is a crude method of forcing mages into the Fade, but he does not fight it. He feels himself fall, knows there will be more bruises when he awakes. He allows the pull of the magic to drag him under, and when he opens his eyes, the world blinks into focus around him.

He takes a breath and then another.

He can breathe here. Breathe properly—taste the magic on the air, feel the mutability of it, the lure of potential. There is none of the cold rigidity of the waking world. He allows himself his first smile in days.

This is what mages must do, he thinks. Walk the path of another world. And should they emerge unscathed, they are deemed safe. But they may as well cast children who cannot swim into the sea—there are those who will claw they way to the surface on pure instinct, but more likely they will be paralyzed with fear and sink to the bottom.

This is not a test. It is a culling.

Solas gazes around himself, at this reflection of the tower. He stands amidst a tower that is centuries younger, the rocks still sharp and new, and the copper of fresh blood in the air.

A battle was fought here; its remnants weigh on these spirits’ memories. Solas walks the paths of the tower, familiarizing himself with the twists and the turns, until he comes out on a ledge. A wall runs around the tower, likely built to protect the tower’s original inhabitants.

Solas strolls along the top of the wall, gazing out at the sea. There is a comfort in seeing the waves crash upon the cliff face, the gulls high in the air, and the clouds on the horizon. Memories, all memories, but they are untainted by the fear that permeates these walls.

When the spirit arrives, Solas is calm. This spirit burns with inner fire, its fingers tipped with claws, a roiling ferocity to its gaze.

A demon of rage.

It looks at Solas.

Solas looks at it.

And then the demon backs away.

“Good choice, friend,” says Solas. “Now before you depart, would you mind telling me about this place?”


After his Harrowing, he is given a new robe and brought to his quarters. Solas studies his surroundings with care. The fortress has barred windows and high ceilings. It has the feel of strength, of unbreakable will, and this is likely why they made a prison out of it. Escape will not be a simple matter.

His quarters are little more than a small room with four beds—two stacked atop the other two. The available bed is on the left. Solas glances at the room’s occupants. There are two men, one well into his years and the other much younger, playing some type of card game. They glance up, eye Solas with interest. “New bunkmate,” says the templar; his voice echoes harshly within his helmet.

The two men give him curious little stares, but do not speak to him. Solas gazes at the room, at the stone walls and bunk beds, at the small window too high up for anyone to reach.

His heartbeat quickens; at once he cannot bear to be in this room. Without a word, he turns on his heel and strides away.

He is free to move around the tower, or so he has been told. So he moves. He prowls the halls with no real destination in mind; all he knows is that if he does not move, he will go mad with stillness.

He cannot remain here.

He cannot.

There are things he must do, things he was doing before he was captured. Reports must be obtained, duties given to his agents, and his orb—

His orb is somewhere in this fortress. He knows it must be intact, for no shemlen could break it, but its loss leaves him bereft.

But it is not the loss of the orb, his capture, or even his entrapment that truly angers him. It is his own helplessness.

He might have torn this fortress apart in his younger days, but now he is as trapped as the rest of these forsaken creatures.

“Well, there you are.”

A voice slows his steps. Solas looks up, sees someone standing in a doorway.

It is the woman, the one from the courtyard. She is pale and small and there is a delicate balance to her features, but she does not stand out among the others. She has her dark hair pulled into a braid, piled atop her head, and wisps of it trail down her neck, curling around her ears. “You made it.”

It takes him a moment to parse her words. The Harrowing—she means he made it through the Harrowing. “I did,” he says.

“Good,” she says, and gives him a small smile. “I’m sorry, but this would not have matched the decor in my own rooms.”

A quick glance around her, as if checking to see who is watching, and then she extends her hand.

His jawbone pendant dangles from her fingers.

It was a gamble giving it to her. She might have kept it, given it to the templars to curry favor. But here she is, offering it back to him. He takes it, turning it between both hands. The smooth surface is a comfort, a single familiarity in this strange place.

“Thank you,” he says.

She nods. “It was nothing.”

He remembers the sound of metal on flesh when that templar struck her. It was sickening to see anyone treated thus, and by the way she reacted, he knew it was not the first time.

She is a hollow, unfeeling creature but no one deserves that.

"Come," she says, "it's nearly midday. I can show you the dining hall."

He hesitates, but only a moment. He should learn the layout of the fortress, and this woman is a willing source of knowledge. And while part of him wishes he could simply walk away, dismiss her and all of these other poor, trapped creatures, he would be foolish to ignore them. Willing prisoners they might be, but perhaps a few of them might know ways out of the fortress...

...and where the templars might be keeping his orb.

His fingers twitch, ache to reach for magic that is not there. Trying to call magic in this new world feels like trying to draw a breath underwater. Helpless, he thinks. Helpless and at the mercy of these short-lived creatures.

“Thank you,” he says. “I would appreciate that.”

The dining hall is on the second level. A large room, with several long tables, he sees how their small society must exist—there are the younger mages in a far corner, clustered together and talking admits themselves in robes of bright orange and red. The older mages wear darker colors, their cuffs edged with trim of different threads. It must mean something to them, but he cannot bring himself to care. His guide brings him to a table near the back of the hall. It is already occupied, by a man and a woman. They must be brother and sister, he thinks, for they look upon him with a similarly skeptical expression.

“This is Kinnaird and Keldra,” says his guide. “Or you can just refer to them as ‘the twins’ and everyone will know who you mean.”

“Lad,” says Kinnaird. He has a heavy accent, but Solas cannot place it; he has not spent enough time in this broken, new world to sort out the differences in speech.

“Welcome,” adds Keldra. “And the quiet one is Signy.”

This one is a girl—younger than the rest, he thinks but he cannot be sure. She is thin as a sapling. He might not have noticed her, without Keldra’s introduction. Her golden hair his braided down her back, and she gazes at her own fingers as if she wishes she could vanish into them.

Solas glances at his guide, the dark-haired woman. He realizes he still does not know her name.

“So,” says Kinnaird, with a smile, “what brings you to our fine establishment?”

A beat of silence. Then Solas’s guide says, “You don’t have to answer that, if you don’t want to.” She glares at Kinnaird. “How about we leave the interrogations to the templars, all right?”

“It is no secret,” says Solas. “I am an apostate. I was captured by templars and brought here.”

Keldra’s attention sharpens. “An apostate? You’ve never been in a circle before? Ever?”

Solas reaches for one of the platters of food, more to give himself something to do rather than out of hunger. It is all very basic—roasted meats and boiled vegetables. When he takes a bite, the meat burns with salt and the vegetables are seasoned with some unfamiliar spice. He forces himself to swallow.

“Here,” says his guide. Without being asked, she pours a goblet of wine and slides it toward him.

Even the wine tastes unfamiliar, like freshly churned earth and rust. He sets the goblet down, looks at the table, at these strangers and these walls and—and all at once, he cannot breathe.

The world closes in around him, and the voices in his ears seem to fade away. He rises to his feet and without a word, he strides from the table. Perhaps the humans call after him, perhaps they do not.

He does not stop walking until he finds a window—it is barred, of course, but he wraps his fingers around the metal and breathes. Forces himself to focus on that single action, on remembering where he is, who he is. He cannot think about this world, its wrongness. He did this. He did this. He did this and he has to fix it—has to reclaim some of what he took.

A hand falls on his shoulder and he looks up. At once, the touch falls away.

It is the woman. She stands on the balls of her feet, as if restraining herself. “Are you all right?” she asks, but not like she truly expects an answer.

He looks away; it is shame enough that she saw his weakness, he will not admit to it aloud. His fists clench. He will not allow the weight of his own mistakes to drag him under. “I am fine,” he says, his voice steady. “I apologize. Leaving so abruptly—”

“It’s fine,” she says. “You think you’re the first person to look around that hall and panic?” She leans against the stone wall, her arms crossed. “You haven’t vomited on anyone, ran screaming through the halls, or tried brain a templar with a food platter, so you’re well ahead of half the apostates that are brought in.”

Against his will, his mouth curves into a bitter little smile. “Such high standards you set for me.”

“I know,” she agrees, and her smile is more genuine than his. “But I like to think the best of people.” She straightens, takes a step forward. “Listen, I know you’re not planning on staying. No one does, when they’re brought here. But it’s best if you tell someone your name,” she says softly. “Or a nickname, if you don’t want to give yours up. The templars will call you ‘mage’ or ‘enchanter’ or, in your case, ‘apostate’. They’ll do their best to make you forget you have a name. Sometimes we have to remind one another.”

He gazes at her. “And you are…?”

She does not hesitate. “Evelyn. Or Trevelyan if you’re the formal type.”

He licks his cracked lips. There are a thousand names he might give her. Titles and nicknames and threats—and she would not understand a single one.

He is not sure what makes him say it. “I am Solas, if there are to be introductions.”

A small smile flashes across her face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Solas,” she says and doesn’t seem to notice when he does not return the sentiment.

Chapter Text

Captivity is more easily endured when one is calm.

That is his first priority—to master himself, to reassert control over his body. In the scant privacy of his own dormitory, he sits on his bed and closes his eyes. His pounding heart slows; his fingers grow warmer; he draws breath in a steady rhythm.

And then he sleeps.

That helps, as well. He steps into the Fade with a sense of relief, sheds the constraints of the physical world, and acquaints himself with the tower’s other occupants.

Small wisps cluster around the dormitory’s reflection; they press at the walls and the windows, chasing one another like birds hunting for scraps of bread. Solas watches them for a moment. They are not friendly, but nor are they unfriendly. They are likely drawn to the thick aura of magic in the tower. The wisps flutter around him, trailing in his wake.

Within the Fade, he can see the tower for what it is—he sees the ghost of fingerprints along the walls, clawing to get out, the haze of old despair and desolation, the ghostly forms of other dreamers, and the glow of anger that seems to beat within the heart of the tower. It reminds him of banked coals; all it would take is a single breath and this place could ignite.

That rage demon remains nearby. He sees it drifting through the air, sees a dreamer speaking to it.

For the first time, he understands why the templars here are so afraid of possession.

They have made a prison where a mage’s only hope might be a demon. And they call this place safe. But he is not surprised.

Humans. Short-sighted and afraid, fumbling about in the dark, blundering into powers they know little of. And people think that humans destroyed Elvhenan. It is a convenient lie, to make themselves seem more powerful, to lay claim to such destruction.

Even now, as he watches the dreamers step through the halls of the tower, he cannot help but feel disconnected from them. Fragile, hollow things that they are.


 

He falls into a rhythm.

The mages wake early. Their morning meals are eaten in the main hall, although Solas sees some of the mages take food and slip away. There is gruel of barley and almond milk, buns flavored with walnuts and currants, and there is a hot tea that smells of vanilla. Solas takes one sip of the tea and grimaces, forcing himself to drink it all in a few hasty swallows. His sleep remains troubled, and he needs a clear head.

After the morning meal, the mages go their separate ways. The younger ones, the apprentices, are herded into large rooms. For lessons, he supposes. When he sees him, his fingers clench; they range in age from nearly two decades to small youths. It is troubling enough to see adults entrapped here, but children.

The harrowed mages have tasks of their own. Some are teachers, others are researching old techniques, some work in the library, while others craft potions. Such items will no doubt be sold by the Chantry, and the mages who created them will never see that coin. Solas drifts through the many rooms, observing the mages at work. He sees an old woman hastily put out a fire before a templar can see it; two apprentices sit in a corner of the library, giggling over a book; the man called Kinnaird walks through the corridor, a heavy crate of freshly picked herbs hefted over one shoulder.

There is a garden outside, Solas realizes. Gazing through a window, he sees some of the courtyard, a few small buildings that must house the templar’s mounts, and then small squares of earth with vines and clusters of fruit trees.

When Solas tries to leave the tower, he is barred by two templars. “Got to have word from the Knight Commander,” says one of them, but without any true malice. “Newcomers aren’t allowed outside.”

The scents of fresh earth and sunlight are carried through the cracked doors, and Solas draws in a long breath. He forces himself to take a step away, to retreat into the cold air of the tower.

He isn’t given a task yet. Perhaps this time is meant for him to settle in, to find his place among the mages. And it is not as if he remains idle; he spends nearly every waking moment mapping the tower, fixing it in his mind. He watches the templars, takes note of the paths they walk. He notes the times at night when Solas hears the tread of armored footsteps outside of the dormitory. There are no doors to muffle the clang of armor on stone. When he asks one of the mages about the lack of doors, the old man simply laughs.

“Doors imply privacy,” says the man, with a crooked grin. “We can’t have that, can we? We might all turn into abominations.”

The evening meal seems to be when the mages are the most relaxed. Thick, warming stews are accompanied by slices of a heavy bread and goblets of wine. After the meal, they retreat to the library or remain in the hall until the templars shoo them out of the public spaces and back to their rooms for the night.

Thus, the days repeat themselves.

It is on the fifth day that he sees the woman again.

He is walking into the library when she rounds the corner and nearly collides with him. He sidesteps her and she stumbles. A book drops from her arms. “Sorry,” she gasps. She is breathless and her hair is tugging free of her loose braid. Without waiting for a reply, she picks up the book and begins to walk away.

Solas watches her with a detached interest. Evelyn Trevelyan. She seems no different than the rest of the mages here, but he cannot forget how she approached him in the courtyard. She did him a kindness and he will not forget it.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

She hesitates, glancing between Solas and the hallway. “I—it’s nothing. I wouldn’t want to…” Her voice trails off, and then her gaze sharpens.

It is then he sees the book clutched in her arms. One on elvish culture, of all things.

“You’re an elf,” she says, as if she has happened on some great discovery.

His mouth twitches. “Well spotted,” he says dryly.

But she does not seem to notice his lapse in manners.

“Do you speak elvish?” she asks.

He hesitates.

The People have lost much of the language; they grasp at fragments, cobble together sentences out of what is left. His own knowledge of the tongue could betray him.

“A little,” he says.

She takes a step toward him. “Please. Please—it’s not for me. There was a new shipment of apprentices brought in yesterday, and one of them locked himself in a wardrobe, and I think he must be Dalish because when we tried to talk to him he uttered a few curses that none of us understood, and Kinnaird can swear in every language in Thedas. The child won’t listen to us, but we need to get him out.”

He gazes at her. “A child has locked himself in a wardrobe,” he repeats. “I fail to see why this has upset you.”

She straightens and for the first time, he sees something like steel in her face. “Because,” she says, her voice low, “we are not allowed privacy. Especially not unharrowed children. If the templars catch any of us hiding out of sight, they assume the worst. We are doing something forbidden, becoming something forbidden, and they will not risk opening the wardrobe to check. They will shove a sword through it first.”

Cold sweeps through him.

“A child?” he says softly. It is half a question, but she understands.

Trevelyan does not look away. “To them, none of us are children. We are dangerous, and that is all they’ll see.”

Solas breathes. He breathes as a man who must concentrate on the act so as not to do something unwise. “Take me there.”

She strides through the halls. She does not run, as that might draw attention. Solas keeps pace, one of his strides for every two of hers. She turns left, and steps into a room that must belong to several adult mages. There is no door, but several bunk beds, two desk, and a large wardrobe.

The man, Kinnaird, kneels before it. “—Promise, all right?” When he hears their approach, he rises. “Thank the Maker,” he says. “Did you get the book?”

“Better,” says Trevelyan. “I brought him.”

Kinnaird’s gaze flashes between Trevelyan and Solas. “You speak elvish well?”

“Well enough,” says Solas curtly. “The child is in there?”

Kinnaird takes hold of the handle and pulls. The door rattles but does not come free. And a furious curse can be heard from within.

Fen'Harel ma halam.”

Trevelyan was correct. The child is certainly Dalish.

She squats down next to the wardrobe. “Come on,” she says quietly. “I promise we won’t hurt you. But you need to come out.”

Another snarl.

“New plan,” says Kinnaird. “I break down that door and drag him out.”

“As if that will not draw the templars’ attention.” Trevelyan rises to her feet. Even standing, the top of her head does not reach Kinnaird’s shoulder. “And that child has been dragged away from his family, into this place. No wonder he’s hiding.”

“The templars are going to show up at any moment,” says Kinnaird. “And they’ll kill the child and we’ll all be accused of harboring an abomination.”

“Then go, Kinnaird,” she snaps.

Hurt flashes across his face. His fists clench and unclench, but he straightens and stiffly walks out of the room. Trevelyan murmurs a curse. When she catches Solas watching her, she says, “It’s not his fault. He has more to lose here than most—the templars could take a lot from him.” Her lips thin out and she lowers herself to a crouch. Solas follows her, presses his fingertips to the wardrobe door.

“Da’len,” he says softly. He keeps his words simple. “You cannot remain in there.”

There is a moment of silence. And then the voice says, “Who are you?

The words are clumsy, the question in tatters—who you—but Solas understands. “A friend,” he replies.

Another moment of silence, and then the sound of a lock being undone. The elf that appears is a young boy. Perhaps seven or eight years old.

Trevelyan smiles encouragingly at him.

“It’s all right,” she says. “I promise no one will hurt you.” She holds out a hand, but the child does not take it. He looks to Solas, instead.

It has been many years since any elf has looked at him in such a manner—as an object of protection, rather than one of fear. “Come, Da’len,” says Solas quietly. “She will not harm you.

The child takes her hand and allows her to help him from the wardrobe.

“I’m Evelyn,” she says, smiling. “This is Solas.”

The boy swallows. “Garith,” he says. “Of Clan Alerion.”

Trevelyan’s smile widens. “It’s nice to meet you. Listen, you’re probably hungry, right?”

A hesitation. Then a nod.

“How about we take you to the kitchens and see if the cooks have any oat cakes,” she says. “Then I’ll bring you back to the children’s dormitory.”

The boy rubs a fist against his damp eyes. “I’m not a child,” he says. His voice is a little hoarse, as if he has been screaming. “Mamae says—” And then he cuts off, as if he cannot continue.

Trevelyan’s voice softens. “Yes, yes, I know. You’re not a child anymore. And that’s good. You’re going to need to be strong while you’re here, understand?”

Garith nods.

“Now, now.” A voice comes from the doorway. “What have we here?”

Solas’s gaze jerks up. A templar stands in the doorway. He wears no helmet and his pale blonde hair is tied back.

At once, the tension in the room draws tight.

Solas goes very still. He knows this man. This templar was among those who brought him into the circle. “Ser Grieves,” says Trevelyan. She straightens to her full height and when she speaks, there is ice in her voice. The child instinctively pulls himself closer to her.

“I was told there was a disturbance,” drawls Grieves.

“You were misinformed,” she replies. She inclines her head in a stiff nod, her eyes never leaving the templar. “We have no need of you.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

The templar strides into the room, and his hand idles on the pommel of a sword. Solas feels himself shift into a familiar stance—feet apart, weight balanced, arms loosely at his sides, gaze not quite focused on the threat. It does one no good to become too focused on a single opponent, not when more threats might appear.

Grieves eyes the child, and his gaze travels over Trevelyan, lingering too long for comfort. He eyes the woman the way a hunter might eye potential prey.

Trevelyan does not move.

Solas is intimately acquainted with fear. He has tasted his own fear bitter on the back of his tongue, has seen terror in the faces of slaves, has driven his own enemies back with fear of his name. It can be useful, but like any weapon, it is easily misused.

He knows what fear looks like. It looks like the rigid grip that Trevelyan has on Garith’s shoulder, in the way her gaze never strays from the templar, in the hard set of her bloodless lips. She is deeply afraid of this man.

“The boy looks unharmed,” says the templar, with a little nod. “But what have you been up to, Trevelyan? You look a little out of sorts.”

The templar reaches for Trevelyan.

And Solas steps between them. 

The templar blinks. He is less practiced at keeping his own emotions from his face; anger chases surprise and then settles into something harder. Without so much as a word, the templar seizes a fistful of Solas’s tunic and—

—Pain.

The burn and throb of the smite is almost familiar. Gray bleeds into Solas’s sight and he is dimly aware of his knees hitting the floor. He manages to remain upright, but it is a struggle. He feels his power leave him in a dizzying rush, and when he regains his senses, there is shouting.

“—Wasn't doing anything!" Trevelyan’s voice is the first thing that comes back to him. 

The templar’s voice drips with smug confidence—a man who knows he has done harm, but also knows he will not be punished for it. "He approached me quickly. New apostate and all. He could've been attacking me. Had to be sure he wasn't holding a weapon, or anything that could make him bleed."

Solas drags a breath into his lungs. Trevelyan’s hand is on his shoulder, and he realizes that is why he has not fallen. She grips his shoulder with one hand, and the other keeps Garith behind her. She is caught between the child and Solas, between her desire to protect them both.

He has never felt more useless. 

He forces his face to remain impassive, to mask his seething fury. "Are we free to leave?" he says. "The child is unharmed and I cannot call upon my magic. And Trevelyan has done nothing wrong."

“Not to his knowledge,” says Trevelyan.

The templar's brow twitches. “Careful, Trevelyan,” says the templar. “That tongue of yours is too clever for your own good.”

“Perhaps,” she replies coldly, “but you will never discover that firsthand.”

A flicker of something goes through the templar’s eyes, but then Solas steps around the doorway and loses sight of the man. Trevelyan has not released him and he has to gently pry her fingers off of his shoulder. “Sorry,” she says, after a moment. Then looks back at the doorway. “Not here. Come on.”

Every step is painful, but he follows her. The child clings to her hand and she keeps him close as she leads the way down a flight of stairs, then around another corner. When she pushes a set of heavy doors open, he is greeted with the scents of yeast and baking bread, and a wave of heat. Rows of ovens line one of the walls, and he belatedly realizes they have stepped into the kitchens.

Trevelyan goes to speak with one of the cooks, and after a brief exchange, she is given a small platter. She takes it with a smile and nods at Solas to follow her when she steps through the doors and into the main hall.

As it is between meals, most of the tables are empty. Trevleyan chooses one of those tables nearest the tall windows, and sunlight spills across the heavy wood. She sets down the platter, and gives a plate to Garith. Three small oat cakes drizzled in honey.

Once the child is eating, Trevelyan sits beside Solas. 

“Here. This will help,” she says. She picks up a steaming cup and places it in his hands. It smells of anise and the taste is… bearable. He downs most of it in one go, wincing at the heat of it. But in a few minutes, the tension in his skull seems to relent. He opens his eyes, blinks several times, and stares down at the cup.

“You are an herbalist,” he says.

She lets out a startled laugh. “Oh, no. I’m not. One of the mages in my year, Fitz, devised the recipe.” She draws in a long breath, and seems to relax for the first time. “He spent months trying to figure out then best herb combination, but of course the only way to test it was on someone who… well, had just suffered a smite. He devised this great plan to start bribing the more adventurous novices to act out in hopes they’d get hit.”

“That is…” he starts to say and falters.

“Mad, I know,” she replies, with a small smile. “No one volunteered.” She pauses, and her smile drops away. “In the end, no one had to.”

“You have personal experience with the effects of repeated templar attacks.”

She keeps her gaze even with his. “That’s not a question, Solas.”

“Is it not?”

Her smile fractures at the edges, becomes more real for a brief moment, then vanishes. She shrugs. “Blows leave scars,” she says, with a small shrug. “So do lashes. It’s easier to maintain the facade that circles aren’t prisons if there are no physical marks. At least, none that are prevalent.

“Drink more,” she says and he hates how the words come so easily to her. As if this is something she has dealt with so many times that it is no longer a horror—simply something to be endured.

"You shouldn't have done that," she says. “Gotten in Grieves’s way. He’ll remember you now.”

The mention of the templar makes him grip the cup more tightly.

“And what would you have done, if I had not been there?” he asks. “Remained between the child and the templar? What if he drew his blade? Would you have stayed?”

He does not know why he presses these questions on her, but something drives him.

Her eyes flash. “There are worse ways to die than in defense of a child.”

“There are few humans who would sacrifice themselves for an elf,” he says evenly.

“He is a mage,” she says. “I am a mage. We are downtrodden enough here without infighting.” She looks away. “And if it were a human child? Would you have stood between him and the templar? What if the templar drew his blade?” She takes his own words, tosses them back at him. “Would you have faced him?”

The Dread Wolf would have killed him.

Solas would have… well.

Solas is not sure what he would have done. What he might do. He is weakened by the Veil’s presence, and his strength diminished by uthenera. He is a shadow of his former self.

He is trapped.

For the moment, anyway.

“My things,” he says, abruptly. “Where would the templars have taken them?”

She blinks, caught off guard. “Your things? Oh, you mean your old clothes and such?”

“Yes.”

She shrugs. “I suppose they’re in the vaults in the Knight-Commander’s office. That’s where they take everything that might be dangerous. He likes to keep all of those items close by, just in case.”

“Old clothes might be dangerous?” he says, with a hint of a smile.

She does not smile back. “An apostate once hid a rune in the sleeve of his coat. He used it to set fire to three templars before he was stopped.”

“Oh.” He looks away, at the empty hall. He wonders how she was brought here, if perhaps she hid in a wardrobe. Perhaps that is why she refused to pry the child free, because she herself had been dragged out.

Before he can think to ask any such questions, a soft noise comes from beneath the table. And then something touches him.

Solas twitches, jerks back.

A cat gazes up at him. It is black and gray, with bold blue eyes.

“Beggar,” Trevelyan says fondly, reaching down to scoop the cat into her arms. It goes with a soft “mert.”

She turns to the boy and says, “Do you like cats?”

Garith’s eyes are wide. “I—I’ve never…”

“Here. Hold out your arms.”

She gently gives the cat to him and Garith holds very still. “Pet his head,” says Trevelyan, smiling. “Behind the left ear—he likes that.” When she looks to Solas, she sees him watching.

“Animals help,” she says in an undertone. “In ways we never could.”

True to her words, when Garith looks up, there is a light in his eyes. “He’s purring!”

“He does that sometimes.” Trevelyan smiles. “Especially if you give him food. You can take him to the dormitory, if you like. The cats aren’t allowed out of the kitchens, but everyone knows Fen likes to wander.”

Solas cannot keep the incredulity out of his voice. “You named your cat the elvish word for ‘wolf?’”

She grins. “Actually, his full name is Fennel. The last batch of kittens was named by the cooks. There’s also a Sage, Thyme, and a Pepper running around. They’re meant to keep mice and rats at bay, but instead they’ve become fat and lazy. Probably because we keep feeding them,” she adds, as an afterthought.

When the boy has had his fill of cakes and tea and the purring cat, Trevelyan takes his hand. “Come on,” she says. Then glances back over her shoulder. “Thank you,” she says to Solas.

He thinks of the templar, of the wardrobe, of the child.

He thinks of how this world will burn when he tears down the Veil. At least this place will be no more. But then again, its inhabitants will likely die, as well.

“It was the least I could do,” he says quietly.

Chapter Text

A week goes by.

The days pass with surprising ease. There are no more tangles with the templars. Even if Solas can feel their eyes upon him, they make no move to approach or challenge. They simply watch. And one can ignore the eyes of others, if they so choose.

Solas is summoned by the First Enchanter during his second week. This office is only a few doors away from that of the Knight Commander, but it could not be any more different. The walls are adorned with rows of potted flowers, their vines draping over and around the windows; sunlight appears to glow from every gleaming surface, reflecting off the pale wood of the desk and chairs. It is a beautiful room—but even so, Solas sees that the flowering vines are twined through bars on the windows.

First Enchanter Elisabet Monette is a young woman. Well, he thinks, when he sees her more closely, she is perhaps not young—but she is certainly not old. Her hair is carefully curled and coiled atop her head, and her every movement is both calculated and graceful. Her skin bears the light kiss of sun—except for a pale stretch of skin across her eyes.

Where a mask would cover.

Orlesian, then.

She rises from behind her desk and steps around it, coming to stand before him. She is tall—taller than Solas by half a head. “Mage Solas.” Her voice is as precise as cut glass. “I apologize I did not welcome you sooner. I was away on business.”

“I was under the impression that those such as myself were not allowed to leave the tower,” he says, with careful neutrality.

She gestures at a chair and he sits. She goes to her desk, pours two cups of tea and brings one to him. The cups are finely wrought, inlaid with gold. “You are correct, on that account,” says the First Enchanter. And her gaze lingers on the point of his left ear before settling on his face.

He knows what she is—nobility. A noble that has managed to retain some of her power, likely through influence of bloodline rather than ability to lead. Even in a place such as this, there is rank and this woman has learned to use hers.

“My position as first enchanter allows me some liberties,” she continues. “As well as numerous responsibilities. I do spend part of my time away from the tower, as my duty demands.”

Her eyes flash to his, as if daring him to contradict her.

Solas sips his tea. It tastes of berries.

“I am to understand you have never spent much time in a circle,” says the First Enchanter.

A rather polite way of stepping around uncomfortable truths. “I am an apostate,” he says. There is no shame in that truth. “I have spent no time in a circle.”

“I… see.” Her smile is sweet. “We all have our quirks. I enjoy tending plants, as you can see. A lord from Antiva taught me the art of growing miniature gardens in small earthen pots.

“We all must have our little hobbies,” she says. “As well as our own responsibilities. Tell me, what are your skills?”

He considers his answer. He doubts she will appreciate his true skills—long-forgotten magics, walking the Fade as easily as he does the waking world, conversing with spirits, leading soldiers in doomed causes, making catastrophically terrible decisions, stripping his own people of their power, their knowledge, their very lives—

“I enjoy research in the subject of the Fade,” he answers.

The First Enchanter nods.

“I see.” She opens a drawer and withdraws a small, leather-bound book. Picking up a quill, she flicks open to a page. “I see there are a group of archivists currently working on a paper for the University about the Fade. It’s something to do with how the Veil is mutable in certain locations but not in others.” A wave of her gloved hand. “I do not know the specifics of it. Does that sound interesting to you?”

It is admirable that these mortals try to grasp at the world around them. They will map and chart, try to explain what they have no true knowledge of. The Veil is well beyond what any of them could understand, but still they try.

“I prefer to work alone,” he says.

The First Enchanter’s mouth curves downward. She walks around her desk, goes to the flowering vines. She strokes one of the leaves, then plucks a white flower. She comes around the desk, standing over him. She holds out the flower in her gloved hand.

He takes it. Soft white petals and a golden center—it is a simple bloom, yet still beautiful.

“Be careful, Mage Solas,” she says quietly. “In circumstances such as ours, alliances are as vital as the breath in our lungs. I would not spurn an offer of help.” Then she straightens, clasps her fingers. “I suggest you take some time to consider it. But not too long—our kind should not remain idle. The templars do not like it.”

Solas rises to his feet, gives her a polite nod, and takes his leave of the office.

It is nearing the midday meal and several mages and apprentices are milling about in the main hall. Solas considers retreating to his own rooms; mealtimes are the only moments when he can find privacy in his doorless, windowless room. There is little of value in those rooms except quiet, and perhaps the chance to sleep, to seek out any friendly spirits. He has been trying to reach a friend, a wisp, anything that might carry word to one of his agents. Most of them are unskilled in the Fade, but there is one agent he may be able to contact.

It is a feeble plan, but it is also the best Solas has been able to come up with.

He has taken one step in the direction of his rooms when someone says his name.

Trevelyan, Keldra, and Kinnaird have rounded the corner. It was Kinnaird who called out to him, and he does so again. “Ah, good,” says Kinnaird, grinning, “someone who does not smell of horse manure and burnt sea grass. He’ll be a nice addition to our table today.”

Keldra heaves a sigh. “I told you we shouldn’t have watched.”

“I wanted to see if it would explode,” says Kinnaird, unashamed. “But if you’re so bothered we’ll all be off to the baths soon and I can scrub the mistakes away.”

“I’m not sure there’s enough soap in all of the Thedas for that,” says Trevelyan. She smiles at Solas. “You will join us, will you?”

Sure enough, there is a rather… pungent smell about those three. “May I ask what you were trying to explode?” he asks. “Purely for academic reasons?”

Perhaps not solely for academic reasons.

“Not us. But some of the alchemists are trying to devise new mining techniques,” says Trevelyan. “Combining runes and minerals—they’re being funded by the Chantry, but I think it’s because the Chantry just wants to create our own version of that powder the Qunari use. Kinnaird wanted to watch, and well, it’s not like my own research is time sensitive.”

“And those mages are allowed to perform such experiments in a building?” asks Solas.

“Oh, no,” says Kinnaird cheerily. “We were outside—on the rocks near the far wall. And if it had worked, the explosion would have been enough to perhaps destroy a bottle of wine. Instead, it just smoked like the bloody void and gave us this delightful perfume.”

Again, some mages are allowed out of doors. The First Enchanter may come and go as she pleases, and the senior mages can venture outside. Perhaps…

“I would be interested in such a performance myself.” He takes care not to sound too interested, but only mildly curious. Kinnaird and Keldra stride ahead, into the main hall, while Trevelyan lingers outside of the doors. Her gaze is focused on Solas’s side, and he realizes she is staring at his left hand, at the flower still held between thumb and forefinger.

A flicker of emotion passes over her face. “You met with the First Enchanter, I see.”

“I did.”

Her attention lingers on the flower, and he remembers the brightness of the First Enchanter’s offices, the sunlight pouring inside. He thinks of his own rooms, dark and shadowed and stripped of all beauty. Hers are likely the same.

He holds out the flower. She takes it gingerly, then raises an eyebrow. “I have little need for flowers,” he says.

A smile unfurls at one corner of her mouth. “That is what you think.” She takes the flower and tucks it behind her ear. “It’s clematis. They’re poisonous. They can’t kill, but they’ll cause sickness if they… make their way into another’s food.” Her smile becomes a sharp thing.

Small weapons, hidden in plain view. An office decorated with poisonous flowers—easily ignored by those who might expect a blade or magic. 

Perhaps the First Enchanter is more formidable than he thought. 


He has grown used to the communal meals. There is a rhythm to be found in the conversation, the murmur of voices and clatter of dishes, in the smells of the food and people. It is still unfamiliar, but he finds himself growing more comfortable with the boiled vegetables and earthy wines. Mealtimes are when the mages are at their most relaxed, likely because they are left to their own devices and… and there is comfort to be found within a group, he is willing to admit. They are safe here, or a safe as one can be when imprisoned.

Solas sits beside Trevelyan and that thin, blonde mage girl—Signy, he remembers. She does not partake in the conversation, choosing to direct her attention on cutting her boiled potatoes into even pieces.

“I told you they’d catch Fitz,” Keldra is saying. “It was only a matter of time.”

Kinnaird heaves a heavy sigh. “I thought he’d made it this time. He’s never been away this long. Thought maybe he’d slipped the leash.” He pours himself a goblet of wine and downs it in one swallow. Then he pours another.

“Yes, vomit all over Fitz,” says Trevelyan. “I’m sure that’ll be a lovely greeting.”

Kinnaird gives her dour stare.

Solas has heard this name before, but he knows little of this mage. “I assume this Fitz has escaped before?” he asks.

Trevelyan snorts. “Fitz is a madman,” she says.

“First time, he dug a tunnel out of one of the cellar using naught but cutlery he found in the kitchens,” says Kinnaird. “Knew magic would attract the templars, so he dug for months until he managed to get under the wall.”

“After that,” says Trevelyan, “all of the ground outside of the walls was reinforced with rock.”

“Second time,” says Kinnaird, “the mad bastard waited until we were being inspected by a few of the Chantry biddies. Of course, those ladies came with their own templar guards in full armor. Fitz knocked one of them out, stole his armor, and simply walked out with the Revered Mother.”

“And now no templars are allowed to leave without showing their face,” says Trevelyan.

“Third time, he had sewn together sheets of thin cloth, attached them to his arms and legs and tried to use the winds to fly out of here.”

“That did not succeed,” says Trevelyan dryly. “Although you can still see the dents in the cobblestones where he landed.”

“And how was this escape managed?” asks Solas.

“Rumor is he drugged some wine,” says Kinnaird.

Trevelyan grimaces. “If we’re not allowed wine after this incident, I am going to bury Fitz in fish entrails and leave him to the cats.”

Keldra rises from her seat. “Well, he’ll likely be out of his interrogation this afternoon, so you can ask him yourself then.”

As the mages carry their dirtied plates to the scullery, Trevelyan picks up Kinnaird’s goblet. There is a sorrow to her features Solas has never seen before. “You are unhappy that this Fitz was caught?” he says quietly.

She jumps, as if she forgot he was there. Then she swallows the last of the wine. She plays with the goblet, balancing it between two fingers. “It’s just… disheartening,” she says. “I had hoped he wouldn’t come back this time.”

“Why?”

She strokes the edge of the goblet with her thumb. “You want the truth of it? Kinnaird and Fitz were together for years. But as you know… well. They split up out of necessity. I think Fitz began escaping because if he can get out, maybe he can outrun the templars long enough to secure help. Then he can come back for Kinnaird.” A sigh. “The only reason he has not been made tranquil is for his family’s money. They make generous contributions to the Chantry to secure his well-being and have made it quite clear that if anything happens to him, they will never donate again.”

He considers her words. “Romantic relationships are a danger here,” he says. He suspected as much; he cannot imagine in a place such as this, the templars would let any weapons go unused. And there is no greater weapon than one’s own attachments.

“Trysts happen quite often,” she says. “It is a way to pass the time. Sometimes partners will remain together for a while—but never more than a few months. And becoming attached is unwise.”

It sounds as if she speaks from personal experience.

“Come on,” she says, pushing herself away from the table. “The baths will be ready in a few minutes.”

He has noticed the mages taking baths together at certain hours in the afternoon, but Solas has avoided them. He bathes on his own when the other mages are dedicated to their own tasks. The water is always clean but chilled and he has to call spells to warm his skin, lest he come away from every bath with chattering teeth. 

“I was planning on bathing later tonight,” he says.

She tilts her head. "You're taking the cold baths.”

He gives her a steady look. "I was unaware there were any other kind."

A coy curl of her mouth. "The baths are heated at specific times."

Ah. Well that does explain a few things. "For what reason?"

"They say it is to conserve magic,” she replies. "But... well. We all know why." She shrugs. Then she cups her hand to her mouth and calls, “Kinnaird!”

A moment later, the large man strides across the room. “Solas hasn’t taken a warm bath since he arrived,” says Trevelyan. “I’m leaving him in your care. Do not break him.”

"Come, lad," says Kinnaird. "None of us bite." He puts a hand on Solas's shoulder, squeezing for a brief moment. 

He has bathed with others before, been seen in various states of undress by more people than live in this tower, but there is something in shedding his clothes with these human strangers that gives him pause. But perhaps this will be an opportunity; he can learn more about the tower's occupants, perhaps listen to gossip. 

The baths are in the lower levels of the tower, in rooms of heavy stone. There is a weight to the floor and ceiling, and Solas is keenly aware of the single door leading to the stairs. There are two separate chambers—one for women and the other men—and Solas finds himself standing near a wooden bench, amidst several other mages stripping off their robes with careless efficiency. Solas hesitates, then begins carefully removing his own garments.

The baths are large—carved out of some marble, with places ti sit and other places with depth enough to submerge. Soaps and oils and hot stones sit at the edges, and Kinnard snatches up one mage’s soap without so much as asking. Grinning, Kinnaird ducks the water splashed at him and ducks beneath the water, only to emerge a moment later.

Solas glances about the room—he has never seen it full before. When he came here, the water was chilled and the benches empty. But now—

Now there are people along the walls.

Templars. Three of them. He cannot see their faces; they all wear their helmets.

They do not move. They simply watch. And Solas understands.

This is why the baths are heated at specific times. So the templars can observe. "They do this in the women's bath, as well?" he says, very quietly. 

Kinnaird runs the soap over his chest, scrubbing vigorously. “Particularly in the winter, when nearly no one dares to bathe in chilled water. The templars fight amongst themselves over who’ll be on shift."

Solas thinks of Grieves, of those roaming eyes and the casual way he reached for Trevelyan. "All of the templars do this?” He picks up a washcloth. The heat of the water has his muscles clenching in both pleasure and discomfort, and despite the watching eyes, some of his tension leeches away.

"Some don't care," says Kinnaird. "Some of the woman templars sign up for the duty, so they can be sure their kind does nothing untoward. They're not all terrible," he adds, when he sees Solas's skepticism. "And some of them do it because they are honestly afraid of what mages might do left to their own devices. And some... well. Some make no secret they enjoy the view."

As if to emphasize his own carelessness, Kinnaird rises to his feet and raises his arms in a lazy stretch, his bare body on display for whomever wishes to see. The man is well-muscled, tall, and he knows it. He does not have the disciplined walk of a soldier, but somehow Solas suspects that he has seen his fair share of fights.

Other mages seem just as unbothered by their watchers; an elf with pale gray hair and lined eyes washes himself not ten paces from the templars. A few men have their backs turned, and others seem to be using their bodies as shields for the younger ones.

Alliances, Solas thinks, remembering the First Enchanter’s words.

Solas follows Kinnaird out of the bath. There are clean towels tucked into the shelves along the wall, and Kinnaird uses one to wring out his thick hair. 

"You do not seem to bothered by the scrutiny," observes Solas. 

Kinnaird grins. "Few years here, and you get used to the eyes. And besides, I like to give the templars an eyeful once in a while. Let them see what they'd be coming after."

"Do you specialize in combat then?"

A snort. "I'm a healer."

Solas blinks, taken off guard. He pulls on his own small clothes, reaches for his leggings. "A healer? I thought..."

"You thought since I looked the brute, I must play the part?" But Kinnaird says the words easily. "Naw. I was never any good with fire or ice or force. None of those barriers made sense to me. But flesh? Bones and muscles and skin? Those are things I can talk to, hear them talk back. Us healers... well." His smile thins out and sharpens. "We know how to mend a slashed vein, repair a shattered knee. We know how to mend… or break. Come, lad.”

He leads the way out of the baths. As they take the stairs upward, Kinnaird suddenly says, “I hope you won’t be too much trouble for her.”

Solas glances at the taller man. It feels as if he has taken a step onto unsteady ground, and he has yet to find his footing. “Excuse me?”

“Evelyn,” says Kinnaird. “She’s decided to look out for you.”

This unsettles him further. Of all the people he has met in this tower, hers are the only motives he has yet to unravel. She has nothing to gain by protecting him—not unless she seeks a way out of this tower, as well, and thinks he might be her key to escape. But if that is the truth of it, then why hasn’t she spoken of her desire to leave?

“The Trevelyans are noble,” Kinnaird says, by way of explanation. “Evelyn may be a mage, but the Chantry knows better than to mess with nobles. Templars prefer targets with family that cannot make such a loud fuss. Commoners, those taken from the alienage, foreigners. It’s why so many mages are shipped away from their homeland.”

Isolate them, make them vulnerable.

“I do not understand,” says Solas quietly. “What does Trevelyan’s bloodline have to do with her desire to ‘look out’ for me?” He puts just the slightest amount of dryness into those words.

Kinnaird shrugs his large shoulders. “Evelyn befriends those she thinks are most likely to be… made an example of. She may hate her noble family, but she’ll us the name if she has to. It’s how she met me and Keldra. We were older when we came in—sixteen, at the time. Had been on the run with our parents for several years before we were caught. We didn’t adjust well, but when the templars started looking at us, Evelyn decided to become our best friend.”

“She protects those she thinks are most likely to be targeted,” says Solas. “Using her family’s name to do it.”

“Older apprentices, those who make a fuss, adult apostates,” agrees Kinnaird. “But it’s foolish to take on so many. What little power a man or woman has in here—well. It’s got to be used sparingly. She can only take on so many people before she’s stretched too thin.”

“Like that elven child?” says Solas. Perhaps he shouldn’t bring it up, but the words are a burning weight on his tongue.

Kinnaird stops walking. He turns to face Solas fully, and Solas is aware of the isolation of their position, alone in this circular stairwell. “She still thinks she can save everyone,” says Kinnaird. “She’s—she’s managed to avoid the worst of it so far. Good for her—I’m glad of it, honestly. But you can’t save everyone here. You’ve got to decide who to hold onto, and who’s not worth spilling your own blood.”

And abruptly, Solas is struck with a memory—of Kinnaird standing on the edges of the courtyard when Solas was first brought to the tower. He lingered on the fringes of things, watched as Solas was smote and left to sprawl on the cobblestones. There he remained, watching as Trevelyan hastened to Solas’s side. Solas thinks of Keldra, and wonders if perhaps she is the reason. To be here alone is one thing—but to be here with family. To have someone here that could be hurt or used against him.

And all at once, he is tired. Tired of this place, of this world, of its unfamiliarity, of these robs that sit so wrongly on him, of his own fragility, of the power just beyond his reach. He wishes he could return to his own chambers, to lose himself in dreams.

Trevelyan meets them in the hallway. Her cheeks are flushed with the heat of the bath and she wears new robes, but the white flower remains in her hair. Smiling, she says, “Fitz just out of his interrogation. You want to come along, Kinnaird? Solas?”

He can feel Kinnaird’s eyes on his back; Solas knows the other man would prefer Solas go his own way, leave Trevelyan alone. Part of Solas wishes that, too. Relying on the protection and goodwill of a human feels... wrong.

But practicality must outweigh pride, and he would be a fool to scorn such offers. “I would like to meet this Fitz,” he says mildly. She beams at him.

He falls into step beside her, his only ally in this forsaken world—a slip of a mortal woman with a poisonous flower tucked behind her ear.

Chapter Text

Evelyn tries very hard to hold onto her memories of life before the Circle.

Most of her memories are mere flashes or sensation—the sun hitting the back of her neck while she walked through the Ostwick market; the smell of hay in her father’s stables; the kind, elderly servant who read her stories at bedtime; her elder sisters sneaking into her room at night, whispering if she can make the light in her hand again; the sweet, delicate flakes of the Orlesian breakfast pastries her mother liked to indulge in; the grit of dirt beneath her fingernails, the sky overhead, and the brilliance of the sunlight scattered over the harbor waters.

She was eight when she threw a fire spell at a man beating a cat, when knowledge of her magic became public. The templars came for her, and her father handed her over with no protest.

Eight years—it was not enough to build a life and sometimes she is grateful for that. She does not have a life to miss, has scant recollections of what she might have been, had the templars not brought her here. She was young, and she adjusted well.

Looking at the apostate, Evelyn can only be grateful for her young entry into the Circle.

Solas holds himself with an understated confidence, a grace that she has seen in few others. There is no arrogance to him, but rather, a hardness. He is no eight-year-old, to be picked up and carried into the Circle. Most likely, he was smote and bound in chains, fighting the whole way here. He is an unrepentant apostate, unaccustomed to such restrictions. Those kind of mages never last long—their own anger immolates any instinct for self-preservation and they end up tranquil, transferred, or dead.

The thought sends a pang through her. He is aloof, quiet, and he makes no effort at friendship. But she cannot forget his revulsion at the thought of templars killing a child, and the way he stepped between her and Grieves. He may be withdrawn, but he is no coward. She would not see him made tranquil nor cut down—not if she can prevent it. And if Grieves takes an interest in Solas, it will be her fault.

She found Grieves once with one of the apprentices. The apprentice was a transfer from Kirkwall, perhaps sixteen years old. Evelyn still remembers the scene vividly—his armored fingers around the girl’s slim wrist, pinning her to the stone wall. His body bracketing hers, her face twisted away from him.

Evelyn could have made up a lie; she might have claimed she’d been sent to fetch the apprentice, brushed away the ugliness of the scene by pretending it didn’t exist. But the girl’s frightened expression made Evelyn shake with fury. She strode across the corridor, took the girl’s other hand, and pulled her close. Grieves released the apprentice and Evelyn stood before her.

Evelyn knew logically she wasn’t much of a refuge; she was barely a few years older than this girl, and a head shorter. But her fury consumed her, burned her own fears and reservations to ash. Just like she would burn Grieves if he took another step, consequences be damned. “You’re a loathsome son of a bitch, you know that?” she snarled.

Grieves’s eyes glittered. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just having a word with her about using magic in the halls. It’s not allowed, you see.”

The lazy confidence in his voice made her want to strike him. To rake her blunt nails across his cheek, to draw what blood she could. “You will not speak to her alone again, understand?”

This time, he shifted. As if she were suddenly worth his notice, worth his wariness. His hand fell to the pommel of his sword. “That sounded mightily like a threat, Mage.”

She bared her teeth. “It wasn’t. This is my threat—if I see you touch her, I will send a letter to my family, ensuring they know all of your indiscretions. Tell me, Ser Grieves, exactly how many of your family tend farms near Ostwick?”

It was a low blow, and she knew it. She only found out about his family by chance, a slip of a letter she found while cleaning the scullery. The corrospondence must have slipped from his pocket.

An ugly, blotchy redness spread across his face and throat. Her aim was true—and he knew it. She may be a simple, powerless mage here but out in the wide world, it was the Trevelyans who held the power. His family would starve if Bann Trevelyan decided to take action against them.

She hated holding people she didn’t even know hostage, but she’d do it. If it meant Grieves never hurt another person in this tower, she’d do it.

“You’ll regret making those threats,” he said.

“I sincerely doubt that,” said Evelyn coolly, and still keeping the girl behind her, she walked from the corridor. She didn’t stop until they were in the main hall, until there was noise and people and safety.

Not safety. Not true safety. But she could sometimes fool herself into believing such things.

Evelyn sat down at one of the tables, the girl settled beside her. “Are you all right?” asked Evelyn softly.

The girl looked up; she had pale features and thick blonde hair. “I’m fine. He was… that was the first time he approached me. It was fine. You shouldn’t have said that. He’ll come after you now.”

Evelyn had heard of what goes on in the Kirkwall Circle. She wondered what this girl had already endured, to see such advances as just another day as a mage apprentice.

“He can try,” said Evelyn, her lip curling. “But I doubt he’ll want to jeopardize his whole family just to prove a point.” She laid a hand on the girl’s forearm. “What’s your name?”

A hesitation, then the girl said, “Signy.”

“Signy,” repeated Evelyn. She forced herself to smile. “You’re new here, right? Come on. I’ll take you to the healers. We should have someone look at your wrist.” And she took Signy’s hand and led her away.

Today, she walks those same corridors—only there is a different mage at her side, sunlight streaming through the high windows, and Evelyn is calm.

“This Fitz is injured?” asks Solas quietly.

“Not badly, I suspect,” replies Evelyn.

Solas’s only response is the merest twitch of eyebrow.

Evelyn smiles. “I mean, I’m the templars would be happy to beat any apostate, but not Fitz. They can’t risk damaging him permanantly—not without earning the Chantry’s ire. They need his family’s generous donations. If I had to guess, Fitz probably managed his own injuries. He’s—well. You’ll see.”

Walking with Solas proves surprisingly comfortable. He keeps pace with her, neither striding ahead nor falling behind, and he is a restful companion. He makes no effort to fill the silences with idle chatter.

“This Fitz,” he says, after a few minutes of thought, “he is noble.”

“Was noble.” Evelyn steps around a mage walking in the opposite direction. Her shoulder brushes Solas’s. “When you’re a mage, you aren’t allowed to own land nor title.”

Another slight raise of his brow. “First enchanter,” he says mildly. “Mage. Senior enchanter. These are titles, are they not?”

She scoffs. “Titles within Circles do not count. They matter very little beyond these walls. The power nobles can wield—well, it’s taken from us the moment our magic manifests.”

He gives her a sidelong look. “As yours was.”

He knows. He recognized her surname or someone pointed it out to him. She turns away, her gaze falling to the floor. “I am no different than anyone here.”

“That is either a lie or willful ignorance.” A moment of silence, and then Solas continues. “No other mage stood in that room, trying to coax a child from a wardrobe. And I suspect no other mage would have risked themselves in the courtyard for an apostate.”

“What are you saying?” she says, a little angrily. “That because I am noble, because I have the protection of my name, is the only reason I would take such actions?” Her own fears, perhaps, but to hear them spoken aloud by another is intolerable.

He stops walking. Evelyn goes on three more steps before she can stumble to a halt. She turns, facing him. He gazes at her with a line between his brows, as if she is some knotted piece of string he cannot unravel. “You might have used your nobility as a shield, rather than a sword,” he replies. “I have seen the First Enchanter’s office. You might have built yourself something similar, taken refuge in the protection of your bloodline. But you are here.”

Somehow, that makes her smile. “So you approve? Of me blundering about, using what little power I have to save others?”

This time, he is the one to hesitate. “It is an unwise course if you wish to remain safe.”

“But you do not disapprove.”

“No,” he says. “I do not disapprove.” He continues walking, his gait a bit slower, and this time she falls in step with him. “It would be rather hypocritical to do so, as I am one of your beneficiaries.”

“Or you could just say, ‘friends.’”

The word seems to throw him off balance. “Ah—yes. I suppose.”

“You’re an odd one, Solas.”

A thin smile. “I have heard such things before.”

The infirmary is a long, thin room. It is one of the few places where the windows are built at eye-level—likely because it is widely believed that sunlight will help the injured and ill. It makes the room beautiful upon first glance, but then the scents of herbs and soap and injury settle into Evelyn’s nose. If injury has a scent, it must be this—the tang of lemon used to mop up blood.

There are a few apprentices clustered around a bed, speaking with a boy probably twelve years old, with dark, unruly hair and his right arm bound in a sling. A woman sits on the edge of another bed, her pregnant belly a hard mound beneath her mage’s robes. And at yet another bed is an elderly man, his breathing shallow.

Evelyn knows them all by sight and all but the boy by name. The Ostwick Circle has just over a hundred mages within it, a small enough number that everyone is familiar with everyone else. Evelyn nods to the woman and gives an encouraging smile to the apprentice, before moving on to the last bed in the row. Fitz sits in the manner of one who does not care about decorum, with his legs tucked up beneath him, his head bowed, and his fingers tapping impatiently on the thin mattress. His red hair is longer than the last time she saw him; he must not have had time to cut it.

“I wondered when you would grace us with your presence again,” says Evelyn, a little dryly.

Fitz raises his head. His smiles always have a mocking edge. “Well, if it isn’t the high and mighty Trevelyan.”

Coming from anyone else, those words might have rankled. But coming from him, she merely smiles. There is a bandage around his scalp, his lower lip is split, and three of his fingers are bound, likely broken. “Tell me, did you run straight into a bronto?”

“Might have,” replies Fitz. “The templars found me in a rather unsavory tavern.”

“Please at least tell me you got as far as the harbor.”

“I assume you mean the giant blue blurry thing I saw as they were carrying me out.”

She presses her fingers to her brow in mock disappointment. “I should never have placed that bet with Kinnaird.”

“Well, I’m flattered you thought I would do so well.” Fitz turns his grin past her, gazing at Solas. “And, look at this. You’ve already replaced me with someone new.”

She shakes her head, still smiling. “Fitz, this is Solas.”

Fitz’s attention settles on Solas, and despite his careless smile, his gaze sharpens as he takes in everything about Solas. He will be memorizing the details of the elf—clothing, posture, manner—and deciding whether he can use such things to his advantage. Fitz once admitted, after several drinks, that he did as much with everyone. It was what made him so good at escaping.

Solas inclines his head. “I have heard a great deal about you.”

“None if it’s true,” says Fitz. Then after a moment, “Well, except for some of it.” He squints at Solas. “Apostate?”

Evelyn frowns. “Fitz!”

“It’s a simple question,” says Fitz.

“I get the impression,” says Solas, “that nothing about being an apostate is simple.” He says the words lightly, but something in his voice gives her pause. He speaks as one who isn’t familiar with being on the run his whole life. But he must have—unless he truly is one of the Dalish. Evelyn has heard rumors that they protect their own mages, keep on the move so the templars will not find them. Solas does not wear those facial tattoos, but she knows little of Dalish culture. Perhaps he simply declined the markings.

“Depends on who you ask,” replies Fitz. “The Chantry would say apostasy is simple. Dangerous, but simple. Me—I think simplicity is what’s dangerous around here.” He gives Solas a brilliant smile. “Tell me, are you dangerous?”

Solas answers Fitz’s smile with his own. “I suppose that depends on who you would ask.”

This time Fitz laughs—and it’s a true laugh, the kind that crinkles the corners of his eyes.

She smiles back, but her own expression is not as exuberant. Part of her is glad to see him, to revel in his laughter and easy humor. But her gaze keeps falling to the cut along his bottom lip, to the faded bruises at his wrists. The templars were less gentle with him this time. And as much as she protested to Solas that the templars would never injure Fitz permanently… well. There are ways to explain away a mage’s demise.

He became an abomination. We had no choice.

Blood magic.

Caught him trying to run away yet again.

He aimed a spell at me first—it was self defense.

The templar in question would no doubt be punished, but little good that would be after a mage’s lifeblood is spilled.

For a moment, in her mind’s eye she sees red hair stained with crimson—but then the image shifts and she sees freckled skin and pointed ears instead.

Evelyn closes her eyes; a shiver wracks through her.

A touch of fingers against her elbow. She opens her eyes, and sees Solas gazing at her. A faint line is between his brows, as if in concern. “Just a draft,” she says quickly, forcing a smile. “Listen, I’m on scullery duty this afternoon. Would you mind walking Fitz back to the dormitories?”

Forging bonds helped her settle into life at the Circle. And Fitz seems to like Solas; they might become friends.

“As if you think I need a minder,” says Fitz.

She gives him a sharp look. “When half of you isn’t one large bruise, I’ll reconsider.” A glance at Solas; he is still watching her, but when their gazes meet he gives her a nod.

“Do not let me keep you from your duties,” he murmurs.

There is an odd formality to his tone. She tries to pay little mind to it as she quickly gives Fitz a careful hug, and then she hastens from the infirmary.

The brilliant sunlight fades away and for a moment, she stands in the dark corridor, blinking as her eyes adjust.

A figure stands some distance away. Her heart clenches, but when she makes out his features, she sees that he is a grizzled, gray-haired templar. One of the veterans. She relaxes. “Ser Ralston,” she says politely.

He smiles, but it is a weary expression. “Mage Trevelyan. Visiting a friend?”

“Yes. And yourself?”

“Nothing so sociable.” His smile seems to turn inward, and becomes a little harder. “My headaches have been more troubling of late, and I hoped the healers might have a remedy.”

“I am sorry to hear that.” And she is—Ralston isn’t a bad man, from what she can tell. He has killed mages, of course. But only abominations and when he had no other choice. And once, she saw him strike a templar who had made a lewd remark about one of the apprentices. He is not one to tolerate misconduct, and she knows that his presence alone has likely kept more injustices at bay.

He strides into the infirmary, his shoulders only slightly bent under the weight of his armor. Evelyn watches him go, then continues on her own way.


 

Of all the mages Solas has met in the Circle, this Fitz is by far the most intriguing.

He is openly defiant. When the healers come by to fix his split lip, he waves them off. “Let the others see what happens when someone breaks out,” says Fitz. “I’ve nothing to hide.” He pushes himself up from the bed, stretches, and winces as a joint creaks. “Maybe it’ll inspire others.”

Solas cannot help but admire the brashness, if not the logic. “Or perhaps your injuries will inspire fear, rather than simply inspire.”

“Either way, it’ll elicit some reaction.” Fitz glances out one of the windows—the view from this room looks out over the sea. A moment of silence passes, and Fitz shakes his head. “So you’re new here.”

“Yes.”

“Evelyn’s taken a liking to you.”

Solas hesitates. “Mage Trevelyan has a tendency to…”

“Become involved?” says Fitz, with a sharp little smile. “Show up places she doesn’t belong? Take an interest in things better left alone? Yes, she does that. She’s quieter about it than most, but once she dedicates herself to a cause, there’s no stopping her.”

“I assume she has tried to help you, as well?” asks Solas. It would make sense, if Trevelyan is used to helping those at risk with the templars.

Fitz snorts. “If you’re asking if we’ve slept together, the answer is no. We have a strictly platonic relationship that consists of me doing stupid things and her trying to talk me out of them beforehand.”

Taken aback, Solas shakes his head. “I—I did not mean—”

Fitz smirks. “Of course you didn’t.” He shrugs, glances about their surroundings. The healers are with another mage, out of earshot. “You’re not here for her. You’re here for me.”

Solas opens his mouth to reply, but Fitz beats him to it.

“The gardens,” says Fitz. “Turns out there’s a broken window latch leading into the gardens. There used to be a trellis along the northern wall—whoever owned this shithole before it became a shithole must have liked flowers. Of course, the templars took it down, but the stakes are still hammered into the stone. They make for easy handholds. And once you get the guard schedule down, it’s simple to sneak out there when no one’s watching.” A shrug. “Not so easy to keep the templars off your back once you get out, though.”

Fitz slides him a signifiant look, a smile playing over his mouth. “That is how I escaped this time. You did come here hoping to that find out, didn’t you?”

For the first time since he entered this fortress, Solas feels a flicker of excitement. His heartbeat quickens. “Surely the templars would have fixed that by now,” he says, his voice level.

Fitz shrugs. “Doubt they have. They don’t know how I got out—all attempts to question me when the brought me back led to my singing bar songs.”

Solas’s mouth twitches, despite himself. “And why would you tell me?”

Fitz’s gaze travels over him again. It is strangely observant. “You aren’t a leech.”

“A leech?”

“Leeches latch onto templars,” says Fitz frankly. “Can’t pry ‘em off. They’re the suck-ups, the hungry ones, the ones who’ll betray their own blood to stay in the Chantry’s good graces.”

Over the years, Solas has heard many words for ‘traitor’. His own name, for one thing. This ‘leech’ is another.

“And why do you place such trust in me?” asks Solas quietly.

Fitz holds his hands, palms out, in a gesture of surrender. “I’ve got a good sense around people. Evelyn’s no leech, and she wouldn’t tolerate a friend who was. And you—you’ve got the look of a caged animal. Oh, you make as if you’re all domesticated and gentle, but tell me,” his teeth gleam in a grin, “that you haven’t been holding a barrier spell around us, muffling our conversation, since Evelyn left?”

Solas’s fingers twitch in surprise. His magic was subtle, a careful twist to blur sound but nothing else. That this Fitz had picked up on it… well.

Solas might have underestimated this human mage.

“It’s not a bad piece of work,” says Fitz, tilting his head. It looks like a casual dismissal. “I think, if any of us have a chance, you might as well try.”

It could be a trap, but Solas does not think so.

“Thank you,” says Solas quietly.

Fitz reaches for him, but his hand drops before making contact. Solas goes still. “One piece of advice,” says Fitz. “Run. Run as fast as you can, then find a harbor and sail. Do not look back, do not hesitate. They’ll find you—they’ll always find you. But you might have a chance of outrunning them.”


 

There is little comfort to be found in his dreams.

Solas has long taken refuge in sleep, as the Fade is the one place where he can truly be himself. Unfettered power and potential, all at his fingertips. But he is restrained here, even in sleep. This fortress has too long been a place of fear and bloodshed to hold any benign spirits, and Solas finds himself unable to contact those who might aid him. He is as trapped in the Circle in dreams as he is in the waking world, and the entrapment is more galling than dangerous.

The Dread Wolf. Fen’Harel. Bound by human walls and human chains and human hands.

If the others could see him now, they would have laughed themselves sick.

But even so, Solas does not attempt to leave that night. Nor the night after that, nor the night after that. He spends four days in patient observance. Of course, he knows the schedule of the guards who pace outside of his room every night, but there are other things to take into consideration. He asks Trevelyan to take him into the gardens on the third day. After all, he will not be allowed out alone—but perhaps with a guide…

The templar guard at the door sees Trevelyan. She takes Solas by the elbow, settling her fingers the way a lady might rest her hand on the arm of a lord. It is a distinct little gesture, one only a noble would know, and the templar does not say a word when the two mages walk into the gardens.

The gardens of Ostwick are little more than circles of potted earth, of raised beds filled with herbs. There are no true flowers to be found—at least, none that do not serve a purpose. He sees lavender, juniper, elderberry, and poppy. Every sprig, every tree, every potted plant has been carefully chosen. “It’s not exactly a pleasure garden,” Trevelyan admits. “I’m sorry if you were expecting something nicer.”

But despite the utilitarian nature of the garden, Solas lifts his face to the sky.

He breathes.

And it feels like the first breath he has taken in weeks.

“It is perfect,” he tells her, and she beams.

She takes him around the small garden, pointing out places of significance—the tree where she once found a bird nesting, a clay pot that was chipped when Keldra lobbed it at at Kinnaird, and the stories go on. Solas half-listens, his gaze roaming over the landscape. They are still well within the fortress; the walls are high and solid, but he can see the flowering vines trailing through the stones, their white blooms a stark contrast to the dark granite. And there—he sees the glimmer of metal. A spike of long-forgotten trellis, glittering in the sunlight.

It would be easy to climb. And while getting back down the wall might take some doing, Solas is sure he will manage it.

When Trevelyan says they should be getting back inside, he does not protest.

“Thank you,” he says, and means it. She has been an unwitting accomplice, but he appreciates her aid all the same. She is a kind, brave thing—despite the limitations of her race.

“I’m glad I could help,” replies Trevelyan.


 

He leaves when the night sky is filled with clouds, when there is no moonlight. He slips from his bed, his gait steady. He counts the footsteps of the templar patrolling the corridor, following at an easy pace. His bare feet are silent, and he moves with all of the grace of one used to going places where he is unwelcome.

He takes the stairs swiftly, keenly aware of how he will not be able to hide while he traverses the different floors, and then he takes refuge in a closet while another templar strolls through the main hall. The templar yawns loudly, covering her mouth with an armored hand, then goes on her way. Solas waits a heartbeat, then strides to the doors. They are locked, but it is a matter of moments to watch the flimsy iron buckle under the heat of a spell. With care, he flits through the cracked door and into the gardens. Past the rows of herbs, around a row of drying firewood, to the tall stone wall.

A glance about the courtyard.

He smiles.

He will not miss this place.

The future is laid out before him: he will escape, gather his forces, and return to retrieve his orb. He will break this place wide open, and he will take pleasure in doing so.

His fingers find the metal spikes of the old trellis, and he hauls himself upward. He goes swiftly, aware of the vulnerability of his position. When he reaches the top of the wall, he clamors atop, then peers downward. It is a sizable drop, but there are bushes and cyprus trees beneath him—he should be able to grab a branch and halt his descent.

Without a backward look, he jumps.

His fall is—less than dignified. He ends up being struck in the face with one branch before he can latch onto another. His shoulders scream in silent pain. When he hits the solid earth, the jolt is enough to hurt, but not to break.

He breathes slowly, centers himself.

The seaside cliffs spread out before him. There is little cover in the form of scattered cyprus and rugged, scrubby undergrowth. Lichen are clustered along the rocks. It is a desolate landscape, but at this moment it is also the most beautiful he has ever seen. Freedom beckons, and he begins to take a step forward.

A twig snaps.

His head jerks around. The sound came from his right; at once, he calls a spell and holds it in his palm.

And then a woman emerges from behind the cyprus.

Evelyn Trevelyan.

Her hair is tangled, filled with briars and leaves. She looks like some spirit of growth gone horribly awry. “There you are,” she says.

He stares at her. She said those words as if she expected to find him here, as if—

A curse falls from his lips. She knew; she knew and followed him here.

She crosses her arms. “I am going to kill Fitz for telling you about this. He should have known better. You think you’re the first apostate to have used this route?” She comes to stand beside him.

No—she could not have followed him. He would have heard. She predicted his escape and beat him here.

For a heartbeat, he cannot speak. Cannot think of a single thing to say.

Her shoulders slump. “You honestly thought I didn’t realize?”

He manages a scant reply. “Yes.”

Trevelyan looks up, her mouth twisting up at one corner. It’s not quite a smile, but close. “You don’t think much of me, do you?”

Again, he has no answer.

“Well, you can’t run like this,” says Trevelyan. “For one thing, there is a patrol along the edge of the estate that will have been alerted by now. They’ll have noticed someone is out of bed, figured out who it is by looking at the dormitory assignments, and found the correct phylactery.”

The word is an unfamiliar one. “My…?”

“They took your blood your first day here,” she says. “Don’t you remember?”

He remembers little of that first day—but, yes, there is the faint recollection of a knife along his inner arm, a vial pressed to the wound. A tendril of unease winds through his chest, pulls tight.

“They will have used it to craft a phylactery,” explains Trevelyan. “Some Circles send theirs to another city for safekeeping, but at Ostwick, they are kept in a vault. The vial can be used to track a mage—and there is no way to escape it.”

Phylactery. He realizes the word for what it is—a blood tether.

Few remember the first uses of the tattoos the Dalish wear. They are marks made of blood. Their own blood. Which is not how things were always done. The vallaslin were more than slave markings in his day; they declared the elf as property, yes, but they also gave the lord or lady a way to track the slave. The blood used in a slave’s vallaslin was often that of a beloved enforcer. If that slave escaped, the enforcer could use their own blood to find the runaway. It was an effective way to prevent slaves from simply abandoning their duties—particularly when the others saw what punishments a runaway might receive. Of course, Solas devised his own ways to remove the vallaslin, but that will not aid him here.

A phylactery. This is a crude replication of that age-old cruelty.

“A leash,” he says, his voice low. And more things fall into place—why so few apostates manage to escape, why that Fitz is recaptured time and again, why the templars can allow the trellis to remain. Because it does not matter.

This escape was little more than a self-delusion.

A frustration has simmered within him for weeks, and now it bursts to life, sharpens to anger. “Your templars use blood magic, yet denounce mages for doing the same?” he says coldly.

Trevelyan opens her mouth, then closes it again. She looks baffled, as if this never occurred to her. “It’s not blood magic. It’s… I don’t know what it is.”

The Chantry would try to muddle the difference, to preserve their own image.

“You can try to run,” says Trevelyan, “but they’ll have us surrounded soon.”

Us. His gaze snaps to her and his brow furrows.

“Why did you come here?” he asks.

She shrugs. “You were quiet at the evening meal tonight—more quiet than usual. So I snuck out tonight, hoping to catch you before you blundered into the templar patrol. I thought… well. I thought if you stumbled into them, you’d start throwing fire. And then the templars would have an excuse to kill you.”

Solas would have killed them first, but he does not say that. He cannot run a rebellion with constant pursuit hounding him. He cannot leave the Circle while the templars still possess a vial of his blood.

He will need to deal with this first.

A noise makes him look up—the distant sound of metal joints. Templars.

Trevelyan stiffens.

“You came out here to warn me?” he says. “That was foolish.

She looks at the ground. “I left a few pillows beneath my bedcovers, made it look like I’m still there. They’ll be tracking your phylactery, not mine.”

But they will find her here. With him. And they will likely assume the worst.

“You should not have come,” he says quietly. She is a creature settled in her cage, if not quite comfortable. She should have remained there. “What will they think when they find you here?”

She meets his gaze. “They’re probably going to think you’re a dangerous apostate who tempted me into following because I am weak and secretly wish to become a blood mage or a Tevinter Magister, or maybe I want to frolic with the Dalish and join their wild ways.”

“They will blame me.”

“No,” she corrects. “The tempted is always a greater risk than the one who tempts her. It means a mage has little will to resist—and that is the greatest danger of all here.” She shrugs. “It’s my first large transgression, though. It’ll probably be solitary confinement or—”

Shame settles like a weight in his stomach. She knows how little he must think of her—how he assumed her ignorant and unobservant, and yet she still risked her safety to warn him. It was foolish but kind.

He has seen very little kindness in this broken, hollow world.

“I am sorry,” he says, and he means it.

“I’m not,” Trevelyan replies. “If it means you won’t be beheaded while trying to escape, I’ll suffer whatever punishment they think is merited by an escape attempt.” A small shiver runs through her, and he is unsure if she is cold or afraid.

A thought clicks into place. There is another reason two people might try to escape the watchful eyes of their captors.

“And what if they thought we weren’t truly running?” he says. “What if we came here for a far less… diabolical reason?”

She looks at him, head cocked.

The noises are growing louder—the sound of the templars’ approach is not to be kept quiet. Solas takes a step closer. “Sit down.”

She gives him a startled look.

“Sit down,” he says. “Please.”

This earns him another look, but she lowers herself to the hard earth. Solas settles himself beside her, takes hold of her waist and lowers her to the ground. She makes a soft sound of surprise, but she does not fight him. She lays on her back, gazing up at him in mild confusion.

And then he carefully settles himself above her. With his weight on his arms, he does not touch much of her body—but this position is unmistakable. Her eyes widen when she grasps his meaning. “Oh.”

The templars might be more lenient if they assume two mages snuck out of the tower for a tryst, rather than a true escape attempt.

“This is your plan,” she murmurs. “It’s… not a terrible one.”

“Most of my plans are generally not terrible,” he tells her. “Save for the occasional slip-up.”

Like this night. But even this plan was not a total waste—he has gained useful information.

And now he will allow himself to be taken. He will find this blood tether. Destroy it. And then he will return to the task of remaking this world. Even so, the thought of simply remain here, even for the moment, galls him.

Action is not always preferable to inaction. 

A tremble runs through him. He is not afraid, not truly, but he is drawn tight, his whole body straining to move.

Trevelyan must see the shudder, for she looks concerned. Slowly, carefully, she puts her arms around him. He flinches, but her touch is light. There is nothing sexual to it; it feels like an embrace one might give a frightened child—a gentle squeeze and silent reassurances in the circles she strokes along his back.

He should pull away, but he does not. Her touch is a calming one, and it is only now, with her fingers gentle on his back that he realizes no one has touched him in ages. Not outside of battle, not more than a rough grasp or a hasty attempt to close a wound. His mind has forgotten this simple pleasure, but his body has not. He presses into her, reveling her warmth. She must think him afraid—and he is. Of this world, of what he let it become, of what he shall have to become to fix it.

"It'll be all right," she whispers. "I promise. It will be all right."

Impossible words spoken so earnestly.

She is a single point of stillness in this strange world. And it is no great hardship to allow himself this closeness, to bury his face into the crook of her shoulder and breathe in the scent of juniper and damp earth. To match his breathing to hers, and allow her stillness to settle him. “Evelyn,” he whispers, unsure of what else he might say.

And then a templar’s armored fist seizes him by the collar and yanks him upright.

Chapter Text

Evelyn does not sleep that night.

Bruises are forming on her forearms in the shape of a man’s fingertips. It wasn’t Grieves that caught her—it was Rickard. A transfer, a hunter brought in from Ferelden. He has a sharp look about him and the rumors say he was one of the few who survived some sort of uprising at Kinloch Hold over a decade ago.

Evelyn is brought before the First Enchanter and given a stern talking to. Which, in the case of Monette, is a sigh and a look and a question of why it had to be an elf, of all people.

“Dalliances are inevitable,” says the First Enchanter, stirring a cup of flowering tea. The pot is clear crystal, the liquid a glowing amber. She places the small, silver spoon on the edge of the saucer. “But please, my dear, think of with whom you dabble. And where. There is a time and a place for such things, and it is not rolling amidst the leaves with a Dalish apostate.” A delicate sip of tea and then she says, “We have… little power here. We might as well use it carefully.”

Evelyn gazes at her. Like all conversations with Monette, it should be conducted with all of the elegance and grace of a dance.

“You mean,” Evelyn says, “I should find an influential templar and let him use me.”

Evelyn has never had much patience for dancing.

Monette’s lips purse in disapproval. “I would not put it in such crass terms. And it might not be a simple matter of him or her using you. Such favors can go in either direction.”

Evelyn considers several answers, then discards them all in favor of drinking tea. She knows of mages who have done exactly that—and she does not fault them for it. It is true that mages have little power, and she will not begrudge anyone the means by which they acquire more of it. But the thought of letting a templar close, smelling the oil they use on their swords, tasting the lyrium on their skin—

She has to suppress a shudder.

She wonders were Solas is now—if he was let off with merely a warning or perhaps a harsher sentence. Her gaze falls to the tea, to the swirls of rising steam. She can still feel the gentle weight of his body, the way he angled himself away from her—that is until she put her arms around him. She felt him shudder, felt some of his composure crack and fall away, heard the hitch in his breath. He pressed his face into her neck like one trying to hide from the world. She was touched that he would seek comfort with her, and she wished she had more to offer than a quick embrace, cut short as the templars dragged him away.

She was surprised when he offered the ruse of laying with her to throw off suspicion. Solas is attractive enough, but Evelyn is sure he has never looked at her in such a manner. All of their interactions have been friendly, if a little pointed at times. He is intelligent, curious, and well-mannered, and she likes him. Well, perhaps ‘like’ is not the right word for it. Intrigued, perhaps. He is a rarity in a place where there is very little of interest.

“I understand if you feel the need to seek companionship,” says Monette, breaking into Evelyn’s thoughts. “But please, next time, do not lead the templars on a merry chase. It puts the Knight Commander in a foul mood and I must appease him. It is tiresome work.”

“I will try to be more discreet, First Enchanter,” murmurs Evelyn.

When she is taken back to her dormitory, Keldra is waiting for her.

Their dormitory is much the same as the others—four beds, a communal desk, a high window that one must stand on that desk to peek through. But Evelyn has lived here since she was harrowed, and she has tried to make it her own. The blankets on her bed are a soft, worn wool; her family deigns to send money every mid-winter and Evelyn used her scant coin to invest in warmer blankets. The tower is always a bit too cold for her liking. Pressed flowers are tucked beneath a book on the desk.

Signy is asleep, and the fourth bunk has remained empty since its last occupant was made tranquil.

But Keldra is awake. She stands sentinel by Evelyn’s bed, her arms crossed and face shadowed in the dim light.

Sometimes Evelyn thinks it might be worth being made a senior enchanter simply so she might have her own room. She loves her friends dearly, but it would be nice to have some measure of privacy. Keldra takes a step forward, reaches up to pluck something from Evelyn’s hair. She holds a leaf between two fingers.

Keldra gives her a flat look.

Evelyn sighs. “Don’t lecture me, please. I endured the usual ‘if you are going to pick someone to dally with, please let it be one of the noble-born or maybe a nice templar,’ from Monette. Apparently it is not so shameful that I snuck out of the tower, but the fact I did so with a Dalish apostate is inconceivable.”

“So it was the elf,” says Keldra. Her face is impassive, but Evelyn knows her well enough to see the tightness around her mouth.

“And if it was?” Evelyn planned to tell Keldra the truth of the matter, but the disapproval in Keldra’s tone rankles. Abruptly, Evelyn is defensive without truly knowing why. “There’s nothing wrong with Solas.”

Keldra sighs. She sets the leaf down on the desk. “He’s an apostate.”

“So were you,” says Evelyn, a little sharply.

Keldra’s lips press into a thin line. “I was younger than he was when I was brought into the Circle. He’s… too old, Evie. He won’t adjust—we all know it. You’re trying to make things better, I know, because that’s the kind of person you are. But he won’t last and I don’t want to see anything happen to you.” She edges closer. “Tell me you’ll leave him alone.”

Evelyn bites down on her reply; it would be a fine end to the evening to snap at her friend and cause some sort of rift. But nor will she promise to stay away from Solas.

Keldra must see Evelyn’s answer written across her face, because she turns away. Silently, she gets into her own bed and turns, putting her back to Evelyn. She will shut her out for a few days—distancing herself for her own well-being and that of her brother.

Evelyn stands there, fists clenched, watching her for a moment.

She closes her eyes, breathes, forces the familiar knot of anger in her chest to unwind. When she climbs into her own bed, she touches one of the dried flowers she has strung up around the headboard. It dangles on thin twine, twirling in place, caught and buffeted by a stray wind.

She knows how it feels.


Solas is taken to the Knight-Commander's office. Despite the late hour, he shows no sign of exhaustion. His candles are lit, his desk scattered with papers, and the man appears to be writing a letter when Solas is brought in.

“You may leave,” he says, without looking up. The templar, his armored fingers gripping Solas’s arm tightly, does not move.

“Ser?”

“I said dismissed,” says Cynesige, finally looking up. The templar flinches, places his hand over his heart, and then retreats. The door clicks shut behind him.

Cynesige carefully lays his quill down, laces his fingers and nods at the empty chair.

Well, this is far more civilized than Solas expected.

Cynesige rolls one shoulder; there is the sound of a popping joint and then he exhales in relief. He straightens, appears to sit with more ease. “You left the tower without permission.”

There is no use in denying it. And Cynesige does not seem the type to appreciate a clumsily constructed lie. Rather, Solas lets the silence lie for him, allows the templar to draw his own conclusions. Which he does, of course. He says, “The hunter that found you has informed me of the… circumstances that you were found in.”

Solas allows himself a small flicker in his expression. It is to be expected, after all. "I am unaccustomed to being watched at all hours of the day," says Solas evenly. Then adds, "Of the night, as well."

"Perhaps, but that does not give you the right to leave the tower for you... proclivities," replies the Commander. "As this is your first offense and you are still learning our ways, I'm going to let you off with a warning. Enchanter Trevelyan insists that it was her idea and I cannot prove otherwise. But if something of this nature occurs again, I will take a harsher view of the situation."

A warning.

That is all?

Solas at least expected to be taken back down to the dungeons, to spend a night on cold stone. But there seems to be no templars coming to seize him and drag him away. Cynesige places thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose and squeezes. “There are those in my order who would no doubt punish you harshly for such actions,” he says, and for the first time Solas hears a trace of weariness in the man’s voice. “I do not relish the tasks given me, Mage. But I cannot turn a blind eye. Do not make such a mistake again.” His hand falls away, revealing a face that is worn and hard as old stone. “You will not enjoy the consequences.”

Solas is brought back to his dormitory, and the templar does not leave until he slips into his bed. Treated like an insolent child.

Solas turns his back on the templar, lays on his side, and considers.

Fitz must have known about the phylacteries. That is why he advised Solas to run as fast as he was able—because there is no way to hide from a templar. Not while his blood is locked behind some guarded door, waiting to be used against him.

He closes his eyes.

His dreams, when he finally sleeps, are restless.


He wakes to whispers.

The men of his dormitory talk quietly amongst themselves, glances slipped in Solas’s direction. When he sits up, those murmurs go silent, and then a chatter breaks out to cover that sudden silence. They are talking about him, of course.

Solas finds he has little desire to spend any time in his room. He goes to the morning meal early, finds the room nearly deserted.

There are only a few men and women traipsing about; they carry bowls of porridge and hot pots of tea. They are silent, even choosing not to speak with one another. He has seen them before—they bear a sunburst tattoo on their foreheads. Perhaps a mark of punishment, as he has seen no mages interact with them. They are an oddity, to be sure.

“Excuse me,” says a woman politely, and Solas realizes he is blocking the way between two long tables. He steps aside and the woman’s voice is oddly uninflected when she says, “Thank you.” The sunlight falls across her face, and the tattoo is lit up, like a true sunburst.

Solas has not given much thought as to the cooking and serving of the meals. He does not that the mages are sometimes given duties in the scullery, sometimes as a punishment. But the day to day operations of the tower are not given to the mages and he cannot imagine the templars doing such labors. “Do you bring all of the meals?” he asks.

The woman sets a large bowl of porridge onto the table. A napkin is draped around her elbow, and she tucks it over the bowl to ensure the steam does not escape. She is diligent about her task; all of her attention is focused on smoothing out the wrinkles, as if this is of the utmost importance to her. Only when she is finished does she look at Solas.

“I have kitchen duties, yes,” she says. Again he is struck by her manner. She is composed, almost peaceful. “I worked in an eating house before my magical talents manifested when I was fourteen.”

Perhaps mages who choose not to work on research or teaching are given such tasks. “Did you enjoy it?”

Her face remains impassive. “I find my duties satisfying.” She takes a step back. “I must return to my work, unless you would prefer to speak further.”

Perhaps this is how all mages end up after spending most of their lives here. Once they’ve given up, once the fight has drained out of them.

“Do not let me keep you,” he says quietly, and the woman retreats. He gazes after her, unsettled.

The other mages begin filling the hall. Solas settles himself at the nearest table, begins serving himself some of the porridge. The food is not bad, but it is repetitive. He has eaten the same meal every morning since he found himself in this place.

He smells her before he sees her—damp earth and leaves. He looks up, sees Trevelyan standing beside him. She has not bathed since his escape attempt the night before; there is a twig in her hair that she must not have noticed. “Do you mind if I join you?”

Solas inclines his head at the place on the bench beside him.

Trevelyan does not speak at first; she takes her time in getting her own helping of porridge, placing a generous heap of butter atop it. Solas watches her and waits for the inevitable approach of her other friends. Then he notices them—Kinnaird, Keldra, Fitz, and that Signy—all sitting two tables away. Their backs are pointedly toward Trevelyan.

“You noticed, did you?” says Trevelyan. She sounds more weary than angry. Her gaze lowers to her bowl and she says, as if to the food, “It’s the only way they can think to steer me from this disastrous course. It’s childish, of course, but it’s not like they can do more than glare disapprovingly.”

There are shadows beneath her eyes. She looks as if she did not sleep at all, and Solas feels a pang of—not quite guilt, but sympathy. He reaches for the pot of hot tea, pours a cup. It smells strongly of cloves and spice. Silently, he places it next to her elbow. She blinks several times before she notices it.

“Thank you,” she says.

Solas allows his attention to wander to her friends. “And why would they disapprove of you?”

Trevelyan picks up the tea, sips, and winces. “They think you’re going to get me into trouble. They’d rather I find a nice circle mage.” She snorts. “As if that wouldn’t complicate matters.”

Oh. So then she did not tell her friends the truth of the matter. She let them come to the same conclusions as the templars. “Do not suffer their disapproval on my account,” he says. “Particularly for the sake of an untruth.”

She glowers down at her porridge. “We’ve had disagreements before. We’ll have them again. It’s just part of living in such close quarters. But I’ve done nothing wrong this time, so I’m not going to go crawling back and beg them to accept us.” She shrugs one shoulder. “I’m sorry if the rumors bother you, though.”

He has heard the whispers since the other mages entered the hall. Gossip hidden behind hands and turned backs. “I suspect gossip is one of the few pleasures of living in such a place as this,” he says, a little dryly.

The corner of her mouth lifts. “You’re not wrong.”

They eat in silence for some time and there is nothing uncomfortable about it. Rather, Solas finds he enjoys the quiet and warmth of her seated beside him. She makes no move to rise when the other mages clear the hall, chatting amongst themselves. She is on her third cup of tea and she appears more bright-eyed.

“We need to find you a task,” says Trevelyan, and the words are abrupt.

Solas watches her. Her fingers clench and relax her lap, as if she is nervous.

“A task?”

“You won’t be allowed to remain idle much longer,” she replies. “The templars don’t like it and the mages will resent you for it. You should choose something before they assign one to you—trust me, it won’t be anything enjoyable.”

He remembers the flat eyes of the woman with the sunburst tattoo. “Kitchen duties?”

Trevelyan shakes her head. “No, no. Those kinds of jobs are always given to the tranquil. Instead, they’ll have you doing experiments on how best to magic the smell out of latrines or some such.”

Tranquil. She has spoken the word before and he has heard others mention it, too. But the meaning is yet unclear.

“What do you like to do?” she says. “What are you good at?” She speaks as one who is genuinely interested, warmly curious, and he finds himself at something of a loss. Any answer he might give her is a lie, and he finds he has little desire to lie to her. “Spirits,” he finally says. “I have some interest in the Fade.”

She nods. “All right, we can work with that.”

“We can?” he says.

“Of course we can.” 


She takes him through the library.

The library itself is quite large; it spans nearly an entire floor of the tower, and it smells pleasantly of leather and old parchment. He can see how mages might find refuge here, burying themselves between the pages of a book. Evelyn leads him unerringly through the labyrinth of shelves, nodding at mages she knows and brushing past the templar on patrol.

Solas follows in her wake. He has never seen her quite so… mischievous before. There is a playfulness to her smile, to the glances she throws his way, and he finds he does not mind. There is no malicious edge to her; rather, she treats him as she would a friend. She is being kind, and he will not spurn kindness.

“Solas,” she says, as she turns another corner, “there is someone you should meet.”

Beyond the library are a series of small rooms. Likely for research purposes, for mages who wish to conduct magic that might prove dangerous to the books themselves. Trevelyan strides past three doors, then pushes one on the left open. The first thing Solas sees is the table. It is wrought of iron and glass, and there are scorch marks along one leg. It is piled high with old tomes, with candles and—Solas blinks. A white skull rests on one of the books, runes etched into the bone around its eye sockets.

And a man stands before the table, diligently taking notes from one of the books. He has a shock of white hair, and he is clearly older than all of the mages Solas has met thus far. Worn skin sags around his eyes and mouth, and his thin fingers are mottled with spots. But he moves with a brisk manner, and there is no hesitation when he looks up.

He scowls. “Trevelyan.”

“Danforth,” she replies.

“What are you doing here?” The elderly man does not cease in his writing. His quill scratches across the parchment. “I’ve no use for your prattling.”

She chuckles. “I don’t prattle, old man.”

“You certainly do.” He punctuates this remark with a jab of his quill. “If you cannot control your chatter, you will never control fire or storm. This is delicate work, girl, and I will not see it go up in ashes because you cannot control yourself.”

Trevelyan slides Solas a look. “You set someone’s robe on fire one time and they never let you forget it.” She sighs. “I was fifteen, Danforth. I’m better now.”

“That’s what they all say.” The elderly man’s gaze narrows. “Why are you here?”

Trevelyan places her hand at Solas’s back. Her palm rests gently between his shoulder blades. “I’ve brought you an assistant. Solas, this is Mortimer Danforth. The primary expert on the Fade in the Ostwick Circle, currently working on a paper about Veil strength or something like that. He used to teach classes on Veil theory, but he’s chosen to dedicate himself to research at the moment.” 

Ah. So this is the mage that the First Enchanter mentioned.

Mortimer Danforth glares at Solas. “Who is this? Some elven hedgemage?”

Elven hedgemage indeed. Solas allows himself the thinnest of smiles. “I have some experience with the Fade. I suppose that is why Trevelyan thought I’d be suited to your work.”

Danforth lets out a derisive sound. “Blundering about in the Fade at night does not make you an expert.”

There is a word for such a talent as Solas's in this age, and it takes him a moment to recall it. “I am what your kind would call a dreamer.”

Danforth sets his quill down. He steps around the table, inhaling deeply. As if being a dreamer is something the elderly man might be able to sniff out. “You speak with spirits?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me about one.” Danforth waits, expectant. “And none of that, ‘I once met a pride demon and thrashed it in my sleep’ nonsense. I hear that sort of blustering from the apprentices.”

It is not an unreasonable request to test Solas’s knowledge of the Fade. He considers telling Danforth of Wisdom, or a spirit of Compassion or Faith. Of walking old ruins with spirits he has known so long they are all but kin. But those memories are dear to him, and he does not wish to share them.

As if sensing his hesitation, Trevelyan’s hand moves in a small circle along his back.

And without truly knowing why he says it, Solas tells Danforth, “I once met a friendly spirit who used her power to show village girls the young boys who would return their love with kindness. I called her the Matchmaker.” 

A smile blossoms across her face—not that wicked smirk she gave to Danforth, but something softer and warmer. “I never knew there were spirits who did such things.”

Danforth coughs. “All right, all right. So you’ve walked the Fade.” He squints at Solas. “You think you’d want to assist an old man with his research?”

Mortimer Danforth has survived many, many years within a mage circle. If anyone knows the intricacies of the tower, it would be someone like him. Perhaps he might even know where the phylacteries are kept, how to access them. If nothing else, this promises to be a way to gain information. He glances at the old table, laden with books and glass beakers and that odd skull.

“If the alternative is charming the smell from latrines, then the answer is yes,” says Solas.


The First Enchanter is pleased with Solas’s choice of assignment when he brings her word of it. “I am glad you are adjusting well to life within the tower,” she says, with one of her smiles. Her mouth is painted a delicate shade of pink. “And that you have… made friends.” The words are laden with just enough meaning to make Solas uncomfortable. He has not tried to give the rumors any more substance, but Trevelyan has sat with him at every meal since his escape attempt and it has not gone unnoticed.

A week passes in relative peace. Solas spends his nights trying to contact wisps, to try and coax knowledge from them. And he spends his days learning the layout of the library, helping Danforth organize his clutter of notes, hearing the old man’s theories explained in detail. Danforth never seems to remember Solas’s name—rather, he chooses to refer to Solas as “hedgemage”. Solas might have taken offense, if he hadn’t heard Danforth refer to one templar as “Ser Clanker” and Trevelyan as “girl”. Remembering the names of his fellow mages seems to be a waste of Danforth’s time.

As for his meals, Solas spends those hours with Trevelyan. She seems determined to not leave him alone at mealtimes, despite his assuring her that he would be fine alone. But he does not truly make an attempt to drive her away. She is pleasant to speak with. She enjoys reading and he finds she has a passion for history he would never have suspected. She is compassionate, as well. She smiles when she speaks to him, never presses for details of his past. Gentle, always gentle.

And she touches him.

Small touches. A brush of fingertips against the top of his hand. A nudge of her elbow. A bump of her hip when she stands next to him. Once, after he spends several hours making notations for Danforth, she takes his hand between both of hers and presses her thumbs to his palm. The ache is soothed beneath the pressure, and she works her fingertips into the fleshy swell of his thumb, to the heel of his hand. “You should take breaks,” she tells him. “You’ll ruin your hands if you do all of Danforth’s notes for him.”

He has forgotten how pleasant such contact can be. The warmth of another living being, solid flesh rather than wisps of spirit.

It is on the eight day that his peace shatters.

Danforth is muttering to himself, quill scratching ceaselessly, while Solas tries to locate an obscure text in one of his old books. “I need a passage about Cardona’s theories of transference regarding the dream and fade connection. I know he’s in one of these books about the tranquil.”

The word sparks a memory and Solas looks up. He has been sitting in this wooden chair for many hours now, so he takes the opportunity to rise, to stretch. “I have heard that word before,” he says. “Tranquil.”

Danforth’s heavy white brows are drawn. “Of course you have.”

“I am unsure as to the meaning.”

The quill drops from Danforth’s hand. He makes a choking sound, coughs, then wheezes. It is an unhealthy sound that continues until the man reaches for a cup of water and drinks deeply. When he is finished, he fixes Solas with a beady stare. “You don’t know what the tranquil are?”

Solas returns the look evenly. “No.”

The old man appears at a loss for the first time. “The Dalish don’t know of the rite?”

Solas has long given up explaining that he is not Dalish. For one thing, it is simpler to let them believe that he is.

Danforth casts about for an answer, muttering curses, then he finally picks up his quill, wipes the ink blots from his paper, then sighs. “You’ve seen them around, I’m sure. They’re the ones with the sunburst brand. The Rite of Tranquility is what happens when a mage is deemed too dangerous or refuses to go through the harrowing. It is not supposed to be a punishment, but we all know that the templars might use it against us. Even after we’re harrowed, if we end up being deemed a threat, it could happen.”

A chill spreads through Solas’s chest. “And what,” he says quietly, “exactly does this rite consist of?”

Danforth meets his eyes. There is a heaviness to his voice when he replies. “There is a ritual severing mages from their magic.”

For a moment, Solas does not understand.

And then the full implications are clear.

He can feel the blood draining from his face. “They can cut off a mage from the Fade?” he says, barely moving his lips.

It is—it is unthinkable. These creatures have such a tenuous connection to the Fade, to snap that connection, to break it—

“Yes,” says Danforth. “It renders them unable to work spells, to dream, or to feel emotion.”

Solas feels ill.

Before he is aware of it, he is moving. He leaves the small library alcove, strides through the stacks and past the bookshelves, until he sees what he seeks.

There is a man pushing a cart of books. Re-shelving them, by the looks of it. Tedious work. 

A sunburst tattoo is etched between his brows.

Solas stops beside the man. The tranquil looks up from his work, his face incurious. “May I help you?”

He forces himself to say the words. “You are tranquil?”

The man answers, “I am.”

Solas casts about for a question, for a way to make sense of this. “Why?”

The man considers. “I refused the harrowing,” he says, after a moment. “I considered my powers a curse and was glad to give them up.”

He chose this. He chose this.

“I do not miss the dreams,” adds the man.

The dreams. The Fade. All that is magical and mutable—raw potential waiting to be called upon. That is what these mages fear, what the templars would take from them. Emotions, dreams, all of it taken.

A rage is unfurling within him, an unwise urge to act, to do something.

He is as stagnant as these walls, as trapped as these creatures, as useless as a dulled sword. He is consumed by thoughts of destruction, of how he could have once burned this tower to cinders with a mere thought.

He finds himself pacing the halls of the tower—truly a caged wolf—and he feels the eyes of the other mages. They watch him uneasily, and he wonders if they can sense the peril that lurks just beyond his calm surface. Or—not quite as calm as it once was. He finds slivers of windows, stares through them. They are too thin to slip a hand through, never mind a whole person. It is a tantalizing glimpse of freedom.

He wanders, aimless, until he finds himself in what must be a sitting room. It is empty and he is glad for it. There are curtains here, to disguise the raw stone walls. Yet another lie, to make this prison seem less a prison.

That is where Trevelyan finds him.

“You missed the evening meal,” she says, when she sees him. “I wondered where—Solas?” She studies him, concern gathering in her eyes. “Are you all right?”

His mask is slipping; he is too much himself in this moment.

“You’re pale,” she says. She edges into the room; her fingers are woven together, twisting anxiously. “Solas—has something happened? Did one of the templars…?”

He shakes his head. “No.”

“Then what?” Her voice is so gentle; he swallows thickly, tries to compose a lie and finds he cannot. “Solas, whatever it is, you can tell me.”

And for one wild moment, he wishes he could. Panic threads up through his veins, gathers in his chest.

“The tranquil,” he says. “I did not—” His voice frays and he forces himself to start again. “I did not know the extent of their condition.”

Her hands fall to her sides. “You didn’t know?”

He should keep silent; she sounds startled and his ignorance is likely suspicious. But he did not know. How could he know? What he learned of this world, he learned through dreams and the tranquil—they cannot—

A shudder rips through him.

This is his doing. His great legacy.

He has damned not only his own people but hers as well. He cannot speak, not for many minutes. But she does not press him to answer; she simply watches, her forehead creased with concern.

“Have you ever made a mistake so terrible,” he says, “that you could not comprehend the consequences of it?”

Her gaze does not waver. “Everyone does.” She takes a step closer. “Oh, Solas.” She reaches up, and her hand is on his cheek. “Everything will be all right.”

He leans into her touch, to the comfort offered there. And to think he once considered her unfeeling, when there were such creatures as the tranquil walking about. She looks at him, his own pain mirrored on her face.

“How can you know that?” he says softly.

Her lips press together and she seems to be making a decision.

Yet it is still a surprise when she kisses him.

It’s quick, hesitant. A light, fluttering brush against his mouth. Then she is drawing back, unsure and a little embarrassed.

It has been centuries since Solas has been kissed. Many offered themselves to Fen’Harel. Women and men, still in shock from the removal of their vallaslin, sought him out to try and express their gratitude. He turned them all away—by the time Fen’Harel was deep in his war and there was no untangling supplication and affection. No matter how freely given the pleasure seemed to be, Fen’Harel would not accept it.

But this human mage knows nothing of Fen’Harel. She has never seen him walk into battle, drive back god-kings, or step off a killing field with bloodied hands. She has only ever known him as Solas.

A flush colors her cheeks as she draws back.

He catches Evelyn by the arm and pulls her back. She is opening her mouth, likely to apologize but before she can utter the words, his mouth finds hers. And there is no hesitancy in his kiss. It feels like a bright burst of sensation—like that moment when he first opened his eyes and staggered into the sunlight. Kissing her is akin to wakening a second time; the shackles of this dreamlike existence fall away.

Her touch brings forth a sort of delirium, a defiance. He should not be doing this for a multitude of reasons—they are likely to be caught, she is—

A quickling, his mind supplies. Fragile, short-sighted, brutish, mortal, and as ephemeral as a morning mist.

All he can think about are those flowers sprouting out of the walls, tangled and malnourished, but no less beautiful for their circumstances.

And Evelyn’s touch is the first good thing he has felt upon waking.

So he kisses her with his fingers knotted in her hair and his heart hammering against his ribs. A stolen moment of comfort. That is all this is, all this could ever be.

But it is more than enough.

Chapter Text

The kiss lingers on her lips.

She can feel it when she leaves that room, when she returns to her own dormitory. She falls asleep thinking of the heat of his mouth, the way his fingers stroked the nape of her neck. When she wakes her first thought is, I kissed him.

And he kissed her back.

It was a foolish thing to do. She isn’t even sure what drove her to it—he was so distressed by the revelation of what it means to be tranquil, and she could see he was building to some terrible act. He might have attacked a templar, tried to break into the phylactery chamber, done something to deliberately provoke another mage. He would have done something foolish and she could not let that happen. She wanted to distract him, she wanted to reassure him, she wanted—

Him.

All right, she will not deny such a thing, not to herself.

He is unlike any other mage she has ever met. His power comes to him as easily as breath, and he carries himself with a quiet assurance. She enjoys spending time with him and suspects he might feel he same. He is lonely. She can see that much. Felt it in his touch, in the tight grip of the fingers at her waist, in the way his mouth worked against hers, fierce and sure and quick, as if trying to feel everything at once. No one has touched him in months—perhaps even years. He has reacted to her small touches like a stray cat she once found when she was a child—rubbing against her knuckles one moment and drawing away in fear the next. Yearning, but skittish.

She rises from her bed, joins Keldra in cleaning their small room. Even with only three of them, clutter has a tendency to collect on the desk, beneath the beds, in the corners. Keldra is speaking to her again; her temper always burns itself out in a few days. As for Signy, she rarely speaks—but that is not unusual.

Rather than attend breakfast, Evelyn takes a left turn and strides down the stairs. The hallways are filled with yawning apprentices, with children stumbling and rubbing at their eyes. They meander toward the great hall, but Evelyn darts around them. Her own hunger is quenched by nerves and she would like a few minutes to herself. And if she goes to breakfast, Solas will be there.

Her heart throbs at the thought of seeing him again. Half fear and half yearning.

She will allow herself this one hour of cowardice; she steps into the woman’s baths. Of course, the rooms are deserted. The water is cool to the touch, and Evelyn knows it will be chillier once she steps into it. But the privacy—that is a rare gift. She unbinds her hair, steps free of her robes, and forces herself to walk into the cold water.

Like most things in the Circle, the key is to simply act—never hesitate. The moment she pauses to take in the chill, she will freeze up.

She washes her skin, her hair, her hands. Her fingers are always slightly stained around the nail beds—with herbs, with ink, with soot. Her palms are crossed with scars from practicing with a bladed staff… and she wonders if Solas could feel those marks when she touched him.

Foolish. She is being foolish.

But it has been so long since she took a lover. Although lover seems hardly the term—all of Evelyn’s dalliances have been hasty meetings in deserted corridors, kisses behind bookshelves, trysts tinged with as much fear as pleasure, her ears straining for the sound of an armored footstep.

She hasn’t been with anyone since Kinnaird—and that was years ago, before Fitz was transferred to Ostwick, when she was twenty-one and someone liberated several bottles of brandy from the Knight Commander’s office. She remembers that night with equal fondness and embarrassment; sleeping with one’s friends is risky. There is already too much of a bond, too close of an association. The templars notice such things.

The door opens and Evelyn glances up—three apprentices amble into the baths, chatting amongst themselves. More of those who wish to bathe unseen. Evelyn washes the soap from her skin, steps from the water. Her skin is pale with cold, and the moment the air hits her, a shudder wracks through her whole body. Drying herself quickly, she wishes she had enough skill with fire to cast heating spells. They are delicate things, to call heat or cold without flame or ice—and she has never quite managed it without setting a towel on fire. Hastily, she pulls on clean robes and begins working the knots from her hair.

On a shelf near the soaps are bowls of dried rose petals, lavender, and mint. She takes several sprigs of mint—not for chewing, but she knows the cats enjoy the scent and she enjoys their presence.

With one last glance at herself in a mirror, she decides she looks well enough and strides from the baths. The meal will have ended by now, and she has someplace to be. 

For the last few months, Evelyn has been given the teaching of a few apprentices. It is a great show of trust by the First Enchanter, and Evelyn knows it was done to garner her good will. With her skill with fire and storm, she might have been given to the researchers trying to come up with ways to mimic the Qunari’s black powder or been taken out on journeys to calm the fires started by lightning strikes in the summer. She might have enjoyed the latter, if only for the chance to see the outdoors, but rather the First Enchanter sought to gain Evelyn’s regard by giving her the simple task of teaching youths.

Evelyn is certain that Monette has never taught adolescents because if she had, she would never call such a task simple. But Evelyn likes the apprentices; they are untamed and equal parts friendly and distrustful, and she likes their company. They’re still too young to truly hide their emotions, and she finds the lack of pretense a relief. 

The moment she enters the room, she catches two boys—one fourteen and one fifteen—trying to keep a folded paper boat aloft with conjurations of wind. A young girl of ten sits by herself, keeping a flame held between two fingers. And then there is the clump of girls chattering about the gossip they heard at breakfast.

“Good morning,” says Evelyn, striding into the room. At once, the paper boat falls to the floor and the apprentices go to their seats. They wouldn’t be so eager under normal circumstances, but Evelyn promised to teach them storm this month. All of them have been begging her to call lightning since they met her.

They all look at her, faces eager. She smiles back. “Today we will learn Solial’s three principles on equalization.”

A collective groan.

“Well,” she says. “First you learn the theory. And then, if the First Enchanter allows it, I’ll take you out onto the ramparts for a demonstration.” Her smile widens. “You didn’t honestly think I was going to call lightning inside of the tower, did you? Likely, I’d burn this place to the ground.”

“We could hope,” grumbles one of the boys. The fifteen-year-old. Old enough to recognize the chains that were already settling around him and reckless enough to tug at them.

Of all the mages in the tower, the apprentices are always in the most danger. From the templars, from themselves. Too young to fully understand or control their power, too young to truly understand the danger a demon might pose, too young to grasp how easily their existence might be snuffed out. 

Yet old enough to die by a templar’s blade.

The lesson ends around noon, and she dismisses them for the midday meal. She is gathering up her papers when she sees a figure by the door.

Solas.

Her fingers fumble on the books; her thoughts scatter and she tries to remember what she was saying to one of the younger girls. A warning about using fire where the templars might see it. She murmurs something about being more careful, then sends the girl on her way.

He appears mildly bemused by the sight of Evelyn with her arms full of paper and books. The children dart around him and he waits until the room has emptied before walking inside. “I did not know you were a teacher,” he says.

She sets the books back down, then regrets it. With her arms full, there was something to do with her hands. “Only for three mornings a week,” she says. “They have other lessons and other teachers—I just tutor them in the elements.”

“I suspect they enjoy such lessons.” He glances at the scorch marks along the far wall.

Evelyn’s lips twitch. “They’re still learning.”

A touch of amusement in his warm eyes. “As are we all.” He makes no move toward her, but his voice lowers and there is an intimate quality when he says, “You did not come to breakfast.” His voice is quiet, and something in it reminds her soft spring rains, of listening to the sound of the rise and fall of gentle storms listening to the patter of it against her window.

She considers several flirtatious answers—discards them all. “I wanted a few moments to myself. It’s difficult to find solitude in a place like this.”

“Ah. I see.” He gazes at her. “How long…” His voice trails off, and she is sure he will ask how long she has wanted to kiss him, but then he says, “How long have you—lived here?” A slight hesitation, as if he might have chosen different words.

Taken by surprise, she answers quickly. “I was eight when my magic manifested. I’ve lived here ever since.”

A sharp little breath. “So young,” he murmurs, and casts another glance at the room. “You learned in these very halls, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

She watches several emotions play across his face. “I am sorry. It is… there are other ways. Other paths.”

“Perhaps,” she says. “But I was too young to run away from my family, to even realize what it meant when the templars came for me. Not all of us can be dashing apostates.” She smiles at him, tries to coax him out of this strange melancholy.

He does not return her smile. “I apologize for last night.”

“For what?” she says.

His gaze slips to one side, as if he cannot bear to look at her. His fingers twitch, flexing and relaxing. “The kiss was impulsive and ill-considered. And I should not have encouraged it.”

A pang goes through her. She forces her face to remain impassive. “Yet you did,” she says, keeping her voice gentle.

“Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.” His attention remains on the far wall, his gaze distant.

His words are spoken without any true heat, but they bring a sharp flush to her cheeks. “Solas, I—if I misread you, I apologize.”

He shakes his head. “No. You have no need to apologize. It has been a long time and I… allowed things to escalate.”

There is just enough hesitation in his voice to give her courage. Because he is not sure of this, she can tell. He speaks as one who tries to convince himself as much as her. “It was a release,” she says. “We need such things, living here as we do.”

Not a flicker of expression crosses his face. “Is that so?”

She shrugs. “We all… well. At one point, we all realize that we’ll never leave this place. The smart ones find a way to deal with it—through spells or sex, or hobbies. But some people burn up from the inside. They become tranquil or are transferred away or—” Her lips press together. “Solas, I would not see you endure such a fate.”

“So you consider such an act to be a mercy?” 

She takes a moment to consider her answer. He must not think it was for pity’s sake that she kissed him; nothing could be farther from the truth. “Tell me,” she says, “how long has it been since you found comfort in another? Because it has been years for me, and yet I cannot fathom the hunger with which you touched me last night.”

His pupils flare.

It feels as if some current runs between them, like those moments before she calls lightning to her fingertips—time counted in breaths and heartbeats.

Behind his eyes, she sees some of his turmoil—desire and yearning and hesitation and something darker all tangled together. His eyes flicker down to her mouth, then back to her eyes. His own lips are parted and—Maker, she does want him. She wants to hear that lovely voice fray apart, she wants to press her face to the crook of his neck and inhale, she wants to taste those freckles on his collarbone.

She wants him. And it has been so long since she wanted anything, since she allowed herself the vulnerability of wanting.

“We shouldn’t,” he says, and there is a strain in his voice.

“There is no harm in it,” she says gently. “Solas, this place is clearly a torment for you. But it does not have to be.”

It is as if she threw icy water upon him. All of the desire is doused from his eyes; he takes a step back. “No.”

Oh, Maker. She said something wrong. Before she can sort through her own words, he says, “You cannot change what this place is to me. You do not have that power.”

“I—I didn’t mean to imply—”

His voice is so cold that she flinches. “I will not be caged here. Not by the templars, not by you. You might mean well, but I will not stay for you, nor anyone. You cannot bind me here. Forgive me, Mage Trevelyan, but your charms only go so far.”

Anger flickers to life within her. “You think I would try to talk you out of trying to run,” she says, “by offering myself?”

His face does not change.

That anger catches; rejection provides plenty of tinder for it to burn. “Forgive me,” she says, and she is grateful when her voice remains level. “I thought you were intelligent and kind. I thought you were brave. I thought you might be a person that I would enjoy spending time with. I am sorry to be proven wrong.”

She steps around him and makes for the door. Her books and her papers and those sprigs of mint are still on the desk, but she would rather leap from this tower than return for them. She hesitates in the doorway, glances over her shoulder.

Solas watches her.

She says, and this time a trickle of anger does leak into her voice, “Fight against it all you like, but we are bound here. And remember it was not I that brought you to the tower, nor am I the one who keeps you here.” She looks away. “I’m sorry if my company is such a burden. I won’t trouble you again.”

Gaze determinedly ahead, she strides from the room and does not look back.


Perhaps the most infuriating part of the Ostwick Tower is the size of the fortress. It seems large at first—in her early days, Evelyn remembers the place seemed as large and winding as a labyrinth. But as she grew older, the fortress seemed to shrink. The rooms were no longer yawning caverns, the ceilings never quite so high, and the walls pulled in around her. Like outgrowing a garment, the strangling, tight sensation came on so gradually she did not realize at first.

Now, as she strides the familiar corridors, she wishes it were larger. She yearns for nonexistent rooms and hallways, for imaginary wings and hallways, for tunnels and secret passages. She wishes for a place where no one might find her, where she might take refuge.

But there is no such place.

She considers going to the library, walking in the courtyard, visiting Kinnaird in the healers’ rooms—and then she decides upon what is perhaps the most pitiful plan of all. She returns to her room. She flops onto her bed, rolls over with a groan. She feels like a sulking child, hiding beneath the covers of her bed. But she still feels raw and vulnerable from the sharpness of Solas’s rejection.

He does not want her. Of course he does not want her.

Solas has seen much of this world—he is older and experienced and everything Evelyn is not. Whatever drove him to return the kiss last night… it did not linger. Perhaps it was merely desperation, a desire to feel, and because she so readily offered herself. In his eyes, she is young and foolish and knows little of the world beyond these walls.

And—she is human.

She did not let herself think of this before, but perhaps that means something to him. That her ears are rounded, that her figure is fuller, her eyes not as luminous. She knows a little of what the elves think of humans. Shem, one of the Dalish apprentices had called her. And while she does not know the exact meaning, she can guess.

You cannot bind me here.

She does not wish to bind him. He is already bound—but he stubbornly won’t admit it. He still thinks there is an escape, a way out, a plan he might construct. Evelyn has watched people try to escape since she was a child. Hundreds of mages have flung themselves against the bars of this cage. People like Fitz manage to leave and are dragged back again—and those are the lucky ones. The ones who come from wealthy families or have connections outside of the Circle. Those who cannot be made to disappear without stirring up a fuss.

But Solas is not one of those people. He is an elf, with no known family nor connections. Should he escape, there will be no hesitation. Monette will not protect him and Cynesige will deem him too great a risk. He will be given the sunburst brand. Such an irony, because there is no light in a tranquil’s eyes.

Exhaustion and bitterness weigh heavily upon her. She curls up on her side, her back to the room itself, and closes her eyes.

She does not sleep deeply; she merely dozes, allowing the minutes to slip by. At one point, she hears Keldra or Signy come into the room. They must see Evelyn on her bed for the footsteps slow. They move softly across the room, and there is the sound of shuffling papers. Evelyn remains still, eyes closed, and hopes that whomever it is will leave her be. 

A soft exhalation of breath, and then fingers brush her bare shoulder. Evelyn’s woolen blanket has slipped down, and now gentle hands tug it upward, tuck it around her.

It must be Keldra. Signy would not touch her.

The footsteps retreat and Evelyn drifts again.

It is nearly evening by the time she comes fully awake. Keldra strides into the room, tosses a book at Evelyn. It lands on her hip, startling her into full wakefulness. “What?”

“Are you ill?” asks Keldra, eyeing her beadily.

“Are you offering to get me tea if I am?”

“Actually,” replies Keldra, “I was going to ask the women in the next room if I might sleep in their room, if you are. I cannot afford to be hacking and sneezing for the next week, and neither can you.”

Evelyn gives her a flat look. “So much for sympathy.”

“You want sympathy, you go to my brother.” Keldra flashed her teeth in a grin. “You want someone infuriated, you come to me.” She nods at Evelyn’s undone bed. “Sick or not, you’ll want to come to the hall tonight. We’ve been summoned by the Knight Commander. All mages and apprentices.”

Evelyn frowns. It has been nearly a year since such an assembly was gathered. “What do you think he wants to tell us?”

“Maybe he’s retiring, maybe they’re gathering recruits for some terrible mission, or maybe they’re starting a new tower somewhere nearby and transferring half of us there.” Keldra rolls her shoulder in a half-shrug. “No point in speculating. We’ll find out soon enough.”

There is a comfort in Keldra’s straightforward, blunt manner. Evelyn finds herself relaxing and she rises from her bed.

It is foolish to allow herself to sulk over a man. She will not succumb to such a weakness again. With a huff, she begins straightening her rumbled robes and her hands to go her hair. The strands are knotted and tangled, and she goes to the desk to find a comb.

She halts mid-step.

On the desk is a neat stack of books and papers, and a sprig of mint rests atop them.

Chapter Text

Solas thought himself past the days when he might have said something unkind in a moment of anger. He remains in the classroom after Evelyn storms out; he has no desire to see her in the great hall. Shame prickles uncomfortably along his spine. He should not have spoken to her in such a manner. He has caught glimpses of the trysts that mages indulge in—a bit of gossip here and there—and he knows that sex is something of a luxury here. Like a good vintage of wine, it is to be enjoyed and then forgotten.

Or perhaps he is angry with himself because for a heartbeat, he considered accepting Evelyn’s offer.

How long has it been since you found comfort in another? Because it has been years for me, and yet I cannot fathom the hunger with which you touched me last night.

It has been ages since he allowed himself any sort of intimacy; it has always been a vulnerability he could not afford. And he still cannot afford it.

The orb is his first priority. The orb and his phylactery.

The rest is meaningless.

But even so, he should not have snapped at her. A glance back at the desk and he realizes that she has left behind her things. Several worn books, a few rolls of parchment and—three sprigs of fresh mint. 

He picks up one of the leaves, twisting it between his thumb and forefinger. It smells of fresh air and greenery and perhaps this is why she carried it with her. A small piece of a world denied to her.

Solas picks up the books. The rolls of parchment are tucked beneath his left arm and the mint sprigs go into a pocket. It is a simple task, but The midday meal will be done with soon, and he hopes to visit her rooms before she returns to them.

He cannot take back his harsh words but he can do this much for her. 

He has learned something of the tower’s layout in his time here: the first floor of the tower consists of the kitchens, the great hall, and a few side rooms; the second floor are the lodgings of the templars and the Knight Commander’s offices; the third houses the apprentices; the fourth contain the quarters for the adult female mages; the fifth for the adult male mages—and where Solas’s own room is located; the six floor is kept for senior enchanters and the First Enchanter. The seventh and eight are for classrooms, healers, the library, and various other meeting places.

He understood the logic of the arrangement at once—mages cannot enter or leave the tower without passing through a floor containing the templars. Not even to bathe, as the baths are located beneath the first floor, a level above the dungeons. This tower is as much a prison as it is a place of learning.

It also means he must walk several flights of stairs to get to Evelyn’s floor.

Once there, it is a simple matter of finding a friendly older mage and asking politely about Mage Trevelyan’s rooms. The woman, an elf with soft white hair coiled atop her head, gives him an amused look. “Third door on the right,” she says. “But if you’re looking for a… chat, I wouldn’t have one here.” She gives him a sly little smirk. “Templar patrol will be through here in ten minutes, boy.”

Solas echoes her smile with a polite one of his own. “Thank you for the warning.”

There is no door, of course. But a drape has been hung across the open space, allowing for some amount of privacy. The room itself is much the same as his: four beds, a communal desk, and a high, unreachable window. But this room bears the evidence of years of living—there are more blankets that look like they came from outside of the Circle, a small painting above the desk. Dried flowers are been strung across one of the bed frames.

This is more than a room. It is her home. A home she has managed to craft out of this cold and unfeeling place. 

And she is here.

His steps slow when he sees the outline of a woman in the lefthand bed. Curled up beneath the covers, it is only the spill of messy, dark hair across the pillow that gives her identity away. She is still, except for the slow rise and fall of the blankets.

It is with utmost care that he sets the books down, arranges the parchment and mint atop them. He will put her things down and leave. There is no need to disturb her rest. There is no need to—

He hesitates. From this angle, he can see more of her. The blanket has slipped down her bare shoulder, making her look strangely vulnerable. What little he can see of her expression is tense, as if she walks through unsettling dreams.

As if of their own accord, his fingers reach for the blanket. He tucks it around her before he can stop himself.

I would not see you endure such a fate.

Foolish. The thought comes to him again, and he does not know if it is directed at Evelyn or himself.


Solas studies his evening meal with far more interest than boiled potatoes and cabbage warrants. Most of the meal is spent turning the food over and over, poking at it with his fork, and trying to ignore the flat stare of his companion. “I don’t think the cabbage will become something else if you stare at it,” says Danforth. “I’ve tried that with meals before. Never works out.”

Solas sets his fork down. “I think I’m finished.”

“You took three bites.”

Solas allows himself a thin-lipped smile. “You are an observant man.”

Danforth chews steadily away at his own meal, then reaches across and spears one of Solas’s potatoes, dragging it onto his own plate. “Observant enough to know when someone’s avoiding something.”

“I do not care for cabbage, it is true.”

A snort. “I’m not so old I don’t recognize a lover’s quarrel when I see one, hedgemage.” Danforth gives another table a significant glance. Solas does not look. He knows what he will see—Evelyn and her friends, talking amongst themselves.

It is not his bravest moment, sitting apart from them.

Of course it did not help that Danforth invited himself to eat beside Solas, either.

“We are not lovers,” says Solas calmly.

“There are rumors to the contrary.” Danforth takes a generous swig of wine, then picks up the bottle and refills his goblet. He fills a second for Solas and pushes it toward him. “Drink up, hedgemage. Fortify your nerves, then apologize to her.”

Solas sips the wine, but it is as foul as he remembers. This vintage tastes of rotted fruit and stale dirt. “Let us play out this hypothetical situation of yours,” he replies. “Suppose Evelyn and I are lovers. What makes you think that I am in the wrong?”

Danforth steals another potato. Solas makes no move to stop him.

“Because when she was twelve, she found an injured moth,” he says, around a mouthful of potato. “One of its wings had been torn. Damned girl actually scooped it up in her hands, and walked up four flights of stairs to bring the moth to the healers, only to be told that it was too delicate to heal. She apologized to the creature. Trust me, if she were in the wrong she would be over here. She’s soft-hearted, that one.”

Solas can easily see it—a slip of a girl with messy hair, cupping a fragile moth between her fingers.

“And how exactly do you know this story?” asks Solas. “Did you injure the moth?”

Danforth’s mouth twists up. “I was the healer. Wasn’t always in research.”

Solas blinks, taken aback. “That seems a rather abrupt change. From healing to studying the Fade.”

“I’ve always liked the Fade,” says Danforth dismissively. “The First Enchanter convinced the templars that I could be more useful writing papers than washing dishes. What books I write… all the funds made will go straight to the Chantry. Waste of my talents to make me tranquil.”

Solas’s hands clench in his lap. “They—wanted to make you tranquil.” He means it as a question, but the words come out too flat. “Why?”

Danforth considers his answer for a moment. “The templar in question called it ‘recklessly endangering a mage.’”

“And what did you call it?” asks Solas.

Another hesitation. Despite his three cups of wine, the old man suddenly seems sharper than before. He looks over Solas as if cataloging him, taking in every detail, and then he says, with an brittle smile, “My duty.”

Solas looks down—at the freckles along the back of his hands, the clean fingers. But he can still recall how blood would sink into his skin, stain the edges of his nails.

And for the first time, he realizes that he is not the only man sitting at this table who might regard himself in such a manner.

Danforth does not speak again and Solas turns his attention away from him. His gaze wanders over the great hall and its occupants, from the young apprentices to the elderly senior enchanters, to the templars guarding the doors. And something gives him pause. 

They wear helmets. In all of the times he has glimpsed their guards during meals, the templars were always unmasked, their expressions bored. These templars are in full plate, and their stance unyielding. Solas glances at the other set of doors; they are guarded by two more templars. One man’s hand rests on the hilt of his undrawn sword.

Solas makes no move to stand. He simply watches.

As the mages finish their meal, the two closest templars exchange a glance. A nod. And then the first templar takes a step back, opens one of the heavy doors and steps through. The second follows and the door closes behind them.

The templars do not leave their posts—not for anything but—

Unease wells up in his stomach.

Solas rises to his feet. “Something is wrong.”

“You’re right,” replies Danforth, picking up the wine bottle. “We’ve run out. Go steal another bottle from the loyalist table, would you?”

Solas barely hears him; the world has slowed, sharpened, and taken on an unreal quality. He hastens to the nearest door, reaches for the handle.

The door remains resolutely shut.

On a whim, Solas looks up. Sure enough, there are balconies overhead; he assumed they were for decoration or perhaps leftover from this tower’s previous occupants. That was his first mistake.

Because on every balcony stands a templar—a longbow strapped to his back.

The world comes into sharp relief. At the other end of the hall, the templars are beginning to step through, to leave the great hall.

Solas bites off a curse not spoken aloud in this age.

He will not reach those doors in time, so he does not try.

Rather, he turns and he looks wildly about the hall, trying to find her. Kinnaird and Keldra are talking loudly, and Fitz is beside them. But he cannot see her—he cannot find her—

There. She is walking to a different table, gesturing for a plate of cabbage, asking that table’s occupants if they are done with it. Solas moves down the aisle, his haste drawing a few eyes. He catches her by the arm.

“Evelyn.”

Her gaze jerks up to meet his, then she looks down at his hand on her. Several emotions flit across her face—and she seems to settle on wariness.

“Solas,” she says, a little coldly.

But there is no time to apologize; he has scant enough moments to tell her of the danger. “The templars have locked us in.”

She looks at him, brow creased with uncertainty. “There’s supposed to be an announcement tonight. Maybe they just don’t want us to leave.”

Solas’s gaze bores into hers. “They are locking the doors,” he says. “And those balconies overhead are full of archers.”

It takes her a moment to understand. Her gaze is yanked upward, and her breath hitches. She forces her attention back to his face, and he watches as she considers his words, sifts through them the way she might have browsed the pages of a book.

“The kitchens,” she says, her attention snapping to the far wall. Smaller doors, perhaps they have not been seen to yet.

She darts away and he follows in her wake. By now, there are others standing, moving to leave the hall. Perhaps there are those who do not care for whatever announcement is to take place, for they make for the main doors.

Evelyn reaches the kitchen’s entrance. Her fingers find the door handle first. She twists and—

Nothing.

She makes a desperate little sound and yanks it, wriggles it back and forth. She whirls, and he watches the blood drain from her face. “This can’t—something is wrong.” She begins to step forward, but Solas touches her shoulder.

“Wait,” he says. “Against the wall, there is some protection. Out there—”

The first cry rings out. A mage has tried to open the doors, realized that they will not open. It is not a fearful sound—rather, it is an annoyed shout, a question. A second mage joins the first at the doors, tries to open them and fails. Confusion, then outcries of irritation, and then Solas watches as the mages come to realize the truth of their situation. An older woman glances up, and she blanches.

Solas watches the eddies of fear ripple through the mages. They move restlessly, and like any animal scenting danger, they pull into tighter clumps, form defenses of tightly pressed flesh, their eyes turned outward. Fear has a way of stripping people of their pretenses, of their manners, of everything but their basest desires. He watches as some mages take call spells, as one wrenches a staff from another’s hand, as others glance at tables and chairs as if they might use them to build a barricade.

Solas glances about himself, realizes that he is alone. Evelyn has rushed to one of the corners of the hall. She is gesturing to smaller figures, trying to coax them into a group. His breath catches.

The apprentices.

The children.

He should not go to them. He should find refuge in the crowd, seek shelter among the masses. It is the what would be expected of a wolf—to hide his teeth and claws, to make himself harmless. He thinks of the tales the Dalish now tell; they would expect no less of him, to hide and plot, to fight from the shadows.

His hand clenches into a fist.

And he strides away from the masses.

Evelyn is not alone. She speak quietly with another mage as she tries to herd the children into a circle. Fitz stands beside her, his ever-present smile gone brittle at the edges.

“—Backs to the wall,” Fitz replies quietly, as Solas approaches. “It’s not an ideal situation, but with no way out, we can’t fight on two fronts. Make them come at us in the direction we choose.”

“How many children are there?” asks Solas. Evelyn’s head jerks up, undisguised surprise on her face. But then that surprise settles into grim determination.

“Around forty,” she replies. “We’ve got half here—the youngest ones were all together when they came in. I don’t know where the older apprentices are…” Her gaze roams over the crowd.

“No time to round them up.” Fitz puts a hand on her elbow. “You take the left—I’ll take the right. If there’s only two of us—”

“Three,” corrects Solas gently.

Again, Evelyn’s gaze snaps to him. “Are you sure?” she says, her voice a bit sharp.

He returns her look with a steady calm. “What can I do?”

“You any good at barriers?” asks Fitz.

“I am fairly competent.” Not quite a lie.

“All right,” says Fitz, considering. “You take the right—stand with your back to the wall. Keep an eye on those archers. Evie takes the left. I’ll stand in front. Anyone comes at us, raise a barrier while I stop them.”

He has thought about this, Solas realizes. Fitz has likely spent hours—days, even—considering what he would do if faced with overwhelming odds.

Fitz goes to the forefront of the children, herding them closer to the wall. Solas casts another glance about the great hall—templars have begun to appear at the balconies. If they have crossbows, the mages in the hall will be little more than easy targets. Solas keeps his attention on the threats above, even as he says, “I take it this is not a normal occurrence.”

“No.” Evelyn’s voice is tight. “I—nothing like this has ever happened before. I can’t imagine—why would they—”

A voice cuts through the din.

Hundreds of heads swivel to the front of the great hall. A man stands there, in full templar armor. His helmet is tucked beneath his left arm, and his right hand rests on his undrawn sword.

The Knight Commander.

“Silence,” he says, again. “Or we will silence you.”

The chatter begins to die away, replaced with whispers and the rustle of shifting feet.

For the first time, all of the weariness has fallen from the Knight Commander. He stands at rigid attention, arms at his sides, in reach of his weapons. He waits for the whispers to burn themselves out, until a swelling silence fills the hall. Solas glances to his left. Evelyn stares hard at the Knight Commander, her bloodless lips set in a line. For all that she is pale and frightened, he catches a glimpse of light between her fingers. 

The Knight Commander clears his throat. When he speaks, his voice rings clearly through the hall.

“No one is leaving this hall,” he says. “For your own protection. There has been an… incident. You will be held here until we can adequately prepare to question certain individuals.”

“Blood mage,” says Fitz under his breath. “They must have found a blood mage. More than one. They must think there are others—it’s the only reason—”

“It can’t be.” Evelyn’s arms are crossed tightly across her stomach. “The last time they found a bloodmage, they simply questioned his fraternity, not the whole tower.”

Fitz opens his mouth, but the Knight Commander’s voice cuts through the swell of whispers.

“We received word this afternoon.” Cynesige looks out over the mages, and Solas cannot be sure at this distance, but it looks as if the man’s grip tightens on his sword. “The Kirkwall Circle of Magi was annulled last night.”

The silence lasts half a moment more, and then it shatters.

Voices begin a frightful clamor; a few mages utter screams; curses ring out.

Evelyn’s indrawn breath is loudest of all. Her gaze darts to the locked doors, as if she truly wishes she could run for them.

And again, Solas is struck by the truth of this place—once all of the trappings have been yanked away, it is a prison. A beautiful prison, with walls of poisonous flowers, with templars that smile and never walk unarmed, with mages that smile because that is all the armor they are allowed.

“What is it?” he says quietly. “Evelyn.”

Evelyn glances at him, then away, as if she cannot bear to look at any one thing for longer than a moment. Her eyes flick back and forth between the Knight Commander and the children, then back to Solas. Her eyes squeeze shut, her arms still tight around her abdomen, as if she is afraid she might fall apart if she relaxes her hold. “It—it’s a last resort. When a circle is irredeemable or too dangerous—they can request the right of annulment.”

Her voice hollows, and without thinking, he reaches for her. Places a hand on her back. Her eyes fly open and she stiffens, but she makes no move to step away. Rather, she leans into his touch.

She says, “It means every mage in Kirkwall has been executed.”


They are locked in the great hall for the entire night.

A precautionary measure, it is called. 

The mages break into smaller groups. The rampant fear has faded into a more speculative anxiety; he catches pieces of broken conversation—talk of a mad knight commander, about Qunari, about an apostate champion. Something must have happened in this Kirkwall Circle, they murmur, something to spark the ire and terror of the Chantry. The templars fear that whatever occurred might repeat itself here. So they will lock all of the mages in the great hall, where they might be observed and if the worst occurs—more easily dealt with.

And slowly, even the nervousness gives way to exhaustion. Mages begin to curl up on the floor, to put their heads on the tables—some even sleep beneath the tables. It is a sign of how long they have lived under observation that the archers overhead seem to give them little cause for worry. 

“Come on,” says Evelyn, touching his elbow. “We’re going to sleep in shifts. Most of the children are down for the night, but we want to make sure no one wanders away.”

Their own small corner has been fortified with what Fitz and Kinnaird have been able to salvage from the dining hall—tablecloths for blankets, rolled up napkins for pillows. Fitz moves among the young ones, checking on them, and as Solas walks by, he nods.

“Fitz and I will take the first watch,” says Evelyn quietly. “You should try to get some rest, if you can.” She gestures to an open space along the wall.

It is a wise suggestion. There is little he can do besides wait, and he can do that easily in the Fade as in the waking world.

He settles on the floor, crossing his legs and resting his head against the wall.

The Circle of Kirkwall.

An entire circle executed.

If it is anything like Ostwick, then hundreds will have perished. All mages, all likely innocents.

The more he sees of this world, the clearer his own path becomes. It is a cruel, broken place, and he cannot let things continue as they are. A child cries quietly nearby; the archers overhead shift restlessly; the scent of oil used upon swords is heavy on the air.

And all for some mistaken belief that magic is somehow inherently wrong. Because in this world, in this day, magic is barely known. Restrained. Held back.

Veiled.

The knowledge leaves him numb.

And tired.

He is just so tired.

When he dreams, he does not leave the great hall. Its denizens are reflected in the Fade—shadows and forms of mages drift in the enclosed space. Their own terror has followed them into the Fade; a fear demon lurks near one of the doors, flickering in and out of existence, as if waiting to be called upon. Wisps flutter through the crowds, their forms far more fragile than Solas has ever seen.

And there is Rage. Solas recognizes the spirit from his own Harrowing. Edged with flame, sharp with fury, it stands not far away. Solas rises to his feet and approaches slowly. Anger born of fear is often the most volatile. The spirit looks at him, gaze flicking over Solas with vague wariness.

“Greetings, my friend,” says Solas, inclining his head.

Rage makes a sound that might have been a grunt of acknowledgement—or derision.

“What brings you here this night?” Solas takes another step closer.

This time, there is no mistaking the derisive sound the demon makes. “You ask questions to which you already know the answer.”

It must be an older spirit; those wrought of anger do not often speak.

“Their ire kindles your own,” says Solas. “It must be a feast for you tonight, to revel in a place with such… uncurbed emotion.”

He cannot be sure, but he think Rage smiles. “Is that why you remain? I cannot fathom why you would allow yourself to be caged.”

Solas considers several answers. “An answer for an answer.”

Rage nods. “As you wish.”

A simple exchange—and perhaps he should be more wary of it, but Solas does not have the luxury of caution. “Those who reside here took something of mine. I would have it back before I left. Now, tell me, friend. Can you leave this place?”

“I could,” says the spirit, and Solas’s heartbeat quickens.

It could carry a message. Bring word of his entrapment to the right ears. A dreamer would listen to this spirit, know what to do with this information. And Val Royeaux is not so far away.

Then Rage adds, “But not at the present.”

Solas lifts his chin, regards the spirit calmly. Spirits will mirror emotions, and the moment he loses control, this spirit will use his anger as kindling. It will burn and burn, and there will be no more words after that. “Why?”

The flames ripple around Rage, and Solas is put in mind of a cat, stretching after a long nap. There is a rueful amusement in Rage’s voice when it answers. “Did you truly think you were the only person bound here?”

Solas opens his mouth, but before he can pose the question, the Fade goes dark.

He snaps into the waking world. A breath hisses through his teeth and he looks up.

Evelyn kneels beside him.

“Sorry,” she whispers. “It’s just—it’s nearly morning.”

As he blinks the world into focus, he realizes that she is right. Wan, predawn light glows from the eastern windows. Most of the mages are asleep, curled in piles on the hard stone floor, on the wooden benches, some even having made beds of the tables. A few still stand sentry by the doors, but even they seem worn thin by exhaustion. In a room of nearly three hundred people, Solas realizes that he and Evelyn are almost alone.

“You did not wake me,” he says, with quiet rebuke. “I might have taken a shift.”

A faint smile tugs at her mouth. “I slept most of the afternoon. Of course, you would have no way to know that, would you?” She might have made those words into a weapon, tried to run him through with the memory of their last parting, but her voice is gentle. “Thank you for bringing the books to my room.”

“It was no trouble.” Solas exhales. “I apologize for my unkind words. I should not have lashed out at you. You are right—you did not entrap me here. You simply provided a convenient target for my anger.”

“I understand.” She looks down at her own lap. “It—it seems so stupid now. A quarrel in the midst of… this.” She jerks her chin at the sleeping crowds. “Whatever happened in Kirkwall, it was enough to justify annulling a Circle. I’ve heard things about the Circle there, and it always seemed terrible, but I never thought…” She meets his gaze. “I’m sorry, too. I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable. It was foolish to approach you.”

Solas looks at her. Truly looks at her. Her face is pale with sleeplessness, her lips dried and cracked through. Her fingers tremble as she settles them in her lap. Frightened, exhausted, yet still between the threat of the templars and those children she would protect.

He realizes, belatedly, that she has placed herself between Solas and the archers, as well. Despite his rejection, she would still protect him.

It is such a small thing. But at the same time, it is not. It is kindness and mercy.

It is everything good he thought lost to this world. And he never thought to find it in her.

“Evelyn,” he says quietly, then hesitates. He is unsure of what he might have said—for then, the doors crack open. The steady drum of metal armor on stone rouse more of the mage; hundreds of eyes are turned upon the doors.

And the templars striding into the hall.

Chapter Text

The world begins and ends with stone walls.

Evelyn reclines on her bed, her fingers folded over her stomach. Gazing up at the ceiling has become something of an obsession for her; perhaps, if she stares hard enough, she will see beyond the heavy gray stone, smell something beyond unwashed bodies, or hear something that is not one of her friends’ voices.

A week.

A week spent locked in their quarters.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the dormitories do possess doors. They are slid into a gap between the stone, left always open because who knows what a few younger mages might get up to if they had privacy. But now those doors are locked into place, keeping their occupants trapped inside.

Meals are brought to them, of course. Imprisoning mages is one thing, but letting them starve to the death is another. Bowls of unseasoned porridge and dried meats. Evelyn, Signy, and Keldra have been to the baths once—escorted by two templars who watched the three women hawkishly, then hustled them back to their dormitory. As for the privy… well. There is a bucket near the entryway that the templars retrieve every evening.

Evelyn is not sure what is most galling—the boredom, the worry, the gnawing hunger after every unsatisfying meal, or the uncertainty. Her fate hangs in the balance of some unseen conflict, all the more maddening that she does not know what is going on.

Or perhaps her cellmates.

“—Doing it again,” Keldra is saying. “Evie, would you please stop? You’re making Signy uncomfortable.”

Evelyn blinks, turns her head. “Doing what?”

“Staring.” Keldra widens her eyes in mock imitation of a gaping frog. “Constantly. Unblinkingly. At the ceiling. You look like you’re trying to set it afire. And you’re frightening Signy.”

Signy is at the desk, a quill in her pale fingers. Her blond hair is a cascade down her back, and she works intently, ignoring the two women behind her.

“Yes, plainly the girl is terrified,” says Evelyn dryly.

Keldra crosses her arms. “All right. You’re unsettling me. With all of that silent gazing at the ceiling. Can’t you—I don’t know. Read a book? Write a letter?”

Evelyn lets out a breath. All of her books are academic texts—not the most riveting reads at the best of times. “I think I’ll take a nap,” she says, and rolls onto her side.

Day and night take on little meaning without a schedule. She sleeps when tired, sleeps when bored, sleeps when there is little else to do. Then she is awake long into the night, wondering if perhaps this will be the evening that the Knight Commander will announce they will be freed.

She closes her eyes, tries to ignore the sounds of Keldra pacing and the scratch of Signy’s quill.

She does not expect to fall asleep, but she does. She dreams—flashes of the Fade converge with her own memories, and she finds herself in the Great Hall again. Surrounded by templars with drawn swords, so close she can taste the oil they use on their armor. Solas is there, his fingers resting lightly on the small of her back. A reassurance that she is not alone in this, that if it turns to a fight, she will not die alone.

And then the dream shifts, and she is in a forest and she is running, running, the sounds of footsteps ringing out behind her, and she crashes through the undergrowth, her heart pounding beneath her ribs, her breath a rasp in her throat because she cannot stop, cannot hesitate—

A sharp rap at the door jerks her to wakefulness. And then it is sliding open, fresh light spilling across the dormitory.

Evelyn sits up so quickly that the blanket falls from around her shoulders, pooling on the stone floor. Keldra is sitting on her own bed, having given up on her pacing. Signy is no longer at the desk; she has wedged herself in the gap between the wardrobe and the wall. Evelyn takes a moment and a deep breath, using the time to draw her dignity around herself. A noble’s pride is flimsy armor, but it is all she has in this place.

A templar stands in the doorway.

It is Knight Captain Clayborne.

She is a woman of forty years, with weather-worn skin and lined eyes. But the years have only served to sharpen her, to hone her instincts and reactions. Evelyn has seen her with the new templar recruits, training them with blades. She can take off a training dummy’s head with a single, sure stroke.

And she has little patience for mages.

“Mage Trevelyan, the First Enchanter has summoned you,” she says, without so much as a greeting. “I’m to escort you to her.”

Ah. That explains her gruffness; it must gall the Knight Captain to be forced to fetch mages.

A flutter of anticipation rises in Evelyn’s chest. The thought of leaving this room is so enticing that she does not care that her hair is unwashed, that she wears rumpled robes. Evelyn gives Clayborne a small, polite smile. “Of course.”


The tower is quiet.

Without the constant thrum of conversation, the footsteps, and the occasional burst of fire or wind, the hallways seem larger. There are no mages clustering in doorways, no conversations in the common rooms, nor those trying to catch a moment’s privacy in the stairwell. The only others Evelyn sees on her way to the First Enchanter’s office are a few templars; their eyes are bloodshot, their postures slumped with exhaustion.

She wonders what could have brought them to this state—mages locked in their rooms, templars unsleeping and on edge.

Perhaps she will discover as much in the First Enchanter’s office.

Monette is behind her desk when Evelyn enters the room. Clayborne shuts the door behind her without so much as a farewell. “That’s polite,” Evelyn murmurs.

Monette rises to her feet. “I suspect you would find the other templars as accommodating as she is. They are all falling apart at the seams, I fear. Poor dears.” She says the last word with a bite of a smile. But then her smile fades into its polite, warm mask. “Thank you for coming, Evelyn. Sit down, if you please.”

For the first time in her life, Evelyn is glad for the flower tea, for the padded chairs, and for the plants creeping along the windowsills. After a week of the same walls and the same company, she revels in the change. She sips her tea too eagerly, feels it scald her tongue, and swallows. It burns a trail down her throat. It has steeped too long; the tea has a bitter tang.

“You are probably wondering what in the Maker’s name is going on,” says Monette, settling herself in her own chair. Her polished nails gleam as she picks up a small spoon and stirs honey into her tea. “I would be, in your place.”

Evelyn considers a sharp reply, but thinks better of it. “I would appreciate what knowledge you would give me.”

Monette gives her an approving nod. “As diplomatic as ever. Which is partly why I summoned you here. I need your knack for diplomacy. I will be leaving this afternoon to attend a meeting of the College of Enchanters in Cumberland. I am allowed to bring those I see fit to aid me—and I would very much appreciate your presence.”

Evelyn forces herself to remain impassive, to keep her own mask of calm firmly in place. “I would not presume to attend without knowing the full extent of the… situation.”

Monette allows herself a sigh. “Ah, yes. You shall find out soon enough, so you may as well know.” She studies Evelyn, as if waiting to see her reaction. “A mage destroyed the Chantry in Kirkwall.”

The breath goes still in Evelyn’s lungs. Breathing takes effort, and she tries to focus on the drag and pull of the air. “How?”

“It wasn’t magic,” says Monette, using one of her small, silver spoons to stir more honey into her tea. “But the Knight Commander did not care. An apostate had attacked the Chantry, killed everyone within, and she invoked the right of annulment. The reports after that are muddier, but my own contacts have told me that the champion of the city, some woman called Hawke, did her best to protect the mages as they escaped the city. Many died, but many are on the run, as well. This has led to some… tensions within the College. Our newly elected leader will no doubt have her own opinions on the matter, as will the heads of every fraternity.” She sips at her tea, grimaces, then adds another spoon of honey. “The Chantry agrees that this meeting is necessary for our ongoing peace. We should sort out our own problems, rather than face another disaster like Kirkwall.”

Evelyn drinks her own tea; it is too bitter, but she barely notices the taste. An apostate. An apostate destroyed a Chantry. That it happened in Kirkwall is less of a shock. Evelyn knows the stories of that place, has heard of the prison made into a circle—simply a new prison.

She finds her voice. “Do we know the names of the dead?” she asks quietly. Her heart throbs, and she is unsure if she truly wishes to hear the answer. So long as she does not know for sure, she can imagine, she can pretend

“Not yet,” says Monette, with a little shrug. “It is still chaos, of course. The Knight Captain is attempting to pull things together, but the templars took heavy casualties.” She tilts her chin up, gives Evelyn a steady look. “Did you know anyone at Kirkwall.”

There is little point in lying. “Yes.” The word comes out a rasp, as if it carves out her chest in the speaking. Evelyn feels suddenly hollow. She forces herself to finish her tea, downing it in a few shaky gulps.

“We might learn more at the college,” says Monette, not unsympathetically. “If you choose to accompany me…”

The answer is in Evelyn’s mouth before she can truly think it through. “Yes. I would be pleased to accompany you.”

Monette smiles and for once it seems genuine. A dimple appears in her left cheek. “Oh, delightful. I do dislike traveling alone. Come. You must go to the baths,” her eyes scan over Evelyn critically, “and then see to your things. I will meet you in the courtyard in two hours.” She sets her teacup aside. “I will tell the templars not to disturb you as you go about your business. Poor little dears have run themselves ragged.”

Evelyn stands, forces a smile, and leaves the room with the taste of bitter tea still in her mouth.


Solas dreams.

He dreams of scoured lands, of people forgotten, of names that no one else can recall. He dreams even in his waking hours, when his eyes are raw with exhaustion and he cannot stand a single moment more with these human men. Trapped for days encased in stone, surrounded by walls and unfamiliar sounds and smells. Trapped, with only the Fade for comfort. He dreams of spirits and men and women and—

“Baths,” says the voice. There is a screech of protesting metal as the lock is undone, and then a templar stands in the doorway. It is an older man, and Solas forces his memory to dredge up the name. Ralston, Evelyn called him. One of the veteran templars.

“Come on,” says Ralston, with surprising gentleness. “It’s your room’s turn for the baths. I’m to escort you.”

The men of Solas’s dormitory rise, come to stand by the door. Made restless by days spent imprisoned, they shift about like nervous animals. Solas is utterly still, watchful as the templar steps into the hall and gestures for the mages to walk ahead of him. But he does so as if it were a courtesy rather than a soldier keeping threats ahead of him. When Solas walks by, Ralston gives him a weary smile.

“It should be over soon,” he says, perhaps seeing some of the coldness in Solas’s face. “It’s a precaution, nothing more. To keep the mages safe, as well as everyone outside of the tower.”

Solas keeps his voice level. “You do not believe there is a threat?”

“Not here,” says Ralston. “Kirkwall is where the mess is—but Ostwick has always been peaceful. I can’t see any of their antics affecting us here.” He gives Solas a small smile. “I don’t think any of you were involved. You’re a good type, here.” With a gesture of his armored fingers, Solas is made to understand Ralston meant ‘you’ as ‘all of the mages’.

They walk down the empty hallways, past more guarded doors, down the stairs. The silence is a taut one, broken only by the shuffle of feet and clink of armor. They travel through the templar controlled floors, then to the lower levels. Steam hangs heavy on the air, and a group of mages pass them by, with damp hair and fresh clothing. “You’re next,” says Ralston, opening the door to the baths. “I’ll be waiting here. Keep it quick, if you don’t mind.”

The baths are as he remembers—the darkness of the windowless room, the heavy stone and suffocating steam. Blue stones are lit from within; cool light spills across the black marble floors.

Solas glances to his left and sees the other three men disrobing hastily, quite eager to get into the warm water. He does not blame them; the sweat and grit on his own skin is an irritant. But he takes a moment to observe his surroundings before removing his own clothing. There are no other templars—only Ralston in the corner, his eyes closed.

And there is a figure in the farthest bath.

Solas turns sharply, his gaze falling to the woman. Her back is to him, but he would know her anywhere. He takes a hesitant step forward, and then another.

He should not speak with her; he should not approach her. But his feet move of their own accord until he stands beside the bath. She does not hear him over the sound of her own bathing. She is running a broken piece of soap over her arm, her body submerged to her collarbones. He can see little of her, but he averts his eyes when he says her name.

“Evelyn.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her jerk in surprise. She whirls around, the chunk of soap flying from her fingers. It hits the floor, slides out of her reach. Solas takes three steps away, retrieves it. His gaze still steadily on the far wall, he extends his hand.

She takes the soap; her fingers are warm against his. “Solas.”

“I apologize,” he says. “I did not mean to startle you.”

She shakes her head; he barely sees the movement. “They are only warming the men’s baths today, so I decided to forsake modesty in favor of hot water. I didn’t realize they’d brought a new batch of mages in. So it’s your turn?”

“Yes.”

She makes a soft, amused sound. “You’re wasting time, you know. Each group so far has been allowed ten minutes. I suggest you either get in, or find an empty bath if that is more to your taste.”

It is an invitation, but there is no coyness to it. She sounds matter of fact, almost mocking.

“I would not presume,” he says slowly.

“Solas.” His name becomes a gentle rebuke in her mouth. “I am a mage. I have not had a moment’s privacy since I was eight. If you think to spare my honor, don’t.”

He hears the sound of sluicing water as she rises, stands in the middle of the bath. Daring him to look at her.

He looks at her.

There are a scattering of moles over her shoulders. She is slender, but soft around her hips and belly as befits one not used to hard labor. Her breasts are pale, and he sees the thread of blue veins along the underside. She is not so different from an elf—smaller, rounder, but not unattractive. When he was younger, he might have greatly enjoyed such a body. But now, he finds himself looking at her hands. Her fingers twitch, and he can see the tension in her arms, as if she yearns to cross them over her chest. Nervous, even if she wishes not to show it.

That makes her more real, somehow. She is not wholly unafraid, but she will not allow such emotions to keep her from action.

It is admirable.

Solas takes a breath and then pulls his robe over his head. It is a simple matter to undress, to set his clothing on the bench along the wall. He steps into the bath, taking enough time so she may observe him if she so desires. He regards his own body much the same as a staff or a blade—a tool to be kept in good shape, but nothing to be truly preened over.

All of his thoughts go flying from his mind when he touches the hot water. It feels better than—well, it feels better than anything he can remember. The grime of days spent unwashed sloughs away, and he sinks into the water, his muscles clenching pleasurably. He sits on the stone bench beneath the water, turning his eyes on Evelyn. She gazes back at him. The candlelight catches in her slick hair, glitters in her eyes.

“You have more muscle than I thought,” she says, smiling. “I suppose life on the run would have some advantages.”

“If you are looking for reasons to escape, I am sure I can find better ones,” he tells her, echoing her smile with his own.

Her gaze slips away. “I’m sure you could.”

Solas takes a bar of soap; it smells sharply of lemon, but he does not care so long as he is clean. There is a bliss to be found in scrubbing the sweat from his skin; it is a blissful sort of rebirth.

For many minutes, they each find comfort in their own thoughts. The quiet is an easy one, and when Solas finally feels somewhat decent again, he turns his attention to her. She is wringing water from her hair, her eyes faraway. For all that she is an arms length away, she appears untouchable.

A question occurs to him. A question he should have happened upon when he first saw her.

“You do not have an escort,” he observes.

She seems to snap back to herself. “Oh. I—no. I don’t.” Disquiet settles into her face, makes her appear older than before.

He awaits her answer, patient.

“I’m leaving the tower for a few weeks,” she finally says. “First Enchanter Monette is attending a meeting of the college of enchanters and she wants to take me with her.”

It takes a moment for her words to sink in. “You are leaving,” he says.

A bird slipped free of this cage. And at once, possibilities sweep in. If she could leave on official business, perhaps he could, as well. But, no. She is of noble birth, and he is an apostate. An elf. She may be allowed out of the tower, but he is not so trusted. He forces his disappointment away, tries to refocus on her. There is none of the triumph he would expect to see upon the face of a mage about to walk out of the gates.

“You do not seem overly happy about such a trip,” he observes. “Are you not one for travel?”

The corner of her mouth tugs upward. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never traveled.” Her gaze slides up to meet his. “I would enjoy it under different circumstances. But people are dead and maybe more will die unless we find a way to stop this conflict.” A flush appears on her chest, crimson blooming between her collar bones. “I don’t want this to happen again. I don’t want to feel that, ever again. To look up and see archers and know that my life could be ended at any moment.”

He sits beside her. The water laps against the sides of the stone bath, and she looks up, her face shining with sweat and steam. He can feel the heat of her flesh, even through the warmth of the bath; his knee bumps against hers.

“The threat is there,” he says softly. “Whether you can see it or not. The arrows are always aimed at you. You are not a person to them.”

She does not look away. “To who?”

“The Chantry.” He glances about the room. “The templars. The common people of Thedas. I have seen what people think of magic, how they react to it. They have been taught to fear you.”

A muscle flexes in her throat. “I might be able to do some good,” she says. “I might be able to change that.”

And she truly believes that—he can see it in her face. The hope and the ferocity, all tangled together. The yearning and the desire. She wishes to make things better.

And without truly allowing himself to consider the ramifications, he touches her shoulder—just a brush of fingertips. “If you wish for freedom, you will have to take it.”

Surprise tightens her face, but she does not pull away. “You make it sound so simple.”

“It is simple.” He watches the rise and fall of her chest, the flicker of movement in her fingers. “It is not easy, but it is simple.”

A shadow passes through her eyes. She looks away from him, and abruptly, she rises from the water. In two quick steps, she is out of the bath. A towel rests upon the floor, and she picks it up, wraps it around herself. Solas glances back at the other mages; they are finishing their own baths, talking amongst themselves as they pull on clothing, run combs through their hair, and seem in far high spirits than before. Solas stands, steps free of the water. He does not bother with a towel, not with so few eyes that might see him. He casts a simple spell, heat and wind spun together, and the water vanishes from his skin.

He pulls on fresh clothing before he turns to look at her again.

She wears a flimsy robe, something meant to protect her modesty while she retrieves traveling clothes from her rooms. It does a poor job; he can see every line of her body beneath the thin fabric.

She catches him looking. And her mouth tightens, as if in annoyance. “I think it rather unfair that you come into the Circle and make such quick judgements about us.”

He tilts his head to one side, indicating for her to continue.

“You are an apostate,” she says. “You do not know what it is to live like this for years. It grinds the hope out of you, after a while. Most mages are happy to live out their lives in peace because the alternatives are far worse. And yet you would judge us for not staging some kind of uprising that would likely bring down the wrath of the Divine.”

“I do not judge you for your desire for peace,” he replies. “Evelyn, that you can see your prison for what it is—that in itself is a wonder. But that terrible future you envision—it may be the only way for you to take what is rightfully yours.”

She takes a step forward, and there is a rueful amusement on her face. “You think you can walk into a circle and change everything?”

“No,” he answers. “Only you could do that.”

A smile tugs at her mouth, then falls away. It is only then he realizes their closeness. She stands before him in that thin robe, her hair unbound and damp, her face still flushed from the bath. A jolt of want goes through him so strong that he nearly takes a step back. He is not a young man; a pleasing array of flesh should have little hold on him. But it is more than her body that calls to him—it is the promise of change, the gentle smiles, and the knowledge that if he stepped into her arms, she would do all she could to protect him. A protection he does not need, but the sheer knowledge that she would give it is a heady one. It has been far too long since anyone thought him worth protection.

“It would be kinder in the long run,” he says quietly, “if you stayed far away from me.”

She takes a breath, as if to steady herself. “Do you want me to stay away, Solas?”

He wants—

The heat of her mouth, the tight grip of her fingers around the back of his neck, to breathe in the scent of mint that still clings to her.

—to feel awake again.

Oddly enough, it is Rage’s words that come to mind. Did you truly think you were the only person bound here?

He finds himself looking at her mouth again, and she notices. Her lips part, as if to draw in a breath.

He kisses her.

No, it is far less elegant than that. He devours her, his mouth crashing down upon hers with a yearning he can scarcely understand.

She makes a ragged, relieved noise, and her fingers are clutching at his neck, and her body is canted toward his. Human, mortal, fragile—and yet he has found he does not care. Kind, intelligent, compassionate, gloriously angry at her situation. Her mouth is sweet against his, and it is so easy to lose himself in her touch, to let her presence drive out his every thought. Some of her fervor simmers away. She slows the kiss, guides it away from tumultuous need into gentleness.

She pulls away, says, “I have to go,” and then kisses him again.

He needs this, and perhaps she does, as well, for she clutches at him as if afraid that he will vanish.

The second time, he is the one to draw away.

“Don’t come back,” he whispers.

She tenses against him, pulls back. Gazes at him, her brows drawn together.

“If you can run,” he tells her, “do not come back.”

The templars will hunt her, but she is clever. She could manage to elude them.

Understanding dawns in her eyes. She touches her fingers to his chin, her thumb resting at the corner of his mouth. “Stay safe, Solas.” She gently keeps hold of him, presses one last kiss to his lower lip.

When she leaves the baths, he does not know if he wishes for her to escape—or if he is selfish enough to wish for her return.

Chapter Text

Evelyn was seventeen when she fell in love.

His name was Anselm and he transferred to Ostwick from Dairsmuid. Evelyn first caught sight of him when he stood in the doorway of the Great Hall. He gazed at the many tables, his face creased with uncertainty, and Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh.

“You look as if you’ve been asked to leap from a cliff,” she said, smiling. “They’re tables. Pick one.”

To her surprise, the young man did not flush. “Ah. See, that is where you’re wrong.” He gestured at the mages before him, at those eating together. “I will speak with whomever is at my table.”

“Hopefully,” she said, her tone a little wry.

“And thus,” continued Anselm, “my entire future at this tower will be decided. I will be making alliances, maybe even friends, and it all depends on who I choose to sit with today. What if I choose the wrong table? What if I fall in with a stuffy crowd of loyalists or perhaps find myself entrapped with those who don’t talk at all, but spend their entire meal reading, or—”

She took hold of his sleeve.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Making the decision for you,” she replied, and half-dragged him to her table. “Or else you’ll miss the morning meal.”

She liked him, even then. She enjoyed the fact he took his time in deciding where to sit, and he thought too much about things she considered inconsequential. He sat at her table and asked about Ostwick. He wished to know more about his new home, he said, and she liked even that. Referring to a mage circle as ‘home’ rather than a place to reside. It was unfamiliar and… nice.

As the weeks passed, she noticed things about him. His face reminded her of statues—hard planes and sharp edges. Only his mouth was soft. And what a mouth it was, capable of spinning normal conversations into philosophical debates, and offering dry observations that made her laugh. His mouth was always smiling, and she liked that, too.

One evening, as they were lingering in a hallway, he kissed her. It was quick, a mere flash of heat and sensation, before he pulled back.

“I’m sorry,” he said, anxious. “It’s just—I’ve been wanting to do that for a while now. A long while. Pretty much since I met you. But if you didn’t like it, that’s all right. I just had to try—”

She caught him by the robes and pressed her mouth to his. His lips were moving, still forming words until they fragmented into a desperate gasp.

Evelyn knew mages had flings within the tower. It was simply another facet of being a mage. She heard rumors of couplings in darkened corridors, in empty classrooms, anywhere two people could find a moment’s privacy. She stumbled into a few such encounters, and offered hasty apologies and giggles after.

How could anyone be so foolish, she once said to Keldra.

Quite easily, as it turned out.

She and Anselm stole kisses on the way to their lessons. He brought her weeds he found growing out of the walls—a poor imitation of flowers, but it was a sweet effort. He sought out lines of poetry and wrote them on scraps of parchment, left them on her pillow. She fell in love with him swiftly, unwisely, and whole-heartedly. When there was a midsummer’s feast and most of the tower was drinking spring wines, she took his hand and darted into one of the abandoned store rooms.

She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything. He was sweet and gentle, even as she unlaced his trousers and pulled up her own robes. Her heartbeat quickened, her breath catching between her teeth when he touched her. She pressed her face against his still-clothed shoulder, moaned softly when his thumb stroked just right. As good as his fingers felt, there was little time to savor it. There were no beds, no starry skies, nothing like the romance novels she had heard others read. There was simply this store room, a wall, and Anselm. She drew him close, kissed him as his hands took hold of her hips. Being with him was far more intimate than she could have imagined, and she was glad he was her first—he was careful and tentative and far more concerned with her wellbeing than his own. There was an odd jolt when he slid inside of her, a flicker of discomfort, and she tensed. She’d read that this act could bring unending pleasure, but all she felt was him. His face twisted up with a blissful agony and he made a ragged sound. She touched his mouth, which was set in a determined line. When he withdrew and pressed back into her, she gasped. “Good?” he asked, and she gave a little shrug.

“I’ve never done this before,” she whispered back. “Not quite sure how it is supposed to feel.” 

“Well, you feel bloody amazing.” He kissed the side of her neck. “Maker’s breath.” His hips moved, as if he could not help himself, and she tried to move with him. There was a rhythm to be found here, and even as they fumbled, she felt warmth unspooling within her. Their movements quickened, and she found herself clinging to him. 

His hand fell between their joined bodies, fumbling about. A broken sound escaped her, one that she didn’t even know she’d been capable of making. 

“I will not climax before you do,” he said through gritted teeth. “I read about this—hold on.”

The thought of him in the library, researching sex, had her giggling. And that made her inner muscles clench and he gasped, shuddered, and was finished. They both laughed afterwards, and he kissed her fiercely. “I love you,” he said. And her stomach clenched, because she knew this was dangerous. She heard the other mages speak of how entanglements left one vulnerable, of how they could not afford relationships.

But she didn’t care.

“I love you, too,” she replied.

They were together for a year. A year of finding what time they could spend together, of studying in the library, of hasty couplings. They did get better at that.

They were both Harrowed and came out of it alive. When they were both full mages, Anselm and Evelyn celebrated by stealing a bottle of wine and drinking it on a ledge overlooking the sea. His arms were locked around her and she knew, she just knew, that all would be well.

But it was a foolish hope.

A blood mage was found in the Tower. An older man, found using blood magic to control a templar.

And that mage happened to be Anselm’s mentor.

No one would believe that Anselm had not been involved. Blood mages were like pests, said a templar. Like overturning a rock, there would always be more than one scurrying away from the light.

Anselm told Evelyn to distance herself from him. “I cannot see you caught up in this,” he told her. He was too young to have lines around his eyes, but there was some new heaviness to his face. An exhaustion that had nothing to do with years.

“I’m not abandoning you,” she replied, and he did not have the heart to argue with her.

When the templars came for Anselm, Evelyn fought them.

The last thing she remembers of the encounter was an armored fist and then stars burst behind her eyes. She can recall the stone floor beneath her cheek, and hearing Anselm’s panicked voice.

Evelyn! Eve—

She awoke in a cell, cold and alone. A throbbing bruise upon her cheek. She clawed at the bars, screamed for Anselm, but there was no answer.

She remained in that cell for two weeks. Two weeks of no bathing, of scant meals, but she did not care. All she could think of was him, if he was all right, if he was in a cell, too.

But when she emerged, Anselm was gone.

He had been transferred, a templar told her. To a circle more adequately prepared to handle those who might be blood mages.

Kirkwall.


The sunlight is blinding.

Evelyn spends the first hour of her trip blinking tears from her stinging eyes. The brilliant sky overhead is an irritant rather than a joy. Only when the cloud cover blocks out the sun can Evelyn truly observe her surroundings.

The journey to Cumberland is not a short one. It would be a month spent upon horseback or in a carriage, and that would take them across mountains and forests, through several of the small towns that dot the coastal ranges. But the First Enchanter does not care for such long, hard voyages.

The carriage that leaves the Tower rattles down the long, winding road down the coastal cliffs. It is a treacherous path, and several times Evelyn hears the driver barking orders at the horses. Monette is at ease, reading missives rather than glancing out of a window. Her polished fingernails glint in the bright light.

Evelyn watches the scenery. She drinks in the sights and sounds of the carriage ride, enjoying every jostle, the sounds of the horses, the crash of the waves against the rocks. The air smells of juniper and salt, and she savors it on every breath.

She touches a finger to her lips.

Her mouth feels raw. Solas’s kiss was desperate, rough, and she can still recall the guilt in his eyes when he pulled away.

He kissed her, yet there was still conflict in it.

She cannot think what would make him react so. Perhaps he is married—and the thought sends a chill through her. Mages do not marry, but he is an apostate. Perhaps he has a wife among the Dalish. It would explain why he is so eager to leave the tower. But if he is indeed has a wife, she cannot imagine why he would seek her out. Why would he consent to share a bath, to kiss her, to seek solace with her? Not all marriages are faithful, but Solas is steadfast to the point of stubbornness. She cannot see him betraying a wife for the sake of a momentary pleasure.

Not married, then.

Perhaps it is simply a desire to remain unattached.

You cannot bind me here.

His words still sting, even now. But surely he would not utter such harsh sentiments unless he feared they might be true.

Well, if that is indeed the source of his reluctance, he shouldn’t worry. Evelyn has not been attached to a man—

Not since Anselm.

Her heart twists in on itself. Even if it has been seven years, she still cares for him. They exchanged letters at first, but as the situation within Kirkwall worsened, his letters became less frequent. Then they stopped all together.

She has to know if he is alive.

The carriage turns onto one of the highways that wind through the Free Marches—and at once, Evelyn sees riders on horseback, wagons, those on foot. The carriage takes up much of the road, and others are forced to scramble from its path. The driver snaps at those who do not move quickly enough, and Evelyn winces as once he cracks his whip at a merchant who cannot coax his mule away without the creature trying to nip at the horses.

The ride to Ostwick itself is three hours. By the time Evelyn hears the unfamiliar sounds of the city, her limbs are all but numb from the jostling and even Monette appears a little rumpled. Evelyn gazes out of the window and the city’s famous double walls loom before her. She remembers those walls clearly from her childhood—her nanny telling her stories of the Qunari invasion, of how those walls were the only thing standing between the Free Marchers and their would-be conquerers. The gate to the city is open, as is custom during daylight hours, with guards waiting to take papers and inspect cargo. The driver gets their carriage through with surprising swiftness, and then they are rattling along the uneven cobblestones, past homes and eating houses. The smell of privies and ale and animals and people wafts into the carriage.

Evelyn remembers little of the city. Only dim recollections of the evening marketplace, of running up and down streets when her nanny could not keep hold of her. Her father rules from the northern part of the city, his own mansion tucked between the well-born, and an impenetrable wall.

She has not visited since she joined the Circle.

A pang goes through her, and she wonders what her family could be doing at this very moment—but then she turns her thoughts to her own task. The carriage jolts and jerks, finally coming to a halt at the docks of Ostwick.

It is true that while a journey on land would take a month, one by ship will take far less time.

The docks are bustling with activity—traders hefting cartons of leathers and dried meats, a Rivaini merchant with luxurious garments on display, stray cats carrying stolen fish, and those bargaining for passage. Monette ignores them all, striding through the crowds with grace. With no staves in sight, she and Evelyn could be just two more high-born ladies. “We have passage aboard the Tempest,” says Monette, speaking above the din. “Come this way.”

The Tempest is a smaller vessel with a single mast. It is built of dark wood, and there is a sleek, almost feline look to it. An elven man stands by the dock, taking the bags of an older woman. He bears no resemblance to Solas; this elf’s hair is dark, bound into a tight knot at the base of his neck. His complexion is one of a man who spends nearly every hour outdoors, and there is an edge to his smile when he sees Monette. “Ah, the mages,” he says, with a certain wariness. “I was told you’d be arriving.” He nods at the carriage driver, laden down with Monette’s two trunks. “You’ll be needing help?” Without waiting for an answer, the man utters a sharp whistle. Two men—boys, honestly—scramble away from the docks and to the elf’s side. “Help the fine ladies with their things.”

Monette steps aboard the vessel without a backward glance. Evelyn hesitates, finds herself glancing at the wooden ramp leading up and onto the boat. The elven man lowers his voice. “First time traveling away from home?” He speaks with mockery, as if she truly is some noble-born, coddled thing who is afraid of leaving behind her finery.

She says the first thing to come to mind. “What sort of ship is this?”

The elf gazes fondly at the Tempest. “Single mast, small vessel. Known around these parts as a cutter. Damn near faster than thought when she catches the right wind. She’ll get you to Cumberland in a week’s time.”

“So quickly,” Evelyn murmurs, mostly to herself.

He rocks back a little, his brows creasing. “Thought you noble types were always trotting about Thedas.”

“Mages aren’t noble,” she replies. “We aren’t—well. We go where we’re sent.”

His nose wrinkles.

Of course the mages have advantages that others are not granted—fine clothing, food, an education only rivaled by the universities, and of course, they have magic. And so, those who do not fear magic often envy those who have it—if only for the seemingly easy lifestyle they are given. But the clothing and food is chosen for the mages, their education takes place within a prison, and magic often feels more a burden than a gift. Not to mention the constant threat of being made tranquil or simply vanishing all together.

“Seems we have something in common, then,” says the elf, and this time his mocking smile is turned inward. “Come on, Lady Not-Noble. We’ll get you situated aboard and all will be well.”


All is not well.

She is ill.

Wretchedly so.

The rocking of the ship, the rising heights and plunging falls, the smell of rotting fish and pipe smoke, the sound of the mast creaking and other passengers being ill over the side—

Evelyn has never wished for death before, but a clean end would be easier to bear.

She spends two days curled up on a bunk below deck, a bucket beside her. Monette seems baffled by Evelyn’s sickness—“My dear, this is nothing. It is not even truly a sea. How about we take you above deck and”—but Evelyn gags and Monette flees. She manages only sips of water, and even then, half of it comes back up.

Finally, on the third day, she rises from her bed. Her legs are unsteady beneath her, and she clutches at the railing as she makes her way onto the deck. The sailors are talking amongst themselves, the captain is with Monette, and Evelyn makes her way to the side of the ship. Her fingers find one of the many ropes that seem to be tied to… something. Honestly, the workings of the ship are far beyond her and she has little on her mind except sitting here, resting her head against the wooden railing and trying to breathe without being ill.

Well.

She hopes Solas is having a better time of it.


Solas is in the library when Fitz strides over to his table and says, “We have to escape.”

With care, Solas places a scrap of parchment in his book to keep his place. He closes it, folds his fingers together, and regards Fitz with a cool glance. “We have been freed less than a day,” he observes, his voice level.

“Precisely.” Fitz runs his fingers through his red hair—making it appear even messier than before. There is an agitation to his movements that Solas has learned to be wary of. Desperate men do not make for good allies.

“Sit down,” says Solas. “You’ll draw attention pacing about like that.”

Fitz forces himself into a chair, but his leg bounces continually. He looks a bit like an animal that has been locked in a cage for too long—which is the truth of the matter, Solas supposes. For all of them. “Have you eaten yet?”

Fitz’s mouth pulls tight. “Did you just inquire as to whether I am feeling rebellious or hungry?”

“In my experience, it is far easier to plan on a full stomach,” says Solas. He rises to his feet, puts his book back on the shelf, and inclines his head politely. “I believe you know the way to the kitchens better than myself.”

It is true that the kitchens have been churning out all sorts of food in the last few hours. Meals have been so irregular that the mages all but stormed the great hall when they were freed, and much of the winter stores were broken out to placate them. Wine and dried fruits, cheeses, and freshly baked breads. It is a poor apology for a week spent confined to quarters, but it seems the only one offered. Solas escaped the frenzy to the library, intending to find a map. He knows little of Cumberland—and he wishes to see where this College of Enchanters is housed.

A fair distance away, it seems.

And he is glad for it.

Because it means that Evelyn will not be caught up in any of this.

He and Fitz find a table in the corner of the Great Hall. It seems the tranquil are still putting out fresh batches of oat cakes, for Fitz swipes an entire plateful of them.

“This is the time to run,” says Fitz through a mouthful of cake and honey. “We can’t stay—not anymore. You heard what happened?”

Solas nods. The rumors of this apostate mage destroying a Chantry in Kirkwall have spread rapidly throughout the tower. There is likely little truth to some of them: the rumor about the Knight Commander being turned to stone seems rather doubtful.

“This will cause a crack down,” continues Fitz. “The Divine’s got to figure things out in the meantime. See how we’ll all be treated, now that some of us aren’t rolling over and showing the templars our bellies. If we want out, it’s got to happen soon.”

“You think this could cause a rebellion?” asks Solas.

In truth, he cannot see that happening. Not here, not as things are. The mages are too cowed, too set in their ways. This is a plush prison, and it would take much more than week spent locked in their quarters to drive them to revolt.

Fitz’s face falls. “Probably not.” He takes another bite, considers, then swallows. “But it won’t matter. All of the mages could beg for mercy, and the Chantry wouldn’t care. We’ll all be deemed too dangerous and there goes our privileges. We’re like children to them and now that one of them has been naughty, we’ll all be punished.”

“What about the College of Enchanters?” Solas picks up one of the cakes, but he does not eat it. It is merely something to do with his hands. “Could they have some influence over the Chanry?”

Fitz shrugs. “They’ve never done much before. Aequitarians have dominated the college for far too long.” At Solas’s even stare, he adds. “You know the fraternities?”

Solas shakes his head. There is still much of the Circle’s inner workings that remain a mystery.

“Aequitarians are the largest fraternity,” says Fitz. “They’re the moderates.” He spits out the last word. “The ones who claim to wish for peace, but only within the boundaries of the Circle. Cowards, the lot of them. At least the loyalists are honest about their goals.”

“I’m assuming,” says Solas, “the loyalists are called thus for their loyalty to the Chantry?”

The corner of Fitz’s mouth turns up. “You catch on fast. All right, so we’ve got the aequitarians and the loyalists. Then there’s the isolationists. They’re all barking, the lot of them. Think they can just hide away from society and form our own, without anyone else. Like that’s bloody likely. Can’t see any mages becoming cobblers or builders, so any isolationist society would lack shoes, houses, and the rest of what we need to live.”

“You seem to have put some thought into this.”

“What else is there to do here?” replies Fitz. “All right, then we’ve got your libertarians. These are brave individuals who believe that mages should govern mages.”

“Should I hazard a guess as to which fraternity you belong to?” asks Solas, unable to keep a dry note from his voice.

Fitz smiles. “None, actually. The libertarians made it quite clear that my antics were unwelcome, so they kindly asked me to leave.”

“Ah.” Solas watches as several mages walk into the hall; they are damp, as if having just come from the baths. Several sit down and one goes to the kitchens, returns with wine and a loaf of bread.

“So in regards to your earlier question,” continues Fitz, “the answer is ‘no.’ The College of Enchanters will talk and talk but do nothing because of the current aequitarian majority. Rumor has it the new Grand Enchanter supports the cause of freedom, but she is one voice among many. And an elf,” he adds, as an afterthought. “Not that I mean any offense, of course. But there are some among the mages that still hold little regard for elves. She will not lead us to freedom, not unless something unexpected happens.”

Solas nods. “You think we should leave before the Chantry has time to implement any more desperate measures to keep the mages in line.”

“Precisely,” agrees Fitz. “It’ll happen, I know it. But if we can get out first, we may have a chance.”

Of all the mages in this tower, Fitz is perhaps the one Solas could see himself escaping with. He is a vibrant being, seemingly careless and invested the same moment. 

Solas allows himself a smile. It is not the smile of an elven apostate—it is too sharp, all hungry edges and teeth.

A wolf’s smile.

“What,” he says quietly, “did you have in mind?”

Chapter Text

Evelyn knows the stories of the College of Magi.

It was once the home of a Nevarran duchess. She gifted the estate to the Chantry when she discovered her daughter was a mage. Rather than let her languish in some fortress, the duchess tried to give her child a life where she would be surrounded by familiar luxury. The college is enormous, with elegant gardens curving around the gates. Vines climb the walls, and even the cobblestones are polished smooth and clean.

But still, there are templars at the gates.

It is a beautiful place, but no less a prison than Ostwick. Evelyn allows herself to be helped from the carriage, glad to have solid ground beneath her. The rocking of the carriage was better than the boat, but she is still grateful to walking again. The air smells of apple trees and citrus, and she wonders what mage has enchanted the fruits to grow all year.

“Come along,” says Monette, and strides towards the entrance hall.

It is beautiful, of course. Sandstone busts of grand enchanters, elaborate paintings of Andraste, and gleaming marble floors.

And more first enchanters than Evelyn has ever seen. In their black robes, they carry staves that are all ornament and little function. Monette calls greets to a few mages, declining further conversation. “We simply must be settled,” she is saying, smiling brightly all the while. “A bath and a bite to eat, and then we’ll join you.”

A servant leads them up several stairs to the guest quarters. They are as opulent as the rest of the tower, and Evelyn finds herself in a private bath for the first time since her childhood. Sunlight pours through a large window. It feels distinctly odd to pull off her soiled clothing, drop it into a woven basket, and step into the porcelain tub. There is a tranquil attendant. She takes Evelyn’s dirty robes and replaces them with new ones, her hollow gaze roaming over Evelyn without truly taking her in.

“Can I get you anything else?” asks the tranquil. “Something to drink? Bath oils?”

Evelyn hesitates, not wishing to burden this woman further, but then she says, “Tea, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“I would not have offered if it were an inconvenience.”

Evelyn washes the smells of the ship from her skin, scrubs the dirt from her hair, and spends several minutes simply taking in the heat of the water. There are runes along the edge to ensure the water will not go cold. When the tranquil returns, she holds out a towel. Feeling a bit awkward, Evelyn steps free of the bath, allowing the woman to wrap her in the clean towel.

If she were truly noble, perhaps she would not blink at such practices, but after years of caring for herself, having someone wait on her seems… frivolous. But if there is one thing Evelyn knows about the tranquil, it is that they dislike idleness. She allows the tranquil to help braid her hair, winding it like a crown around her head. The fresh robes are that of a senior enchanter, not a simple mage. Evelyn considers asking for different ones, then decides against it.

When she walks into sitting room, she finds Monette perched atop a chaise lounge, chatting with an older woman. “Come here,” says Monette, patting the place beside her. Evelyn slides into the proffered seat, her eyes on the woman. She has gray hair, coiled atop her head in a neat knot. Her eyes are lined, her mouth gentle. She wears the black of a first enchanter, but there is no emblem of a tower around her throat. For all that she must be well into her years, her wrinkled hands appear strong and her back is unbowed.

“This is Evelyn Trevelyan,” says Monette smoothly. “She’ll be assisting me at the conclave. Young, I know, but she’s shown herself to be of fine quality.” Her hand hovers a hairsbreadth from Evelyn’s shoulder. To an observer, it would appear a friendly touch, but never once does Monette let her hand rest.

“Evelyn, this is Senior Enchanter Wynne, one of the heroes of the fifth Blight.” Monette turns her graceful smile upon the older woman. “I’m sure you’ve heard of her.”

Evelyn wishes she’d been introduced a moment earlier—that way she might have curtsied or bowed or… something. It feels wrong to simply sit across from a legend. “I—I’m sorry,” says Evelyn. “I should have recognized you.”

Wynne laughs. “And why ever should that be? Surely there aren’t portraits of me in all of the history books quite yet.”

Evelyn flushes. “Well, I mean. The Blight was… quite well known.”

“In some places,” says Wynne. There is a tray of tea, biscuits, and candied fruits set upon the small metal table. Wynne picks up a biscuit. “If you were to ask an Orleisan, the Ferelden blight was barely acknowledged.”

“Ostwick is of the Free Marches, as you know,” puts in Monette. “We welcome the news of our Ferelden neighbors.”

Perhaps it is Evelyn’s imagination, but Monette’s own Orlesian accent seems blunted. As if it were deliberately suppressed.

Evelyn picks up a candied fruit, hiding her smile behind it. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Thank you,” replies Wynne. “Monette has spoken highly of you. You are of the Trevelyan family?”

Even here, she cannot escape her family name. “Yes,” she replies, her voice cooling. “But I have not spoken with them for many months.”

Wynne nods, as if she understands. “Family ties are… sometimes difficult,” she murmurs. “I hope all is well at Ostwick?”

“Peaceful, as always.” Monette stirs more sugar into her tea. “I thank the Maker every day that our mages seem to realize the futility of fighting against the Chantry. We have had none of the troubles that Kirkwall dealt with.”

A shiver passes through Evelyn.

“Has there been any news yet?” she says. “Of survivors, I mean. I heard there was much fighting within the city itself.”

Sadness creeps into Wynne’s eyes and her posture does not quite slump, but it does loosen. “Not yet. There is still much chaos, from what I’ve been told.”

Evelyn bites into the candy; it tastes of lemon, and it is just a little too bitter to be pleasant. Mostly rind and very little fruit.

“I expect we’ll learn more as the conclave goes on,” says Monette. “That is what we’re here to discuss.”

Wynne’s mouth purses. “I expect so. Our newly elected Grand Enchanter will surely have some things to say.”

Monette leans forward. “Has the vote been counted then? We were on the road and I have yet to hear…”

A delicate pause, and then Wynne says, “Fiona had the majority vote. She is now our Grand Enchanter.”

Evelyn sits up straighter. Even as isolated as Ostwick remains, she knows of Fiona. Once a Grey Warden, then a First Enchanter, and now a Grand Enchanter. She is known for her fire, for her refusal to be silenced. Among the Aequitarians, she is regarded as something of a renegade. But Evelyn has heard the Libertarians speak highly of her. Evelyn has never joined a fraternity. She, Kinnaird, and Keldra have always remained apart, for fear of drawing attention. There is strength in fraternities, yes, but the sheer amount of infighting seems counterproductive. And there is a certain appeal in remaining unallied—the other fraternities are kinder in hopes that someday she may join them.

Monette must not have voted for Fiona, for her mouth curves in a delicate frown. “I see. That changes matters.”

“Yes,” says Wynne gravely. “I fear she will call for segregation.”

Evelyn does not quite snort, but it’s a near thing. For all that Fiona is strong-willed, there hasn’t been a move to break from the Chantry in… well, Evelyn can only recall a few incidents in her history books. It never ended well—for the mages.

“It’s ludicrous,” she murmurs. “She’d never do it.”

It is not that Evelyn does not long for freedom; it’s that she’s accepted it will likely never happen. Not in her lifetime. Perhaps there will be a time when mages are allowed to come and go as they please, but with the Chantry’s power so firmly wrapped around Thedas… Evelyn cannot imagine such a place.

“Fiona would,” says Monette grimly. “Now that she’s gained power there’s now way to prevent her from clamoring at the templars until we all end up like Kirkwall.”

She and Wynne share a significant glance.

“You know what this means,” Wynne says quietly. “The only way we can stop her.”

Monette nods. It is short, jerky. “A last resort, if it comes to that,” she murmurs. “I pray that we will not have to make such… drastic gesture.”

And then she rises to her feet, brushing away the conversation as easily as shaking off a cobweb. “I hate to keep you, Wynne. I am sure you have other places to be, and I should greet our new Grand Enchanter personally. Evelyn, you will go speak with the other attachés and see what news you can collect.”

So this is the other reason Evelyn was brought to the college: to be Monette’s good little noble-born protege, and to collect information in places that Monette cannot. Among the younger mages, the assistants, those of lesser rank, Evelyn is to be Monette’s eyes and ears.


The conclave begins that evening. Doors are closed, chandeliers are alight, and Evelyn finds herself standing in the marble hallway, watching as the mages glide by. She is not allowed into conclave. Only First Enchanters are permitted to walk through the heavy doors and take a seat at the large table. Evelyn catches a glimpse once—when a door is being held for Monette. Senior enchanters and assistants are left to run errands, deliver missives, arrange meetings, and in their spare moments, they gossip with one another.

Kirkwall. The word is whispered behind cupped hands, murmured in between bites of food, tossed into conversation like a grenade. Some say it with fear, others with eagerness. Kirkwall’s annulment carries a different meaning for every mage. A warning, an opportunity, or even both.

Going to annul all of the circles.

We should strike back before they get the chance.

Can’t believe First Enchanter Orsino turned to blood magic.

It’s what all Kirkwall mages would do.

We need to show the templars we’re different.

Won’t make a damn bit of a difference—we’re all monsters and blood mages to them.

Evelyn listens to the gossip; some of it is ridiculous, obviously lies.

I heard the Knight Commander turned into a statue of lyrium, one younger man murmurs. His breath smells of some fine wine—probably stolen from his master’s rooms.

The Knight Captain turned on his commander and joined the Champion.

A dwarf, a pirate, and a Dalish elf killed hundreds of templars.

Evelyn listens to the gossip, as preposterous as it sounds. “Any word of who made it out alive?” she asks, her voice low. It becomes a question she poses to the apprentices, to the assistants, even to a tranquil who seems to be handling missives from the Free Marches circles. She haunts the courtyard in the mornings and evenings, watching as riders on horseback arrive and leave.

Her own duties are mostly attending to Monette—ordering her meals, smiling at those mages Monette has agreed to ally with, sitting at teas with the poise of a noblewoman. She draws upon her every faint memory of her childhood, hoping that if she can fool these people into believing that is deserving of news, of messages, of the faint hope she carries that she will hear word of Anselm.

Her dreams are restless; her bedroom is unfamiliar, the duvet and pillows full of feathers. It should be comfortable, but the sharp ends of the feathers jab into her bare neck and shoulders, and she wakes with reddened skin. Every morning she is woken before dawn to the sound of Monette moving about in the other room. The private washroom is a pleasure, and she would enjoy the meals, but her stomach is clenched with nerves. She eats only when others are watching—small bites of pastry and sips of tea.

It is a week everything comes to a head.

A bedraggled mage, a man, appears on a horse.

He is accompanied by two apprentices, each of them as harried as the older man. His hems are ragged, and when Evelyn catches a glimpse of him in the courtyard, she sees his boots are stained. Perhaps with mud—or something darker.

Evelyn is among the mages who hasten to him, offering help. The apprentices are a girl and a boy, perhaps not even fifteen yet. “Please,” says the man, glancing about the crowd of mages. “You,” he says, gesturing at a tranquil. “If you would—send word to the Grand Enchanter that Senior Enchanter Weshell has arrived from Kirkwall.”

Evelyn’s heart lurches painfully.

Perhaps she would have offered aid regardless; she likes to think she would have. But it is pure selfishness that makes her step forward, offer her own chambers to the apprentices. “They look worn down,” she says to the senior enchanter. “I have a bath and I can order up some food.”

His eyes fall upon Evelyn—perhaps it is her straight back and steady hands that convinces him to trust her. The man, Weshell, gives her a grateful nod. “I would appreciate it. They would, too.”

The boy and girl glance at one another, then at their teacher—for he must be their teacher. “Go with her,” he says, smiling in a weary way. “You’re safe now.”

The girl is the first to shuffle after Evelyn. Her face is smudged, her mouth drawn tight. Evelyn tries to smile at her and the boy. “Come, along,” she says. “You must be exhausted.”

The boy speaks. “Rode here all the way,” he says, as if the words are painfully drawn from him. “Started with three horses.”

She does not ask where the other two horses ended up—injured in attack or perhaps through exertion or even… she glances at the thin frames of the two apprentices. There is little to eat in the wilds.

Monette is not in her rooms; she must still be in at the conclave. Evelyn urges the girl to bathe first, calling a tranquil to the room to deliver tea and a meal. By now the tranquil know what food to bring to Monette’s rooms: madeleines, rillettes and pickled apricots, an onion tart, fingerling potatoes in a cream sauce, and a pot of bitter tea. The boy falls upon the meal—he is all appetite, unabashed about eating a tart in two bites, and Evelyn has to pile some food on a small plate to save for the girl. When she emerges, clean and damp, she accepts the food with repeated thanks.

Evelyn watches them eat. It is only after the tray is empty, and the boy has vanished into the washroom, that Evelyn asks the question.

“You came from Kirkwall?” she says.

The girl nods. “Yes.”

There are so many things Evelyn wishes to know—if any of the rumors are true, if the Champion did indeed support the mages, if the Knight Commander did go mad, and how many of the mages made it out alive.

“I—what happened?” asks Evelyn quietly.

The girl swallows. She wipes crumbs from her chin, then ducks her head, gaze averted. Evelyn is afraid she will not answer, that she will curl in on herself and not reply, but then the girl says, “We knew something was wrong. Before the Chantry was destroyed—First Enchanter Orsino went away. I heard he was meeting with the Knight Commander… but then…” Her eyes slip shut. “We didn’t help with the explosion. We didn’t do anything. But Meredith—she declared the circle annulled and they came for us. It was—it was—” Her words falter.

Evelyn settles a hand on her shoulder.

“I can’t imagine,” she says quietly. “I’m so sorry.”

“Some of us got out,” says the girl, sniffling. “The Champion got some of us out.”

Evelyn swallows. The question that has plagued her for weeks rises to the surface, refuses to be silenced any longer.

“I know a mage in Kirkwall,” she says. “His name is Anselm. I know it was a large circle but… I don’t suppose you know what happened to him.”

The girl looks up at her. Her eyes are damp, reddened with grief. “No. I didn’t know anyone called that.”

Evelyn feels her shoulders sag. She feels heavy, burdened with so many unanswered questions.

“I knew Anselm.” The boy steps out of the washroom. He wears fresh clothing, and his face is clean—and hard with anger. “He worked in the kitchens. He wouldn’t rat me out when I snuck in there for more food. He’d even save me some, when I asked for it.”

It feels as if her blood has frozen; she goes still, her fingers clenched painfully on the arm of the chair.

“Did he…?” The words are jerky, half-formed.

The boy gives her a look. It’s still angry, but there’s traces of pity there, too.

“The templars killed all the tranquil,” he says.

The—

The templars killed all of the tranquil.

Tranquil.

She thought the not knowing would be worse, but no—this is more than she can bear, her grief swelling within her, taking up all of the room in her chest, driving the breath out of her.

Anselm. Anselm.

She feels her face crumple, but she manages to thank the boy for telling her. Her voice is too thin, and when the boy and girl leave to find their teacher, Evelyn still has not moved. Cannot move.

She listens to the sound of footsteps on marble, to those moving in the hallway, to the talk of mages who are alive and—

“May I bring you anything?’

Evelyn only remembers she is not alone when the tranquil woman steps forward.

She looks up. The woman is gray-haired, her face composed, her clothes neat.

Evelyn doesn’t—she doesn’t know this woman’s name

She never thought to ask.

Because the woman is tranquil.

She staggers to her feet, stumbles to the washroom. She barely manages to find a bucket before her insides clench, and she vomits. She heaves again and again, until she is choking on her own bile, until she is so exhausted it is all she can do to curl up on her side, her eyes squeezed shut.

Footsteps, then a touch against her forehead. “Are you ill?” The woman does not sound concerned; she cannot feel concern. “Shall I fetch a healer?"

“No,” whispers Evelyn. She forces herself to press her palms to the cool floor and rise to her elbows. She looks at the tranquil woman, and she is struck by how easy it would be to harm her. She is malleable, unwilling to defend herself, quiet. All of the tranquil are. Like lamps doused in water—all the light gone out of them.

She cannot imagine Anselm like that. She does not want to imagine him unfeeling and hollow. She does not want to imagine him standing still while a templar cuts him down. Does not want to imagine his blood spilling onto a stone floor, his body gone cool.

He died. He died for no reason.

Her fists clench.

Anselm was good. He could not have harmed anyone—tranquil or not.

And for the first time, her anger rises up and boils over. She wants to see it. To see the templars driven back, to see the Chantry stripped of its authority over mages. They took a good man, and because they were afraid of what he might be, they took everything that made him good. And then they killed him.

“What is your name?” she manages to say.

The tranquil woman tilts her head in question. “That is irrelevant.”

It is not irrelevant. It is important, so important, and all Evelyn can think of is how this woman was a person once, how she must have loved and been loved, how she must have wanted things and laughed and cried—

Evelyn returns to the sitting room. She slumps into the chair, her arms around her roiling stomach.

Time passes. Minutes, perhaps. Hours. Evelyn cannot tell.

All she can think of is Anselm, trying to picture his face gone still and expressionless. She wonders how his voice would have changed, how—

The doors clang open and Evelyn flinches.

Monette strides into the room. “Come,” says the First Enchanter. And for the first time, Evelyn notices wisps of hair out of place, smudges of charcoal around her eyes. She appears ruffled, anxious, and her steps are nearly a jog. “The tranquil will pack our things,” she says. “We’re leaving. Now.”

Some of Monette’s urgency breaks through Evelyn’s grief. She rises, moves clumsily after the First Enchanter. “What’s going on?”

Monette’s hand falls to Evelyn’s arm, and she half-drags the younger woman from their room.

“We’re leaving,” repeats Monette. “We’ve heard from Kirkwall. The votes have been completed, and I would like to leave this place before anything… untoward can happen.” She barks an order to one of the tranquil to retrieve their baggage and have it delivered to the carriage.

“What happened?” asks Evelyn. She is almost grateful for this distraction from her own turmoil.

“A senior enchanter gave the report of what happened in Kirkwall.” Monette’s face is drawn. “It was—well, it was rather shocking. It made some mages act unwisely.”

Evelyn feels as if she is moving through thick water; her every gesture and word seems to come too slowly. “Unwisely?”

Monette’s grip tightens on her arm, and Evelyn stumbles as the older woman hastens her forward. “People were angry. And Fiona put forth a vote to separate the Circles from the Chantry.”

Evelyn stumbles and Monette jerks her upright, hisses a curse under her breath. Evelyn barely hears her.

It—it happened. Fiona tried to free them. Tried to free them and—

“Did the vote pass?” asks Evelyn.

A harsh breath rattles between Monette’s clenched teeth. “Wynne rallied people against it. It was a close vote—but it is no matter. Fiona will not drag us into war.”

They stride into the courtyard, and Evelyn sees the waiting carriage. The horses are restless, shifting about, and the driver is trying to soothe them.

“What—what did—” says Evelyn.

“We took care of it,” says Monette grimly. “Wynne, myself, and a few others. We ensured that no matter what happens, Kirkwall’s rebellion will not spread.”

“Rebellion?” The word feels odd in her mouth. She hastens after the First Enchanter, struggling to keep up. “You think—you think other Circles might do the same?”

“Not anymore,” says Monette. “Not without the support of other Circles—no, single tower will act alone. And now they would have to.”

Evelyn yanks her arm free of Monette’s grip. “What did you do?”

Monette’s gaze remains determinedly forward. She strides to the carriage, pulls it open and gestures for Evelyn to get in.

Evelyn hesitates, then pulls herself into the seat. For a moment, Monette remains still. Her hand on the door, her eyes averted, her painted mouth pulled tight.

“We disbanded the College,” she says, and closes the door.

Chapter Text

Solas dreams.

He walks the halls of the Ostwick Tower, their walls only as solid as its occupants imagine. He drifts through classrooms and the courtyard, and comes to stand upon the wall overlooking the sea. The air tastes less sharp in the Fade, but salt still catches in his nose and throat.

There is a peace to be found in the Fade. The world is almost as it once was—boundless and brimming with magic.

Some of his tension falls away, and he breathes, closes his eyes, and enjoys the quiet.

“You find pleasure here,” says a voice. It simmers with heat and Solas is unsurprised to see Rage. The demon hovers a careful distance apart, watching him. It is blurred, rippling with blue flame. Perhaps it is because the tower is less filled with rampant emotions. Things seem to have calmed, and the demon reflects that.

“Yes,” replies Solas. He takes a step forward, his hands at his sides. He is unafraid of the demon, and he allows his stance to say as much. There are only rare occasions he cannot control his own anger—and thus this demon holds little sway over him. But that does not mean they can’t come to an understanding.

“You desired to speak with me,” says Rage. “Speak quickly, if you would. I might be called away.”

“For another Harrowing?” asks Solas. It is quite a feat for one who is not a mage to bind a spirit, and he wonders how the templars managed to lure Rage here. Or perhaps they did not—perhaps Rage was born here, manifested after many years of agony and panic that churned into harder emotions.

“Perhaps,” replies the demon. “Tell me why you wished to see me.”

Solas inclines his head. “There is a chamber in the tower. It is located behind the Knight Commander’s office.”

A flicker of movement passes across the demon’s slash of a mouth. It might have been smiling. “You seek the phylactery chamber.” It edges closer, until Solas can feel the whispers of warmth licking along his bare skin. “Tell me, mage. What would you give to reclaim what was once yours? I could teach you how to sing to the blood, how to hear its song in return. Call it back to you, use it against your attackers. Turn enemy against enemy.” Its voice lowers, purrs. “You could walk free.”

“Blood magic,” says Solas.

He has seen it in dreams—nightmares, truly. There are no end of people who fear such magic. It has become the tool of monsters, of those who would bleed innocents dry to gain more power.

Or at least that is what the Chantry preaches.

Solas does not fear it. Blood magic is a tool, just like any other. It is a way to call magic without reaching through the Veil. The Fade has little to do with blood magic. When his kind walked the earth, blood magic was considered irrelevant. There was no need to open one’s veins; the world overflowed with possibility.

He could use it, if he had to. There are very few aspects of magic that Solas has not studied, and the blood song is among them.

But now… now he hesitates. For blood magic is dangerous, but not for the reasons that humanity believes.

To use it is to weaken one’s connection to the Fade. It turns one’s abilities inward, making them rely more and more upon their own power. It would make his dreaming sluggish, perhaps even impossible to control. It would cut him off from his friends, from what remnants are left of the old memories.

He thinks of the tranquil and suppresses a shudder.

“I do not need knowledge of how to use blood magic,” he says quietly. “Rather, I would learn of how the templars enter the chamber.”

Fitz did not know how to get inside; the only knowledge he could impart was that of the location. “Damn things are impossible to get,” he said, scowling. “That’s why I’ve never gone after them before.”

Fitz has always thought of escape in the short term, Solas realized. He has never considered what it might take to truly break free. He considers the phylacteries untouchable. For all that he longs for escape, Fitz is still bound by the beliefs of a circle mage.

Solas has no such limitations.

Rage studies him. There is a keenness to the way it says, “You truly think you can escape this place.” It is not a question, and Solas does not answer.

A raspy noise, and he realizes the demon is laughing. “Pride, indeed,” says the demon, but not as if it were a condemnation. It sounds approving, and that makes Solas more uneasy than if the demon were to mock him for such ambitions. But Solas keeps any trace of emotion from his face; he gazes steadily at the creature and waits.

“What would you trade for this knowledge?” asks the demon.

Solas inclines his head. “What would you ask for it?”

The demon laughs again—and it sounds like green wood crackling in open flame. “I would ask for a taste of that strange, bright world. I would ask for thirty of your heartbeats, to feel your body as it strains against the bindings of this place. I would ask for flesh, for bone, for blood.”

“All things you know I will not give you,” replies Solas quietly. “So I ask you again, what would you trade for this information?”

The demon creeps closer. Heat rolls off of it. “A truth then.” One of its clawed hands reaches out, gestures at him.

“Ask what you will,” answers Solas.

Truths are dangerous things, but a demon chained to this tower will have little hold over him. Solas may as well give it what it wants—particularly if it will mean his own freedom.

Rage makes a sound of approval. “Tell me, Pride.” Its gaping eyes, those black holes, seem to roam over him. “Are you angrier at the ones who killed her or yourself for letting it happen?”

The words slip through his defenses; they are his own weaknesses turned against him. He closes his eyes for a heartbeat, feels the old recriminations. Of course the demon would be skimming his thoughts, looking for any sort of advantage. And of course, this is what the creature would find.

There are very few old angers that Solas has never quite mastered.

This is one of them.

“Myself,” he says. “Always myself.”

For he should have known. He should have guessed his kin would come after Mythal. He should have known, should have acted—

“A password,” the demon says abruptly jerking Solas’s thoughts to the present. “That is how the chamber is opened. A mage weakens the wards with a spell—any spell. And then the knight commander will use a key and whisper a password. The door opens and the blood is kept within.”

Ah. It seems only logical that there would be multiple security measures. “I assume that the First Enchanter is the mage that the Knight Commander calls upon when he needs to enter the chamber?”

“Or the First Enchanter’s most trusted assistant,” replies the demon. “But she has chosen no such mage… not since the last man was made tranquil.”

So the First Enchanter would know the password—most likely. She is far too clever not to learn it. As for the key itself, surely that would not be too difficult for one such as himself to lay hands on it.

For the first time in many weeks, he feels something like triumph. It warms him, makes him stand a little straighter.

There has yet to be a cage crafted that can hold him.

This place shall be no different.

“Careful, Pride,” says Rage, even as the dream begins to fade.


Evelyn dreams.

She dreams of hands upon her cheek—long fingered and deft, and she is not sure who they belong to until she sees the freckles along the back of his hand. “Solas,” she says. He is smiling with half his mouth, his eyes alight, and then he tilts her face toward him.

“Look at me,” he says.

But part of her wants to pull away, to wrench her chin from his gentle grip. She catches a glimpse of something red out of the corner of her eye.

“Look at me,” Solas repeats, his voice low and his mouth still half-smiling. “You won’t want to look at that.”

But she does want to look—she needs to know.

She pulls free of him and looks.

And sees bodies.

She stands in an unfamiliar city—her mind’s own interpretation of Kirkwall, she realizes, even as she dreams. This is not real, this cannot be real. She has never visited the Gallows; she as only ever seen paintings of the prison, small sketches in history books. She gazes about herself and her heart jolts. She sees Anselm, his light hair stained and his eyes opaque. She sees Kinnaird, his chest carved open, his mouth left hanging, a templar’s sword still embedded within him. She sees Keldra and Signy and Fitz. She sees the apprentices, those she has taught.

She stumbles, realizes that the cobblestones are slick and she falls to her knees, gasping.

She senses the presence kneel beside her. A hand touches her cheek.

When she looks up, she sees Solas again.

“I told you would not want to see,” he whispers. “You don’t have to see it. Not ever. You can stop this.” His fingertips trace her mouth, and she notices the chill of his skin, how he seems to radiate cold.

“How?” she asks, her voice thin.

His smile widens, and his eyes are so bright, like sunlight shining through ice.

“Let me in,” he says simply.

She recoils. Staggers to her feet and pulls away, stumbling over someone’s limb. She sees how his features are wrong, stitched together wrong.

“Demon.”

She snarls the word, and the moment it leaves her lips, she sees the thing’s form change. His edges flicker and change—all illusion stripped away by her own awareness.

The creature is the color of frozen lakes, a deep blue at the center and its limbs fringed with white. A winter chill rolls off of it, and Evelyn takes another step back. Her hand comes up, and she calls a barrier. Creatures of fear are unnaturally strong, able to slip between the cracks of any mage’s dreams. Fear is one of the few undeniable emotions.

She tries to push away her own fear; it is the only way to banish such a creature.

“I’m not afraid,” she tells it.

The demon’s mouth twitches, and its smile is far more frightening than the carnage around her.

“Of course you are.”

She wakes with a start.

The carriage rattles beneath her, and her temple feels sore from resting against the seat. Evelyn sits up, fingers stroking her forehead, trying to banish the dream. Monette sits across from her, reading from an unfurled roll of parchment. “How long was I asleep?” asks Evelyn, her voice a little raspy. The dry taste of sleep lingers in her mouth.

“A few hours,” says Monette, without looking up. “I didn’t wish to bother you. I suppose you did not sleep well on the boat again.”

Evelyn does not bother to hide her grimace. Her second journey on open waters was about as pleasant as the first.

“We’re about an hour away from the Tower,” continues Monette. Her fingers are steady on the parchment.

Evelyn reaches for the curtain, twitching it away from the carriage window. The landscape is familiar—the windswept, dead grasses and tiny bunches of succulent greens. Home, she thinks, and her stomach twists with half-dread and half-longing. She missed the Tower, and she’s not sure what that makes her. How can a person miss a place that holds them prisoner?

She recalls a flash of the dream—fingers on her cheek, bodies on the ground—and she shakes her head. No, it was not the tower she missed. It was those people within it.

It is not the first time a demon has used the form of a person near her to gain her trust; her first years as an apprentice, she was cajoled by desire demons wearing the faces of her parents. There were times she almost gave in, when she wished to give into the affectionate touches and the words she longed to hear. It was only sheer stubbornness that drew her back—she would not become an abomination. She would not prove that her parents were right to send her away.

She has never before been tempted by fear. Desire, mostly. Pride, once in a great while.

Perhaps it is a mark of how her life has differed from other mages that Fear has never truly gained a foothold before.

She shivers, remembering its wintry touch.

Her seat shakes, drawing her attention back to the moment. An hour until she steps through the familiar gates, returns to her rooms, and settles back into her old life.

Or will she?

Because everything has changed. No matter how Monette insists that the dissolution of the College will not change the Circle, Evelyn knows it is a lie. The College was the unifying force, the voice, the power behind the Circle. The Grand Enchanter draws his or her power from the College, giving them the ability to negotiate with the Chantry. For all that she is still Grand Enchanter, Fiona’s title means nothing now. She will be a figurehead and little more.

It is a preemptive surrender, Evelyn thinks. A way of making mages harmless in hope that the templars will not come down too harshly.

It is cowardly.

She has decided not to mention this opinion to Monette. The First Enchanter of Ostwick seems rather pleased with herself, glad to have averted more conflict. She thinks she has saved lives, and perhaps she has. But can being bound within a Circle truly even be called a life?

The carriage rattles its way up the winding road, taking the perilous turns with surprising swiftness. Monette must have asked the driver to hasten home; likely there are letters she wishes to read and send. Now that there is such upheaval in the Circle, the First Enchanters all will be scrambling to collect what power they can.

Evelyn does not look at her. It feels as if space has opened up between the two of them, as if the differences have become too many to count. Both noble, both mages, yet Evelyn cannot forgive Monette her decision.

It is almost a relief to see the gates, to feel the sudden coolness of high walls, to smell the familiar scents of clematis and damp stone.

The carriage door is pulled open by a templar. A youth—one of the recruits. Evelyn does not know his name and does not ask. She steps free of the carriage and walks to collect her luggage. “Oh, let one of the tranquil do that,” Monette says, seeing the heavy trunk in Evelyn’s hands.

Evelyn bites back a scalding reply. “I can do it,” she says. She should thank Monette for the journey, say something about the pleasantness of the travel, but her treacherous tongue will not obey her. Her trunk in hand, she walks across the courtyard and into the shadow of Ostwick Tower.

Part of her unclenches when she steps inside. It may be her prison, but is a familiar place, full of friends and scents and sounds of home. She nods to a few apprentices lounging against a wall and they raise hands to her, smiling.

She forces her mouth to smile back, and then she hurries to the stairs.

She almost regrets her decision not to ask for help when her arms begin to ache. Her things are quite heavy. It is stubbornness alone that keeps her moving, even as her shoulders scream in discomfort. She half-walks, half-staggers into her quarters.

Her bed is made, but scattered with books. Keldra sits at the desk, a quill scratching away. When she catches sight of Evelyn, she leaps to her feet. “Sorry,” she says, a grin tugging at her mouth. She sweeps the books from Evelyn’s bed and heaps them onto the floor. “I didn’t know you were returning today.”

Evelyn sets the trunk down, allows herself to be pulled into a hug. Such comfort has been denied to her for the last week, and she soaks it in, closes her eyes and feels her tight posture slacken.

Keldra takes a step back. Her grin has faded and she looks at Evelyn with concern. “You found out, didn’t you?” she says.

She was friends with Evelyn when she was with Anselm. She remembers.

Evelyn’s chest goes tight.

“Evie,” says Keldra quietly. Her name becomes a question, and Evelyn knows what her friend is truly asking.

“He’s dead,” she answers curtly.

A hesitation, then Keldra nods. Her lips remained locked together, holding back her own curiosity. Evelyn will tell her everything—but not now. Not when the wound feels so raw.

“Do you want wine?” asks Keldra. “I think Fitz might be hoarding a bottle of brandy. I can steal it from him. Or food?”

The thought of food or wine turns Evelyn’s stomach.

“No, thank you.”

Keldra’s fingers wring together. “How about a nap? I swear I did not use your bed for anything other than a bookshelf.”

“I’m going to take a walk,” says Evelyn. “I need to stretch my legs after sitting for so long.”

“Want company?”

She knows what Keldra will say. She will caution, she will soothe.

Evelyn does not wish to be soothed.

That demon was right—she is afraid. But it is more than fear, more than terror at her own fate. She is afraid for everyone in the Circle, and that terror hardens into anger.

Another thrill of that reckless energy goes through her. She wants to run, to move, to throw herself against these walls, to batter her fist against the stones until they break or she does. Impotent fury churns within her. She has always thought this place unfair, but not truly unbearable. Now, there is a part of her that wants to see it burn.


Solas is striding down the fifth floor when he sees the First Enchanter.

Her hair tucked into a knot, but there are strands come loose; her face is smudged with exhaustion, and there is ill-concealed impatience in her step. Solas eases to one side of the hallway, gives her a polite nod as she passes. She does not spare him a glance. A tranquil man follows, carrying a large trunk.

Solas watches them go, a knot in his gut. He tries to tell himself it is anticipation; the First Enchanter’s return will set his plans into motion.

He glances in the direction she came, wondering if he will find her. If her dark hair will be tousled with wind, if she will be similarly tired.

If she came back at all.

He makes a snap decision, and takes the stairs downward. If he were in her place, he would wish for a bath. For food. For all of the comforts found in the lower levels of the tower.

He is not sure why he searches for her—perhaps it is mere curiosity. To see if she did manage to slip free of this place. Or perhaps it is because he wishes to see if she would return, if there was something worth returning for.

It is as he hastens down the stairs, as he rounds a corner, that he nearly runs into her. He stumbles, catches his hand on the wall.

Her head jerks up, surprise written across her face. She wears the heavy cloak of a traveler. Her hair is loosely braided, draped over one shoulder.

“Evelyn,” he says.

It takes her several moments to reply. Her eyes come up, drift over him, and then something like recognition crosses her face. She looks as if speaks from some far distance, as if she is unreachable.

“Solas,” she says. “Hello.”

“You’re here,” he says, when what he means is, You came back.

“I am,” she agrees. But there is a brittle edge to her voice, and she shifts restlessly. She should be exhausted from her journey, but he sees none of that in her.

“How was the conclave?” he asks, and it is as if the question kindled to life a fire within her. Her eyes blaze and he sees sparks dance between her fingers. She closes her eyes, visibly restraining herself.

“Are you all right?” The words slip free of him.

A quick shake of her head; the admission surprises him.

“Walk with me?” he asks.

She nods and falls into step beside him.

It is a simple thing, to walk alongside her. Their strides are almost evenly matched, even her feet come down a little too sharply on the stone floors. He wonders what could have brought about this change in her; she seems physically well, but she moves as one who wishes she were wielding a weapon. Her fingers are gripped, her mouth rigid. 

He recognizes her restlessness. He has felt it himself since the moment a templar’s fist closed around his throat.

He asks, “How was your journey?”

She stares straight ahead. “Informative.”

And she offers nothing else. 

Odd. Solas tries again. “And the conclave?” 

She bites down her lower lip, worries it between her teeth, and her answer comes out in a snarl. “Useless.”

They walk in silence for a few minutes. Solas considers her, devises questions, but then discards them. When a templar approaches from the opposite direction, Evelyn does not move out of his way.

The templar does not move, either.

Templars do not move for mages. 

It looks for a moment as though they might collide, but Solas hastily places his hand on her waist and pulls her out of the templar’s path. She stumbles, and some of her weight falls against him. The templar blinks, but continues on. Solas gives the man a polite little nod, still holding Evelyn. Her body is unyielding as stone. 

“What are you doing?” she snaps, once the corridor is empty again.

“Come,” he says, and pulls her into an empty classroom. She is no state to be near the templars; he fears what might happen should they encounter another, less polite one. The classroom is small, likely meant for tutoring of groups of three or four. Heavy curtains are draped over high windows, and is to these windows that Evelyn gravitates. They are so tall that she can barely see through them. She rises on tiptoe, gazes through the dirty glass while Solas gazes at her.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” says Evelyn. 

“Kept you from colliding with a man in full armor?” says Solas, his voice deceptively light. “I saved you a few bruises, at the very least. And at the most..."

She swallows, and her eyes shine. She blinks several times, and he wonders for just a moment if she were on the verge of tears. But when she speaks, her voice is steady. “I know what happens to mages who cross templars, Solas.” 

“Evelyn.” He reaches out, touches her shoulder. “Look at me."

She does not look at him.

“Evelyn,” he repeats. Unease sharpens his words. “At the conclave... were you hurt?” He can see no bruises or marks upon her, but that is meaningless. Templars have had years to devise ways to injure mages without drawing notice. And it would be far too simple for a mage to let her guard down in a place where she was surrounded by her peers, sure of her own safety...

Finally, her gaze finds his. It seems to take a few heartbeats for her to understand his meaning. “No. Nothing like that. I’m fine. It’s always someone else.” 

Her jaw works, and for a moment he is unsure if she will explain.

“We’re powerless,” she finally says. “We’re fucking powerless, that’s what happened. Monette, Wynne—the other Aequitarians. They disbanded the College, made sure each of the towers are now on their own. We no longer have a voice.” Her fingers clench, and he sees a spark of lightning dance along her knuckles.

He finally recognizes what he sees in her—anger. His own anger, reflected in her. A desire for change, so desperate that she nearly burns with it.

Her words finally register. “They disbanded the College of Magi?”

No. Surely not. Even those in power could not be so thoughtless as to give away what little power they have—

“Yes,” she says curtly. “Because Wynne and Monette and the others believes that we’re all safer if we’re powerless. If we bide our time and prove that we’re good little magelings. Maybe then they’ll stop making us tranquil and killing us.” There is no mistaking the derision in her voice.

His mind races. “They think disarmament is the best way to bring about peace.”

Such actions might have worked, but not in these times. Not when all templars are imbued with a fear of magic; not when all mages are told they are cursed by their Maker and made to fear their own power. The templars will never relinquish their hold on their charges, not when they are told it is their divine right to protect the world from magic. They will be free to act upon their charges as they will, with few oversights from the Chantry.

Solas looks at Evelyn.

“And what do you believe?” he asks. He is not sure why he asks it.

Her eyes pass over the room—taking in the contents of the classroom. The worn floors, the desks, the high windows—and then her attention seems to settle on the door. He glances at the door. Heavy, and only capable of being locked from the outside.

And she says the words. They are words he himself spoke millennia ago.

“This cannot continue,” she says.

Her gaze flicks up, meets his, and in that moment, she seems to crystalize. Solid edges and flashing eyes, and emotions that simmer beneath the surface.

She is much a person as all of those he left behind. 

It feels as though he is both burdened and unburdened by this knowledge. She is not unfeeling, not hollow, as he once assumed.

She cares. As much as he does, as deeply as he does.

And at once he is elated because it is as if some barrier between them falls away; if she is a person, she could be more. Truly, a friend. An ally.

It is reckless, foolish, but he cannot help himself.

He leans in and presses his lips to hers.

Her mouth is warm, her lips dry. She smells of the sea, of wind, of all those beautiful things beyond these caging walls. For a heartbeat, she does not move—and he realizes his own foolishness. She is upset; she does not wish to—and then she reaches for him, her lips parting beneath his. She makes a soft, needy sound, and he feels some of the tension leave her.

Her fingers catch in the leather cord around his throat. His jawbone pendant is pressed against her heart, and he fears the sharp edges will cut into her, but she does not pull back.

All of their foolish encounters have only ever gotten this far—Solas has not allowed himself to indulge, to revel in the comfort of another. He should pull away now, he should halt this, he should—

But he wants. It has been so long since he experienced the luxury of wanting, of being wanted in return. It is a heady knowledge, that she does not wish for Fen’Harel, nor any of his other titles. All she has ever known of him is Solas, and for her it is enough.

Her tongue teases the corner of his mouth and he makes a noise that is half-growl and half-plea.

She pulls back a moment. “If this is how you welcome me back, I should try to leave the tower more often."

“You will,” he murmurs. The promise slips out, unwise but heartfelt. He will not leave her here to rot. 

She smiles gently. “So eager to be rid of me?” she says, misunderstanding. 

In answer, his hand skims down her back—the ridges of her spine a revelation against his fingertips. She is solid beneath his touch, far more real than anything he has encountered in either the waking or dreaming worlds. Her throat jerks, and a whine is caught between her teeth. He remembers what she said many weeks ago—that it has been years since she enjoyed the touch of another. His hand falls lower, his fingers gently raking over the curve of her buttocks. Her eyes flash open and she arches against him. Her hips grind into him, sending a jolt of pure, primal pleasure through him. She must feel his body responding to her touch, for her mouth tips up at the corners, and her next kiss has a bite of teeth.

It is not his most graceful embrace—it is all mingled desperation and hunger, seeking the kind of comfort one can only find in another. He wants. He wants, he wants, he wants—and he knows she can feel his want pressed up against her hip.

“Do you trust me?” She breathes the question against his ear.

“I should not,” he whispers. He will give her this one truth.

She grins, a flash of mischief in her eyes. “Honesty. I like it.” She touches his mouth, and her fingers are gentle. “Tell me if you want me to stop. I promise I will.”

It is touching that she thinks she needs to protect him. No one has deemed him worthy of protection or caring in—well, not since Mythal perished.

“What are you doing?” he asks, and her smile is a flash of warmth he wishes he could hold onto. 

“Something I think we’ll both enjoy,” she replies. 

She grazes her lips across his mouth, a whisper-light brush, then back to his throat. Kisses give way to a gentle tease of teeth as she nips her along to his chest. She comes to the jawbone necklace and her mouth quirks, and she drops a kiss on that, as well.

His chest tightens painfully.

She kneels before him, then pauses, to look him in the eyes, as if silently waiting to see if he will stop her.

He does not.

Her fingers undo the clasp at his belt and then she is pushing his robes aside. Fingertips whisper against his stomach, graze over the sharp bone of his hip, and then lower.

She reaches into the folds of his trousers. She is careful, waiting to see if he will stop her, but he remains still. She unclasps his belt, and for a moment he wonders if he is truly letting his happen—he stands in an abandoned classroom, curtains tangled in his fingers, as a human woman gently pulls his cock from the folds of his clothing.

She breathes quietly, gazing at him in a way that isn’t entirely unaffected, then she touches him. Soft, exploratory strokes of her fingertips, and he feels himself harden fully. She feels it, too, and she smiles. It’s a surprisingly gentle expression, considering her next course of action is to lean forward and take the head of his cock into her mouth. Her tongue swirls around him, gentle and light, as if testing his responses.

Perhaps it is because it has been so long, but he feels undone by her, by the wet, lush heat of her mouth. Her gaze darts upward, meets his, and one corner of her mouth twitches upward. With a soft moan, she pulls him deeper. Her fingers touch what her mouth cannot, and he bites back a cry, knowing that they must be silent, they cannot be seen—

A guttural groan slips through his teeth. She chuckles and he feels the gentle vibrations of it. She has found a rhythm she likes—languorous strokes of her tongue, her fingers working in tandem, and it is the sweetest torment he has ever endured. He forces himself to stillness, to not thrust, to allow her the space she needs.

He reaches down and strokes her cheek. She goes still, her mouth full of him, and leans into his light touch—as if she needs the contact as much as he does. Her eyes are smiling, crinkled upward.

And then her tongue does something, wrapping around his length and tugging and she resumes her pace, bobbing over him. It is nearly embarrassing how quickly he can feel his own pleasure building. “Evelyn,” he says, a warning in his voice. Her eyes flick upward, meeting his, and then she redoubles her efforts.

The back of his head hits the wall and his fingers twist the curtains into a knot. She is making quiet sounds of encouragement, and—

He shatters.

The world blurs at the edges, and he thinks he might be shuddering, a noise escaping his clenched teeth. This climax feels endless, all-consuming. For this moment, there is no waking world, no dreaming world, no Veil, nothing. There is only this release, this room, this woman.

Panting, he opens his eyes. She is still touching him; laps of tongue far softer and slower than before. She drags her tongue along the underside one last time, and the sensation is so sharp he shudders. She presses a kiss to his stomach before she tucks his cock away, refastens his belt, and straightens his robes. Not wanting him to look out of sorts, he realizes. Another gesture of care, of protection.

A flush has spilled across her cheeks; she glows, radiant and beautiful. Her mouth is swollen, and her jaw must be aching, but she smiles at him as if pleased by his reaction. He sends a pulse of healing magic into her jaw and she blinks, startled, then laughs.

“So considerate,” she says, a little teasing.

If he were truly considerate, he would ease her to the floor, unlace her robes, and return the favor. But he can barely stand, never mind gather the wits needed to pleasure her.

“That was…” he murmurs.

“Wonderful?” she suggests.

“Probably unwise.”

“You keep saying that about me,” she says. “But you kissed me.” She tilts her head. “What changed?”

Everything. The word is held in his mouth. But he does not say it. For all that he is called a liar, his untruths are more of omission than willful deception. And he is not sure if everything has changed—or if he has.

Chapter Text

Her encounter with Solas was welcome.

It was exactly what she needed. It was foolish and impulsive and wonderful. It was her small rebellion to give pleasure in a place that tries to strip every intimacy from its occupants. And while she received little physical satisfaction, she was quite pleased with herself. It was more than enough to see Solas undone, his fingers gripping the curtains, his careful reserve fallen away. And she reveled in the way he touched her, his fingertips tracing her jaw—as if to map out the lines of her face.

Afterward, they did not share many words. Solas kissed her again, his mouth soft and undemanding, and then the clank of armor had them springing apart. Evelyn can still see the flare of—she is not sure what it was she saw in his eyes. It was not quite desire; he looked at her the way she has seen Fitz gaze through small windows. As if catching a glimpse of something out of reach, unable to look away.

But when the templar walked past, Evelyn knew they could not remain. Two mages in an empty room—it was too suspicious. She hastened into the hall, and left Solas to go his own way.

She does not think of Anslem.

She cannot think of Anselm.

She clings to the memory of Solas, of that one good moment.

Because after that, things get worse.


The announcement that the College of Magi has been dissolved brings fresh uncertainty.

Rumors replace news; whispers replace conversation.

For all that Solas has despised the tower and what it represents, he can see the difference. It was a place of learning—where mages were trapped, yes. But they were also given opportunities to study magic, to teach the younger ones. There was some opportunities to be found—but no longer. And while he has not lived here for a long time, he can see how much the Circle of Ostwick has changed in the last few weeks.

An uneasy quiet pervades the fortress. Occasional bouts of whispering or a startled laugh breaks the silence, but they are quickly swallowed up.

Mages do not move alone in the corridors; they keep to small groups, in visible areas such as the dining hall or the library. Sometimes, Solas unspoken guardians sitting by the doors of well-chosen dormitories.

Solas has seen such things before—it feels like the silence between the sound of a sword being unsheathed, and the clang of steel upon steel when the first blow lands.

And make no mistake, there will be blows.

One day, Solas goes to the scullery and when the tranquil on duty is distracted, he takes a knife. It is old, the blade worn thin over the years. But the edge is still sharp and he wraps it in a spare cloth, tucks it into his shirt.

He does not dare take more—it would be obvious if all of the kitchen’s sharp implements went missing. He slips it beneath the desk in his dormitory and the room’s other occupants remain blissfully unaware.

But it seems he is not the only one to be wary. On the third day after the news breaks, Solas notices Keldra chopping wood out in the courtyard. He watches her from one of the windows, so he sees when she returns to the tower.

She does not return the axe to its hook.

It is a heartening sight.

As for Evelyn, her simmering rage seems to have settled. She takes her meals quickly, then retreats into the classrooms to be with the apprentices. Solas might think she were avoiding him, if not for the smiles she offers in the brief moments when they pass one another.

It is on the fifth day he finds out what she has been doing.

“They’re going to harrow many of the apprentices early,” she says in an undertone. They stand in a far corner of the main hall; the sounds of the morning meal are enough to cover their conversation. No one can hear them. “Monette let it slip when she invited me to tea a few days ago.”

“You are close with the First Enchanter,” Solas observes, only to see her face twist.

“I wouldn’t call us close,” she says tartly. “She is grooming me, the way one might train a dog with good breeding. And I think she still feels guilty about me being seasick for so many days, so feeding me Orlesian pastries is her way of making up for it.” A soft sigh escapes her. “At least the pastries help cover up the taste of that bitter tea she always drinks. It’s foul.”

“Ah,” says Solas, lips curving into a small smile. “So there is a tea you dislike.”

“One tea,” she replies. “Not every tea. Not like you.” But her own voice softens when she looks at him. And he wonders for a moment if they did not stand in a crowded hall, if she would touch him. Her fingers twitch, as if in a desire to reach out. But she does not.

And then he thinks on her earlier words. “Why are they Harrowing apprentices early?” he asks.

Her smile drops away. “The official word is that any apprentice over the age of sixteen may be harrowed. It is simply their right. But in practice, they usually wait until the apprentice is around eighteen.”

“And what do you think?”

He sees some of the familiar anger pass through her eyes. “I think they are afraid. Perhaps it truly is a desire to see the apprentices become full mages… or perhaps…” She bites down on her lip, as if she cannot utter such words aloud.

He remembers his own first thought upon being harrowed himself. “It is a culling.”

“They are barely older than children,” says Evelyn quietly. “I’m trying to prepare them. We’re not supposed to tell them what happens during a harrowing, but… but I have. I’ve been trying to teach them how to interact with demons, how not to be tempted.”

This is—interesting. He wonders for a moment of her own experiences in the Fade. She has been given the same lessons as the rest of these mages; it is likely she fears spirits as the others do. What kind of lessons could she be giving these children?

“Would you like me to help?” he asks.

She looks at him, startled. She knows he is a dreamer; she heard his conversation with Danforth.

“That is… that would be wonderful,” she says. “But Solas, it’s not your responsibility. Tutoring apprentices about the harrowing is forbidden and it’s one thing if I’m caught doing it but if you—”

He touches her hand—a brush of fingertips against her palm. Reflexively, her fingers curl upward and meet his.

“I do not fear the templars,” says Solas quietly.

She shakes her head, but it looks to be more amusement than a negative response. “That is what makes you so dangerous,” she says. “All right, then. Come to the classroom after the evening meal.”

“Which one?” he asks.

Her mouth blossoms into a grin. She pulls her hand free of his, but her nails rake lightly over his palm—a teasing little touch. “Oh, you know the one.”


That evening, Evelyn asks the templar patrolling the seventh floor if she may use the empty classroom. She picked this floor because she knows that it will be Ser Ralston on duty. His grizzled gray hair is pulled into a knot at the base of his neck, and he appears weary. But he offers her a smile when she tells him she wishes to use the room to tutor the older apprentices.

“You take your responsibilities to heart, don’t you?” he says, with warm approval. “Tell me, what are you teaching them?”

She smiles back, but it feels forced. “Demons,” she answers honestly. “I am lecturing them on how to resist the lures of demons.”

The truth is better in this case—should he pass by and hear her discussing the Fade, he will not be suspicious. And he doesn’t know that she has already told the apprentices exactly what their harrowing will entail.

His expression turns solemn. “That is important, yes.” He rests a hand on her shoulder. “You do them a kindness by teaching them. The world has enough horrors without adding more abominations.”

Of all the templars Evelyn has come across, Ralston seems the gentlest. That is the only reason she does not shrug off his touch. “I hope to avoid more abominations, yes,” she replies levelly. “May I use the classroom?”

“Of course.” Ralston nods. “The apprentices need to be in bed in two hours—I’ll come by and tell you when it is nearly curfew.”

“Thank you,” she says, and means it.

The classroom is empty, of course. Evelyn lights the torches, pushes the small tables aside. She does not need tables or chairs—not this evening. Soon enough, the first two apprentices step into the room. Evelyn gestures them to the empty space of floor. “We’re sitting again,” she says. “I want you close, so there’s less chance of being overheard.”

“All of this secrecy,” says the boy, Leonel. Seventeen, brash and smiling—she rather likes him. His dark eyes are dancing with amusement. “I think I like it.”

“You would like it less should the templars discover we’re learning things we ought not to know,” says the girl primly. Orla is a merchant’s daughter from Ferelden, and her red curls tumble down her back. She has a habit of tossing her head, showing off her beautiful hair.

The third to arrive is Jana—sixteen, blond, and taken from her alienage when she was very young. She walks alongside another elf, a girl Evelyn has never seen before. Surely, she is too young. Her dark hair is cropped short and she keeps her attention on the floor, as if afraid to meet Evelyn’s eyes.

Evelyn is about to ask Jana about the newcomer when Solas slips into the room. Evelyn looks up, sees his familiar form, and an involuntary smile springs to her lips.

It seems he is the only thing that can make her smile, these days.

“Any other mage would have known better than to keep this promise,” she murmurs, when he is close enough. These words are for him and no one else. “They would have realized the dangers and gone to the library, pretending to have forgotten. Like I said, if the templars discover what we are truly teaching them, we will be punished.”

His own smile is reserved, but there is a trace of mischief to it. “There are some in my past,” he says, “who have been known to call me reckless.”

“Only in your past?” It feels so natural to step closer to him, to feel the subtle warmth coming from his body. It has been long since she has taken or given any physical pleasure, she yearns for more contact. And she is not even sure if that part of their friendship will continue—he has shown no inclination to rekindle it in the last week. But it does not matter if he never touches her again. She is still glad of him, of his steady presence, and the way he looks at her—as if her every word surprises him.

Three more apprentices arrive, and then Evelyn gathers them into a circle. They sit upon the floor, some sprawling, some with carefully crossed legs. All of them glance between Evelyn and Solas, curious about the newcomer.

“You getting tired of teaching us?” asks one of the boys. His gaze slides over Solas, and there’s a hint of challenge there. “Gonna foist us off on someone else?”

Evelyn gives him a fond look. “I am far too fond of you to do that, Gerald.”

The boy scoffs, but something relaxes in his shoulders. Some parents fight to keep their mage children while others give them up willingly. Those were given up are often untrusting of adults for some time. Evelyn remembers her own childhood, of waiting to see if the older students could be trusted. Gerald would never say such a thing but Evelyn suspects that he fears losing one of the only teachers he has come to rely upon.

“This is Solas,” says Evelyn.

“He’s an apostate,” says Orla. She tilts her shoulder, and a few red strands of hair fall over her collarbone. “I’ve heard rumors about him.”

“They can’t all be true,” says Jana.

“I doubt he did away with an entire company of templars when he was taken in,” mutters Leonel.

Evelyn glances to Solas, unsure of how he will take the apprentices and their jibes.

His mouth twitches. “It was only half a company, I assure you.”

Leonel snorts out a laugh, and Orla looks unsure whether to believe him or not. “Solas has some skill with the Fade,” says Evelyn, making sure to glance at everyone in the circle. “He’s a dreamer. Do you know what that is?”

“Aren’t we all?” asks Jana. “I mean, we all dream in the Fade.”

“With varying degrees of skill,” says Solas. His voice has taken on a soothing quality, a gentleness. “While all mages spend their nights in the Fade, only a rare few can walk the dreams. I can see the Fade for what it truly is—speak with its occupants, gain what knowledge is to be found there.”

A profound silence follows these words.

“Demons,” says Gerald. “You talk to demons?”

“Yes,” says Solas simply. “It is no different from how I would speak to anyone in this room.”

An uneasy movement ripples through the apprentices; this is like no lesson they have ever been given. The dim light, and the scents of distant woodsmoke and herbs make it seem as if they are far away from this tower, tucked into some distant, forgotten place. Evelyn cannot help her own twinge of unease. She keeps the emotion from her voice when she says, “Solas, could you tell the apprentices how to avoid being tempted by a demon during their harrowing?”

Solas nods. “When speaking with a spirit or a demon, you must know its true nature. It is far too easy to slip into dreams and see only what you wish to. Your desires can be made manifest within the Fade, but these strands of illusion act as a spider’s web. You will find yourself entrapped by your own wishes.”

“How do we know what’s real and what’s not real?” asks Jana. “When we’re asleep, sometimes it’s hard to know we’re… well. Asleep.”

“Then it is simple,” says Solas. “Assume nothing is real until it can be proven otherwise.”

Jana’s mouth falls open.

“That seems impractical,” says another one of the boys. He is nearly nineteen, older than the rest by far.

“Why?” asks Solas. He does not seem offended by the question; rather, he smiles at the apprentice.

“Because… because we know what’s real!” The boy gestures at the room. “We know when we wake up, this is the world.”

“And how do you know that?” Solas laces his fingers in his lap. “Tell me, how do you know for certain that this room, these people, are truly real?”

The boy’s mouth puckers. He looks annoyed at having to defend himself. “Because it is. I am talking to you, I can affect you. You can affect me. If I walk into that door while it’s shut, I’ll bleed. That’s how I know.”

“True,” says Solas, inclining his head. “But if you were dreaming, if we were spirits, you could speak to us, as well. You could affect us and we could affect you. And if you were injured, you would feel it. Have you never felt pain in a dream?”

The boy’s mouth opens, then shuts.

“This is how you walk the Fade,” says Solas. “You treat every room you walk into as a new world to be explored. You speak with everyone as if they are a new person to be learned from. You are courteous, but you do not trust. You do not offer gifts, nor do you accept them. You ask questions, but you do not assume that the answers are correct. You give nothing of yourself. You remain calm. And you do not treat the dreaming world as lesser simply because you can leave it when you open your eyes every morning.”

The apprentices stare at him with rapt attention, fascinated. Evelyn herself cannot look away; there is an energy about him when he speaks like this, a focus that she has rarely seen. He is truly passionate about this, and it shows in every line of his face.

He speaks for nearly half an hour, telling them about demons. About the various kinds, the hunger and the fear, the pride and the desire. He tells them how to converse without being drawn in. And then he does more—he talks of spirits.

Evelyn knows little of spirits. Kinnaird says there are those who can call spirits to heal, although he himself has never managed it. Spirit healers are rare, but he studied with a woman who knew one.

“I thought all things in the Fade were bad,” says Orla. She is so enraptured that she leans forward, ignoring the tumble of red hair down her back.

“Think of the Fade as this world,” he tells her. “No one here is truly all good or all bad—we all exist in shades of gray. The same goes for those who dwell within dreams. Spirits and demons will react to how you treat them. Go into your dreams expecting a fight, and you will find one. Go in with an open mind, and you may find knowledge. Memories. Wisps who wish for nothing more than to flutter between your fingers and light your way.”

Evelyn hears the footfall before anyone else—mostly because she was listening for it. Armor on stone. She rises to her feet and goes to the door. Ralston strides toward her, his posture relaxed. “Is it time?” she asks. She did not think it had been so long.

“Yes,” he says, but he says it gently. “You’ll have to continue teaching them in the morning. It’s nearly curfew.”

When she returns into the room and begins gesturing for the apprentices to rise, they seem reluctant. Jana and her young friend linger while the others meander toward the door, quietly talking amidst themselves.

Evelyn takes a step forward, touches Jana’s arm. “You never introduced me to your friend, Jana.”

Jana nods. “This is Malorel,” she says. And then, before Evelyn can ask, she adds, “Turned sixteen last week.”

Oh.

Young. So young.

Young, quiet, an elf—all would make her a tempting target for certain templars. Should she be hurt, she would have no recourse. And she must know it.

Evelyn takes in Malorel—the girl will still not meet her eyes, and there is uncertainty in her shifting stance. “You’re always welcome here,” she says quietly. “And if you need anything at all, ask me.”

Malorel’s gaze jerks up, startled. Then it drops away, and she follows Jana out of the classroom.

Solas has been extinguishing the torches. His attention drifts toward the door, framed in light from the hallway. “Did that go well?”

She snorts. “They’re going to be clamoring for you to teach them instead of me.”

His smile is half-hearted. “I doubt that. They may have listened to my words, but after every sentence they looked to you to see if you would contradict me.”

“I don’t know why,” she says. “You are the dreamer.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Solas closes the distance between them. “You are their teacher, and they trust you.”

Evelyn smiles, tries to hide how much this pleases her. It feels natural to fall into step beside him, to leave the classroom together. It is not a long walk to the stairs, and they do so in comfortable silence. But when they stand in the stairwell, Evelyn’s steps slow. She does not want to go bed, not yet. She comes to a halt a step above Solas, so they are nearly at eye level. “Tonight was… illuminating,” she says.

One of his brows twitches upward. “How so?”

“The way you speak of being a dreamer,” she says. “It makes sense, in hindsight.”

She sees his head tilt in the dim light. A silent question.

“You hesitate when you enter a room,” she says. “I always thought it was to check for threats, but now I wonder if you wish to check to see it is real. And the tea—you hate tea. Because it helps us stay awake, keeps us from dreaming.”

“Or perhaps I simply do not enjoy the teas of this tower,” he says lightly.

Evelyn has never truly wondered what it might be a dreamer, but now that she has heard him speak of it, she sees how it must affect his every action. He walks in two worlds, not one. “It sounds terribly worrisome. To never be quite sure if you’re awake or asleep, to have one foot in this world and another in the dreaming one.”

“Yes.” The word comes out a hoarse whisper, with far more feeling than she expected. 

“My dreams have never held much sway over me,” she tells him, hoping to distract him. “I seem to be at a loss when it comes to dreaming with any true skill, as you would put it.”

He looks at her, and his eyes catch the distant torchlight. She smiles, realizes that in this darkened stairwell, he can likely see much better than she can. “For one who proclaims little skill with dreaming, you seem to be trying very hard to guide the young ones through their own encounters with demons,” says Solas. “You have taken a risk in telling them about the harrowing.”

“I fear what will become of them,” she says. “I wish all of them will survive their harrowing, but part of me fears what will happen if they do. What world they will step into, once they awaken. I look at them and all I can think is…” She looks at him. There are few people she could say these words to. “I don’t want them to live in a world where they must always guard themselves. Not against demons or spirits, but against those who are supposed to protect them.” 

“You truly wish for that, don’t you?” asks Solas with that same quiet intensity. 

She does not hesitate. “I do.” 

His fingertips brush her chin. She leans into the touch, feels his thumb trace the corner of her mouth before he kisses her.

It is slow, a delicate exploration rather than frantic heat. His mouth is warm, careful as he draws her attention away from her worries. She allows herself to revel in this mingling of breath and sensation. His fingers gently tangle in her loose hair, and pleasurable tingles run down her neck. His body feels right against hers—he is not so tall that it is a struggle to kiss him, but there is still a solid strength to his arms and chest. She finds herself relaxing against him. All of the worry and tension she has carried seems to slip away, banished by the smell of herbs and old books, the feel of his hands on her, and the touch of his mouth against her own.

It is such a simple thing. Such a sweet thing. To take comfort in another, to feel safe enough to relax against him. She can sense that he will not allow the kiss to become more, but this is enough. More than enough. It is perfect. She greedily revels in every touch, every taste, gasps into his mouth with his fingers brush the place behind her ear. It’s good, it’s so good—

And then the sound of armor on stone. A voice and a flare of torchlight.

“It’s after curfew, you know.”

Evelyn jerks back, stepping out of Solas’s arms. She blinks in the sudden light, her stinging eyes settling on the man standing a few steps above her.

Grieves.

Her heart burns as it begins to pound, half with fear and half with anger. She meets Grieves’s eyes, finds his attention firmly fixed on her.

He sneers. “So the rumors are true. You’re just like your noble brethren—sating yourself on one of the knife ears.”

She feels more than sees Solas tense. She snatches for his right arm—his dominant hand. She has seen him use that hand in taking notes for Danforth. It is always the hand that has reached for her. She grips his wrist, tries to remind him that lashing out at Grieves is what the templar wants. It will give him the excuse he needs, and she would not see Solas hurt on her account.

Solas stills beneath her touch.

“Is there anything you need, ser?” asks Evelyn. Her voice is level, untouched by emotion. She cannot let him see that he rattled her.

“Not particularly.” But Grieves makes no move to walk away; his hand rests idly at his sword hilt, and his gaze travels over Evelyn, lingering at the place where her fingers are tight around Solas’s arm.

“Then we shall take our leave,” she replies, her voice hard as iron. 

“Good,” says Grieves quietly. “Keep at it like you are. I’ll enjoy yanking your half-breed welp from your arms.” His gaze shifts to Solas, and his lips curl back. But he does not approach, and nor does he say another word. He simply walks up the stairs, the light of his torch sending shivering shadows along the walls.

“Come on,” says Evelyn, pulling on Solas’s arm. She does not want to risk Grieves’s return. Solas does not move for a heartbeat, his eyes fixed on the place where Grieves stood a moment ago. “Solas!”

The sound of his name seems to recall him. He does not shake off her hand—rather, he adjust his reach so that his fingers are clasped around hers. “You’re right,” he says. “We should not linger here.”

Together, they hasten down from the upper levels of the tower. Evelyn can still feel her heart beating too quickly, but her breaths come a little easier. It is fine, she tells herself. It is fine. It was just a templar being crude and impertinent and she has heard them say far worse to others.

She stops by the door of the fifth floor, but Solas gives a tight shake of his head. “Not this floor.”

“But this is—”

“Not your dormitory,” he says, his voice tight. And without another word, he continues down the stairs. Evelyn gapes after him, a little bewildered, but then she follows. It takes her a moment to understand—he means for her to be safe before venturing back up to his own rooms.

It touches her, even if the gesture is misguided. It is not herself that she worries for. “Solas,” she says, tugging on his sleeve. “Solas, it’s fine. You don’t need to walk me to my room. He won’t come after me.”

Solas goes still. It is not a relaxed still—he looks as if he yearns to move, to strike at something. “Yet you fear him.”

That is true. Evelyn lets out a breath. There is little point in lying.

“Grieves… was transferred here,” she says. “He used to serve at Val Royeaux, but he was sent away due to disciplinary action.”

Solas gazes at her. “What did he do?”

“The official charge was interference with a tranquil,” she says, her voice low. “But the rumor is that he tried to get a mage to go to bed with him. When she refused in no uncertain terms, he faked evidence and had her made tranquil. She couldn’t say no, after that.”

All the blood drains from his face.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not,” she says quickly. “I mean, it’s just a rumor. But—after that. When he was transferred here… well. He doesn’t indulge often, but mages are afraid to tell him no.”

A muscle flexes in his jaw. “He has approached you.” It isn’t a question.

She looks away. “He has… made comments to me in the past. He went after Signy when she was just an apprentice and I—may have made some threats. My name still carries some weight.” She shifts uneasily, unsure of how he will think of her—using what little power she has to threaten templars.

“I heard as much,” he tells her. “It is dangerous, if admirable. You have placed yourself in his path to protect others.”

She lets out a breath. “I’m one of the First Enchanter’s favored mages. I know I am—as arrogant as that sounds. It’s not because I’m particularly talented or powerful. She is from Orlais, and there one’s family matters. Some of the old values carry over, even into this life. The templars know better than to interfere with the First Enchanter’s favorites.”

“Not unless they are trying to aid a captured apostate,” says Solas quietly, and his thumb brushes the corner of her mouth. It’s an intimate little touch, and it startles her. Not that it's bad; she just isn’t expecting it.

Then she remembers. The first time they met—Grieves backhanding her. The taste of copper on her tongue, the bone pendant in her hand.

“I had forgotten about that,” she says. “It was such a small thing.”

Concern flickers across his face. “He did not fear your family name nor the First Enchanter when he struck you.”

She shrugs. “Well, he had an excuse then. Give a templar a reason to hit you, and they will. But I’ve managed to not be caught alone with him. And my family would probably make a fuss if I were to suddenly vanish.”

A line appears between his brows. “It is a flimsy shield to hide behind.”

“Yes,” she says, and her own voice sobers. “But it is more than most mages have.”

It is more than you have.

She does not say it. But the unspoken words hang between them.

Chapter Text

When she was a child, Evelyn remembers thinking how large the Ostwick Tower seemed. To her young eyes, the walls were insurmountable and the halls went on for miles. The floors were a twisting labyrinth, one that might go on forever if she just took a wrong turn. She used to wonder if she went to the top of the tower, if she could reach up and touch the very sky. Run her fingers through clouds and feel the winds coming off the ocean.

But now, the sky feels very much out of reach.

The tower is small and it is only becoming smaller.

Part of her knows this is only her imagination. There used to be word from the other circles; there used to be regular transfers of mages; there used to be deliveries of fresh scrolls, of ink and quills, of wax seals with the Chantry’s emblem. The libraries were once full of mages conducting approved research, of children talking amidst themselves, of those discussing the best way to cast.

The libraries are silent now. There are no deliveries, no transfers.

She understands; this is to be the new world after the College of Magi disbanded. After Kirkwall. The Chantry does not trust the towers not to rebel, so they will isolate them, strip them of the few privileges they enjoyed.

The mages know it, as well. Evelyn is not the only one to feel the fresh tension in the air. She sees her fellows talking amidst themselves, murmuring when there are no templars in sight. When they hear the clank of armor, they hasten away in different directions. They speak of rebellion, she knows. But none of them seek to include her in such discussions. She is known to be Monette’s favorite, and they fear her carrying word to the First Enchanter.

She wouldn’t, but they don’t know that.

Evelyn continues to teach the apprentices. It is all she can do, and she cannot stand the thought of doing nothing.

But she does not teach them alone.

Solas joins her every evening. She thought he might tire of such work, but he seems to come alive in the torchlight, under the sharp questions of the apprentices. He talks to them with ease, smiling at their questions, refusing to rise to any baited comments.

When Leonel makes a comment about how this is all well and good, but dreams can never truly affect the real world, Solas says, “The Alamarri crossed the Frostback Mountains to escape the beast they called the shadow goddess in their stories. I met the spirit that they fled. She walked the Fade along the southern tundra, weeping. Lonely and forgotten. Great Ferelden formed because a spirit drove her prey away.”

Leonel’s mouth drops open. Jana laughs and Malorel smiles, jabs an elbow into her friend’s side.

Evelyn listens as raptly as any of the apprentices. Solas’s tales do not keep to the strict teachings of the Chantry—there are no morals, no tales of evil demons and good spirits. He tells them of how easily a spirit can be twisted against its purpose, how often summonings can create the very horrors that the mage seeks to avoid. The apprentices seem wary at first, as this goes against everything they have ever been taught.

“Humans create their own demons,” he says once, and Evelyn cannot help but think of how right he is.

Evelyn listens along with the apprentices—but not only for the stories.

When Solas speaks, he does so as if he has set down a heavy burden. There is a lightness to him, a boundless joy in his discoveries, and a faint smile upon his lips. Sometimes, he will glance at her, his mouth still crooked in that smile, and her heart lurches in her chest.

After every lesson, he and Evelyn linger in the classroom. They do not always touch; sometimes, it is only words that pass between them. They speak of the tower, of its inhabitants, of the templars and their increased wariness. Sometimes they speak of the apprentices. He has a growing fondness for Jana, she can see. The young elven woman is bright and curious, and she asks questions that he seems to approve of. He is mildly amused by Leonel, who challenges Solas at every turn.

“He is trying to impress the young woman who sits beside him,” Solas observes.

“Orla,” replies Evelyn. “And, yes, he has been trying to impress her for some time now.”

They sit on the floor beneath the high window. Evelyn has her arms wrapped around herself, trying to ward off the tower’s chill. The stones do little to hold warmth, and she reminds herself to wear a thicker robe. The days are shortening, the winds beginning to cool. All too soon, it will be winter.

“You don’t mind him constantly challenging you?” she asks, to distract herself from the chill. Her fingers twist and untwist, trying to work some heat into her own skin.

Solas’s hand settles on her wrist. She blinks, but then heat gathers in his palm. It is gentle, the warmth flowing up her arms and she shudders. “What is—how did you…?”

“It is a simple matter to call the heat of a flame.” Solas gives an elegant little half-shrug.

“I think your modesty is misplaced,” she says, another shiver wracking through her. But this time, it is her body adjusting to the warmth. “That’s an amazing trick.” She tilts her head. “Aren’t you going to offer to teach it to me?”

He laughs. There is something of a snort in it, and Maker, if that doesn’t make him more attractive.

“And then what use would you have for me?” he asks lightly. “If I taught you all of my tricks?”

Her mouth moves before she can give her words much thought. “Oh, I am sure I can think of a few things.”

Their dalliance has not gone further than it did in the stairwell. A few kisses, here and there. Scatterings of touches—fingers brushing her arm, once his thumb skimming along her chin. But even so, she revels in these small intimacies. It has been years since she has been touched by anyone other than a friend or a templar yanking her around—and she has almost forgotten how good it can be.

This can only last so long.

She is determined to enjoy it.

“Tell me a story,” she says. “One you haven’t told the apprentices.”

His eyebrows raise. He still holds her hand, his thumb sliding in gentle circles over the delicate bones of her wrist. “What kind of story?”

“I don’t know. Something the Chantry would be scandalized to hear.”

His gaze softens, goes faraway. He looks so much younger in these moments, as if the weight of years has been taken from him. His breathing comes slower, and when he speaks, it is with the cadence of someone reciting words they never thought they would speak aloud.

“I met a friendly spirit who observed the dreams of village girls as love first blossomed in their adolescence. With subtlety, she steered them all toward village boys with gentle hearts who would return their love with gentle kindness. The matchmaker, so I called her.” His eyes meet hers. “That small village never knew its luck.” His mouth twitches at one corner. “A frivolous story, I suppose. But the flirtations of Leonel and Orla reminded me of it.”

“It is not frivolous,” replies Evelyn, her voice quiet. She remembers this tale; he told it once before, to demonstrate his knowledge to Danforth. But it seemed like just a tale, a boast, and now it is a promise of everything she cannot imagine. 

The freedom to love, to be loved, and the implication that there might be benevolent spirits who would wish happiness on humans—all of it matters. It is everything she will never have, could never have.

Not here.

Not in this life.

She forces herself to meet Solas’s gaze, and she sees his face has gone stony. There is a keen attention to his eyes, as rapt as if he were trying to piece together a riddle. His long fingers twitch, and she realizes that he is restraining himself. “You have been in love,” he says, and there is no question to it.

She nods.

“They were taken from you.”

Sifting through her own words takes a moment, but she says, “I have been with three men. The last two were… handsome. Convenient. Comfort found in flesh. The first was—I was seventeen. I loved him. We promised we would do whatever it took to be together, to keep each other safe. He was suspected of blood magic, as his mentor was a blood mage. When they came to take him away, I fought back. I managed to strike one of them and they threw me in solitary for two weeks. When I emerged, I found out he had been transferred to the Kirkwall Circle.” She shifts uneasily in her seat. “I went to the College of Magi to discover what happened to him.”

His thumb continues to stroke her wrist, and the gentle touch feels like the only thing holding her together. “Did you?”

A shudder wracks her whole body. “They made him tranquil. He was killed in the fighting.”

A breath hisses through his teeth. “I am beginning to understand why you were so angered when you returned from the College of Magi.”

They do not speak for many minutes. It is not a tense silence; rather, the pause is more thoughtful. Solas touches her without truly seeming to realize he is doing it, and she is glad of the sensation. “I do not understand,” he finally says. “How you are… what you are.”

She frowns. “What do you mean?”

“The mages here are… short sighted,” he says. The words come slowly, as if he mulls them over even as he gives them voice. “Their minds cast in a duality of black and white. But you have shown a subtlety in your actions. A wisdom that goes against everything I know of your kind. How one such as yourself came to be in a place like this, I do not know.”

She pulls her hand free of his. “My kind?”

He looks at her, and there is mild surprise on his face.

His words cut into her. It is nothing more than she has heard others say—

Your kind.

Templars say that. Her family said that. Those outside of the circle say that. She has spent all of her life hearing about how she is other, she does not belong, and she never thought to hear such thoughts from him. Not from a man who just spent an hour telling apprentices how demons should be treated like people.

She thought mages would receive the same courtesy.

“My kind,” she repeats, and the words are bitter in her mouth. “As if we’re all to be lumped together, then.”

A shadow crosses his face. “In my experience, most circle mages are similar.”

It does not sound like an insult, the way he says it. So earnestly, as if he were simply explaining a truth that she cannot grasp. But it is not true—and it stings her that after all this time, after what they’ve shared, he still holds himself apart.

“It was just words then to you,” she says, her voice low. “All of that talk to the apprentices about how judging a spirit without knowing it—it was just talk to you?”

He blinks, startled. “Evelyn.”

“Or does that only apply to spirits?” she says. She can feel her ire rising; her skin is too warm, her heart beating too quickly. “Are we people in the waking world to be judged solely for our circumstances? For what we are, rather than who we are?”

“No, that is not what I—”

“You think to compliment me by saying I am not like the other circle mages?” She breathes evenly—she forces herself to. “I know we’re not perfect, Solas. None of us are. But we’ve survived. We’ve clung on, tried to keep each other safe. We’ve kept you safe, for all that you say you’re not one of us.”

“I only meant—”

She does not let him finish. “What? That I am different? Solas, I am no different than any mage here. You think I’m the only one here who was foolish enough to fall in love? Who fought back, only to realize the futility of it, and then to accept this life for what it is?”

“You never accepted it,” he replies, and it sounds as if he is biting back other, harsher words. His eyes flash. “You pretend you did—and you may fool everyone around you. You fooled me, for a time. But you pull at your chains, you test the boundaries. You use your power to protect others in a place where it might cost you everything. You teach what it is forbidden to teach.” His lips pull back, in a smile so fierce it is nearly a snarl. “You fight back.”

She rises to her feet. She cannot remain sitting, not with him. “Tell me, Solas have you ever asked why Danforth was nearly made tranquil? Or perhaps inquired as to why Kinnaird chose to be a healer? Or why Keldra has scars on her right arm?” She nearly snarls the words. “You see what you expect to see—and you only saw my discontent because I’m the only person you deign to spend time with.”

He appears taken aback. His lips part, but no sound emerges.

She leaves him in that classroom before he manages to put together a reply.


The harrowings begin that week.

Solas takes his morning meal with Danforth; Solas finds that the old man enjoys griping about the toughness of the meat, the quality of the bread, and his mood is foul if he does not have an audience. Solas listens dutifully to Danforth going on about how they used to dine on fresh fruits, grown in magical hot houses. “The way the world’s going,” mutters Danforth, spearing a sausage on his knife, “you would think the least the templars could do is feed us well.”

Solas cannot help but smile; he has grown rather fond of Danforth’s mutterings. And without his research to occupy him, the old man seems even more cantankerous.

“Do you think we’ll be able to resume working on your paper soon?” asks Solas. “Surely the Chantry cannot halt all magical research forever.”

“Don’t know,” says Danforth, biting into the sausage. “Maybe soon. Maybe never.”

Solas gazes down at his own plate. He has been ill at ease for many days now; his sleep is disturbed, and even the joy he took in teaching the apprentices is gone now that those lessons are ended. He spends his hours wandering the tower, charting templar routes and schedules, making notes for himself. He will know this tower well by the time he and Fitz make their move.

“Why were you nearly made tranquil?” he asks abruptly. It is something that has been bothering him; how Evelyn accused him of never asking why Danforth went from healing to researching the fade.

There is a long silence, and for a moment, Solas is sure that the old man will not answer.

Danforth takes a swig of his tea. “I healed a mage.”

Solas frowns. “You were a healer. Surely healing an injury—”

Danforth laughs, and it is a bitter little sound. “Oh, she wasn’t injured. Not by the templar’s standards.” He sets his fork down, rests his hands in his lap. “One of the templars had a fondness for blondes, and she had hair the color of pale sunlight. He forced himself on her several times. She dealt with his attentions, until she found herself with child.”

Solas draws in a sharp breath. “You aided her.”

“Not easily,” says Danforth. “She had to escape his notice. Only place I could meet her was the pantry, of all the Maker-forsaken whereabouts. I’d helped others like her in the past. If the templars knew, they didn’t make a fuss. Most of them don’t want evidence of their transgressions.”

“But this one did?”

Danforth met Solas’s gaze unflinchingly. “There was bleeding—not too uncommon. And I submitted a report to the Chantry that she would heal more easily in a warmer Circle. She was transferred.”

Away from Ostwick. Away from the templar’s unwanted attention.

“And what happened to this templar?” asks Solas.

Danforth lifts one shoulder in a careless shrug. “Died a few months after. There was a bleed in his brain.”

A bleed.

Solas does not reply. His mind races, and for the first time, he looks at Danforth and sees more than an ill-tempered old man. He sees beyond the flinty irritability, and finds a well of anger that is so deep it rivals his own. It is the kind of fury that topples empires and makes men become more than what they are.

Solas never thought to see such emotion in a withered human man.

“I had nothing to do with it. I was in the libraries at that time,” says Danforth hastily. “And don’t look at me like that—if I’d killed him, I wouldn’t have used blood magic.”

“Because it’s forbidden?”

“Because a bleed in the brain mean he passed in a moment,” replies Danforth. “If I’d done it, I’d have bludgeoned him with my cane. Slower. Much more painful.” He considers the food on his plate for a moment, then shoves another piece of sausage into his mouth. “They declared I was unfit to be a healer—and that my apprentice would take my place.”

A flicker of intuition touches Solas.

Tell me, Solas have you ever asked why Danforth was nearly made tranquil? Or perhaps inquired as to why Kinnaird chose to be a healer?

“Kinnaird,” says Solas. “He was your apprentice. He works as a healer now, in your stead.”

Danforth nods. “In more ways than one.”

Solas makes to reply, but he hears footsteps. A gangly youth approaches their table, mage’s robes billowing out behind him. Solas blinks, a little startled by the young man who places both palms on the table and leans in, grinning wildly. “I did it!” Leonel crows.

Danforth gives Leonel a flat look. “Your sleeve is in my breakfast, boy.”

Hastily, Leonel straightens. “I did it,” he says, in a slightly cowed voice. But his mouth is pulled wide in a grin and he turns to Solas. “I owe it all to you!” Without so much as an invitation, he thuds down into the seat opposite Danforth and Solas. “There was a desire demon, it came to me, all pretty and red-headed, but I knew. I just knew, and I talked to it, and when it asked I just told it no, and it didn’t even try to fight me. I always thought I had to fight the demons—that’s what the Chantry taught. But it let me go and I just… woke up.”

Danforth spears another bite of sausage. “Am I to understand that you’ve passed your harrowing?”

Leonel rolls his eyes. “That’s what I’ve been saying, Old Man.”

“That is Senior Enchanter Old Man,” says Danforth, chewing loudly. “I earned that title, I’m not giving it up.” He slides Solas a keen glance. “And I’d keep that bit about owing Enchanter Solas to yourself. Tutoring apprentices about the harrowing is quite forbidden.”

Leonel goes pale. “Oh—I didn’t mean to—”

“Just keep your voice down,” says Danforth. “I won’t go ratting you out to the templars.”

Leonel turns his attention back to Solas. For all of his pride, his yearning for praise is clearly written across his face. “You did well,” says Solas quietly.

Leonel beams. “I heard that they harrowed two of us last night. I wonder who else got through.”

“We’ll see,” says Danforth.

They shall, indeed.

Solas’s gaze sweeps across the hall, finding the small figure and dark hair sitting some distance away.

He has not spoken with Evelyn in nearly a week. Not since their last disastrous conversation. He still remembers the flash of hurt in her eyes, the way she pulled free of his touch and stormed from the room.

It was his fault. He can see that now.

He meant to convey his admiration of her, to say that he never expected to find a kind, enduring soul behind such walls. That is what he meant to say, but it came out condescending and sharp. He wanted to pay her a compliment, and only managed to alienate her.

And her words about judging the mages for their circumstances… that rang uncomfortably true. He has judged these people and found them lacking. These people who treat spirits as monsters, who consider demons lesser, who blunder about with little true knowledge and all of the arrogance in the world.

But has he not treated the quicklings much the same as they treat spirits?

It is a startling realization, and a sobering one.

He thinks of Evelyn, seemingly accepting of her circumstances while using her noble family’s name to protect those who might otherwise have been hurt; of Fitz escaping this cage again and again; of Danforth using his talents as a healer to protect the women who came to him for help; of Kinnaird, who must have picked up where Danforth left off.

And those are only the people Solas has come to know in his months at the tower. Surely there are more. More stories of quiet heroism, of men and elves who refuse to bow to circumstance.

He will find her. He will apologize for his presumption. His course determined, Solas rises from his seat. He bids quiet farewell to the irascible Danforth and beaming Leonel. The meal is nearly over; the hall is emptying of mages and templars, and Evelyn is helping stack the dirty plates into a pile. Signy is aiding her, her eyes downcast.

Evelyn hears his approach. She turns and then stiffens when she sees his face. Every line of her body is drawn tight, and he feels another pang of regret that she would regard him in such a manner. As if he were a threat.

If you only knew.

“Evelyn,” he says, his voice gentle. “I wished to apologize.”

Her lips purse, and then she throws a look at Signy. The girl continues to work, her gaze averted. “Yes?” says Evelyn.

“I was wrong,” he says, his voice quieter. He wishes it were just the two of them, but if Evelyn does not wish to be alone with him, he will respect that. “I did not mean to imply that the people here are unworthy.”

Some of the tension runs out of her. “That’s certainly what it sounded like.”

“I dislike the Circle,” he says. “I allowed that to influence my opinions about those who dwell within the Circle. I should not have. None of you chose this life, any more than I did.”

Her mouth turns up, but it’s more weary than amused. “I certainly did not.”

It is not quite an acceptance of his apology, but he relaxes. “I have the unfortunate habit of saying the wrong thing, sometimes.”

“We all have unfortunate habits,” says Evelyn, and she smiles. “I mean, I—”

Her voice stutters out.

For a heartbeat, there is stillness. Silence.

All the color leeches from Evelyn’s face. She gazes at something behind Solas, and he whirls about, reaching for a staff he does not carry.

He does not see a threat. There are no templars, no attackers.

Just the tranquil, coming in to gather the dirty dishes and utensils. His gaze darts about, seeking what Evelyn sees, and then all the breath leaves him in a gust.

Among the tranquil, there is a girl. She once possessed brilliant red hair and dancing eyes. Who teased and smiled and laughed—but now, her mouth is still. Her eyes are dull. Her hair hangs limply over her shoulders.

There is a sunburst brand across her brow.

“Orla!”

It is not Solas who cries out. Nor Evelyn.

It is Leonel. He chokes on the name, says it again. Stumbles on his way toward her, reaching for the girl. He grasps her by the shoulders, gazes into her face with a wild grief.

“Leonel,” says Orla. Her voice is slow, almost sleepy. As if spoken by someone who has sunk into dreams from which they will never awaken.

Solas watches, then turns.

He only sees the flutter of Evelyn’s robe as she vanishes through the door and out of the hall.


Orla is not the only one.

In the first few days, another apprentice is made tranquil and one simply vanishes. The rumor is that she was either taken to another tower, or became an abomination. No one knows the truth of the matter.

Evelyn does not sleep well; she has nightmares of her own harrowing, of hands reaching for her in the dark, yanking her from the bed and dragging her into the harrowing chamber. She recalls the cold tang of lyrium on the back of her tongue. It is all tangled up, memory and dreams.

Even so, she manages to go on. She teaches her classes on elemental magic, she visits with her friends, and she sees Solas in the hallways. They have not truly spoken since the great hall, since he offered his apology. She was grateful for it, but in the wake of these new horrors, their spat seems so small.

The days go on, harrowing after harrowing.

Most of her students get through. It gladdens Evelyn.

But then, in the second week, one of the apprentices is found dead in her dormitory.

Evelyn is woken by Keldra. A hand on her shoulder, shaking her, a voice in her ear. “Wake up, dammit. Evie, wake—”

Evelyn snaps back to consciousness. She sits up, nearly slams her head into the bunk above her. “What is it?”

It is very late, or perhaps very early. “Kinnaird summoned you,” Keldra says, in a whisper. “It’s one of the apprentices—you taught her. He thought you should be the one—”

Evelyn does not allow her to continue. She yanks on a robe and hastens to the stairs, Keldra trailing behind her. The apprentices all bunk on the same floor, and Evelyn remembers it well. It smells of adolescence, of unwashed bodies and cheaply made scents. The hallway is lit by torches and she sees Kinnaird at once.

He stands by an open door, his hand pressed to his face. Defeat hangs heavy from his shoulders.

“Who?” she chokes out.

Kinnaird’s voice shakes. “Malorel. The elven girl.”

She finds out afterward that he was the one to first arrive after Jana found her roommate unmoving and cold. He was the one to examine her, to find what took her life.

It was a bottle of witherstalk.

Found in the girl’s own hand.

“She was scared of the harrowing,” says Jana. The girl is curled against the wall, her knees drawn to her chest. She is—was—Malorel’s closest friend, Evelyn recalls. The girl seems numb. “Said pretty girls always end up… end up like Orla.” Her eyes spill over. “I didn’t know—I didn’t realize. I would’ve stopped her…”

Evelyn kneels beside Jana and draws her close. She does not know what words pass her lips, but she tries to whisper soothing things. The other healers arrive quickly enough, and there is talk of removing the body.

Evelyn covers Jana’s eyes when they walk past, a cloth-wrapped bundle between them. “It’s all right,” she whispers. “It’s all right. It’s all right.”

She is not sure if she utters the lie for herself or Jana.

Kinnaird offers to escort Jana to the healer’s wing. “I can give her something for sleep,” he says. “She’ll need it.”

Evelyn nods. By now, the wan light of day has begun to seep through the windows.

It feels as if something has taken root in her chest; some vine curled around her heart and lungs, squeezing too tightly, giving every breath a rasping edge. She cannot quite catch her breath. Evelyn hastens to the stairs, taking them two at a time. She nods to the templar on duty before striding to the doors and pushing them open.

She strides into the courtyard. She just—she just needs to breathe.

It is only when she is in the shadow of the high wall that she allows herself to fall apart.

She sinks to the cobblestones, presses a hand to the ground. She needs to feel something solid beneath her. Her heart throbs and her vision swims and she knows she is on the verge of losing herself. It is not merely anger—it is something far beyond it. What wells up within her is bitter and twisted and everything a demon might hope for.

Everything a templar might fear.

She forces herself to still, to breathe, to try and calm herself. She will not fall to despair. She will not—she cannot. There are too many depending on her. She has the other apprentices, and Signy, and Kinnaird and Keldra and—

A warm hand touches her back.

She does not raise her head, but she recognizes the light touch. “Solas?”

“I heard.” She feels more than sees him crouch beside her. “I am so sorry.”

At his words, her anger shatters. It is as if that ire were the ice upon a frozen river, and now that it has cracked, all that wells up is grief.

She might have stopped it. She could have stopped it. If she’d known, if she’d cared to ask, she could have done something. Reassured Malorel that she wouldn’t be alone, that once she was harrowed, Evelyn would have taken her under her wing. Kept the templars away, kept her safe.

But if she had been made tranquil, some part of Evelyn whispers, would you have done the same?

She does not know.

Maker help her.

“I should have talked to her more,” says Evelyn hollowly. “I knew she was scared. I knew—I could see it. But I was waiting for her to come to me.”

“You are not responsible.” He tilts her face up, makes her look at him. His face is open, understanding. “You could not have stopped it.”

“I could have,” she says. She bows her head, unwilling to bear his pity. “I—”

“Am just another mage,” he replies.

That silences her. Her own words come back to haunt her.

He speaks gently, but firmly. “You could not have saved that child. Not in this world, not with things as they are.”

Tears spill over and she weeps with abandon. Solas holds her close, gentling her through the great rasping heaves of breath, through the shudders. She is not sure how much time passes, but then she hears his voice close to her ear.

And he says words that shake her to the core.

“Let me take you from here,” he whispers.


Fen’Harel pays his debts.

He will not leave her to rot here. He will not leave her to the mercy of templars like Grieves, to leaders who willingly surrender rather than take a stand.

She is kind. Perhaps the only true kindness he has found since he left uthenera. He will not leave her to rot in this tower.

She looks at him, her face reddened with grief. Her face is tearstained, eyes bloodshot. “What?"

“Fitz and I are planning to leave,” he says, his voice low. It is a risk to tell her this, but he trusts her.

He trusts her. It is a revelation, even to himself.

Silence. She does not react—and he wonders if she is surprised or disbelieving.

“We’re going to break into the phylactery chamber,” he says. “We’ll destroy the templar’s ability to track us. And then we run.”

He hears her sharp inhalation. “That’s risky.”

“Yes,” he agrees. “But no more risky than remaining here.” He hesitates, then says, “Evelyn, you must believe me. I have seen such things before. Remaining a willing captive will not protect you. Should Kirkwall’s rebellion spread, the templars will not spare you.” He feels the rise and fall of her breaths, quicker than before. Her fingertips touch his collarbone, find the leather cord of his jawbone pendant.

“What do you mean, you’ve seen this before?” she asks.

His lips press tight. He let himself slip.

“Were you in Tevinter?” she asks. “Some kind of—I don’t know. Runaway slave?”

It isn’t a bad bit of supposition. He did say he was from the North, and if he were he truly from this time, he might have been one of the unfortunate elves who found themselves in service to a magister.

And he has led slave rebellions.

“Something like that,” he says.

He can almost hear her silent rumination. “Well,” she says, after a moment. “That does explain a few things.” Another shudder runs through her.

“Evelyn, you cannot remain here,” he says. “You are not safe.”

She swallows. “Where will you—where would you want to go?”

It is not agreement, but it is also not a refusal. She is considering this.

Ah. This is one aspect of his escape he has not given thought to yet.

She cannot come with him, when he leaves. Solas will return to his agents, his people, and she will—

He does not know what she will do. What she should do. She will be an apostate in a world that hates her, and she does not have the benefit of his experience. Both she and Fitz have lived sheltered lives; they have no skills with which to survive, except their magic.

And then he happens upon an idea.

“I have heard rumors that not all of the mages in Kirkwall were slain,” he says. “Some of them escaped. Some are now on the run.”

“You wish to join them?”

“It would be safer among them,” he says. Not quite a lie—it will be safer for her to go with those mages.

They will go their separate ways.

She does not need to know that. Not now.

“Well,” she says. Her voice is still soggy with grief. “There goes my role as Monette’s little successor. If I’m planning to break out, I can’t be her favorite anymore.”

Solas smiles. “That is,” he tells her, “precisely what I wish you to do.”

Chapter Text

It is two months after Malorel’s death that the front gates are flung wide.

Tension grips the tower. Every floor has been polished; the curtains and rugs shaken out; the library dusted; apprentices are wearing pressed robes and their faces are red with scrubbing; the tranquil have spent nearly a week preparing fine meals.

And Evelyn stands at Monette’s side. Her robes are new, ordered by the First Enchanter. A finely spun wool, edged with rabbit fur, to keep the chill at bay. They are dyed the blue of the ocean—to match your eyes, my dear, said Monette fondly. Her hair is twisted up into an elaborate knot, and her lips are painted red. She stands at Monette’s elbow, between her and the Knight Commander. He gave her a polite little nod when she took her place in the receiving line. Monette chose two other mages to accompany her to the courtyard—both of whom are senior enchanters. They looked at Evelyn with some skepticism, perhaps wondering how someone of such youth has caught Monette’s eye.

The clatter of hooves draws Evelyn’s attention away from her circumstances. She straightens, tries to seem at ease.

The carriage appears a moment later. It is drawn by two white horses, and the carriage itself is painted in shades of gold and red. Evelyn wills her face to neutrality. Several armored riders follow the carriage, and it is one of these that swings down from his horse and hastens to the carriage, unlatching the door. He is a templar dressed in elaborate armor that is more costume than true protection.

“My grace,” he murmurs, and extends his hand.

The hand that takes his is polished smooth. As is the woman who gracefully steps from the carriage. Her robes are even finer than Monette’s—and they glitter as if inlaid with tiny gems. “Thank you, Ser Roloc,” she says. She waits for several of the Chantry mothers to follow her from the carriage before she walks across the courtyard.

Monette falls into an effortless curtsey. “My Grace. It is my honor to welcome you to Ostwick Tower.”

Grand Cleric Augusta could be anywhere between thirty and fifty. Her face is unlined, but her hair is silvered. She murmurs the appropriate response, and then smiles even more widely at Cynesige. “Your Grace, it is a pleasure to see you again,” he says.

“I am glad to see our last meeting has not soured you against me,” she says, a glimmer of amusement in her eyes. “I fear Val Royeaux is not the same without you, Cynesige.”

He bows. “I would say it is far more peaceful, your Grace.”

She laughs, and it is a pleasant sound—the full-bellied joy that Evelyn might expect from old friends. “We will have to speak later,” Augusta says, then moves down the line.

Monette introduces the two senior enchanters, and then Evelyn herself.

Evelyn’s curtsey is little more than an unsteady bob. Augusta gazes at her with all of the benevolence of a cat sprawled in beam of sunlight, too comfortable to stand and stalk the mice it sees scurrying by. “You are of the Trevelyan family in Ostwick?” she asks.

Evelyn swallows and nods.

“I have taken meals with your father. There are some irresponsible nobles who try to hide mages, but Bann Trevelyan has a dutiful heart.” Augusta reaches for Evelyn’s hand, presses it between her own. “I am glad to see you have flourished in the safety of the Circle.”

Evelyn smiles for the first time since entering the courtyard.

“That I have, your Grace.”


The first whispered conversation takes place in the kitchens. The rumble of ovens and clanging of metal pots will mask any words they wish to keep to themselves. Even so, they take care. The meeting is, for all appearances, three mages who were dissatisfied with the evening meal and have ventured into the kitchen to forage.

A petty crime. Far more innocent than the one they plotted.

“I don’t know why you’re still looking,” says Evelyn, when she sees Fitz on his knees, rummaging about in a cupboard. “It’s not like we’re actually here for food.”

“Speak for yourself,” says Fitz. In his current position, the only visible part of him is his backside—his head and shoulders are all but crammed into the cupboard. “I cannot plan on an empty stomach.”

Evelyn snorts, but her amusement fades quickly. She has found it more difficult to laugh, of late. The easy smiles and light cheer have not been easy to reclaim in the wake of the harrowings.

A soft sound makes her look up. Solas stands a careful arm’s length away, his gaze resting on her. She remembers the last time they talked—his arms tight around her, as if he knew how much she needed an anchor. She can still recall his fingers trailing up and down her back, soothing and steady, as he asked her to leave with him.

The first few days, it seemed like little more than madness. One cannot escape from the Circle. But the longer she thought on it, the more that staying began to seem intolerable. She imagined a future of more apprentices, of teaching children and watching them grow, only to see them cut down like stray weeds.

She cannot change that, not here.

But perhaps, if she joined with those rebel mages. If a Trevelyan joined them, a noble-born… perhaps…

Things might change.

Solas takes a step closer; every movement is slow, as if not to startle her. “I will not ask if you are all right,” he says quietly.

“Thank you,” she answers, her voice soft. “For that saves me the effort of putting together a lie.” She closes her eyes for a moment. “How are you?”

He hesitates. She can see him mulling over his answer, and then he says, “I have been bereft of conversation. Danforth does not often speak beyond single words and grunts these days, not after his last attempt to convince the Chantry to repeal their restrictions on his research.”

Her mouth twitches. “Is that your roundabout way of saying that you missed talking to me?” She turns to face him more fully, angling her shoulders so that they are parallel to his. “You might have come to visit me.”

His own face is solemn. “You are in mourning.”

Perhaps he is still uncertain after their last argument; he treats her with a delicacy she is unused to. “I would welcome the distraction, to be honest,” she says. “Sometimes being left to my own thoughts is a curse rather than a blessing.”

He nods. “I will keep that in mind, in future.”

“Ah ha!” There is a thunk as Fitz bangs his head on the cupboard door, then emerges. He beams brilliantly. “Look.” And with all of the triumph of a master hunter revealing a prize kill, he holds out a small glass jar. Inside are what appear to be some sugar candies, likely stashed by someone who does not trust their roommates not to eat them.

Fitz pops one into his mouth. One cheek bulges, making him appear like a red-headed squirrel. “All right now,” he says, grinning. “How are we going to break out?”


The Grand Cleric is given quarters on the same floor as the First Enchanter. Evelyn is the one to walk her there; she keeps up a steady stream of meaningless conversation—how the weather has affected the herbs in the courtyard, the new apprentices that have been given into Evelyn’s care, and the fresh litter of kittens that were born in one of the laundry rooms. Augusta listens and asks polite, detached questions. It feels rather like a careful dance, never revealing anything of import, all the while keeping the older woman distracted with details.

“You are young,” says the Grand Cleric. It isn’t a question, so Evelyn does not answer. But Augusta continues. “I heard you were among those at the College of Magi before it was disbanded.”

“I was,” Evelyn replies. “Monette asked if I would accompany her, to aid her.”

“That is a great honor, to have such trust placed in you. And not yet a senior enchanter.”

Evelyn smiles, but is more mask than true amusement. Augusta must have seen the pointed looks of the two senior enchanters when Monette asked Evelyn to take Augusta up to her quarters. For all that they are trusted and skilled, they are both of common blood and—and Evelyn is not. It is a ridiculous reason to choose one’s alliances, in a place where bloodlines hold very little value. But she cannot say as much to Augusta.

“Monette has her reasons, I suppose,” she says evasively. She comes to a halt before the wooden door, then unlatches it. The room is small but comfortable, with one of the few windows that opens to the sea. The curtains drift in the breeze, and Evelyn closes her eyes, enjoys the scent of the ocean winds.

“She does trust you,” replies Augusta. She places a hand on Evelyn’s shoulder. “See that her faith is not misplaced.”


There are maps of the tower in the library.

Evelyn and Solas spend more time studying them than Fitz; he claims to be able to escape the tower in his sleep. It is not a matter of getting out, as Solas proved in his own attempt. The phylacteries are the true problem, and that is where Solas’s plan comes in.

“There is a password to get into the phylactery chamber,” he says. One of his long fingers trails over the map, brushing over the small square representing the Knight Commander’s office. “It is located in a storage room whose only entrance is this office. I have been there—the only way in must be the large bookshelf.”

At this, Evelyn perks up. “I’ve seen that. It always looked so gaudy to me… you truly think it is a door?”

“It must be.” A line etches itself between Solas’s brows; he frowns down at the book, and Evelyn smiles to herself. She reaches out, touches his hand. His gaze rises sharply to meet hers.

“Hey,” she says. And it feels foolish to say such a thing, but she does. “How are you?”

He appears a bit fazed by the question, but answers nonetheless. “I am well. May I ask… what brought this on?”

“Well.” She hesitates. “We have been working on this for some weeks now and it’s just, we haven’t really talked. Not about anything other than our plans.”

The edges of his mouth lift. “Is this your roundabout way of saying that you have missed talking with me?”

She laughs, and the sound almost startles her. She cannot remember the last time she laughed so openly—not since—

He must see the change of expression on her face, for he scoots his chair closer to hers, and touches her cheek. Just a brush of his knuckles against her skin, yet it feels wonderful. She leans into the contact, and her lips graze his thumb. For a heartbeat, neither one of them move. The moment feels oddly fragile, and she realizes she is holding her breath when his thumb skims over the swell of her bottom lip. “Solas,” she breathes, and her mouth against his hand feels intimate.

“Yes?” He seems rather focused on her mouth, gently tracing the edge of it. Back and forth, until she feels a little drunk on the contact.

“Please.” She is not even certain what she asks for—not until he leans forward and touches his mouth to hers. Her fingers catch on his collar and she is surprised how easily she slips into the kiss. It is as if this is merely a continuation of their conversation, of the easy banter and camaraderie. He kisses her with focus, but there is no rush. She closes her eyes, drinks in the touch, the first real contact she has had in weeks. The library slips away, and she finds herself in a world of their own making. It is soft, and small, and so very comfortable. Her fingers skim over his neck, up to his jaw, cupping the back of his head. Nor are his hands idle; she feels one cradling her jaw, and the other creeps up her waist.

He pulls back for a moment. His unsteady breaths touch her cheek, and she can see the flush on his neck. “Evelyn,” he says. “I do not—I do not wish to lead you down any paths you may regret. This cannot last.”

They are so close that when she speaks, her lips graze his. “We’re mages, Solas. Nothing lasts.”

A shiver runs through him. “It would be kinder in the long run…”

Defiance kindles to life within her. “Solas,” she says firmly, “kiss me.”

She thought he might shy away from such a command, but he seems to take refuge in it. He kisses her a second time, and there is no hesitation—in either of them. She deepens the kiss, feels his tongue stroke hers, and she is not sure which of them moves first.

Somehow, she ends up pulled out of her chair and into his, and straddling his thighs, she feels the evidence of his desire. And it does not matter that they are in a library, that anyone might walk in—she angles her hips, and presses against him. Pleasure flares in her belly and she does it again.

The sound he makes is sinful, and the hand resting on her hip helps her to rise and fall as she shamelessly ruts against his clothed erection. One of his hands reaches up, and caresses her breast. His thumb skims her hardened nipple and she whimpers.

He breaks the kiss. “I’m sorry—”

“No,” she says, her voice raw. “Don’t stop.”

It feels as though all boundaries have been stripped away; he is laid bare before her, despite their clothes and the truths she has yet to learn about him. In this moment, he wants—and so does she.

He catches her clothed nipple between thumb and forefinger, rolls it gently. Answering pleasure jolts between her legs, and then his mouth is on her throat, teeth and lips worrying at the place where neck curves into shoulder. The sensation of his hard cock between her legs, his hand stroking her breast, and his mouth—for a moment she considers having him on this chair, in this library, and consequences be damned. “I want you inside of me,” she whispers. She feels him twitch beneath her, his body in agreement with her.

And then his hand falls between her legs. “When we are not in a library,” he murmurs, and his clever fingers delve beneath her robes, find the edge of her leggings, and—

She has to bite her lip to keep silent when he finds bare skin. A caress of her hip, mapping out her thigh. He is unhurried, as if they have all the time in the world. For all that she knows it is a foolish illusion, she cannot help but find comfort in it. She lets out a little squeak when his fingers find the curls between her legs. It is close, but not close enough. She waits, panting against him, as he finally slides a single finger down the seam of her.

It is clumsy at first—this is a terrible position, and he is yet new to her body. But still, it is far better than her own hand, in the darkness of the dormitory when she thinks the others are asleep. He explores her with a care that she might have found touching at another time, but now it drives her to desperation. She rocks against his hand, trying to guide his touch. “Solas.” His name is half-plea, half-warning. “There isn’t time.”

“I know.” He kisses the underside of her jaw. “Tell me what you need.”

She has never instructed anyone in this before. Her previous encounters were usually either the man figuring it out on his own or her own hand guiding his. An embarrassed flush rises to her cheeks. “I—fuck.” She struggles to keep her voice low as he idly touches her. It is difficult enough to utter the words aloud. “I usually—small circles just over the clit. A finger or two inside.”

He kisses her jaw one last time before pulling back. His eyes are half-lidded, his mouth smiling, and somehow looking into his face makes it feel far more intimate when one of his fingers slips into her cunt. She stiffens, clenching around that single finger. As requested, his thumb drifts upward, finds the hard nub of her clitoris, and begins making small circles. She gasps; it is raw pleasure, his fingers working in tandem, and it feels breathtakingly good. A moment later, a second finger eases into her, and she bites back a groan. Any lingering trace of embarrassment is chased away by need, and her hips move against him, rocking in an imitation of what she would have done were it his cock and not his fingers inside of her.

“Look at you,” he whispers, and his pupils flare. “You were beautiful giving pleasure—you’re even more beautiful taking it.”

The combination of his crooning voice and his touch are nearly enough to send her over the edge. Nearly, but not quite. “Harder,” she whispers. “Solas, ah—” She never manages to finish, though, because at once his stroking is firmer, her clitoris rolling back and forth beneath his thumb, his fingers crooking inside of her. She has to bite him to keep silent, her teeth sinking into the folds of his robe. His free hand splays on her back, pulling her body flush against his, steadying her. Trembles begin to take hold in her legs, running up through her torso. She strains against him, stifling her cries against his clothed shoulder. Her cunt ripples around his hand, but he does not stop, working her through the pleasure.

His touch gentles as she settles, becomes something softer and more soothing. She cannot remember the last time she came so hard. For a moment, she rests her forehead in the crook of his shoulder. She is still shaking, breath coming in little gasps, but she feels better than she has in months. Solas kisses her temple. “It has been a long time since I have done anything of the sort,” he murmurs. “Was my performance satisfactory?”

She nips at his shoulder a second time. “If I can stand any time soon, it will be a wonder.”

A chuckle goes through him. She sits up a little, so she can look into his eyes. He is still hard beneath her, but he does not seem to notice. Rather, his free hand traces the lines of her face, as if trying to see beyond skin and flesh. “You are a wonder,” he says softly, and her heart lurches.

And then she hears footsteps—

She jolts back to the moment, realizes they are in a library, that she is in Solas’s lap with his hand between her legs.

It is a scramble to return to her own seat. To straighten her robes, to run her fingers through her hair.

When Fitz walks back into the room, he barely tosses the two of them a cursory glance before slumping into the third seat and saying, “All right, what did I miss?”

When Evelyn speaks, her voice is a little breathier than she likes. “Discussing the way into the phylactery chamber.”

Fitz nods. “The bookshelf, right?”

So they slip back into the role of conspirators.

But when Evelyn looks up, she sees that Solas is smiling. His robes are draped carefully over his lap, to hide any evidence of his own desire. When her eyes meet his, she sees him bring his hand to his mouth. Deliberately, he places two of his fingers in his mouth.

Tasting her.

A hot flush flares in her cheeks and she has to look away. But it is not merely a tease.  He means it as a promise, as well.

And that makes it far more difficult to concentrate on the maps.


Monette likes to pretend the Chantry’s visit is an honor. And the Chantry is keen to go along with such facades. But Evelyn has seen the tension in Monette’s hands and shoulders, and knows the truth of the matter.

It is an inspection.

Evelyn suspects all of the Circles are probably being subjected to such scrutiny. There is likely a highly ranked Chantry official visiting every single tower, to see if Kirkwall’s unrest has spread, to see if harsher measures might be necessary.

Harsher measures than pushing through harrowings, annulling Kirkwall, ceasing all communication, and halting research, part of her thinks bitterly.

She tamps down on that thought, keeps it from her face.

After all, this visit is perfect.

It is exactly what they hoped for.


The plan is formed over the course of weeks. It is crafted through whispers and scraps of parchment that Evelyn burns between her fingertips.

It solidifies when news of the Grand Cleric’s visit trickles down through the tower’s floors. “You know why they’re coming,” says Keldra, yanking all of her dirty robes into a laundry bag. She does it with such force that she might as well be strangling a templar. “To make sure we’re all keeping well in line.” Her mouth twists into a grimace. “Hey, Signy, do you need any washing done?”

Signy sits at the desk, quietly reading. She does not look up, but she shakes her head.

“All of my robes are stained,” says Keldra, with a sigh. “Monthlies came early, because of course they’re never on time. It’ll be a wonder if the blood will come out.”

“I’ve got a few things that need washing,” says Evelyn, rummaging through her own dirty garments. “I’ll add them to the bag and take it down myself. You look as though you shouldn’t be moving around.”

It’s true; Keldra is wan and tired, worn out by cramps and pain in her lower back. She nods gratefully and Evelyn makes a silent reminder to pick up a cup of willowbark tea on her way back up. She hauls the clothing down to the lower level of the tower. The laundry is done in a room off the main baths—by the tranquil, of course. It smells of soap and steam, and the moment she steps into the room, Evelyn knows her hair will be a frizzy mess.

The tranquil on duty is young, perhaps only a year older than Evelyn. A man, with closely cropped blonde hair. The sunburst brand stands out against his pale skin, and she wonders how much time he spends down here. If he is kept in darkness, out of sight.

“I have some garments that need laundering,” she says, and hands him the bundle, along with her name.

The man nods. “The garments will be brought back to your room when they are clean,” says the tranquil. He speaks with that dreamy monotone, as if he is not quite there. Evelyn hesitates, means to leave, then stops.

“What is your name?” she asks.

The tranquil places the bag near others like it. He gazes at the wooden tubs, some full of clothes, others waiting to be filled. It is as if his name is something of little import, as if it only requires half of his attention. “Brigham.”

She nods. She has taken to asking the name of every tranquil she meets, if only to remind herself of why she is doing this.

Every name is carved in her memory. A person, taken from themselves.

It is a relief to leave the lower levels with their heat and darkness, to return to the kitchens and ask another tranquil—this one’s name is Bronson—for a cup of willowbark tea. He nods, and goes to fetch it.

“Ah,” says a familiar voice. “I see I am not the only person to come here between meals.”

Evelyn glances up, a smile pulling at her mouth. Solas stands in the doorway; his posture is loose and relaxed, and it feels natural to lean into him. She rises to her tiptoes and kisses him.

She should not—but he wrecks havoc will all of her careful boundaries. They are already breaking so many rules, it seems only fitting that this one be shattered.

He smiles against her mouth, and when they part, he says, “Your hair is…”

“Like a fuzzy animal attacking my head?” she asks brightly.

He blinks. “I was going to say, ‘larger than normal.’”

“This is what happens when there’s humidity.” She sighs. “I delivered laundry to the lower levels.”

“Ah.” He touches a stray lock of her unruly hair. “I keep meaning to ask—the water for the baths and the laundry. Where does it come from?”

His fingers continue to toy with her hair, and it is distracting, but she tries to focus. “The ocean, actually. It is piped in, and there are runes to purify the salt from it. This tower’s builders must have been mages themselves, or had those with them who could work lyrium.”

His eyes brighten. “Is there… access to the sea through such tunnels?”

She knows what he truly asks, and she shakes her head. “I don’t think so. The tunnels are only used to ferry water. But there are rumors that the templars have access to the controls that dictate how much is piped in. There are stories that say if the lower levels were to be locked down, every single dungeon could be flooded.”

Solas’s mouth goes thin. “Efficient. Ruthless, but efficient.” His hand falls away and she reaches up to touch her hair, realizes that he was woven a tiny braid.

She gazes at him, all thoughts of dungeons and drowning prisoners forgotten. “How…?”

“I have not always had a shaven head,” he says, his voice lightened. He clears his throat. “Are we still to meet this evening?”

They have been planning in libraries again, for all the good it has done them. They still have not devised a way into the phylactery chamber. “I can’t,” she says. “Monette asked me to tea tonight. I think she needs help in preparing the tower for the Chantry’s visit.”

Solas goes still. “Members of the Chantry are coming here?”

“A grand cleric.” Evelyn shrugs. “An inspection, I think. To make sure we’re not all about to rise up and try to escape.”

They are within earshot of the tranquil, and she knows that is the reason Solas says lightly, “As if we would ever attempt such a thing.”

“We would never be so foolish.” She manages to keep her mouth in a straight line as she says it. But Solas’s gaze is thoughtful, sliding away from hers, darting about the room, as if seeing something she cannot. “Solas? Do you wish for me to tell Monette no?”

He touches her shoulder, squeezes tight. “No. It is imperative that you go to her.” He says each word with care. “It is important that you are invaluable to her. Particularly in times of need.”


The Grand Cleric’s visit disrupts life at the Tower. Classes are halted; meals are at unusual times to accommodate different foods; different templars roam the halls. Mages seem unwilling to brave the library or the meeting rooms, choosing to move in small groups from room to room. A sense of unease pervades the halls, covered up with tight smiles and too-straight postures. Monette gives Augusta tours of the tower and the Grand Cleric takes her meals with Cynesige. Augusta seems polite, if a little distant, and she has that mothering, slightly condescending nature that Evelyn has come to expect from the Chantry.

The visit is to last a week. A week of observing life at Ostwick Tower.

It is on the fifth day that their plan is set into motion.

Evelyn stands at a window on the fifth floor. She watches through unbreakable glass as a red-haired man slips into the courtyard. He moves with the grace of a well-fed cat, sleekly maneuvering around the templar’s change of guard. He finds the old trellis and begins to climb.

Evelyn watches until Fitz has scaled the wall, and leapt over the edge and out of sight.


“We’ll need a distraction,” says Evelyn. “In order to get into the phylactery chamber, to find the password, we need someone to actually run away.” Beneath the table, Solas’s hand cradles her own. His thumb moves along her wrist. She smiles, then glances at Fitz.

So does Solas.

Fitz does not seem to notice the attention, not at first. A long moment passes, and then he glances up. Flatly he says, “It’s going to be me, isn’t it?”

“And in the chaos of the visit,” says Solas, “the First Enchanter will want to keep things quiet. So will the Knight Commander, by my reasoning. He won’t want the Grand Cleric to know that a mage slipped out from under his notice.”

“Do it just before a formal meal,” says Evelyn abruptly. “When Monette and I are dining with them. Monette can’t leave, not without raising suspicion. She’ll have to send someone she trusts… someone like—”


“Evelyn.” Monette’s voice is soft and sharp in her ear. She leans over, speaking quietly so that no one else can hear. The clink of finely wrought silverware and conversation cover up the First Enchanter’s voice. “There is a disturbance. I fear the Knight Commander has need of a mage, and I must remain.”

Evelyn looks up. They are dining in a private room on one of the highest floors—the First Enchanter, Evelyn, the senior enchanters, the Grand Cleric, and the mothers under her command. A templar, holding a written missive, stands at the door. “What do you require?” asks Evelyn, also quietly.

Monette’s mouth is smiling but her eyes are not. “A mage is needed to retrieve a phylactery.”

Evelyn’s fingers tremble on her wineglass. She sets it down quickly, but making sure that Monette sees the tremble. “Me?” she whispers. “Why not…” Her eyes flick into the direction of the senior enchanters.

Monette’s mouth is fixed in that smile. “I trust you, my dear.”

Which means she does not trust those others. Evelyn wonders why, and then if she does not trust them, why Monette keeps them so close. “What must I do?”

“Go with the Knight Commander.” Monette picks up a knife, cutting into a roasted chicken. “He will tell you what he needs.”


There are so few opportunities to be intimate.

“I need you,” she murmurs against Solas’s mouth. She can feel him, hard against her hip.

“We stand in a deserted corridor,” he reminds her. “And curfew is in five minutes.”

She growls. They have not gone further than what happened in the library—he has pleasured her twice more, using fingers and whispered words alike, and she has done the same. There is always a hurried edge, a desperation. There is simply never enough time, never enough privacy.

She settles for reaching beneath his robes, stroking and kissing him until he comes undone, her name on his lips.


The Knight Commander is waiting for her outside of his office. “Monette sent you in her stead?” he asks, but not aggressively—simply as if this is unexpected. Evelyn nods.

Cynesige lets out a breath.

“What do you need of me?”

Cynesige opens the door to his office and gestures her inside. “A mage needs to be located. I will retrieve his phylactery for the trackers. I will need a mage’s mana in order to access the vault.”

Evelyn forces a surprised look to her face. “Truly?”

“The phylacteries are kept out of all hands, for the mages’ safety,” says Cynesige. “Unless it is absolutely necessary, that is.” His voice frays, as if he is weary.

She wonders for the first time, how he has fared since Kirkwall. If perhaps there is as much pressure on the templars as there is on the mages.

Her resolve hardens. It does not matter; there is nothing to justify their treatment of the apprentices, of the tranquil, of those who cannot defend themselves.

Cynesige goes to the tall bookshelf, and reaches into one of the shelves. He pulls on a small latch, and the shelf slides open on invisible hinges. “Come,” he says, and motions her forward. “Cast a spell at this wall. Any spell.”

The second door is made of stone. There is no visible knot or lock—she realizes that it must open when she touches it with mana and a templar gives the password.

She considers what spell to use.

She thinks of the apprentices, begging to see her cast lighting. A small spark flies from her fingers and vanishes into the stone. “Thank you,” says Cynesige. “Now, if you’ll step away.”

She does.

But she also listens, straining to hear as the older man leans forward.

“Spear-maiden,” he whispers.

And the door cracks open.


“All right,” says Fitz. “So. The templar trackers are off chasing me. Everyone’s asleep. Evelyn will know the password. Now what’s the plan?”

Solas leans across the table. “This is the simplest part. The most dangerous, but the simplest. I will steal the key to the office, and Evelyn and I will venture into the phylactery chamber and destroy the vials. And then, we run.”

“So straightforward,” says Fitz. “So bold. So many ways to go wrong.”

“Do you have a better plan?” asks Evelyn.

Fitz runs a hand through his hair. “That’s the worst of it. I don’t. I really don’t.”


She does not tell Keldra farewell. Not her or Kinnaird or Signy or any of the apprentices.

It is too dangerous. And though her heart twists at the thought of perhaps never seeing them again, she keeps her silence. That night, she waits until the agreed upon hour, when the tower is asleep, when the moon is high and all is quiet, and she slips from her rooms.

She will come back for them. If she can—she will free them.

She is dressed for travel. Heavy robes, boots, and a cloak. Her pack is filled with food and a flask of fresh water. How far they will travel, she does not know. Her heart thuds hard in her chest, and her fingers are numb with cold.

Fear is a weight in her mouth, bitter and heavy. Every step is a struggle, but she pushes herself forward, ignoring the voice that says she could simply go back to bed, ignore all of this, be the good mage, be safe.

No. She can’t. Not anymore.

They have timed this well; she meets no templars on the stairs or in the corridors. The way to the Knight Commander’s office is clear.

Solas is waiting for her inside. A stolen key rests in his palm. “You are a pickpocket, as well as an apostate?” she says, smiling.

Solas inclines his head. “I am passable.” He pulls the door shut behind her.

“That you are,” she teases, but it is a forced effort.

They do not light the lanterns, instead choosing to move by the dim moonlight cast through the window. Solas pulls the bookshelf open, and Evelyn places herself before the stone wall.

She inhales once, holds the breath, then casts. A simple fire spell. And then she whispers, “Spear-maiden.”

The stone cracks open and light spills out. The vault must be illuminated by old mage lights; it glows blue from several clear orbs hung from the ceiling. At once, Evelyn feels the vibration, the soft thrum of magic. It is more than she is used to, and she realizes it must be the phylacteries. Something about them rings through her bones, an uncomfortable sensation.

The vault is the size of a large closet. Shelves upon shelves of blood-filled vials cast eerie shadows, and there is a small chest that must hold dangerous contraband. Solas goes right for the chest, and whispers a word. The lock snaps and he opens the chest.

Evelyn watches as he reaches inside and pulls out a large, round object. It is riddled through with lines, and appears to be wrought from stone. An orb of some kind. “I worried I might never see it again,” says Solas quietly, his fingers skimming over the surface.

“It is yours, then?” she asks.

He nods. “An old elven relic.”

Evelyn turns away, her attention on the vials. She scans the names, her heart thumping wildly. She is keenly aware of the minutes slipping by, of the fact they might be found at any moment. She sees the names of apprentices, of friends, of teachers, and of tranquil. That stops her for a moment—she wonders if a tranquil’s vial even works anymore. 

“I found yours,” comes Solas’s voice. She sees the glimmer of glass in his fingers before he drops it on the floor. He brings his heel down upon it.

A bright smear across the stones.

That is all that remains of her tether to this place.

It takes a minute more to locate Solas’s phylactery. Evelyn smashes that one, and feels a certain satisfaction when the glass gives beneath her foot. “Come,” says Solas, his hand at her back. “Let us leave this place.”

They hasten from the vault, and Solas goes to shove the bookshelf back into place. Evelyn stands in the patch of moonlight, gazing at the window.

She will be out there soon.

Free.

She feels suddenly light, buoyant, and she presses a hand to her mouth to stifle a hysterical little laugh. They did it, she thinks. They did it, they—

And that is when she hears the key in the lock.

The office door swings open, and none other than Cynesige steps inside.

There is a breath.

A pause.

Evelyn can see herself reflected in his eyes—a woman painted in shades of silver and white, her face so pale it might as well be marble.

“You.” The word falls from his lips. He is shocked. He came here expecting to find someone, but not her.

He must have realized his office key was missing, suspected a thief. But he never thought to find Monette’s little pet standing there.

He is so focused on her that he never sees Solas.

The mind blast slams into him before Cynesige can react. He is thrown into the wall, his armored form crashing into shelves and sending his possessions scattering. It is deafening, and Evelyn’s insides clench. That sound will draw others.

Cynesige does not move. He does not rise. He could be dead, for all she knows.

“Come,” says Solas, taking her by the arm.

But the commotion has done its job—she can hear footsteps. The sound of men in armor hastening toward them.

“They’ll have guarded the entrances,” says Evelyn raggedly. “If Cynesige realized—if he knew—”

Solas whirls her around, placing himself between her and the doorway.

Her heart leaps into her throat.

No. No, no, no.

Her mind races, and at once she is sick with terror. The templars will arrive; Solas will fight; and he will be made tranquil. Evelyn will be punished, but not so harshly. Monette would not allow it. Evelyn will have to watch Solas move about, all of his grace drained of him, a sunburst between his brows.

Not again, she thinks.

“No!” She wrenches herself free, steps to his side. Solas’s fingers are spread, his arm raised, ready to cast. She grasps his wrist. “Solas. Drop your things, and get out of here.”

He gazes at her, uncomprehending for a heartbeat. She watches as he draws in a sharp breath. “No.”

“You will be made tranquil,” she whispers. “I will not. Get back to your dormitory, pretend that I planned this with Fitz and Fitz alone.” 

The truth of her words seems to strike him. He winces, his gaze falling away. “I will not leave you to face them.”

“Solas.” Her voice hardens into a snarl. “That’s not your choice to make.” She shoves at him, her hands splayed on his chest. He stumbles back, and she yanks the orb from his hands.

The look that Solas throws her is half-admiring, half-fearful. “You should not—you shouldn’t have to—”

She lifts her chin. “I am Evelyn Trevelyan,” she says fiercely. “They will not take me from myself. And they will not take you from me, either.”

Solas’s gaze flickers between her face and the orb in her arms. She recognizes the anger in his face—impotent and furious at his own inability to act. She knows it well.

But this she can do.

He will be safe.

She touches his chest. “Please. Go.”

Her soft plea undoes his anger. She watches as he takes one step back, and then another. When he turns away, she thinks she see something like shame cross his face. He vanishes around a corner, and she shudders in relief.

He will be safe.

She repeats those words to herself, even as the first templar comes up the stairs. He sees the Knight Commander sprawled on the floor of his office. Sees the mage standing there, her arms full of what must be a magical object. And the open phylactery chamber behind her.

Evelyn expects the smite; she has braced for it.

But she is unprepared for the sword hilt that collides with her jaw.

 

Chapter Text

She is sitting in a chair, her hands bound behind her.

Fingers on her chin, painfully tight. Her face feels as if it has been flayed open; fire burns hot in her cheek.

The voices she hears are distant, the sounds warped as if being heard from underwater. She blinks, and finds herself looking into the face of a woman with silvered hair and white Chantry robes. The woman touches Evelyn’s cheek and the world whites out.

When Evelyn is aware again, the white has been replaced with darkness. Utterly impenetrable blackness surrounds her, and it takes a while to convince her muddled mind that she has indeed opened her eyes. She is on her side. There is damp straw beneath her.

She tries to sit up.

Pain flares; she finds herself on the ground again.

Time passes, punctuated by moments of lucidity before the world slips away again. It is one of these moments that Evelyn wonders if she is badly hurt, if perhaps she might be dying. Her hands feel strangely numb; her legs will not respond to her.

Her heartbeat picks up, fear turning her dry mouth bitter. She tries to move, to cry out, to do anything, but her head slumps against the floor and her eyes fall shut.

When she awakens again, she feels more herself. Her back and neck are stiff, and when she sits up, she takes a few minutes to carefully check her fingers, toes, and everything in between. Her face throbs; either someone hit her after she was passed out, or she must have fallen on her face when tossed into this cell.

A cell.

Shudders work their way through her. Evelyn fumbles blindly in the dark, touching damp straw, rough stone floor and walls, and then finally come to the bars of her door. They are cold, slick with moisture. She knows where she must be: the cells of the lowest level. She has been here once before, but it was years ago. And back then, she was far more worried about Anselm than herself.

A flicker of memory comes back to her, muddied with pain. Long fingers touching her cheek, a worried face, and then overwhelming sense of fear that she might lose him.

It takes her mind a moment to remember the name she grasps for. Solas.

He must be all right. He must be. He should have returned to his rooms, kept quiet and safe. But—what if—

“Hello?” she calls. The sound rings through her skull, reverberating painfully. Maker, her head hurts.

Her call echoes off distant walls, bounces back to her, but there is no other answer. If there is anyone else in this dungeon, they are keeping quiet.

Her legs shake beneath her and she slumps to the floor, suddenly exhausted. She is unsure of how long it has been, of how long her stomach has felt hollow. She thinks it must have been at least a day, but she can’t tell the specifics. The dungeon is blackness, utter darkness, damp and cold earth, like a tomb with people who haven’t had the good sense to die yet.

Evelyn’s searching hands find a single blanket. It is coarse, catching on the callouses on her fingers. It is too thin for comfort, but she still wraps it around herself. There is little else to do but sleep, so she closes her eyes and tries to drift away.

She is woke when the templar drops off food. He carries a torch and the light both comforts and pains her. She blinks back tears, surging to the door, wrapping her fingers around the now-visible bars. “Hello?”

The templar is in full armor, his face hidden behind a helmet. He kneels, places a metal tray down, and slides it to her.

“What day is it?” asks Evelyn, but there is no reply. The templar simply rises to his feet and strides away, taking the light with him. Plunged back into darkness, Evelyn finds the tray by touch alone. A cup of bitter water is all that adorns it.

She curls up again and waits.

They can’t keep her imprisoned forever.


There are many kinds of regret.

The bitterness of unclaimed opportunities; the painful ache of those lost. But perhaps worst of all is the twist of shame that he feels when he remembers all that he has done, all that he has cost this world. It is such a familiar sensation that Solas thought he was used to it.

But when he walks into the great hall in the morning and sees no sign of Evelyn, he is flooded with it. For a moment, he is utterly paralyzed, lost in his own self-recrimination. His fault. This is his fault. For including her in his plans, and then for abandoning her when the worst happened. He should have ignored her command and stayed at her side, taken whatever punishments she is undoubtably facing.

He forces himself to walk to Danforth’s table, to place food on his plate. He does not speak, does not taste his food, but he does listen.

Somehow, half the tower already knows some of what occurred last night. Rumors fly—whispers behind clasped fingers, darting looks, mutters. Solas’s name is never mentioned, but he hears ‘Fitz’ and ‘Trevelyan.’

What could have made two noble-born decide to run?

It’s because they are noble, you prat. So used to having their arses wiped with silk that when a bit of hardship comes, they think they can flit out of here and never return.

Knight Commander was seen in the healers rooms.

When will he recover?

Will he recover?

Solas looks to the table where Evelyn would be eating with her friends. Kinnaird and Keldra are angled toward one another, speaking quietly. Signy is silent, gaze on her food. Beside them are two of the apprentices—Jana and Leonel, who both appear worried.

Solas closes his eyes.

He will wait until she is released from her containment, and then he will find a way to make this right.


They might let her die here.

It occurs to her on the third day of no food. They have made sure she has adequate water—it tastes of rust and copper, but she drinks it down. Forces herself to, for fear of what will happen if they cease bringing it.

Her stomach is a knot, and she sits with her back against the wall, arms tucked around herself. She has long passed simple hunger, and now all she can think of are the meals being served several floors above her. They cannot let her starve, she tells herself. They cannot. This is simply an intimidation tactic. A way to wear her down, to force home the point that she is utterly at their mercy.

As if she did not know that.

She does know it. She’s known it since her father placed her in a templar’s armored hands, and the man all but dragged her onto a horse. She entered the circle at eight years old with bruises on her arms, in the shape of that man’s fingers.

She hates this place. Truly, utterly, despises it. All of her futile attempts to make it her home, to decorate her room, to enjoy her teaching, it was all for naught. She has been thrown in the dark and cold and she cannot sleep for shivering, for fear of the rats she hears move about her, and all she can think of is food.

Monette visits on the fourth day. She does not carry a torch; a glow emanates from the First Enchanter. A less than subtle reminder of the strength of her magic, of the breadth of her knowledge. Her hair is perfectly piled atop her head, and she is dressed impeccably.

Evelyn has not bathed in four days; her hair knotted and greasy and she feels even grimier looking at Monette’s clean clothes. For a long minute, Monette does not speak.

“I am… disappointed,” she says. Her voice is careful, but Evelyn senses a vein of true emotion hidden there. “You look dreadful, dear.”

Evelyn forces herself to stand. Her legs tremble beneath her and she takes hold of the bars, using them to support herself. “Well, I’ll be certain to dress myself more nicely for your next visit,” she says.

Monette’s lips purse. “I trusted you,” is what she says next.

That makes Evelyn go silent. A pang of unexpected regret goes through her. “I did what I thought was right,” answers Evelyn quietly.

“And look at what it got you,” Monette scoffs. “You look like a half-starved rat; Fitz is still missing, and the Chantry departed today—taking Cynesige with them.”

At that, Evelyn blinks several times. “What?”

“Do you truly think they would let him keep his position?” Monette takes a step forward, so close Evelyn could have touched her. “After that little incident? After humiliating him during their visit? Humiliating me? It’s only due to my quick thinking that I managed to keep my title.”

Cynesige. He isn’t a bad man—but not even a good man should have such control over others. She is glad to hear he was well enough to leave the tower; the memory of the Knight Commander prone on the ground has given her a few nightmares.

She turns her attention back to Monette. “What a loss that would have been.” Evelyn’s voice hardens. “To lose your title.”

“You think this tower would be better with another speaking for it?” Monette retorts. “You think it will be better when Cynesige’s replacement comes here?”

Evelyn does not answer. Thus far, Monette has made no mention of Solas.

A tense part of her eases. He is safe, then. He got back to his room unseen.

“You are unrepentant,” says Monette abruptly.

Evelyn’s mouth twists. “You expected to find me on my knees, groveling for your forgiveness?”

“I had hoped,” says Monette, “to find a mage that was at least aware of the damage she caused, of the lives she disrupted. Did you know there is a new curfew? Fresh investigations? That your students are being interrogated?”

Evelyn’s heart falls. Not the students. Anyone but the students.

Monette must see some of Evelyn’s distress, for her expression softens. “I’ll tell the templars to bring you the evening meal,” she says, and leaves without another word.

The meal is little more than a small bowl, half-filled with cold porridge. Unsweetened, lumpy, and it tastes as if it came from the burnt bottom of a pot. But she eats it hungrily, and downs the small cup of water. Her stomach aches, yearning for more, but she closes her eyes and tries to block out Monette’s words. Tries to sleep, to lose herself in the surrounding darkness.


More days pass.

She loses track of them. Her meals are sparse, coming to her at random intervals. She tries to save some porridge once, but when she finds the rats eating it, she never makes another attempt. Her only visitors are the templars, unspeaking and armored, and those damned rats. The dungeon is always damp, always cold, and she often comes awake shivering.

Her own anger and defiance burns away. She is often too exhausted to draw upon her righteous anger, and for all that she is glad Solas is not in her place, she still wishes she could be anywhere but here. She tries to spend time asleep, for these days, the Fade is far more welcome than the waking world.

A voice jerks Evelyn from her uneasy slumber.

“Get her up.”

Armored hands, the smell of the oil used on templar swords, and then Evelyn is being hauled to her feet. A templar half-drags her from the cell, and the sudden light blinds her. She stumbles after him, and realizes she is being taken up the stairs. Only one level, and for a moment she is grateful. Her legs are quivery beneath her, weak from lack of use and food. And then she sees were the templar is taking her.

The baths.

The slick black stone is familiar, but there is no steam rising from it. Evelyn struggles, tries to pull free of the templar’s grip, but then she hears Monette’s voice.

“I do believe it’s time we did something about the smell.”

The templar shoves Evelyn, clothing and all, into the cold bath. For a heartbeat, the water closes over her head. The baths are not deep enough to drown in, but she still experiences a jolt of fear. She pushes herself upright, gasping for air, struggling to move with her sodden robes adrift around her. The water is freezing; at once, her teeth start chattering.

Monette looks down at her. Her expression might have been carved from marble. Still and utterly unreachable. “I believe it’s time we let you out,” she says.

Evelyn gasps for breath, and when she speaks, her voice shakes. “I-I suppose I should thank you.”

“Don’t,” says Monette coldly. “It is not a mercy. No one will welcome your return.”

Anger burns away what is left of Evelyn’s restraint. She looks up at the First Enchanter in her fine robes, standing over her, with all of the arrogance of a puffed up bird.

“Y-you were s-supposed to be our voice,” says Evelyn. And this is why she is so angry, she realizes.

Monette pauses. “What?”

“F-f-first Enchanter.” Evelyn forces the words out. “First t-to speak. To advocate for those who—who could not. Same reason for the College. It was supposed to be a u-unified voice.”

“And?” says Monette, her voice as smooth as the water.

“You silenced us.” Evelyn holds herself rigidly, even as the cold pieces every inch of her skin. “You—you were so scared, you thought it was better t-to shove all of the injustices out of sight. Disband the College. Let the Knight Commander do as he wishes. Bow and scrape to the Chantry.”

Monette gazes at her, her face hard as iron. “I have done what I thought best.”

“You hide in your office and drink your tea and pretend everything is fine,” Evelyn snarls. “And when one of us dares rebel, you take it as a personal insult.”

Monette’s lips are a thin, hard line. “Are you done?” she asks, as if Evelyn were a child throwing a tantrum.

Evelyn does not reply.

Monette straightens, smooths a hand down her robes. “You will be free, after this. Go about your routine as normal—but you are no longer a teacher. You will not be given students. And I doubt there are many mages who will welcome you tonight… or any time soon.”

A flicker of unease goes through Evelyn. 

Monette’s gaze slides away. “The trackers returned today,” she says.

Oh. So Fitz will have returned. Evelyn shivers and says, “H-How is Fitz?”

Monette looks at her. There is a terrible slackness in the woman’s face. As if the life has been carved out of her.

No.

But Evelyn sees the truth before Monette can give it voice.

“He’s dead.” Monette says the words flatly. “The templars did not restrain their blows, this time. It’s being called an… unfortunate accident. He’ll be blamed, of course. Just another escaped mage—and his family will make a fuss, but it won’t change anything. You did this. You encouraged him, and now a mage is dead. So do not accuse me of leading our kind into ruin. Not when you manage it so easily yourself.” 

Monette leaves the baths.

For many minutes, Evelyn does not move. She is not sure she can, not until the cold becomes a physical pain.

She is left to pull herself out of the tub, her numb fingers scrabbling at wet stone.


Two weeks have passed.

Two full weeks, and Solas begins questioning his own patience.

Perhaps it was foolish of him to count on the mercy of the templars, to think that Evelyn’s blood would shield her. She is noble, but surely that protection only goes so far. He has begun crafting plans before consciously aware of it—considering how one might slip into the dungeons unseen.

He would never bind spirits, but there are those who might help him willingly. That spirit of Rage, perhaps. It would undoubtably aid him in fighting this place.

It is on the evening of the fourteenth day that Kinnaird stops Solas in the great hall.

“Listen, lad,” says Kinnaird in a low voice. “You seem a good sort and Evie’s taken a liking to you, so let me do this one favor for you: do not attempt what you’re thinking.”

Solas gazes at him impassively. “I am sure I do not know what you mean.”

“They’ll punish her, not you,” replies Kinnaird.

Solas goes still.

“That’s the way it works,” says Kinnaird. “You try to break someone out, they’ll be consequences. But not on those doing the breaking—nah, that’s too simplistic. The Chantry says the would-be rescuers are misguided, but it’s those who tempt others into doing wrong that are the true perpetrators. Like demons and mages, see? It’s all knitted together.”

A wave of utter helplessness seizes him and he is suddenly filled with that furious, nervous energy again. “This place is wrong.”

“Aye,” says Kinnaird. “But there’ll be no fixing it. We’ll rot here and they’ll bring in a new batch of mages and it’ll begin again.”

Solas steps forward, furious. “How can you live like this? How can you give up without a fight?”

Kinnaird gives Solas a look that is half-pitying, half-regretful. “Because that’s how the world is.” He takes a step back. “If you care about Evie even the slightest bit, you will leave her be. It does not end well for our types.” And then he turns, leaving Solas to his own jumbled thoughts.


After the evening meal, Solas returns to his rooms with a book. He hopes it will distract him, the histories of the land as told by some human scholar. There is likely little truth to it, but still.

It is as he is readying himself for bed that he hears the knock at the door.

One of Solas’s roommates draws in a sharp breath. “Maker.”

The woman at the door is ashen, and her dark hair dripping. Hollows stand out in her cheeks, and her eyes are rimmed with shadows. An ugly bruise dominates most of her left cheek, and she clutches an overlarge robe around herself as if it were armor.

“Evelyn,” Solas says, rising to his feet. He hastens to her, reaching for her before he realizes what he intends to do. She flinches and he goes still, his hands falling back to his sides.

She is shivering. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t know where else to go.”

There is a rustle of movement behind Solas. A murmur of disquiet, and the older man is at Solas’s shoulder. His gaze settles on Evelyn, and there is a combative edge to his stance. “She shouldn’t be here,” he says firmly.

“The templars will think we aided her,” says the younger man.

Solas turns, looks at them both.

He simply looks at them.

Neither can meet his gaze for very long.

Cowards. Cowards who would turn away a person in need, simply because they are afraid.

“Come,” says Solas, and this time, he moves with more care. His hands settle on Evelyn’s shoulders, angling her away from the dormitory. And without another word, he leads her away from the room.

On this floor, there are several empty dormitories. Bunk beds, made up with the same scratchy blankets and pillows, a simple desk, and no windows. Solas finds an empty room, and steps into it. “We’ll have more privacy here,” he says, and a spark of something goes through Evelyn’s eyes.

A lock of her damp hair falls across her shoulder; when he looks at her more closely, he sees that she wears nothing under that oversized robe.

“You came from the baths,” he murmurs. And he imagines her there, alone, trying to scrub the dirt and grime of two weeks from her skin with frigid water.

“Please,” she whispers. “I just—I just need—” She leans forward and the robe falls open slightly.

He knows what she is asking for: a quick fuck to numb herself. He has done such things before—and often. But it is not what she needs.

If you care about Evie even the slightest bit, you will leave her be.

Kinnaird was more right than he could ever know. But he will not bow to the will of someone else.

And neither has she, he realizes. All of the times she has helped him, it was in defiance of this place. She stepped forward to offer help to an apostate she did not know; she tutors apprentices on the harrowing; her offered Solas companionship and comfort. And when he was threatened, she took his place.

This is how she subverts the Circle—she takes upon herself what would be given to others.

It shames him that he once looked upon her and saw only a hollow shell.

“May I?” he says, and reaches for her hand. She hesitates, then settles her fingers in his palm. He covers her hand with both of his—and calls a gentle pulse of magic. He sends it through her body, the way he might cast a stone into water. Ripples of it eddy through her body, seeking injury.

He finds bruises on her ribs and back—and while he cannot heal those, he calls more magic to warm and soothe the damaged flesh. Cuts on her arms. Those, he does heal. And lastly, he touches her cheek. She flinches, ever so slightly, and her eyes fall closed. His thumb passes over the delicate skin beneath her eye before he examines the injury. The bruises are sickly yellow, still healing after two weeks. And he realizes why—her cheekbone is fractured. She makes a sound when he summons magic to bind the broken bones together, knitting them in place. She is lucky that the bone is merely cracked, not shattered and left to fester. A sliver of bone carried through her blood might have killed her. The thought of her dying, alone and cold, forgotten in some dungeon cell—it sends a pulse of white-hot anger through him. He will his face to stillness.

“You are freezing,” he observes.

“You could warm me up.” She says the words half-heartedly, but they still make his mouth twitch.

“I could,” he agrees. “Hold on a moment.” He stands, and before she can say a word, he leaves the room. He hastens down the stairs, taking them swiftly, ignoring the curious glance of templars when he emerges from the lower levels with a small bucket of water. Over his arm is a washcloth, and tucked into his pocket are several sprigs of mint. The water is cold, but it is no matter.

When he returns, he finds Evelyn still on the bed. Her shoulders are slumped, her gaze distant.

“Will you take off the robe?”

Evelyn looks from the bucket and then back to him, a line between her brows.

“Do you trust me?” he asks.

Her eyes do not leave his, but she begins unknotting her belt. The robe slips free of her, falling in a heap on the floor. Her body is as he remembers it—pale, slender, and soft. He recalls the scar along her ankle, the moles on her shoulders and arms. She looks at him, bare and vulnerable, and it feels like the first time he truly sees all of her—the flesh and the spirit within.

He kneels beside the bed, murmurs a spell into the water. It heats at once, warm steam curling upward.

He dips the cloth into the hot water and presses it to her ankle. She flinches but does not draw away. Slowly, he runs the washcloth over her leg, then trailing up to her thigh. He dampens the cloth again, then continues. He washes her legs, her neck, her back, her arms. Her skin goes pink with warmth, and gradually, her eyelids begin to flutter shut. The tension leaves her body.

“I meant sex, you know,” she murmurs, when he uses the washcloth on her neck. “Not… you bathing me.” Her voice is relaxed, and that in itself feels like a victory.

“I know,” he replies. “But you needed this more.” His palm glides over her back, tracing her spine. Touch, gentle touch, that is what she needs. Settling her back into herself, reminding her that she is here, she is alive.

There is the clank of armor.

She cringes. Quickly, he sits beside her on the bed and pulls her to him. He tucks her close, using his body to shield her from view.

He can feel her heartbeat and in that moment he thinks he could burn this place to the ground. There is a shifting sound, as if the templar is looking into the dormitory, eyeing the fully dressed elf and the bare human. Should that templar dare enter this room to mock or condemn, Solas will kill them.

A tremble runs through Evelyn. “It’s all right,” he whispers. She remains tense, her breaths sharp against his throat.

“I apologize,” comes a familiar voice. Solas turns, sees the grizzled countenance of Ser Ralston. The older man stands in the doorway, his gaze averted. “I did not mean to disturb. But the evening meal has passed and there will be no more food until morning. I thought…” His voice trails off, and then he kneels, sets something on the floor. A worn copper plate, brimming with food.

Solas gazes at the man. Of all the things he expected, this never entered his mind. The templar nods once, still determinedly looking away from Evelyn’s bare form.

Before Solas can think of a response, the templar straightens and walks away. Solas hears the footsteps recede, waits a heartbeat, and then he goes to collect the plate. It is crowded with half of a roasted bird, boiled carrots and potatoes, and a large slice of bread. It is cold, but that does not seem to matter.

The smell seem to rouse Evelyn. Her eyes travel to the plate, as if she scarcely can allow herself the hope. He sets the food on the bedside table. “I will retrieve my belongings,” he says. “I’ll find something for you to wear to bed.”

“I—I should go to my room,” she says.

“You are in no state to go anywhere,” he tells her.

“The templars—”

“Fuck the templars,” he says calmly. She lets out a choked sound that might be a laugh. The laugh cuts off and she shivers, tense and unsure, and he hates the circle for this. For making her afraid. Solas tucks the thin blankets around her, casting a small heating charm. “Eat,” he tells her. “I will return in a moment.”

The three other men who share his old room with Solas are always polite, but they have made no attempts at friendship. Solas barely gives them a glance before he gathers up his sparse possessions. His robes, the blankets, a few books he took from the library. He bundles them into his arms and leaves without a word.

He will not sleep here again. Not among these men who would turn away one of their own.

And besides, the new room has more than enough beds, should others wish to join him.

The anger he has held close threatens to well up. He remembers how she appeared in the doorway—wan, shaking with cold and fear—and his hands clench. It is a poor excuse for a safe place, but he will make this room a refuge if she needs one.

When he returns, the plate of food is scoured clean but for a few chicken bones. Evelyn is trying to work the knots from her hair with her fingers.

She pulls on a sleep shirt of his, and when she is tucked beneath every blanket in this room, she says, “Sorry.”

“For?” asks Solas.

“Coming to you.”

He sits on the edge of the bed. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

She looks away. Again, that desolation seems to return to her face. “Yes, I do.” She exhales, and it’s a shaky sound. “Fitz is dead.”

A shock goes through Solas. 

“He fought back,” she says, her voice breaking. “He fought back because I gave him hope—and now he’s—”

Before he can think better of it, he presses himself to her. Curls up beside her in that small bed, and draws her close. He knows what it is to hurt, to feel as though he might come apart, and he cannot bear to see her in such distress. She turns her face into his chest, and while she does not weep, he can feel the grief wracking through her.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I am so sorry.”

“I should not have—”

“Fitz wanted to leave,” says Solas. “He knew the risks. I knew the risks—and you did, as well. None of us went into this blindly. Trying to leave was brave. That we failed does not change anything.” His arms tighten around her. “I am sorry for your loss, but it is not your fault. The templars slew him, as much as they slew Jana, and Orla, and all the others who have lost themselves to this place.”

She shivers again. “Monette hates me now. They’ll all hate me—for the the curfew, the crackdowns. Monette said that Cynesige has been transferred, and who knows who will replace him.”

“Do not think on it.” He keeps his tone gentle. “Rest, Evelyn. Just rest.”

“Stay?” she whispers.

He cannot refuse. He does not want to. 

He settles beside her, keeping himself between her and the wall. It is a tight fit, but not uncomfortably so. He turns her so that her back is pressed to his chest, and he curls his hand around her stomach. It has been ages since he slept with another, but it is... pleasant. The feel of her warmth, the rise and fall of her breathing. 

“I’m going to kick you in my sleep,” she says softly. “I’m sorry for that, too.”

“I will bear my bruised shins with pride.”

She snorts. It takes only a few minutes for her breath to even out, and then he can tell when she drifts away.

He traces the line of her neck.

She is kind, curious, thoughtful, sometimes mischievous. He cares for her. More than he should, more than he ever expected to. The thought startles him, but he cannot deny it. She is more than friend or ally or a bedmate.

Part of him shies away from putting a name to what she is to him.

She is Evelyn.

It is as simple, and as complicated, as that.

 

Chapter Text

When she wakes, it is to the sensation of breath on skin.

She remains still, taking stock of her situation. She is free of the dungeon; she is no longer so hungry it hurts; she is warm, dry, and comfortable—

And Solas is pressed to her back, his arm tucked around her waist. She feels the slow, steady breathing, and it lulls her back into complacency. For a few minutes, it is a simple matter to close her eyes and enjoy the closeness.

She can’t remember the last time she shared a bed with another person. Probably when she was a child, when her older sister climbed into bed with her. Even when she was with Anselm, they had separate dormitories. Every touch was fleeting. She has never had… whatever this is.

She rolls over, so that she can see him. Solas’s face is soft with sleep, his lips slightly parted. She smiles, resisting the urge to trace the line of his brow. She yearns to touch him, but she will not disturb his sleep.

She came to him in a daze, not even sure why she did it. She only knew he would not turn her away—and he hadn’t.

Evelyn watches his chest rise and fall, feels the gentle exhalation brush against her.

Her stomach tightens as she looks at him. It was worth it; those days she spent locked up in darkness. It was worth it to keep him from harm. She couldn’t bear it if—

Her heartbeat quickens.

She could not bear it if he were hurt.

The world spins, and it feels as if she cannot draw enough breath into her lungs.

She—she knows this feeling. It is a sweet sort of pain, like pressing on a half-healed wound.

He is intelligent, quick-witted, curious, and keenly aware of the world around him. Of course, he can also be a bit thick-headed, and blinded by prejudice.

He’s Solas.

An elf. An apostate.

And she was willing to go to the dungeons for him.

For a moment, it feels as though she might be ill. She never meant for this to happen, never wanted it. She thought this would be simple pleasure, a dalliance, a way of passing the time. But looking at him, seeing his face relaxed in sleep, she knows she would do whatever it takes to keep him safe. Evelyn shifts back, suddenly wishing she could stop herself from walking this path. It cannot end well, not between mages.

He must sense her movement, because Solas groggily opens his eyes.

His mouth is still slack with sleep, his eyes slightly unfocused. She smiles, hopes her breath isn’t too foul when she says, “Good morning.”

He blinks. She watches as he leaves behind the Fade, returning fully to this world. His gaze comes to rest on her, and then his hand slides up her waist, setting on her shoulder. “How are you?”

“Better,” she says. It isn’t a lie. Her cheek no longer aches, and his healing magic soothed the worst of her bruises. But she feels uncomfortable—her skin too raw and her muscles tense.

She is in a bed with Solas. And she wears a sleep shirt. No smallclothes and no breast band. He is dressed in a loose tunic and trousers, but still, she cannot shake how bare she feels against him.

“Thank you,” she says, “for letting me stay here.”

“I bore no great fondness for my former roommates,” he replies. “I will vastly prefer this place.”

Evelyn sighs. “You know we’re not supposed to move without permission.”

“I know.”

“And you’re just going to do it.”

“The templars have more to worry about than a single mage taking an empty room.” His fingers trace the line of her arm. “Or two mages, perhaps.”

She draws in a little breath. “Men and women aren’t supposed to sleep together.”

The corner of his mouth lifts. “I mean, sleep-sleeping,” she says, “well, the other kind of sleep, too, but it’s hard for anyone to prevent that. If we were to suddenly try to take this room for ourselves, it would draw too much notice. But, last night was… nice.”

He nods, accepting her answer. “Should you ever need a place to stay, there will be one here.”

She notices he does not say ‘safe place.’ There is no such thing in this tower.


When she returns to her room, her stomach roils with dread. She feels almost ashamed at coming back. The proof of her transgressions are written in the bruise on her cheek, in the hollows beneath her eyes. A runaway—a failed runaway, one who got her friend killed for her efforts.

Maker.

At the thought of Fitz, she has to press a hand to the wall to keep herself upright. Grief weighs heavy on her, and she closes her eyes, tries to hold onto the good memories of him. The flash of teeth in his crooked smile, and the way he always seemed to be at ease with others—even if he’d never met them before. He was kind, in a wicked sort of way. And he wanted freedom more than anything.

Solas was right. Fitz chose this. She chose this.

Now she must bear the consequences.

Her room as is she remembers it. Signy stands beside her bed, folding several clean robes. When she hears Evelyn’s approach, the fabric slips from her fingers.

Signy has never been overly demonstrative. She is quiet and withdrawn, with the occasional dry remark. Evelyn likes her, for all that she knows little of the younger woman. Signy steps forward, her hand coming up. Evelyn braces herself for a slap. Her eyes squeeze shut.

A gentle touch—and she realizes that Signy has laid a hand upon her bruise.

She opens her eyes. The younger woman frowns at the injury, and there is a burst of bright warmth behind Evelyn’s skin. It hurts, and then the hurt fades away into… nothing.

The pain is utterly gone.

“How did you,” she begins to say, then falters.

Signy ignores the question. “Did they hurt you any place else?”

Evelyn shakes her head. “No—I was lucky.”

Signy’s lips press together. “You don’t look lucky. Do you need food? I could get some from the kitchens if you want to rest here. You look like they starved you.”

“I’m fine,” she replies quietly.

She has braced herself for accusations, for questions, but they do not come. Signy seems so matter of fact about the whole ordeal, as if she is used to her roommates attempting to escape. “How have things been?” asks Evelyn. “Since—well.”

Signy goes to the pitch of water on the desk, and she pours a cup. Evelyn finds it pressed into her hands. “Chaos,” says Signy. “There were rumors of conspiracies, and the usual exaggerations. The Knight Commander left with the Chantry officials, and no one knows if he’ll be back. Fitz is dead. Three more apprentices were harrowed. Two of them made it.”

Signy has a way of delivering bad news quickly and tonelessly, and Evelyn is glad of it.

“Does everyone hate me?”

Signy glances up sharply. But she takes a moment to reply. “Some do. People think you’ve gone renegade. Some are saying that it’s a terrible sign that one of the noble-born mages tried to run. Think there’s no hope for any of is if you’re not safe. And there are those who’re trying to use your name to prove that we should try to run, that if we all tried at once, they couldn’t stop us. People have been rounded up. Blood taken for new phylacteries. Don’t know why.”

Evelyn nods. Takes a sip of her water. It is nothing she didn’t expect.

“And you?” she finally says.

Signy gives a little shake of her head. “I don’t blame anyone trying to get out,” she says simply.

A shudder of pure relief rips through Evelyn. She can handle the ire of her fellow mages, so long as her friends don’t despise her. “What about Keldra? And Kinnaird?”

“Keldra went to the First Enchanter and demanded your release for three days straight,” says Signy. “Became such a nuisance she was put on scullery duty with the tranquil. Kinnaird… mourns. But he worried for you, as well. Kept saying that Fitz had to be the mastermind behind this escape, and you must have been caught up in it. When news came of Fitz… it wasn’t good.”

Evelyn exhales harshly. She will talk to them later. She would not blame them if they hated her, but she is glad they do not.

“Any other news I should be aware of?”

Signy shrugs. “Not particularly.” And then she goes back to folding clothes.

It’s probably the longest conversation they’ve had in a year.

Evelyn considers trying to extend it, to coax the younger woman into more conversation, but then she hears armored footsteps. She rises at once, sees a templar in the doorway. “You need to come with me,” he says.


She is taken to the Knight Commander’s office.

A woman sits behind it. Evelyn recognizes her at once: the Knight Captain, Claybourne. Slate-gray hair, weatherworn features, and sharp eyes that make her appear hawkish and aloof. 

Evelyn is forced into the chair before the desk.

Her arm is held in armored fingers while a blade is pressed to her forearm.

Evelyn does not flinch.

She holds the Knight Captain’s gaze. She refuses to look away, not even when her arm is tilted, and some of her blood is caught in a glass vial.

A new phylactery.

“Tell me,” says Claybourne. “Why did you smash so many?”

Evelyn raises an eyebrow. When her arm is finally released, she places it on the chair. Let her blood seep into the wood and stain it. She does not care.

“So many what?” she asks.

Claybourne’s gaze narrows. “Half of the phylacteries on the second shelf were broken,” she says sharply.

A breath tugs through Evelyn’s parted lips. She tries not to show her surprise.

Solas. Solas must have smashed them after she left the phylactery chamber—to cover their tracks. To ensure that no one would truly know who had been in on the plan.

And it will take weeks to sort out whose vials would need replacing.

Her heartbeat quickens.

It occurs to her for the first time—though it should have much sooner—that Solas has no phylactery.

He is free.

Yet he has not run.

Why? She casts about for an answer, but finds none.

Clayborne’s fingers drum a slow rhythm on the desk. It isn’t quite impatient; the rapping sounds thoughtful.

“Speak, apostate,” says Claybourne.

Evelyn jerks in surprise. Of all the names she has given herself in the last two weeks—fool, arrogant, impulsive—she has never called herself that. The words is all sharp edges, a knife to be wielded against mages who… who run away.

Yes, to all of the Chantry, she is an apostate. It does not matter that she didn’t succeed.

“Are you the new Knight Commander?” she asks.

Claybourne does not smile. She does not frown. There is no emotion to her face when she says, “For the moment.” She rises to her feet, picks up the vial holding Evelyn’s blood. “You should be glad,” she says, “that I believe you and Fitz acted alone. Two spoiled noble born mages—you would be the types to run. You do not understand how this world hates your kind, how we must protect you from that.”

Evelyn’s fists clench. “You did a fine job protecting Fitz.”

Claybourne shrugs. “He caused his own death. Fighting back like he did—he should have known better.”

Evelyn bites down on her own tongue so hard she tastes blood. The copper of it swirls around in her mouth and she forces herself to swallow the taste, as well as the bitter words she cannot say.

“Now tell me,” says Claybourne. “Why did you smash all of those phylacteries?”

Evelyn closes her eyes for a moment. She chooses the answer she thinks Fitz would have liked best. “Because I liked watching them break.”

Claybourne nods at another templar, who hauls Evelyn from her seat. Arm still bleeding, she finds herself left unceremoniously in the hall.

She stands there for a few moments. Her heart beats too quickly, her breath coming in sharp little bursts. She hates Claybourne with an intensity that startles even her. She hates all of them—these templars who think the best way to protect mages is to murder them, to take their minds, to lock them up.

She walks away.

She can do little else.


Keldra is in the Great Hall at the evening meal.

Evelyn half expects to see a flash of anger, but Keldra pulls her into a tight hug before she can say a word. The smell of clean robes and the hair oil Keldra uses surrounds her, and it is… nice. Surprisingly comforting. A moment later, Kinnaird’s arms are around them both. “I’m sorry,” Evelyn says, unsure of what she is apologizing for.

“Hush,” says Keldra fiercely. “Whatever the story is, whatever happened, I don’t care. You’re alive.” When she pulls back, her eyes flick over Evelyn. “You look like shit, I hope you know that.”

She laughs, and it comes out watery. And then she is sitting between the twins, and Kinnaird is silently shoveling food onto her plate. His eyes are red, and—and she sees all of the grief on his face that she has not allowed herself to feel.

She eats in silence, listening to the others talk. The food tastes good; after two weeks of cold porridge, the spiced stew is wonderful. She forces herself to eat slowly, bite by bite, and only when her plate is cleared does she glance about the hall. She meets a few accusing eyes. Those who do not understand. Those who blame her. Those who envy her.

Across the hall, she sees Solas. He sits with Danforth and Leonel.

Her stomach twists painfully. She yearns to walk across the hall, to speak with him in private.

He should not be here.

He should have run.

Eventually, the templars will sort out whose phylacteries are broken. He will have his blood taken, and he will again be tied to this place.

He should leave.

She cannot fathom why he has not.


She doesn’t see Solas until the next day.

The apprentices flock to her—at least, the former apprentices. Those who have survived their harrowings. They wish to know what happened as much as she does not wish to tell them. It takes a bit of time to fend them off, and then she returns to her own rooms for a nap.

It is surprising how exhausting imprisonment can leave a person.

She wakes from the nap, rubs the sleep from her eyes. There is little else to do. No teaching, no research. She has found herself at something of a loss.

And abruptly, all she wants is to talk to Solas.

She rises from her bed, dons a fresh robe. Her hair is tied back into a clumsy braid, but she does not care. He saw her when she emerged from the dungeons. Whatever illusions he held about her appearance have long been dashed.

She finds him in the library. He sits in one of the private rooms, out of sight of the door. She has to duck her head in to see him, and when she does, she breathes more easily. “There you are.”

Solas closes his book. It is a tome of maps, she sees. Ones of ancient Tevinter, of Thedas and its origins. She smiles, touches the leather-bound volume. “Reading?”

“There is little else to do these days,” he replies. “How are you feeling?”

“Better.” She gives him a little smile. “I—I wanted to thank you again.”

He waves away her gratitude. “Anyone would have done the same.”

No, they would not. Those other men he roomed with—they stood by with averted eyes and did nothing.

“You give yourself too little credit,” she says, then hesitates. This is the perfect opening, but she cannot bring herself to say the words.

He sees her expression and his own brow creases. “Evelyn. What is it?”

“You have no phylactery,” she says.

He nods. “I am aware.”

“They made a new one for me.” Her hand goes to the scabbed cut on her arm, and his gaze follows her movements. Gently, he peels back her sleeve. A touch, and the cut fades.

“So they did,” he says quietly. “I thought they would have done it before this, if I am honest. The moment you were imprisoned, I assumed they had taken your blood. If I had known…”

“You would have—what? Tried to break me out?” It is a laughable idea, and she is sure her tone says as much. No one can easily break into those dungeons. There are latches on every door, and a single tug will snap bars into place. Enchanted against fire, lightning, and ice, those bars are nearly impossible to break. A simple command from a templar could lock down the entire lower levels of the tower.

“It was foolish for you to remain,” she says.

His mouth pulls tight. “You think I would leave?”

Of course she does. Because as much as they are friends, she knows how much more freedom means to him. He yearns for it, more than food or drink. She has seen him gaze through slivers of window, fingers playing on the stone walls as if contemplating how to rend them apart.

He could leave; if he could just find a way out, they would never catch him.

Yet he’s here.

“You should have left,” she says. “You would be safe by now. You could leave right now, if you could get past the guards. I don’t—I don’t understand why you’re still here.”

He looks at her.

“I would not leave you,” he says simply.

The words burrow into her chest. She closes her eyes, feels the certainty take root.

She’s in love with him.

Maker.

She loves him.

And he may not feel the same—she doesn’t know. He likely have stayed because he is a good person, because he would not leave anyone in such a place.

She loves him.

She should walk away now. Leave, before this becomes even more complicated than it already is.

Instead, she kisses him.


Her mouth is tentative against his. A soft, gentle touch. As if asking a silent question.

Solas answers the only way he knows how: he pulls her closer. “Evelyn,” he murmurs against her lips. “Evelyn.”

He should have seen where this path was leading, should have pulled away the moment she stepped into the room. It is too easy to care for her, to lose himself in this. She is brave and kind and—and he wants her. Wants to feel her bare skin against his, to make her cry out with pleasure, to see what she looks like when all of her worries have been taken from her.

He does not draw away and neither does she; the kiss escalates, burns hotter and brighter until his thigh slips between her legs. He can feel the damp heat of her, and she moans into his mouth, the sound needy. His hands fall to her back, encouraging her closer to him.

“Solas, please,” she says against his mouth, the words mangled between kisses. “There—there will be no patrol for at least half an hour.”

“Are you sure?” He touches his mouth to her cheek; the discoloration is all but gone, but still. There are hurts and fears that go deeper than flesh.

“Of you? Always.” She says the words simply; there is no seduction to them.

It makes him feel almost dizzy. She trusts him unconditionally and it humbles him.

He kisses her throat. Bites down gently on the place where neck meets shoulder, and feels a shudder run through her. He cannot mark her, not without endangering her. There are those who would take full advantage of the knowledge that someone cares for her, that she has someone she cares for.

He breathes her name against her collarbone, feels her fingers sweep over his bare scalp, down his neck. He cups one of her breasts through the material of her robe, feels the tip harden. He rolls it between his fingertips, and her hips buck towards him, her body becoming unrestrained with want. She bites at his clothed shoulder, and he wishes there were nothing between them; that he could feel the softness of her skin.

They do not get fully undressed. Her robes are hiked up around her waist and he pushes his trousers down. He is hard, and she giggles a little when she touches him. “Eager?” she murmurs.

“And you are not?” He kisses the soft place beneath her ear.

Her fingers stroke down his back, nails lightly raking over his buttocks, and he growls into her throat. She is warm and damp against his fingers, and she gasps when he strokes her. He wishes he could draw this out, but there is no time. Never enough time, not in this world. He rolls her clitoris beneath his thumb and she presses her face to his chest, muffling her ragged cry. “Oh, Maker.”

She stumbles against the wall, and his hand falls to her hip, and the posture aligns their bodies perfect—his length is pressed to the seam of her, and he lets himself enjoy that for a moment, dragging his cock against her sex, feeling the slick heat of her. Her head falls back to the wall, her eyes snapping up to meet his. “Solas.” Her hand falls between them, and she teases him in much the same manner—running her fingertips over his length until he is biting back a curse of his own. He is frayed with pleasure, every touch sparking through him with painful intensity. “I should..."

“You should be inside of me,” says Evelyn. “Right now."

Fair enough. 

“Here,” he says. He hikes one of her legs around his waist, steadies her with his other hand. The head of his cock rests against her. She seems to understand what he is doing—that he is ceding control to her. She bites her lip, her hand still cupping his length. Another stroke of her thumb has him bucking involuntarily, and the crown of his cock slips inside of her.

One of them gasps.

She takes him slowly, hips working back and forth, rising and falling. He can feel her opening, her cunt almost painfully tight around him. Her leg falters and she slips—and she is impaled to the hilt. He bites back a curse, barely able to think but for the heat of her. A strangled little noise escapes her. He catches her, worry welling up until she whispers, “I’m fine—it’s fine—it’s…” Her voice ebbs away, and she breathes hard. Her forehead falls against his shoulder.

“Maker,” she whispers. “You—you feel—”

He understands. There is an awe to this act that he did not expect; he forgot how intimate this could be—he can feel the flutter of her heartbeat around him, the rasping breaths against his throat, and the weight of her against him. His hips twitch of their own accord, a tentative movement that has her moaning her approval.

She wraps one leg around his waist, rocking into his thrusts, a groan caught between her clenched teeth. They must be quiet, he knows, but sounds still echo off the close walls of the chamber—a whimper caught in her throat, his own grunt when he sinks deeply into her, the sounds of flesh joining with flesh.

Again, he wishes they had more time—he would enjoy seeing how to unravel her, how to move that would drive the breath from her, what places she most likes to be touched. For now, he settles for reaching between them, finding the place where they are joined. He traces her clitoris lightly and she gasps, rocking into his fingers. It is a simple matter to stroke and tease until she is stifling cries against his shoulder. Her movements became erratic and and he takes over, pressing up and into her again and again until she shudders, her eyes falling shut. He feels her tighten, and it is all he can do to hold off his own release until he feels the clench of her own climax.

“Now you,” she says, and her voice sounds half-broken. “Solas.”

Her hands come up, settling between his shoulders as he presses into her. It is ungraceful, messy, and everything he needs. His heart beats hard, and he is alive, awake, and there is nothing beyond this moment. When he climaxes, the pleasure is so sharp it borders on pain—it slices through him, and he buries his face in the hollow of her shoulder. He spends himself inside of her, and she whispers his name again and again.

For a few heartbeats, he feels ill at ease. He is raw, exposed, made bare by his own pleasure.

And then her fingers are on his jaw, tilting his face to hers and she kisses the corner of his mouth. “It’s all right,” she whispers. “You’re safe.”

And he does not know if she means that he is safe within her, or if this room will remain empty for the moment—but it does not matter. He kisses her deeply, and she makes a pleased sound—that is until he slips free of her body. A gasp escapes her mouth, and her hand goes between her legs, catching the spill. “I’d forgotten,” she says, with a breathy little laugh, “how messy this can be. Quick—hand me my smalls?”

They dress quickly. In the aftermath, he feels a flash of regret. They should have taken things slower; he wants to savor her, to bring her pleasure in a place where her cries need not be stifled. But there is no place in this tower where they could find such safety. He glances at her; she is trying to fix her hair, her robes rumpled and lips still red.

He feels a sudden swell of affection for her—for the sweaty hair curling at the nape of her neck, the high flush on her cheeks, the way she is smiling when she thinks he isn’t looking, the way her fingers tangle between his own.

He catches her by the wrist, drawing her closer. They do not need words; she laughs quietly and kisses their clasped fingers.

He cannot remember the last time he had this easy intimacy with another. Even when he shared his bed with others, it was never like this. Honest affection and trust and—

He does not put a name to the last emotion. He cannot.


The next morning, Evelyn decides she truly does need to gather up her clothes for laundering.

Keldra is writing a letter and Signy reading on her own bed. It’s quiet. It’s nice. Evelyn isn’t foolish enough to think that this peace will remain, but it’s nice while it lasts.

Evelyn’s robes from her stay in the dungeon are disgusting. She would burn them, but she does not have enough robes for that particular luxury. So she begins to rummage around her dirty laundry.

She finds her smallclothes—the ones from yesterday, and for a moment, she is caught up in giddy rush of memory. She is pleasantly sore today, her hips having been spread wider than they are accustomed.

But as she sees the stain against the cloth, a chill runs through her. It feels as though she has been immersed in ice water; she kneels there, frozen. “You going down to the laundry?” asks Keldra, jerking Evelyn from her thoughts.

Evelyn shoves the smallclothes into her bag, tucking them beneath several robes. “I—yes. Would you like me to take anything for you?” The words spring to her lips of their own accord while her mind races.

She takes Keldra and Signy’s clothes with clumsy fingers, and her steps down the stairs are hasty. She all but jogs into the laundry room, hands over the bag, and then she is away again. A templar gives her a suspicious look when she hastens past him.

The healer’s rooms are quiet. Evelyn likes them—the tall windows allow for more sunshine than any other place in the tower. For the health of the injured, she once heard someone say. The floors are always swept clean, and the air smells of fresh healing herbs.

Evelyn breathes a sigh of relief when she sees Kinnaird is not here. She would rather not ask him for this particular favor.

There is a woman in her elder years with gnarled hands and wispy hair tied in a knot. Farrow, Evelyn remembers. She once had the healer fix a broken bone in her ankle after an unfortunate incident on the stairs.

Evelyn steps up to the woman’s desk.

“I need the tea,” she says.

Farrow does not look up. Her fingers are steady on a glass vial, pouring some concussion into a bottle. “You’ll have to be more specific, dear.” She says the word, ‘dear’ as most people would say, ‘lout.’

Evelyn’s fingers twist and untwist. “To—to prevent pregnancy.”

Farrow heaves a little sigh, as if being taken from her tinctures is a trial. Her beady gaze slides over Evelyn, and suddenly she is put in mind of a seagull—all sharp-eyed and wary. “You’ve already lain with someone, haven’t you?”

Evelyn nods.

“It’s less effective if taken after,” says Farrow, with a scowl. “You know that. I’m sure you’ve been lectured about it before.”

She does know that. She has always taken precautions; she used to drink the tea at every morning meal, just in case. But after years of solitude, she let the habit die away.

And now, she feels a rush of pure fear.

Farrow heaves another sigh, and reaches into a drawer. She withdraws a small satchel, tied off with a worn string. “Here’s a week’s worth. Come back when you need more.”

Evelyn nods her thanks.

It is a long walk down several stairs to the kitchens. The morning meal will have long passed, so she ignores the great hall and strides into the kitchen itself. Hastily, she pours some of the tea into a smaller satchel and places it at the bottom of a small cup. She pours in the water, and watches steam rise. It must steep for at least ten minutes; she remembers that much.

She is sitting in the great hall, the cup still steeping, when Solas finds her.

She hears the familiar footfall and looks up, her mouth already curving into a smile. He moves with that easy grace of his, and when he slides into the seat next to her, it feels natural to lean into him, to accept the kiss he places on her temple.

Maker help her, but she loves him.

“I was looking for you this morning,” he says. “I did not expect to find you here.”

Her smile becomes brittle and she looks down at the cup.

“Sorry,” she says. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been with anyone. I went to the healers this morning. I should have—I should have drank this earlier.”

Solas’s brows draw together. “Are you ill?”

“No.” A nervous laugh bubbles up. She shakes her head, and forces herself to take the first sip. It’s not a pleasant flavor, but it’s not wholly unbearable. “I am a woman.”

Solas smiles. “And this somehow precludes you from being ill?”

She huffs, tries to smile and fails. “Solas. I am a woman… of child-bearing age. Who spent the night with a man’s seed inside of her.”

All of the humor slips from his face. “This is to prevent children.”

She drinks a second time. After she has swallowed, she says, “I should have drank it before, but… I forgot. With everything, it slipped my mind.”

Solas’s lips press together. “I admit, this is… new territory for me,” he says, oddly careful. “I have seen conception halted through magical means, but never in a tea.”

“Is that how they do things in Tevinter?” she asks, genuinely curious. “Are all the women simply using blood magic to control their monthly bleeding? Because… well, honestly, that sounds like a fine idea.”

He shakes his head. “I am unsure of how the women of Tevinter do such things.”

“Did you never take a lover there?”

Another shake of his head. “It has been… many years,” he says simply. “Is this common practice for circle mages?”

“Yes.”

“I see.” His gaze slides about the great hall. “It would be difficult to raise a child in such a place.”

She finishes the tea in one last gulp, then places the cup on the wooden table. “I will never have children, Solas.”

His hand covers hers. “You do not wish to be a mother. That is fine—”

He thinks this is her choice. She interrupts him, her voice sharp. “I would like to be a mother, Solas. If it were with someone I loved—and if he wanted children, I would love to have a family. But I will never have children. Because… Any children born to a mage belongs to the Chantry.”

His hand goes tight on hers and she looks up, startled.

His eyes are ablaze. When he speaks, each word is slow, as if it takes effort to speak them. “They—take—your—children?”

She nods. “Yes.”

A moment passes, and Solas says, “That is what he meant. When Grieves saw us together—I’ll enjoy yanking your half-breed welp from your arms.

Evelyn winces. “Yes. That is what he meant.” She takes a breath. “One of my friends, Marley—she got pregnant. She tried to keep it a secret for as long as she could, but… well. When she gave birth, I was with her. I held her hand through all of it, and when her daughter was born—” She has to stop, to swallow the aching in her throat. “The templars took the child before Marley could even hold her. She begged them for just one moment, but they wouldn’t even give that to her. She was transferred a few years ago, after she fell into a deep depression.”

When she looks up, Solas is utterly still. “And the father…?”

“A templar,” replies Evelyn. “He was the one who took the child.”

Solas makes a sharp gesture. “I would not allow it,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. “If that—if you were—I would never allow it.”

She believes him.

Well, she believes he would try. He could never succeed, of course. But he would try.

She takes his hand, squeezes his fingers. “You should leave,” she says softly. “You have nothing to hold you here. You should go.”

“Not without you,” he says, with surprising ferocity. “Evelyn, I left you to the templar’s mercies once. I will not do so again.”

She smiles sadly at him. If she were smart, she would stay away from him. This dalliance will likely doom them both—but she cannot bring herself to pull away.

They will not take this from me, she thinks with a surge of anger. They may take everything else, but not this.


It does not matter in the end, though, as she bleeds the next week.

Her relief is profound. She celebrates by going to Farrow and getting a month’s worth of the tea.

Chapter Text

Solas cannot stay within Ostwick Tower.

She knows he cannot stay.

It is only a matter of time until the templars sort out the phylacteries. Until they check the names against the vials, until they come across those who no longer have phylacteries. It would go faster if they used the mages or the tranquil, but the new knight commander has elected to keep the process within the templars. Claybourne does not trust mages—not even mages who have had their magic stripped from them. She has assigned her own people to the task, and as those templars already have duties to see to, the process will take weeks.

Still, Solas cannot linger.

Not when he could be free.

Evelyn will not let him stay. Not now, not when she has realized the depth of her feelings. She cannot lose him, cannot see him hurt or made tranquil. And he would stay, for her. He said as much, proved it when he remained while she was held in the dungeons. It is ironic, she thinks. She has become the very thing that he promised she would never be. She is the tether binding him to this place.

Still, she cannot bring herself to broach the subject. Not for many days.

And in those days, they seek one another out. A stairwell where he steals a kiss, just before a templar walks by. The baths, when the water is unheated but for Solas’s magic—and when she slips into the magically heated water and into his arms, she feels the rumble of his laughter. Dark corners of the library where her fingers grip a shelf and he takes her from behind, their robes drawn up. “The templars will be patrolling by here in ten minutes,” she gasps, as he kisses her neck. He drags two climaxes out of her before she hears the armored footsteps. Her body is still throbbing with pleasure when he helps her sit, places a book in her hands, and then hastens across the room to busy himself at the desk. When the templar passes, it simply looks as though two mages are deep in reading.

But when he is gone, Evelyn pulls Solas into the chair with her. “You are dangerous,” she tells him.

“I have been told as much.”

She learns the intimacies of his body—the sharp edges of his hips, the subtle strength he keeps carefully hidden, the swell of his lower lip. He enjoys her pleasure seemingly as much, if not more, than his own. It feels as if every moment she is not with him is a moment wasted. They do not even have to touch—although she enjoys the touching thoroughly. But his presence calms her, seems to settle the world into a way that feels right.

I love you, she thinks, when she sees him at the morning meal.

And that is why she cannot keep him.


 

He hums sometimes.

It is always in the quiet moments—when he is concentrating on a task, thumbing through the pages of a book, or checking his staff for nicks. When he is caught up in some other task, his mind drawn elsewhere. It is in those moments of distraction that a soft song will resonate within his chest and throat, the words always trapped behind closed lips. He never sings, never lets the words loose. But she catches bits and pieces of the music. She thinks they must be songs from his childhood; the tunes are always slow and rhythmic as a lullaby.

He never keeps at it for long; the moment he seems to notice he is humming, he goes silent.

Some instinct warns her not to ask. She knows how some questions can wound. She will not pry when it might injure him.

The damp of the dungeon must have affected her more than she suspected, for in that second week, she falls ill. It is nothing serious—a mere head cold—but after a day of snuffling it is all she can do to trudge up the stairs to her room and fall, fully clothed, into her narrow bed. Her skull aches as if it is too full; her nose won’t stop leaking; her throat feels as if it has been flayed open. And somehow it is worse when she is lying down; it feels as if every breath drags through her lungs. With a groan, she tries to sleep. She must be somewhat successful, because it is nearly full dark when she hears someone enter her dormitory—hours have passed, she realizes. The evening meal has come and gone.

Solas enters the room in near silence. His gaze lands on Evelyn and his face relaxes. “There you are.”

Evelyn’s eloquent response is to blink.

“Your friends mentioned you were looking… less than well,” he says. "I see they were correct.”

She glares up at him from her nest of blankets. “Flatterer.”

He smiles slightly. “You might rest easier if you were not fully dressed, you know.”

She does not move. Her head aches. “Too much effort involved.”

“Ah.” He sits beside her. “Can I get you anything?”

“A swift death would be nice.”

“Yes, but then there would be the matter of explaining to the templars why I have done away with one of their mages. It seems a rather difficult endeavor.” His hand rests lightly on her back.

“Don’t get too close,” murmurs Evelyn into her pillows. “I don’t want you catching ill.”

A light exhalation against the back of her neck—and she can see in her minds eye his half-smile, hear the little breath when he laughs. “I will risk it.” A press of lips against her hair. It is not seduction; there is something almost chaste about the gentle touch. His fingers continue to make small circles along her back.

“I cannot heal illness,” says Solas. “It is… there is something about it that magic cannot touch.”

If she didn’t know better, she would think he sounded frustrated. As if he has never faced this problem before. Perhaps he hasn’t—perhaps the Dalish have devised a way to avoid human illnesses.

“I’ll get you something to drink,” he says, and rises from the bed. She misses the warmth of his hip and hands at once, and it does not matter that he steals the blanket from another bed and drapes it over her. She wants him; she wants to curl up beside him; she wants a world where she could sleep in the same bed and not worry—

She forces herself to yank those thoughts away. It has been many years since she allowed herself those wants. Desires are dangerous things, easily exploited by templars and demons alike. She cannot afford to want him. Not for her sake, or his.

When he brings a cup of broth to her, she realize he is humming. It is the song she has heard in the past—always in broken pieces.

“Does the song have words?” she murmurs.

His fingers still in her hair. “Yes.”

“What are they?”

A pause so long she is sure he will not answer. “I do not remember them,” he says softly. His voice is something she has never heard before—a sadness so deep it threatens to make her own eyes tear up. She rises, forces herself upright so she can look at him.

“Solas.” She touches his shoulder. “I won’t ask, but you can tell me. If you want to.”

His face is drawn, and he does not look at her. His gaze remains distant when he says, “I left people behind. I left a world behind.”

“When you were brought here?” She leans against him, the warmth of his body easing the aches in hers.

“Before that,” he admits. “I… it has been a long time since I could trust anyone. I am sorry. I cannot say more than that.”

She understands. She has never told anyone of the painful truths of her own past—of a father and a mother willingly handing her over to the templars, of a sister who regarded her with fear when she set a man on fire with little more than a thought, or of a brother who wouldn’t meet her eyes after that. There are some truths that are agony to admit, even to one’s self.

“It’s fine.” She rests her forehead against his shoulder. “You know you can trust me, right?”

There is no hesitation in his answer. “I do.”

She smiles, just a little. “You can’t stay here.”

She feels the breath he exhales; she listens to the sound of it leaving him. He does not pretend to misunderstand, to misinterpret her words as ‘stay in her room’ or something like that. “I know,” he says. “I have to leave. Before the templars can bind me here again. But…”

His fingers rest lightly on her back. It is these touches, more than any seductive ones, that truly undo her. These moments of quiet affection, of caring, that make her want to close her eyes and bury her face against him.

“I will be all right,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about leaving me here. I survived my whole life here, before you arrived.”

He makes a sound, not quite a grunt. “Before I arrived, you had the support of the First Enchanter and a Knight Commander who at least respected you. You had the standing of a noble born mage, one who was trusted to teach apprentices.”

She winces. It is true.

“It is not your fault,” she says. “I made the choices that led me here. Do not take that from me.”

Slowly, he nods. “I know that, as well. But you are not safe here. Perhaps—perhaps I might return. I could bring help.”

She blinks. Imagines him at the head of some ragtag Dalish raiding party, and she winces. For all that she respects the elves’ ability to keep their own people safe, attacking a tower is folly. The Ostwick Tower is built as a fortress, and should be regarded as such. “Don’t put anyone in danger on my account,” she says. “I will be fine. If you truly do trust me, then trust me to take care of myself.”

Another breath. This time, he inhales. Slow and steady, as if trying to measure out a moment of thought. “I will leave soon. There will be a shipment of supplies within the week. I overheard the templars speaking about it. I could use the distraction.”

She nods. “Can I help?”

“You have done more than enough. And I think your sniffling would probably alert any guards to your presence.”

She glares at him, but then her frown dissolves into a sneeze. “All right,” she admits. “All right. You may have a point.” She turns, wraps both of her arms around him. “I’m not sorry I met you. Just so you know.”

A touch of lips against her hair. “Nor am I,” he admits, and his voice is close to her ear.

“Take care,” she says, and means it.

He slips out of her arms, and she lets him. He is not hers to keep, after all. “I will see you tomorrow.” It sounds half a promise, the way he utters the words. She understands—while he may be leaving, he is not gone yet.

When she returns to her bed, she tries to ignore the dampness of her cheeks against her rough pillow.

It is for the best.


 

The next day, she is almost well again. Her head is still a little heavy, but she no longer makes snuffling sounds with every breath. Keldra pours a cup of hot tea for her when she sits at the morning meal. Kinnaird is in a fierce discussion with Leonal concerning the applications of fire magic in lancing wounds, and Signy is silently working on mending a hole in her robes. Evelyn watches a needle flash between the younger woman’s fingers, deft and quick, her meal sitting forgotten before her. Solas is eating with Danforth, as is his habit. Evelyn catches a glimpse of him a few tables away, before she settles at her own table.

“You haven’t received any letters, have you?” asks Keldra suddenly.

Evelyn looks up. Traditionally, letters are sorted by the templars, checked for traps or other dangers, and then passed along to the mages. Some receive regular correspondence from other mages or family, but Evelyn’s own attachments are few. She only ever receives a monthly letter from her mother—mostly a dry list of things that the family has been doing, followed by a wish for Evelyn to continue following the Maker’s path. Evelyn is sure that these letters are an obligation more than any true desire to remain in contact, and most have been used as kindling at some point.

“I haven’t,” she says, and for the first time, a flicker of unease goes through her. She has not received her monthly letter. Not that she misses it, but the implications are chilling.

“They’ve stopped our letters,” she says softly.

No need to say who ‘they’ are. Keldra understands.

“Yes,” she says. “One of my transfer friends was writing me nearly every other day from Val Royeaux, but two weeks ago it all went silent. I don’t know why. If something happened at the White Spire, or if… or if we’re simply not being allowed letters.” Her mouth thins out. “If you’re not getting any, either, than it’s probably the templars. Damn.”

“Why?” asks Evelyn, bewildered. “They didn’t even halt our letters after Kirkwall. I mean, I’m sure they read them and resealed the wax, but they never simply cut us off.”

The words settle between them, and Evelyn draws in a sharp breath.

“Something must have happened,” says Keldra, in an undertone. “Something bigger than Kirkwall.”

A dry laugh escapes Evelyn’s lips, but there is no humor to it. Bigger? Bigger than Kirkwall? She cannot imagine such a thing.

“Or else they’ve decided that my little escape attempt might have been part of a conspiracy,” she says, thinking it over. “Perhaps they’ve cut us all off until they can figure out the phylactery issue.”

Keldra raises an eyebrow. “What phylactery issue?”

Oh, right. That hasn’t been public knowledge; the templars are keeping it quiet. Evelyn opens her mouth to explain, but a polite tap at her shoulder silences her. She looks up and sees an older man standing behind her. His wispy hair is uncombed, and he looks as worn as an old dishrag. “Pardon me,” he says. And his monotone voice is unmistakable. Even if she could not see the sunburst brand between his brows, she would know him as tranquil.

“Yes?”

The tranquil man says, “The First Enchanter wishes you to attend her in her office.”

Another little shock goes through her. She was certain that Monette would never associate with Evelyn again—not after their last meeting in the baths. The raw disdain, the betrayal in the First Enchanter’s face… well. Evelyn’s own ire flares at the memory. She is not sure she will ever regard their leader with any sort of friendship again.

Keldra gives her an incredulous look, one that Evelyn returns. “Did she say why?”

The tranquil shakes his head. “She did not.”

Evelyn’s lips press tight.

“You should go,” says Keldra. 

Evelyn does not want to. The idea of facing down the woman who gazed at her with such revulsion is not an appealing one. But she forces herself to rise to her feet, leaving her uneaten breakfast behind. The walk to the first enchanter’s office gives her time to compose herself, to school her face into a mask, to breath evenly.

She is almost calm when she knocks on the door and is told to enter.

The office is bright with sunlight. The flowers are in bloom along the windowsill. This place yet remains one of beauty, of peace. It is a pretty illusion, just like its occupant. 

Monette appears the same as ever. Dressed in her finery, her hair pinned back, and her decorative staff resting against her desk. She regards Evelyn with a single cocked brow.

Evelyn crosses her arms. She is still too thin, she knows. Her cheeks too stark, her eyes a little sunken. Once she looked into the mirror and wondered what Solas ever saw in her—she has looked half herself since the dungeon. But she will not be made ashamed of her appearance. Not by the woman who allowed her to be imprisoned.

“You summoned me?” Evelyn’s voice is cold.

Monette nods. “I did.” She gestures to the chair.

Evelyn remains standing.

Monette’s eyes sharpen, but she does not seem to take offense. “I am leaving,” she says, abruptly. “There is to be a meeting of every First Enchanter in Thedas—at least, all of those who can make it to the White Spire in time.”

Evelyn feels her breath catch. Keldra was right; something must have happened. This is not about her escape attempt. “Why?”

Monette looks away. For all that she is self-possessed, for all that she is a figure of ambition and beauty and strength, Evelyn looks at the other woman and realizes that she is only a few years older. Yet she has no close friends—only followers. How isolating this tower office must have been. And perhaps that is why Monette took Evelyn’s betrayal so personally. Because they were almost friends.

“Things have… changed,” says Monette. “A tranquil called Pharamond was taken to the White Spire after he was purged of the demon that possessed him. Wynne was involved, along with a few others.”

For a heartbeat, the words do not sink in.

A tranquil.

A tranquil possessed by a demon.

That should not be possible.

She feels the blood drain from her face. Tranquility is the one thing supposed to protect mages from possession. For all of its cruelty, that is the one mercy. Without that protection—there is no reason—

“We are to discuss the implications of this at a conclave,” says Monette. “You understand.”

“I… do,” says Evelyn, her lips barely moving. The templars must be scrambling. They must be terrified.

Everything has changed.

“I am telling you this,” says Monette, “because I will be away. I wished you to know why.”

Evelyn’s gaze jerks up to meet hers. Confusion slows her words. “I—why…?”

Something in Monette’s face softens. She takes a step forward, and her hand reaches for Evelyn’s arm. Evelyn jerks back and Monette’s hand falls away. She does not look hurt, merely disappointed. “This changes everything,” she says. “You must understand. I—I thought you an ally once. I would not see you…” She closes her eyes, breathes slowly, then reopens them. Her voice steadies. “I wished to give you this.”

She gestures at a small bundle on the desk. Evelyn picks it up, and at once smells the sharp, floral notes of the bitter tea that Monette has always favored. “Tea?”

“Drink it,” says Monette. “At the evening meal. To—to carry on the tradition. Please, Mage Trevelyan.”

There is so much unsaid, so much that Monette is refusing to tell her. Evelyn scrambles to fill in the empty spaces for herself, but she is still reeling. A tranquil possessed. A conclave of first enchanters at the White Spire.

“Take it,” says Monette, her voice hard.

Evelyn takes it. The tea is a light weight in her hand.

“I will try to return in a few weeks,” says Monette. She hesitates, and it is only when Evelyn is turning to leave that she adds, “I’m sorry.”

Evelyn freezes, her hand on the doorknob. She never expected to hear those words. Not from Monette. Not from the prideful First Enchanter.

For a moment, she yearns to turn around and accept the apology. To mend what was between them.

Instead, she walks through the door.


That afternoon, she watches Monette’s carriage leave the tower.

Evelyn gazes through the sliver of window in her room, rising to tiptoe to see through the worn glass. Sitting on her desk is a cup of bitter tea.


 

She tells Solas, Danforth, and Kinnaird about Pharamond. She would tell Keldra, but the other mage has taken a shift helping with the youngest apprentices. As she tells them everything Monette said, Evelyn watches as their faces change—from curiosity, to confusion, to shock. She keeps glancing at Solas, hoping he might have some insight, as knowledgeable as he is about the Fade. But he seems more startled than the rest of them.

“Tranquil are cut off from the Fade,” he says. “They are… unfeeling. Barely alive. I cannot see a spirit wishing to join with them. They venture across the Veil in order to experience this world. There is little to experience from behind the eyes of a tranquil.”

They sit in the library, in a quiet corner. It familiar and close, and Evelyn might almost close her eyes and imagine this is just another clandestine meeting between the two of them, if not for Kinnaird muttering about this being madness and Danforth remaining oddly quiet.

“A tranquil,” Kinnaird murmurs. “Possessed.”

Evelyn grimaces. “This must be terrifying for the Chantry. Their only weapon against mages has been taken away. Even making us tranquil won’t protect them from abominations.”

The sound of armored footsteps make them all look up. A templar passes by, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. He pauses, glances at the four mages. But they are simply sitting around a table, books spread open before them. Four adults, in a conversation about academics.

Danforth put those books there. Canny old man. Evelyn holds back a smile.

The templar nods, says, “It’s almost curfew.”

Kinnaird flashes his teeth in a grin, leaning back in his chair. His lanky form is too long to truly be comfortable, and the wood creaks beneath him. “Thanks, ser. Wouldn’t have noticed if not for you.”

The templar glowers, but with Kinnaird’s tone he might have been sincere. So the templar stalks away, looking disgruntled. When he vanishes, Kinnaird’s grin falls away.

“I don’t see why Monette was so panicked,” says Evelyn. “I mean, this changes everything but it’s not necessarily bad.”

Kinnaird nods. “If a tranquil can be possessed, then there’s no reason for the rite. I mean, if anything, this should be good news for us. No point in making us all tranquil if it won’t protect the Chantry from abominations.”

“I still do not understand how such a thing might have happened.” Solas folds his hands on the table. “For a spirit to willingly enter the body of a tranquil…”

Danforth lets out a snort so loud that all of them jump. “Fools,” he says, his voice gruff. “The lot of you. All fools.”

Evelyn frowns. “What are you on about, old man?”

Danforth turns his face toward her. For all that she teases him of being old, he has never seemed weak or incompetent. There was always an iron will shining behind his curved back, a strength in his gnarled hands. He kept such things hidden—but now, there is no mistaking the harshness in his voice. “You’re missing the point,” he says. “The templars can’t protect themselves from abominations by making us tranquil.”

“I just said that,” says Kinnaird.

Danforth’s mouth curls into a grimace. “Follow your own logic. If they can’t stop mages from becoming abominations with tranquility, how will they stop them?”

Evelyn sucks in a breath. She thinks of sunburst brands, of how that always seemed such a terrible fate to her. Of how being made hollow and monotone could never be a mercy.

But the alternative is no better.

“They’ll start killing you,” says Solas, very quietly.

“Us,” says Danforth. “They’ll start killing all of us.”


 

 In the end, it changes nothing.

Solas must leave.

Evelyn must stay.

If she were to leave, to travel with him, she would be little more than a beacon to guide the templars. She knows this, and he knows it, too.

The night before Solas’s escape, Evelyn cannot bring herself to eat. The evening meal is a hearty one, and there is more wine than usual at the tables. Perhaps the templars are trying to ply them with drink, in order to distract them from the First Enchanter’s absence. There are a few rumors of a possessed tranquil, but most disbelieve it. It seems too outlandish to be true.

Keldra pours another cup of wine and offers it to Evelyn. With a sigh, she takes it. Might as well drink something, if only to ensure she sleeps tonight. She catches Solas’s eye across the room, sees him sitting at his table with Danforth and Leonel. Solas inclines his head before turning his attention back to the conversation at his own table.

Evelyn gulps down the wine. It burns down her throat.

He does not say goodbye.

She does not expect him to.

But when she returns to her room, a cup of bitter tea in hand, she finds something she did not expect. When she settles into her bed, something hard pricks her from beneath her pillow.

She calls light into her hand and gazes downward.

A jawbone pendant rests in her hands.

Her fingers curl around it. Worn smooth, polished brown. She remembers it—the pendant she kept safe for him the day they met. The one she has glimpsed beneath his robes. Always tucked close to his heart.

This is his farewell.

Her heart twists, a painful tug in her chest.

Evelyn pulls the blanket tight up to her chin and closes her eyes. Sleep, when it comes, is restless.

And when she wakes, it is to the sound of a sword being slipped from its sheath.

Chapter Text

A quiet footfall.

The hiss of a blade being drawn from its scabbard.

The muffled breathing of a man trying to move silently. But templars are not silent; they rely on intimidation far more than stealth, and this man has little experience in being an assassin.

It is his undoing.

Were he truly a practiced assassin, he might have noticed the elf behind him. Might have heard the whisper of Fade being drawn around the mage’s fingers.

But he does not. And the man drops, the dagger skittering from his limp fingers. Solas steps over the body.

His room is empty, but for himself and the dying man. Solas has not taken any more roommates, not since leaving his previous ones, and he is momentarily grateful. It would more difficult to explain how easily he took this man’s life. Solas picks up the dagger, tests the edge with his thumb. It is a blade wielded by butchers, to cut the throat of an animal.

And that is when Solas is certain.

The templars are here to kill them. All of them, in their sleep.

But—there are not outcries. No screams, no commotion at all, except for the sound of the templar falling. That itself should have drawn notice, but there is nothing.

Solas steps into the hallway. His own movements are silent, and he keeps to the shadows. Torchlight flickers from inside of one of the mage’s dormitories, and when a templar emerges, he holds an unsheathed dagger. It is slick, dark with spilled blood. The templar takes a breath, and then steps into another room.

And the mages do not respond.

The wine, Solas realizes. They drank of the wine—and he did not. Some herbs to make them sleep soundly.

Perhaps the templars think it a mercy.

Evelyn.

He remembers her picking up a goblet of wine, remembers the crimson like a bloodstain agains her lips.

Fear roots him in place, and for a heartbeat he is torn. These mages will be slaughtered if left to themselves, but he cannot remain. Lips peeling back in a snarl, he summons magic. It is a simple spell, one he used to amuse himself and others when he was a child. He casts ice upon the floor, across the walls. Thin, invisible, and solid as crystal.

The next templar that steps from a room is caught off guard. With a shriek and a crash, he falls to the floor. Another templar emerges, drawn by the sound, and he goes down, as well. They do not expect the corridor to be covered in a thin sheen of ice.

The distraction will hopefully delay them, will hopefully wake the drugged mages.

Solas cannot remain any longer.

He runs. He darts across the hallway, to the stairs. When a templar sees him and opens her mouth to cry out, Solas reacts at once. Power slams into the templar and she falls, unconscious or dead—and Solas cannot bring himself to care which. He takes the steps two at a time, his heart throbbing behind his ribs.

He should have known this would happen. The moment Evelyn divulged that tranquility was no longer a shield that the templars could hide behind, he knew this would happen. He just didn’t think it would occur so quickly.

He hears the fighting before he sees it. When he yanks open the door to Evelyn’s floor, a cat rushes through, as if grateful for a way to escape the commotion. There is light and noise and screaming—and the moment Solas steps into the chaos there is little time to do anything but react. An older woman kneels over a girl, her hand raised in a futile attempt to ward off a templar’s sword. The young woman is unmoving and pallid. Another woman has a chair and is using it as a clumsy weapon. Another has a fistful of fire to keep two templars at bay while a mage yanks the sword free of a fallen templar’s form.

Solas reaches for the Fade, feels it collect around his fingers like a phantom wind, and he twists. The templar with the raised sword staggers, his hand flying to the wall to steady himself. Solas uses the man’s distraction, and drives the butcher’s dagger into the shoulder joint of his armor. The templar screams.

The old woman snarls a curse, and there is a flash of light.

The screaming goes silent.

There are other battles. Other struggles. Solas turns to face the hallway, sees Keldra on the floor. She is unhurt, but clearly affected by the drugged wine.

And Evelyn stands beside her, a barrier raised before her fingertips. When a templar rushes her, he slams into the barrier and comes to a shuddering halt, struggling to push through it. Evelyn bares her teeth, and she says something that Solas cannot hear.

She is not wholly unaffected by the wine, he realizes. Her eyes are all pupil, her lips bloodless. But where the other mages seem sluggish, she jitters and shakes. Fire dances along her fingertips, as if she cannot hold back the spell. She tosses the flames into the templar’s eyes. There is a sizzle of heat, and the man drops to his knees, his screams raw and terrified.

Solas does not hesitate; he strides by the man, and uses a twist of magic to break his neck.

When Evelyn sees him, she makes a ragged sound.

“You’re alive,” she breathes. “Thank the Maker. I—I don’t know what I would have done if—”

Her eyes widen, and he senses the templar a moment before a sword slams into the stone wall. Sparks fly out, and Solas drops to his knees, avoiding the second blow. The chill of lyrium settles through the air, and at once all the ambient magic is purged from the room. It is a startling, uncomfortable shift, and it makes his teeth ache. The templar continues his swing, this time aiming at Keldra.

She is blinking hard, clearly fighting the wine, but she is too slow to parry the sword thrust. Solas lunges between them, his arm catching Keldra around the waist, dragging her from the path of the blade. The templar brings his sword down a third time, and Solas flings up his arm. He calls a barrier, feels it snap into place.

And the blade passes through it. The magic, weakened by the templar’s purge, cannot hold.

He catches the sword on the place where his neck curves into shoulder. Feels it pass through flesh, snag on bone.

The world goes white with agony.

He falls and Keldra is at his side, her fingers closing around his neck, and he can feel the wound pulsing in time with his heart, and he is light, far too light—

He tastes lightning on the air.

A scream. Not of fear, but one of fury. Armor crashes into stone, and then the world quiets.

Hands on his shoulder, his neck, and then his face. Warm hands against chilled skin. Her fingers find his wound and fire sears through him. He distantly hears tearing cloth, and then pressure.

“No, no—”

He opens his eyes and sees Evelyn’s face—the flecks of blood like freckles against her pale skin.

“Solas,” she whispers, and he sees more than hears it.

It is only when he sees the crimson stain across his own clothes that he knows the wound the templar dealt him is a mortal one. He will bleed out before the healers can help him, and as skilled as Evelyn is, she cannot keep death at bay.

His hand rises, shaking, and he touches her cheek. His fingers smear the flecks of blood, but she does not seem to notice. Her skin is feverishly warm against his. “I’m here,” she says. “It’s all right. I’m here, I’m here—”

Words rise to his lips. Unbidden words, forbidden words. Words that he could not even acknowledge to himself, not until he feels the life bleeding out of him.

But before he can say them, someone kneels beside Evelyn.

It is the thin girl, Signy.

She holds the templar’s sword. It is a clumsy grip, as if she has never wielded a weapon before. She places her palm against the blade. She makes a sound that could almost be one of relief when the blood trickles between her fingers. She clenches her fist.

The blood mists into the air, like steam from a boiling pot, and then it simply vanishes.

The edges of his wound knit together. The pain dims, fades into a tolerable ache.

The roaring in his ears dies away.

He breathes. One gasping breath after another. There is a shallow pool of blood beneath him, most of it his.

Evelyn helps him sit upright, his back to the wall. “You’re all right,” Evelyn is whispering, almost a chant. “You’re all right. Maker, you’re all right.”

He closes his eyes. Weariness creeps over him, but is not the cold grip of a moment ago. It is simple exhaustion—and when Evelyn wraps her arms around him, he rests his forehead against her shoulder. She feels solid and warm, and that is all he needs. Something sharp presses against him, and when he pulls back, he sees the bone pendant around her neck. She smiles a little, her fingers touching the worn surface.

“Oh, Maker,” comes a loud voice. It is Keldra. Her words come slow and slurred, but certain. “That was—that was blood magic.”

Evelyn tenses. When she rocks back onto her heels, she glances at Signy then back to Solas. Her fingers skim over the place where his flesh was rent apart—now a thin, pink scar.

“What have you done?” says Keldra. “You’re… you’re so young.”

Signy lets out a small sigh. “Do you truly think all blood mages are old men with red eyes and bad teeth?”

Keldra’s mouth works, but no words emerge.

Evelyn says, “I—thank you. I don’t know how you did that, but thank you.”

Signy’s gaze lowers to the floor. A tinge of redness creeps across her cheeks. “You’re welcome.”

“How did you even learn that?” snaps Keldra.

And abruptly Solas understands; he sees the truth in the girl’s hunched stance.

“Rage,” says Solas quietly. “You speak with Rage.”

He remembers the demon, edged in flame, mentioning that Solas was not the only mage it had contact with. He thinks of this girl, alone but for her own anger, meeting the spirit in her dreams. She is quiet and clever, and clearly not under its control. She wields power, but does not make a show of it.

“How…?” asks Keldra again. She sounds aghast. Betrayed. As if some certainty in this world were made uncertain. “You never—there were never any cuts on you. No evidence…”

Signy shrugs one shoulder. “All of that monthly blood was good for something.”

Evelyn lets out a startled laugh, then shoves at Keldra. “Don’t look at her like that. If she were going to bleed us in our sleep, she’s had plenty of chances.”

Something in Keldra’s face softens. “No, no. I mean, of course not.” She rises, staggering a little.

The hallway is still humming with noise; the templars are dead, but the women are bandaging wounds, checking over unmoving bodies, and two of them have gone to place desks against the door. “Good,” says Solas. “We’ll need—we’ll need a barrier.” His mouth tastes of cold copper, and when he moves to rise, he sways.

Evelyn helps him stand, but she does not make for the door. She half-carries him into her dormitory, and then he is sitting on her bed. His clothes are tacky with blood, and he has a moment when he thinks that her bedding will be ruined. But then she is pressing a cup of water to his lips and he swallows. Then she is kneeling beside the bed, her forehead pressed to his knee.

His fingers stroke her hair and she turns into his touch.

For a few minutes, neither say a word. It is enough to remain silent, to take comfort in the other’s presence. When Evelyn finally lifts her head, she says, “The tea.” She is trembling. “The bitter tea. I thought it was something Monette drank for pleasure, but… she gave it to me… and… ”

She shudders.

Solas sees the truth of it in her jittery movements, the way she cannot seem to hold still. “It’s an antidote.”

“Maker, I feel like my heart is going to pound out of my chest,” she groans, placing a hand on her forehead. “Why didn’t I feel like this when I drank it before?”

“It must be spelled to react to sedatives,” he says. “It would be a normal tea until someone tried to drug you.” He hesitates. “It seems the First Enchanter was a kinder friend to you than I supposed.”

She pulls herself upright, sits beside him on the bed. “Right,” she says. “If she hadn’t—” Another shiver runs through her, but he suspects this one has little to do with the tea.

She draws in a sharp breath. “What do we do now?”

The answer is simple. “We fortify an area,” he says. “Bring the wounded there, set up defensible barriers. And then we find survivors.”

She looks at him, startled.

Before she can ask questions that he cannot answer, he leans closer to her. His head swims; he is still light-headed from his wound, but he presses a kiss to her temple. “I am glad you are unharmed,” he murmurs against her the warmth of her skin. He can feel her pulse against his lips.

She lets out a choked little noise. “I shouldn’t be relieved,” she whispers. “Everything’s falling apart. Kinnaird, and Danforth, and the apprentices, Maker the apprentices. But seeing you—seeing you were all right—”

“I know,” he says quietly, and he does.

She is safe.

They both are, for the moment.

He remembers the starkness of his blood against her pale skin, the feel of the life flowing out of him, and those traitorous words he was on the brink of uttering.


Several things happen in quick succession.

Evelyn hears voices—men’s voices—and her heartbeat stutters. She rises from the bed and hastens into the hallway, reaching for her staff. If another wave of templars have come, she will fight. The tea still has her on edge and she yearns to move, to run, to act. A rustle of clothing, and Evelyn knows that Solas is following her. Maker, she wishes he would just remain in her bed. He needs the rest, even if his wound is mostly healed. She will never forget the sight of the blood leaving him, of the shock settling into his face. Her jaw clenches, and she tries to take hold of her anger. She strides forward, ready for a fight.

But there are no templars in the hallway.

Kinnaird is there, his arms around Keldra. And Danforth kneels beside an old woman, tying off a make-shift bandage. She recognizes several other men as well—and her heart lightens.

“Ah,” murmurs Solas. “It seems the ice did the trick.”

She should ask, but she does not truly care how—all that matters is they’re here. Her floor is not the only one to have escaped the massacre. She finds herself hugging Danforth, and the old man grunts and says something about her going soft, and then she is hugging Kinnaird and he squeezes her tightly.

But they cannot revel in this reunion—not for too long.

There are things that must be done.

“We’re leaving,” says Danforth, loud enough that everyone can hear him. “You know what’s happened, if they’re trying to kill us.”

A heavy silence descends upon the mages. Evelyn feels the unease ripple through the crowd. “Annulment,” someone says, and Danforth nods.

“Right,” he says heavily. “We all know there’ve been rumors—tranquil possessed, uprisings, Kirkwall. We all knew something like this might happen. And now it has, so all we can do is decide if we’re going to live.”

One of the women shifts from foot to foot, then speaks up. “It might not be all the templars,” she says. “I haven’t seen the Knight Commander. It could be—a rogue faction…?”

“Doesn’t matter,” says Kinnaird. “We saw what happened on our floor. If it’s not all of the templars, then it’s enough.”

“But if it’s not Chantry sanctioned—”

“Oh, so our murders are better if they’re Chantry sanctioned?” someone else snaps.

The woman flushes. “That’s not what I—”

This time, it is a man who speaks over her. “What she means is, we’re not going to make things better by all becoming apostates. That’s how all of this mess started. A rebellion. If mages would just stop fighting—”

“Then every single person on this floor would be dead,” says Danforth. “Every person on our floor would be dead—instead of merely half of them. You walked over as many bodies as I did to come here. You saw the blood leaking down the stairs. This is not a war. This is a slaughter, and the only way we survive is to fight back.”

The other man crosses his arms. “I will not fight.”

“Then stay out of our way,” says Keldra harshly. “At least your body will provide decent cover once you’re dead.”

More arguments break out, and the shouts are deafening. Evelyn winces, then returns to Solas’s side. He stands along the wall, leaning against it for support. He is still too ashen for her liking, but at least he is upright. He watches the proceedings with a detached interest. But when there is a break in the conversation, he speaks over the din.

“We can’t remain here,” he says. “We should gather in a safe place.”

Evelyn considers. “What about the great hall?”

“Too vulnerable,” a woman says. “Remember when the templars boxed us in there?”

“But if we stationed guards,” replies Evelyn. “You know, in all those places the templars had archers. If we put our own fighters there, they couldn’t take the higher ground. And we could barricade the entrances, at least until we can make a run for it.”

Danforth grunts. “Not a good plan, but it’s better than nothing. We can’t crowd everyone in the dormitories. They’d gut us, if we were caught here. All right.” He looks out at the crowd. “We’re going to the Great Hall. Solas, Leonel, and everyone else who can’t fight, you go to the hall. Put able-bodied mages in guard positions. Trevelyan, the twins, and everyone who wants to fight, with me. We’ll break into small teams, find stragglers in the dormitories and bring them to the hall.”

There is a moment’s hesitation, and then the crowd breaks apart. Mages begin shuffling about, gathering up the wounded, finding possessions, taking staves, and making for the stairs. When Evelyn makes toward Kinnard, Solas’s hand falls on her shoulder.

“I am well enough to accompany the search parties,” he says.

She looks at him, one eyebrow raised. Then she gently brushes her fingertips over his wound. The skin is raw, barely healed. He winces, then pulls back.

The corner of his mouth lifts in a rueful half-smile. “All right,” he says. “You have made your point.”

She touches his good shoulder. “You’re a talented healer. You’ll do more good among the wounded.”

He nods. “Don’t let your guard down.”

“You, too,” she says, and walks across the hallway to Kinnaird.


 

In the end, Danforth, Kinnaird and Evelyn take the first floor of apprentices. Another group will take the second. They move quietly, on alert for any templars. There are bodies in the corridors—mostly mages, those who tried to run. But there are a few templars, as well. The walls are scarred with marks of fire and water drips from the ceiling.

The tower is utterly silent.

It is eerie. There should be screams, shouts, some evidence that a small war has broken out. But the only sound is Evelyn’s own breath in her ears. She knows that once they all return to the Great Hall, there will be more debate. Some mages will want to stay, to appeal to the templars’ mercy. They have become accustomed to the small abuses, so that even these larger ones seem like something to be endured. And the tower is the only home many of them have known. Leaving will be no easy task.

But they cannot stay. Not anymore.

When they come to the first dormitory, Danforth goes first. He moves as one expecting a blow—or an ambush. His staff remains in his hands, and his gaze sweeps the dark corridor. The torches are unlit, the only light coming from the fistful of fire Evelyn has conjured.

Danforth waits a moment, breathes, then steps into the small bedroom.

The apprentice dormitories are much the same. Four beds, a small desk, and a communal wardrobe. They smell like children—unwashed clothes and something sweet, as if a stolen sticky bun has been left to moulder under someone’s bed. Evelyn lifts the fire, and the flickering light spills over four sleeping forms.

“Good,” she says. “They’ve slept through it. Come on, let’s—”

Danforth reaches the first child. A boy, probably thirteen or fourteen. He pulls back the blankets, and—

Kinnaird draws in a sharp breath. “Let the blade pass through the flesh,” he murmurs. “Let my blood touch the ground.

Evelyn goes still. She feels her body tense without truly realizing why.

Let my cries touch their hearts,” whispers Kinnaird, finishing the line of the Chant. “Let mine be the last sacrifice.”

And then she sees the bloodstain across the boy’s bedsheets.

The fire in her hand goes out.

Annulment.

It is a cool word. It does not carry the weight of ‘murder.’ It is a safe shield to hide behind. The templar that gave the order may sleep at night, knowing they simply annulled a Circle.

They never have to admit that they killed children.

Danforth lets out a curse, turns on his heel, and leaves the room.

Kinnaird presses a hand to his heart, finishes his prayer. “There may yet be survivors,” he says quietly, and hastens to the small forms.

Evelyn does not move. She is not sure she will ever move again, or if she will simply remain here. Rooted in place. Unable to draw breath, to feel the beat of her own heart.

Evelyn takes two steps, and then she falls to her knees. It feels like the last vestiges of sunlight leaving an evening sky. All of the hope drains from her.

Kinnaird helps her stand.

The next dormitory is the same.

And the next.

Kinnaird and Evelyn check the children, but none of them live. “Clean wounds,” says Kinnaird quietly. “A small mercy.”

Evelyn chokes out, “There is nothing merciful about this.”

Kinnaird closes his eyes for a moment. “No,” he says, and his voice sounds so much older. “I suppose there isn’t.”

They find Danforth in the fourth room—along with the templars responsible.

Three children are huddled up against the wall, a sword aimed at them. Two bodies are strewn about the floor. Adult bodies, in armor, leaking blood into the stones. Danforth calmly regards the third, his hand raised. Called power flickers between his fingers, giving his face an eerie glow. It takes Evelyn a moment to see the last templar.

It is Claybourne.

“Release your spell, mage,” she is saying. “I command—”

“Take it from me, then,” Danforth snaps. “You want my magic? Take it.”

Claybourne snarls and the sword in her hand does not waver. She glances at the three children—and to her horror, Evelyn recognizes one of them. A small elven boy. Garith.

None of them will be untouched by this. The living will remember what happened here, will carry the scars in both body and spirit. She tries to imagine how she might have grown up, if she had seen this at their age. They will grow up knowing this world is not safe for them.

And a cold anger coils around her heart, hardening it.

She will give them such a world. Even if she must die. Even if she must kill.

“Touch them,” says Evelyn, and she does not recognize her own voice, “and it will be the last thing you ever do.”

An ugly fury twists Claybourne’s face. “Malificar. You’re all dangerous—and the Knight Commander wouldn’t see it. He was always so gentle with you, because he thought you deserved mercy. Look where that got him. You’re not even truly human—you’re monsters. You’d burn this world if you got the chance.” The terrible words are spewed at them, messy and half formed. Thoughts she has kept close to her heart, nurtured, kept bound because they were not deemed proper by the Chantry. But this is how she truly feels, Evelyn realizes. Claybourne hates them, and now she has been given the freedom to say as much.

Danforth’s eyes narrow; his hand does not waver, controlled power spun between his fingertips. “Come here, then,” he says, his voice even. “Come here and end it.”

He wants Claybourne away from the children. She is too close—any flung spell might hit them. Evelyn edges to her left. If she can just get between Claybourne and the children, she can raise a barrier and Danforth will be free to attack.

Claybourne spits out a curse. “You’re a damned fool if you think any of you will make it out of here. We’ve secured the tranquil in the dungeons. We’ll kill those of you who fight back. We’ll await help—and it will come. No matter how long you try to hold out, the Maker’s will will outlast you.”

“This is not the Maker’s will,” says Kinnaird. “None of this—”

“Shut up!” Claybourne’s cry cracks through the air, so sharp that her voice breaks. Evelyn continues to close the distance between herself and the children, her eyes flickering between Claybourne and Garith. The poor boy is shaking, his eyes wide. The others fare little better.

“You can’t stop this.” Claybourne raises the sword higher, and Evelyn tenses. “You can’t—”

A crash. Kinnaird blasts a water jug from the desk behind her. Claybourne whirls around, and in that moment, Evelyn moves. She flings herself between Claybourne and the children, raises a barrier.

The templar’s sword slams into the barrier. Evelyn flinches, feels the impact and her barrier waver.

Claybourne’s face is twisted with ire, furious at having her prey taken from her. Evelyn holds herself in place, trying to keep the shield between herself and the other woman. Just a little longer. Just—

Danforth drives a fork of lightning through Claybourne’s chest. The magic flickers along Evelyn’s barrier, then grounds itself out in the stone floor.

Claybourne sways. She blinks several times, looks down at the hole in her armor. She appears more irritated than fearful, and she tries to take another step toward Evelyn.

But when her foot hits the floor, her legs crumple beneath her.

She does not rise.

For a moment, no one says a word. Then Danforth draws in a shaky breath. “Always used a milder bit of that spell in regulating heartbeats. Never—never thought I’d use it to end one.”

“You all right?” asks Evelyn worriedly.

He nods. “Just glad I wasn’t in a drinking mood last night.”

Kinnaird is already rounding up the children, urging them to dress and follow. They seem shocked, their eyes rounded and steps stumbling. They have never seen death before—and now they have witnessed a mage killing the new knight commander. She kneels beside Garith, wraps her arms around him. “It’s all right,” she whispers. “You’re safe.”

He clings to her, and she can’t bring herself to pull away.


They find other children.

The apprentices are rounded up, and when they meet the second search party, their stories are much the same. More small bodies, and a group of templars left for dead in the hallway.

Only one adult mage survived the encounter. She limps, and her face is grim but satisfied.

They take the children to the great hall.

It is bustling with noise and firelight. Evelyn blinks several times, tries to orient herself. There are mages overhead, carrying staves in guard positions, to keep the templars from ambushing them from above. The entrances to the hall are barred by overturned tables, and there is a makeshift infirmary set up in the middle of the room. Kinnaird sees it, and hastens over. Danforth nods to Evelyn before setting off toward a group of mages that seem more lucid than the others. The wine is still clearly affecting many of them; mages sprawl on the floor, clutching heads or looking blearily around.

Evelyn and another mage bring the children to one of the corners of the room. She sees Leonel and calls him over, puts him in charge of keeping the children entertained. “Just tell them stories or something,” she says, and begins to step away. He catches her arm.

“Wait,” he says. “I—uh.”

“What is it?”

His lips press tight. “The tranquil. I haven’t seen them anywhere. And—you know.”

Orla. He worries for Orla.

We’ve secured the tranquil in the dungeons.

Claybourne’s words come back to her, and she replies, “They’re alive. I know they’re alive. And we won’t leave without them.”

Leonel nods, relieved. “Thanks.”

Evelyn finds Solas among the wounded. He kneels beside a man with a bleeding head, carefully cleaning the cut with a dampened cloth. When he is finished, he binds it closed with cotton, and helps the man recline back onto the table. He moves as one practiced among the injured and helpless, and his calm is a welcome sight.

When he sees her, Solas steps away from the makeshift infirmary. His gaze sweeps over her. “What happened?”

She wants to tell him, but she cannot. Her grief is a physical lump in her throat, and should she get the words around it, she is unsure what will happen. So she shakes her head and says, “Later. How have things been here?”

Solas glances at the far doors. “Two attempts to break in. The templars were driven off. One spoke of us disobeying Chantry ordinances, which means…”

“This is truly an annulling,” she says heavily. “It’s true. I ran into the new Knight Commander, and she confirmed as much.”

Suddenly, it feels as though the affects of the tea have worn off. She is worn thin, as exhausted as she has ever felt. She sways, closes her eyes for a moment. She wants to rest. She wants to lie down and sleep, and awaken in her bed. She wants this to be just another nightmare. She wants things to go back to the way they were—not good, but not this mind-numbing terror.

She says, “I need to talk to the others. We—we have some plans to make.”


Leaving the tower will not prove easy.

First off, there is the task of leaving the tower. There are high walls and the heavy gates and templars standing guard in the courtyard.

“We’ll have to rush them,” says Keldra. “Use overwhelming numbers. Fighters in the front, barriers up. Wounded and those who can’t fight in the back. We blast the gates open and make a run for it.”

“Were do we go?” asks one of the men. A loyalist, Evelyn realizes. But now he looks ready to lead the charge himself. “We can’t go to Ostwick.”

“No, we can’t,” says Evelyn. “My family is devout. They won’t hesitate to hand us over to the Chantry.”

Kinnaird’s mouth turns down. “We’ll lose people if we head into the wild,” he says quietly. “We have elderly and children. They won’t survive too long in the elements.”

“They’ll survive even less if we stay here,” says Keldra. “Out there, we have a chance. In here, we’re all dead.”

“And what about the phylacteries?” says a woman worriedly.

A moment’s silence. Then Danforth says, “Trevelyan.”

Evelyn’s head snaps up.

“You got into the phylactery chamber once,” says Danforth. “No denials or hand-wringing, please. I know you did it. Could you do it again?”

She hesitates, then nods. “I… wasn’t alone, when I did it, though.”

Danforth scowls. “Should have known. Hedge mage, it’s time for you to pull your weight.”

Another silence. Evelyn considers asking how Danforth knew that Solas was her accomplice, but then decides against it.

Solas says, “They’ll have changed the password, but I’m sure we can break in.”

Keldra snorts. “I should have known you’d be the one to drag her into trouble.”

“Not now, Keldra,” says Evelyn.

“We are going to talk about this.”

“I’m sure we will.”

“Because your lover over there was responsible for you getting thrown in the dungeons.”

“But if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t know how to get into the chamber,” says Evelyn. “And Fitz—Fitz helped.”

Kinnaird looks down at his large hands. Then he says, “He would have liked this.”

“All right,” says Danforth. “We’re going to be smart about this. Solas, Keldra, Trevelyan, and any other able-bodied fighter who wants to stick their neck out, will go to the phylactery chamber. Wreck the place. Then come back here. We’ll send another group of search parties out after that, see if we can find anyone else.”

Evelyn swallows. She cannot remain silent any longer.

“There are tranquil in the dungeons.”

The words seem to punch all of the confidence from the other mages. Evelyn glances around, sees no one will meet her eyes. Only Danforth looks at her.

“I know,” he says.

“They’re going to die,” she says. “You know all the templars will have to do is flood the dungeons. They won’t even have to lift a sword.”

Danforth sighs. “We don’t have the fighters to spare—and they’re—”

“They’re still alive,” says the loyalist mage. “We can’t just leave them.”

“Yes, we can,” says a different mage. “We have children. We can’t risk everyone’s safety to go get the tranquil. They probably won’t even notice the difference between life and death.”

Evelyn winces. Closes her eyes. Then straightens.

“I volunteer to go down there myself,” she says.

Solas looks sharply at her.

“Solas can help you get into the chamber,” she continues. “I’ll go. I’ll take a small team. We’ll get the tranquil out of there. I know the dungeons. I was in there more recently than most of you.”

Danforth’s mouth pulls tight. He doesn’t like this; she can tell. But nor does he have the heart to disagree.

“I’ll go with you,” he finally says. “See what others you can round up.”

Evelyn leaves the circle. She needs to find better clothing—she’s still in her night dress. She needs proper robes, better shoes, and—

A hand touches her elbow. She smells herbs and old books and knows who is standing beside her without having to look.

“I would go with you,” he says. “But the phylactery chamber…”

“Is just as important as the tranquil,” she says. “I know. You go. I’ll be fine.”

When she looks up at Solas, he is studying her. His hand comes up, and he pushes a stray lock of hair behind her ear. He regards her with some undefinable emotion, and before she can ask, he says, “The templars took an ancient elven artifact from me. It is in the phylactery chamber, I cannot leave without it.”

She nods. “The orb?”

“Yes.” He lets out a breath. “It is a kind thing you are attempting.”

She smiles, a little weakly. “You say that like I’ve already failed.”

“No, no.” He catches her face between his hands, and his expression is soft. “You are… please.”

She does not know what he is asking, but it doesn’t matter. Her hand rests on his good shoulder, and she smiles up at him. “Solas, I—I love you.” The words slip out, as simple as they are damning. But perhaps it does not matter now—now that the Circle is fallen.

“Evelyn,” he says softly.

She shakes her head. “It’s fine if you don’t. I know you probably—I just wanted you to know. I’m glad I met you. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

He opens his mouth; closes it again.

“Trevelyan!” Danforth strides past them, heading for the main doors. His staff is strapped to his back. “Get some proper clothes and a weapon. Save your canoodling for when everyone is safe.”

She lets out a watery laugh, presses a kiss to Solas’s cheek. “I’ll see you after.” His fingers brush hers as she walks away.


Three shadows steal through Ostwick Tower. Dawn is still a ways off, and the night is at is darkest—and quietest. Their boots are padded with cloth, and their breath comes silent and quick. Evelyn goes first, her steps sure, with Leonel taking up the place behind her. Danforth follows, trailing after them a few steps.

In the end, only the three of them volunteered to go to the dungeons. It is a painful reminder of how few mages regard the tranquil as people. But then again, perhaps it is not wholly indifference that made so many mages hesitate.

Evelyn looks up as they leave the stairwell. The entrance to the tower’s lower levels are damp, and they smell of the baths. But that is not what draws her attention.

It is the heavy, wrought iron bars hanging above them. All it would take is a single templar to activate the dungeon’s defenses, and everyone in these lower levels will be locked in. Should they flood the dungeons, no one will escape.

But the bars are left open. Likely because the templars are still bringing others down here. Evelyn hears someone moving toward them, and she gestures.

Together, the three of them hasten into one of the side corridors. Armored footsteps stride past; the templars make no effort to be quiet. A woman’s voice, harsh and angry.

“—The orders came too quickly,” she is saying. “I can’t believe something like this would happen.”

“The Lord Seeker’s seal was on the letter,” says a man. “I saw it myself. We must keep the uprising from spreading—and if the riots at the White Spire are any indication, we might even be too late.”

Evelyn’s breath catches.

But the templars move off, and she can’t hear any more.

“Something must have happened,” she murmurs. “At the conclave Monette spoke of. Something—I don’t know.”

“We’ll find out later, I’m sure,” says Danforth grimly. “Come on.”

The stairs leading down to the dungeons are worn. Groves catch in the stone and Evelyn realizes they are from years of feet being dragged. A shiver runs through her. The tang of salt water catches in her throat, and the moisture in the air dampens her clothes. They are in the deepest levels of the tower, far out of the reach of help. But they can do this. The dungeon is laid out in a series of twisting corridors, likely to confuse any escaped prisoners. Evelyn nods to them. “We should split up,” she says. “Use our magic to open any cells we can find. Tell the tranquil to get out.”

Leonel bobs his head in agreement.

Danforth sighs. “You two be careful,” he says. “You see a templar, you end them. Understand?”

Another nod from Leonel, but Evelyn sees his hesitation.

They part, and soon Evelyn is swallowed up in the darkness of the dungeons. The only lights are faded runes along the floor—meant to be activated by templars. She reaches down, touches one. Faint, ghostly light illuminates the misty air. Evelyn strides forward, sees the first series of barred cells.

The first is empty. The second is—not. But nor is its occupant alive. Rats dart away from the unmoving form and Evelyn shudders, turning away quickly.

A roiling anger rises in her belly. She hates this—how lives are so easily tossed aside. She hates how the templars can be made to murder them all because a single man gave the order. She hates that she is scared, that she knows the chances of all of them making it out alive are scant.

She finds a tranquil man in the fourth cell. He sits on the floor, his legs crossed. When she shines a light into the cell, he blinks owlishly. She calls fire into the tip of her staff and slams it into the look. She flinches at the loud clang, but then the door swings open. “Come on,” she whispers. “Stand up.”

He stands.

“You must leave the dungeons,” she says. “Go up the stairs, to the main hall. If a templar tries to stop you, run.”

His head tilts. “What is happening?”

“The templars are trying to kill us,” she says honestly. “But we’re not dangerous. You’re not dangerous. There’s… you shouldn’t have to die.”

She doesn’t know how to explain this in terms that a tranquil will understand. She doesn’t know if he has any desire to live. But the man nods. He walks out of the cell and says simply, “Thank you.”

He walks away.

Evelyn watches him go, wishes she could help him, but there are others. She finds two women in the next cell—one tranquil, and one not. “Oh thank the Maker,” whispers the first. “Thank you, I thought—”

“Shh,” says Evelyn. “Come on. Get to the main hall. There are others waiting—we’re leaving.”

The woman lets out a sob of relief, and she half-drags the tranquil away.

The next three cells are empty, and then there is a sharp turn. Evelyn glances around it first, sees no one there, then hastens to the next line of cells. A boy no older than eighteen sits there, and she recognizes him as one of the apprentices. He must have refused his harrowing.

He watches impassively as she breaks the lock. When she gestures for him to stand, he does not. “Come on,” she says. “You need to go. It’s not safe here.”

The boy blinks. His voice is slow in coming. “No.”

She grimaces. She wishes she knew his name, but he was never in her classes. “We have to go,” she says. “Please. It’s not safe in the cell.”

Another long moment, and the boy says, “I think it is safer in here.”

Evelyn begins to answer, but she never gets the chance.

Fingers catch in her hair and then the world goes white as her head is slammed into the stone wall.

Chapter Text

He should be glad of the chaos, for it distracts the others.

They do not notice that the apostate elf does not react as the rest of them do. He does not flinch in fear, does not recoil from the smell of blood seeping into the stones, does not press himself against the walls so as to not step over the fallen templars. He does not flinch when a lone templar raises his sword. With a contemptuous flick of his fingers, Solas calls magic. He feels it surge against the veil, invisible force twisting in his hand, and then the templar finds himself staggering, caught in power he knows little of. Solas yanks his hand to the right, and the power follows—the templar falls. He does not rise.

Solas walks over him like all the others.

He feels no pity for these men and women. They have dedicated themselves to this cause; they are complicit in this. All he has to do is recall the hollow look in Evelyn’s eyes when she described the apprentices’ chambers, and any shred of remorse leaves him.

They brought this on themselves.

Keldra moves a step behind him. She keeps a barrier at the ready, her hand raised and mouth drawn tight. When Solas glances over his shoulder, he sees her gazing at the hallway before them, gauging the risk of every turn. And behind her follow two others. A small raiding party, but they cannot afford to send any more.

There are few enough uninjured or unaffected by the wine—and they need every capable fighter to remain with those who cannot fight. Solas thinks of Evelyn, Danforth, and Leonel heading down into the dungeons, and his jaw hardens. He would have gone with her, but there is no time. Should they give the templars a chance, they will fortify the Knight Commander’s office. If they have not already. He strides ahead and forces his doubts to silence.

“Can you smell that?” asks Keldra softly.

Another mage sniffs. “I—no.”

“That’s because you’ve ruined your sense of smell with all those lightning spells.” Keldra raises her face, her eyes slipping half-closed. “Something’s burning.”

And now that he hears her words, he catches the scent, too. An acrid smell. The dryness of ashes and hot summer winds, and something oddly familiar.

They meet no templars on the floor of the Knight Commander’s office.

Solas might have considered it a mercy, but the absence of guards sends a flicker of unease through him. They carry no light, for fear of drawing templar marksmen to their position. But a thin sliver of moonlight casts illumination through a high window, and several black streaks stain the floor to the Knight Commander’s office.

“Are those—scorch marks?” whispers one of the mages.

“Stay back,” says Keldra, and steps forward. Solas senses her call more magic into her barrier. She approaches the office first, her gaze sharp.

Her lips part and she draws in a sharp breath.

Solas sees what she does a heartbeat later.

But there are no templars to guard the phylacteries.

There is a door ripped from its hinges, a hole in the wall, several bodies strewn about the office, and a—a—

Solas cannot give name to it.

It is enormous, all broad shoulders. Its skin is gray and cracked through with glowing, brilliant orange. As if it is a earth made flesh, with fire burning beneath its skin. It has the general shape of a man, but its fingers are clawed and it is… wrong. Utterly, unmistakably wrong.

The creature is smashing the phylacteries. One by one, it throws them to the ground. When it moves, the creature’s feet leave scorch marks on the stone floor. Small flickers of flame edge the door, as if touched by an—

“Abomination,” Keldra whispers. “Maker, preserve us.”

Truly, it is the right word for the creature.

It is spirit and flesh, mortal and immortal, twisted together in a way that should not be. It is wrong. He has seen spirits touch waking creatures, but not like this. Never like this. And those echoes he saw in the Fade do not prepare him for the stark reality of this creature. For the smell of burning flesh, for the cruelty in its face when it turns to look at them.

And then Solas feels his lips move. They form a single word.

“Rage,” he breathes.

Because it is Rage. Solas can see the demon, twisted as it may have become. It found a willing host; it found a mortal willing to sacrifice his or her life for power. And Rage got what it wanted—a taste of this waking world.

“I’m sorry.” Solas says the words even as he steps forward. Because he is sorry. He does not wish to take the life of this spirit, nor its host. But it is not truly Rage, not truly the mortal mage, not anymore. It is a monster, and he cannot allow its existence.

The abomination of rage rushes at him.

Solas and Keldra strike at the same time. Ice and earth.

It is quick. But that does not make it any easier. Solas kneels beside what remains of the spirit and human, touches his fingertips to its open eyes. Closes them. Its flesh is still too warm, even in death.

When he goes to the phylactery chamber, he finds the orb. It is unharmed—of course it is. No mortal magic could touch it. He runs his fingers over the familiar surface. It is slipped in a leather satchel and slung over his shoulder. The rest of the magical artifacts are picked through by the other mages. Solas stands by the door, waits for them patiently Keldra casts a fireball. His heart feels lighter, and he keeps a hand rested on the satchel, on the weight of the orb.

The rest of the phylacteries are shattered in one blast of fire.

“It’s done,” says Keldra, and moves toward the door.

Yes, Solas thinks. Yes, it is.

When they return to the great hall, they find more mages. It seems a few stragglers have made their way to the others. There were some apprentices who snuck out of their dormitories, for a meeting in one of the dry pantries. They escaped the attack, but barely. Too young to partake in the wine, and just foolish enough to break the rules.

Kinnaird has been organizing the ranks, trying to get the wounded to those who can help them move. “We’ll have to do this quickly,” he is saying to another mage. “When we break through the main gates, there’s bound to be resistance. We’ll send the fighters first, and then the wounded. A rear guard, if we can manage it. Those who are good with fire—they can cover our tracks. A good wall of flame, and we’ll see the templars try to escape that.”

Solas strides up the long line of tables. Kinnaird gives him a nod of greeting before saying, “You—Belm! I want those healing potions, now. And tell Rand that she needs someone to splint that leg before she tries to get up again.”

“The phylacteries are destroyed,” says Solas. “When we leave, they will not track us. We’ll have a better chance of escape.”

“We will try,” says Kinnaird, a little grimly. “We’re in little shape to fight, but seems like there’s fewer templars than I would’ve expected. Only a few have tried to get in here since you left.”

Solas thinks of the scorch marks and the smell of burnt flesh. “I believe they might have encountered… unexpected resistance.”

“Good,” says Kinnaird curtly. “We’ve had a few from the dungeons show up. They’re shaken, and a few are tranquil, but it looks like Evie, Danforth, and that apprentice are doing some good.”

Solas feels his breath catch. “They have not returned?”

“Not yet.” Kinnaird glances at a man with a bleeding scalp. “In the meantime…”

Solas nods in silent agreement. He is skilled enough with healing magic, at least in this age. It is a simple matter to mend cuts, to stem bleeding, to keep infection from a wound. He aids the other healers, never expending too much magic on a single person. They must all be able to move, to escape, but beyond that there is no reason to wear himself out on a single individual—not when there are many who need his help.

He is helping a young girl with a sprained ankle when he hears the familiar voice. A curse. Solas looks up and sees the hunched form of an old man stumble through the doors.

Danforth.

He slumps against the wall, presses a hand to his mouth. Crimson leaks between his fingers and he coughs, then groans. Amidst the barely contained chaos, the old man draws little notice. Only Solas moves toward him, his strides eating up the stance between himself and the old man. He kneels, and he sees the blood dripping down the man’s nose, into his mouth and shirt. A broken nose—and his left arm hangs limply. Dislocated shoulder.

Solas touches Danforth’s cheek, sends a pulse of healing magic. It is not enough to mend bones, but it soothes away the sharper edges of pain. The old man coughs, spits out blood.

“Several templars,” he says. “Caught me unawares. Bastards smote me—tried to hurt the girl I was helping get out. We barely managed to get away before they closed the gates to the dungeon.” His gaze rakes over the hall. “They—the others. Did they make it?”

He feels too cold, and when he speaks, his lips barely move. “Evelyn and Leonel have not returned.”

He can still see her face—upturned to look at this. The curve of her mouth when she bid him farewell.

I love you.

And if the gates to the dungeons are shut, then she is trapped.

A look passes between Solas and Danforth. Solas half-expects the mage to try to deter him, to say that it is folly.

But all Danforth says is, “Go.”

So he does.


She does not fall unconscious.

Part of her wishes to—the pain is blinding, and she wants to vomit, to curl into a ball and never move again. With every pulse of her heart, her skull threatens to crack open. She is half-blinded by the pain, and she only dimly notices the sound of the cell door being slammed shut, and her body being dragged across the rough stone floor. The edges of the cobblestones catch in her robes, on her bare skin, and her hair comes undone.

She blinks, forces herself to look up. A man has her by the arm, hauling her away from the cells. Her unmoving legs give him no help, but he is strong enough that it doesn’t matter. She sees gray-blonde hair, wispy and familiar.

Grieves.

Her heart lurches in raw terror. No, she thinks. She has to fight; she has to move—

But when she makes an effort to call magic, it does not answer. He must have smote her as he threw her against the wall. She struggles, and he gives her a shake—like a hound might with a rabbit. The motion jostles her head and pain makes her vision swim. It is not helped by the sound of armored footsteps, and another voice.

“What’s this?” says a man. Clacher. “You found another one?”

Grieves releases her arm and she barely manages to catch herself on one elbow, to keep her head from hitting the hard ground. She looks up, and sees Clacher standing beside Grieves, a sword in hand.

“Caught her trying to release one of the new tranquil,” drawls Grieves. “Gave her a friendly tap for her trouble.”

“Ah.” Clacher nods. “Well, the apprentice welp won’t be any more trouble. Left him where we found him—we can always say he was a blood mage. Cut himself without realizing.”

Maker.

Maker, no.

Evelyn closes her eyes. The grief threatens to well up, to blind her as badly as the pain. She cannot cry. Not now, not with templars standing over her, calmly discussing Leonel’s death.

She should never have allowed him to come. He was too young, too eager. He could have had a life—

No. None of them will ever have a life, she thinks. Not until they are free of this place.

“Take her to the rest of them,” says Clacher, a bit dismissive. “I’ll see if there are any more.”

He steps over Evelyn, as if she were a fresh kill on a hunt, not so much as glancing at her. Fallen prey, unworthy of being considered a threat any longer.

Grieves reaches down, seizes her by the upper arm. His grip is painfully tight, and he hauls her upright. She sways, and it is only his grip and her own stubbornness that keeps her standing. “Come on,” he says. “We’ll see that pretty face of yours branded soon.”

He begins dragging her deeper into the dungeons, and she understands.

They’re not killing the mages down here. No, that would be a waste.

They’re making them tranquil.

And all at once, it is as if fire bursts in her veins. Panic flares deep within her. She flails, bucks like a startled horse, and catches Grieves off guard. His grip loosens in surprise and she catches his chin with her fist. She wishes she still had her staff to strike at him with, but it was left behind when he attacked her. He makes as if to strike her head again.

The blow is clumsy, ill-considered. Evelyn ducks beneath it, using her small size to her advantage. She kicks at him, aiming for the joint of his knee, but his armor and her thin shoes cause more pain to her than to him. He catches her by the shoulder and throws her to the floor.

Light flares behind her eyes, her head injury jostling. But even that does little to slow her. She scuttles backwards on hands and feet, and he follows. To her fury, the corner of his mouth is hooked upward—as if he is amused by her struggles, rather than angered.

She reaches for the space between cobblestones, her fingers finding small pebbles and dirt. It isn’t much, but enough. When he bends down to seize her ankle, dragging her toward him, she throws the dirt into his eyes.

He howls like a wounded dog. He rubs at his eyes, and she lashes out with fingernails, raking across his face. She kicks harder, but his grip on her ankle does not loosen. Rather, his grip tightens until she can feel the bones rubbing together, until pain lances hot up her leg. She tries to kick at him with her other leg, but he seizes it with his other hand.

She strains to get away from him, as he blinks the dirt from his eyes. Tears and blood drip down his chin, and when he regards her, there is no more amusement in his face. He looks down at her, lips peeled back in an expression of utter loathing. She glares back, already trying to find more dirt. She keeps her gaze on him so hopefully he will not see her searching fingers.

His eyes travel over her, and she realizes that in their struggle, her robes have ridden up to her thighs. She wears no leggings, having thrown on her clothes after the attack. He looks down at the pale expanse of skin and—

And she watches his expression shift from fury to something colder.

When he smiles at her, it feels as if ice blossoms within her chest. She struggles harder, tosses another handful of dirt at him, but he is expecting it. He pins her legs with his own, his weight hard against her. With his other hand, he traces the line of her cheek. His fingers catch in her hair, and then he twists them into a knot, yanking hard.

“Not so much fight in you now, is there?” he murmurs.

She tries to bite him.

He bounces her head against the stone floor.

It feels as if he sets her skull alight. The injury flares anew, and this time she can feel blood trickling through her hair. It almost distracts her, but—no, she can still feel him touching her.

Fingers in her mouth. Heavy knuckles drag over her tongue, and she can feel his calluses, the blunted nails, and taste the salt of his skin. He presses them in, too deep, too fast, and she gags. He moves those fingers, drags them back and forth—wetting them, she realizes, with a fresh thrill of fear.

“That’s right,” he says, and his face is lit up with triumph. “Not so quick to threaten me now, are you?”

Bite down, she thinks, bite down, bite down, bite down

But her head throbs and she cannot react quickly enough. His slick fingers drag down her throat.

And then he is pulling at her clothes.

She feels her belt give, feels her clothing being yanked upward.

No. No, no, no.

She kicks out, but her shoes are flimsy and do little more than irritate him. Fabric tears, and then there is cold air on her bare legs, her hips. She hears him laugh, a chuckle that is all triumph. She is barely aware of his own clothes coming away until she sees a gleam of gold.

His belt. His belt is beside her—heavy and worn, with all of the trappings of a templar. A hilted dagger, and vials of lyrium, and the flames of the Andraste’s pyre worked into the leather.

A strange calm falls over her. He will rape her. He has always thought of mages as less than people; he will likely kill her afterward. Claim that she was killed by another mage, or perhaps in battle.

Her fingers stretch out.

Grieves is breathing hard. His face is radiant, joyous, and he is so intent that he does not notice the glint of silver between Evelyn’s fingers. She can feel the warmth of his bare thighs, the prickle of coarse hair as he presses closer—

And then she sinks his own dagger through the side of his throat.

He makes a choked sound. He cannot speak—likely the blade has severed everything needed to give voice to his own protests.

She twists the knife and yanks it free. Blood spurts from his throat; some of it hits her and she can feel it spatter on her skin, into what remains of her robes, in her eyelashes—

He falls. Hits the floor and does not rise. Evelyn pushes herself to her elbows, stares down at him. She can smell him on her—the oil used upon his sword, the sour sweat, the sickening salt of blood.

She scurries backward, and she sees him fully for the first time. His chest heaves, his heart struggling to beat, even as it forces more blood from his body. He is still fully armored, save for his trousers around his knees.

So close. It was so close—

She turns onto her side and her stomach heaves. Sickness clenches through her gut and she vomits. All that comes up is bile, and tears sting her eyes as her body tries again and again to rid itself of this revulsion. She is not sure she will ever be rid of it, of the taste of his fingers or the smell of metal and oil.

Maker. She wants to sink into a hot bath, so scour him from her skin.

Her fingers are shaking too badly to clasp her robes. She can only hold them around her, and rise unsteadily to her feet. She needs to move. She needs to run.

She has to place her hand on the stone wall to steady herself. Every step is a struggle, but she forces herself to move.

Shock. It is Kinnaird’s voice she hears now, a memory of when they were younger and he spoke of his lessons in healing. Some will go into shock after something bad happens to them. Mages gone cold and still—

She forces herself back to the moment, to draw back into herself.

She will not die here.

She will not die here.

She forces herself to rise, to stumble away. She must find the stairs. She has to leave the dungeons. She needs—she needs—

This is what comes of circles, she thinks. This is what comes of people no longer being regarded as people.

They are treated as such.

When she rounds a corner, she finds two templars. They gaze at her with ill-concealed shock for a heartbeat, and then one seizes her arm.

It is only when he slams her wrist into the wall that she realizes she is still holding Grieves’s dagger.

It clatters to the floor, metal singing as it strikes stone.

“Blood mage,” says the templar, and Evelyn recognizes him as Clacher. “Look at her. Covered in the stuff.”

She does not know how to answer.

She is not a blood mage, but at this moment, she wishes she were. She would use every drop of Grieves’s blood. She would tear through these templars, make them understand what it means to feel utterly helpless.

But she cannot.

His armored fingers catch in her hair, forcing her head back and her neck screams with pain. “What have you to say for yourself, blood mage?”

She thinks she will not be able to answer; her lips are numb.

But to her surprise, she hears herself speak.

“Fuck you,” she says.

For a heartbeat, she feels almost herself again.

And then the templar smites her, and the world slides away.


For nearly a year, Solas has known one simple thing: he cannot leave the tower without his orb. Such a powerful artifact, even a dormant one, could not be allowed to remain in the hands of the templars. He knew he must retrieve it and leave, return to his cause of fixing this hollow, broken world.

But now, as he runs, he barely notices the weight of the orb in his pack. He is consumed by another thought. A single thought. That if he loses her, this world will be beyond saving. She is all of the kindness, the compassion he never thought to find in this age. She is everything good, and he will not allow her to come to harm. Not when he might stop it. He can still smell the bitter flower tea, feel the softness of fingers against his jaw, hear words spoken in a rush.

I love you.

He should have left months ago; he should never have entangled her in this. Perhaps if he were not here, if he had not stayed, if she had not tried to leave with him—

Regrets. He carries enough of them that one more should not be such a heavy burden. But it is.

He flies down the stairs, taking them several in each stride, the sound of his heartbeat drowning out his near-silent footsteps. Even this swift pace feels too slow, and not for the first time he yearns for the way the world used to be. He would have ended the foundations of this tower apart before allowing this.

He meets a single mage on the way—one of the freed tranquil. A word, and Solas directs him to the great hall. Then he is running again, hastening downward.

He comes to the dungeon’s entrance, and just as Danforth said, the gates have been lowered. They are bars of iron, wrought through with runes and old magic. They are heavy as a mountain, as immovable.

With a snarl, he slams a fistful of fire into the locking mechanism. It does not yield; it must be enchanted to hold against magic.

He paces for a few moments, trying to devise another way to enter the dungeons. It cannot end this way. Not for her. Not for Leonel. Not for any of those trapped. He will not allow it.

But even as he gazes at the lock, he realizes there is a man on the other side of the bars. A templar strides toward him. Solas calls a barrier, sliding into a familiar fighting stance.

He fully expects the templar to draw his sword, and perhaps if he opens the gate to attack, just perhaps—

But the templar does not reach for his weapon. He removes his helmet, instead.

The dim light of the torch shines down on his weathered face.

It is Ralston.

For a long moment, he regards Solas calmly.

Then he takes hold of some hidden mechanism near the gate and twists.

There is a creak, a strain of metal on metal, and then the gate rises. It vanishes into the slotted space above the door.

“If you wish to kill me, I will not fight,” says Ralston quietly. “There is a master key on my belt. You may use it to open any cell within the dungeon.”

Solas takes a step forward. A predator moving toward prey he is uncertain will not strike back. But Ralston does not move; his arms dangle at his sides. It is not an act—Solas can see the defeat in the man’s eyes, the slump of his shoulders. When Solas approaches, his eyes slide shut. Waiting for a blow.

Solas asks a single question.

“Why?”

A flicker of pain crosses the old templar’s face. “I became a templar for reasons I’m not proud of. Warm food, a bed at night. It was better than living on the streets. I wasn’t… I wasn’t a good man in those days. One of the mages took a shine to me, and I enjoyed her attention. Perk of the job, I thought. I fathered a child on her, and the babe was sent away, of course. But I kept an eye on the child, and when she was ten, she was discovered to have magic, as well. She was taken to a Circle but when she was harrowed…” He bows his head, his voice hitching with long suppressed grief. “She would have been about Trevelyan’s age, if she had lived.

“I joined the order for a selfish reason,” he says. “I stayed because I wished to make amends.” A hollow laugh. “But that’s all ended now. Nothing I did matters. Never did a damn bit of good.”

Solas reaches for the templar. Ralston does not move to defend himself. It would be easy to cut his throat, to stop his heart, to enact any number of spells that would end this man’s life.

He does not call magic.

He simply takes the man’s keys.

“There are mages in the great hall,” says Solas. “They wish to leave this place. If you truly wish to make amends, ensure they get out safely.”

Ralston glances at him, surprised. Then he nods.

Solas does not wait to watch the man go; he turns, striding down the stairs two at a time, Ralston’s keys held tightly between his fingers.

When he steps into the dungeons, he smells the prisoners. Blood and urine and sweat, all scents of fear and pain. He can taste the wrongness of the tower on his very tongue, and the thought of Evelyn, of Leonel, of anyone being entrapped here makes him feel ill.

A templar on patrol catches sight of him. Solas hears the man’s intake of breath, but he never manages to raise an alarm. Solas lowers the man’s body to the floor, and then he moves on. Solas follows a line of torches deeper into the dungeons. They are a twisting, dark place. Rows of cells, the smells of damp earth and the salt of the sea. Someone sobs far away, the sound echoing on the slick walls.

There seems to be a group of templars in a side room; it is alight with torches and noise and Solas makes an effort to avoid it. He strides past cells, some empty and some not, and at every occupied one he slides Ralston’s key into the lock and twists. He never says a word.

He hears footsteps behind him—the quick steps of mages fleeing for their lives.

Solas pays them little heed. He steps down another row, and in the second to the last cell, he sees her.

A familiar form curled upon the stone floor.

It takes him two tries to slide the key home; his fingers are unsteady, his voice even more so when he utters her name.

He steps inside the cell and kneels beside her.

Her robes are torn, belted crudely together, and they are stiff and brown with dried blood.

The world goes oddly silent. There is a ringing in his ears, as if he has taken a blow to the head. He dimly hears himself call her name again, and then he is beside her.

And for a split second, he is so much younger, kneeling beside a different woman, his fingers tacky with her blood. Memories flood him, and that same sinking sensation of failure roots him place. He cannot save her. He can never save her.

But when his fingers find her throat, her skin is still warm and a pulse beats beneath his fingertips.

Alive.

He calls light into his hand, uncaring of who sees. “Evelyn.”

She stirs, eyes fluttering open. She begins to sit up, blinking at the light.

Relief rushes through him.

“Solas,” she says.

He pushes at her robes, fingers at her throat, running down her stomach. “How badly are you injured?”

Her voice is slow, stilted. “My head.”

There is a knot on the back of her skull—swollen and sore. There are cuts along her scalp, as if pieces of her hair were torn free. With a hiss, he tries to heal what he can, and soothe what he cannot.

“What happened?” He touches her cheek.

“I was taken prisoner,” she answers, after a moment’s thought. “Ser Grieves caught me. Threw me into a wall. Tried to force himself on me.”

Bile rises in Solas’s throat.

Grieves.

“I will kill him,” says Solas, and he barely recognizes his own voice.

“There is no need. I cut his throat,” says Evelyn. It is so simple, the way she says it. A statement of fact. As if she were offering a comment on the weather rather than confessing she slit a man’s throat.

Solas rocks back, forces himself to look at her.

She was a person always in motion—her fingers tapping at the bookshelves, eyes flicking toward the doors, mouth quirking into a smile.

But now she is utterly still.

A sinking, nameless dread seizes him. “What’s wrong?”

She waits a beat before answer. “Nothing is wrong.” But she says the words as if they are foreign to her, and abruptly he is terrified.

He takes her hands in both of his and squeezes, trying to elicit some response. “Evelyn, what did they do to you?”

Her hands remain limp. “They fixed me,” she says simply.

For a moment, he cannot draw breath. It feels as if his chest has frozen over. “No.” The word becomes a chant, a plea. “No, no, no. Evelyn,” he breathes, “Look at me.”

She looks at him.

He gently takes her face between his hands. He searches for any trace of Evelyn in her eyes. “Evelyn, please.” He knows not for what he begs—for this to be some cruel jest, that perhaps this is a nightmare, because she cannot—she cannot

“What do you wish of me?” she asks, her voice cool.

He can only think of one thing that might draw her back, that could return her to him. Because surely, surely

He forces himself to take a steadying breath. His fingers find the jawbone pendant—still hanging around her neck.

And he says the words that make him a traitor. To himself and his cause. To his people. But he says them, because in this moment, nothing else matters. “I love you.”

She remains silent.

“Evelyn, I love you,” he tells her again, despair rising in his chest. “My heart, please. Come back to me.”

She opens her mouth, then hesitates. “I—”

And then she simply looks puzzled, as if she does not know how to answer.

His throat closes up and he is unable to plead with her again. There is little point—she is yet unbranded, but he knows what she is.

She is tranquil.

She is gone.

Chapter Text

Years after, Solas will read the accounts of how the Circle of Magi fell. Of Jeannot, one of the White Spire's senior enchanters who attempted to assassinate the Divine. Of the tensions when murders of mages had gone unsolved. Of the massacre at the White Spire’s conclave, of how the Lord Seeker began a war against all mages. Of how Lambert declared the Nevarran Accord to be ended, and he took the templars from Chantry control. Some of the Circles were annulled; those like Dairsmuid were little more than charred flesh and bone, the armor of those templars who attacked them left to rust alongside the bodies of their victims. Some of the Circles broke more peacefully. Templars stepped aside and let their charges walk away, refusing to take part in the bloodshed. 

In one such book, Solas will read how Ostwick was one of the luckier circles. Its Knight Commander was ill-experienced, unable to carry out the execution of all of its mages. About half of them escaped the tower. Many were injured, and only a few of its apprentices made it out alive, but there were survivors. 

Years later, Solas will manage to feel glad that it was not as bad as it might have been.

But not now. 

“Come, Evelyn,” he says. He helps her to her feet. Her fingers are cold, and she moves stiffly. He will need to look at her wounds more closely once they leave this place.

Because there is no if, not anymore.

They are leaving.

He keeps a barrier at the ready, power coiled around his left fist, just waiting to be unleashed. Part of him yearns to see a templar, to have a physical embodiment of the Circle—anything to silence his own self-recriminations. Because this is his fault; he should have gone with her, but instead he went to reclaim his orb. He let her venture into this place with an old man and a boy and—

He hears footsteps.

At once, his fist burns white-hot with flame. He readies a spell, but when several figures venture around the corner, the power slips away. For it is not a templar.

It is Leonel.

He has clumsily tied a tourniquet around his right arm; it hangs limply at his side, and it seems more a mass of bloody meat than a true arm—but he lives. His good arm is around the waist of a young woman with hair that might be beautiful, if it were not lank and unwashed. 

“Oh, thank the Maker,” breathes Leonel. His face has roughened, as if he has aged several years in a matter of hours.

“You’re alive,” says Evelyn. But there is no note of relief in her voice. It is a mere statement of fact. “I thought you were dead.”

Leonel smiles, but it’s a weak attempt. “They tried—left me bleeding. But they didn’t finish the job.”

“You’re wounded,” says Solas, stepping up to the young man. There is little he can do to help, in the dark and dirt of the dungeons. He will need light and fresh water before he can begin healing the damage.

“We’ll deal with it after,” says Leonel, shaking his head. He sways, just a little, and the girl beside him keeps him steady.

It is Orla.

Leonel glances to Orla, then back to Solas. “I got the rest out—I mean, we got the rest out.”

And for the first time, Solas truly sees the person standing behind Leonel.

It is a templar. One of the women. She is perhaps a little younger than Evelyn, still new to this life, but her eyes are bright and her sword stained with blood. “Not the Maker’s will,” she says, when she meets Solas’s eyes. The words are spoken like an oath, a prayer. Something she knows as deeply as the beating of her own heart. “This is not the Maker’s will.”

One of the faithful, then. But not faithful to the Chantry. He forgets sometimes that there are decent people in this world.

“Only templars and the dead left down here,” says Leonel. “Come on—we should get out before they realize.”

Solas nods, then beckons to Evelyn. She moves slowly, contemplatively, as if there is nothing to fear. Leonel frowns at her, a crease between his brows, but then he stumbles toward the stairs. The templar reaches for him, helps keep him moving.

They are a pitiful group—two tranquil, a wounded boy, a templar who strings together prayers beneath her breath, and Solas. Should the templars give chase, it will be an ugly fight. Solas takes up the rear, his eyes slightly unfocused as he tries to take in all of his surroundings at once. They try to move as swiftly and silently as possible, but there is always the sound of movement, of clothes rustling and breath being dragged between clenched teeth.

When they reach the stairs, Leonel falters. The templar hands her sword to Solas. “Take this?” she says, before gently wrapping Leonel’s good arm around her shoulders. She all but carries him up the stairs. Orla drifts after them. She simply goes where the others do. Solas hesitates, waits for the others to get a fair distance away before following. Evelyn comes to a halt beside him.

“You look unwell,” she observes.

“I am fine,” he says curtly.

She tilts her head. It is not quite an expression of curiosity—it seems more a mild interest at his lie. Everything about her is wrong. From the stillness to the even voice, there is no evidence of Evelyn left in her. Evelyn would have touched his arm, her forehead scrunched in concern. She would have smiled at his thinly veiled lie, a chiding tilt to her mouth, then coaxed him into sitting down. She would have tried to make him tea, to weave her fingers through his, to remind him that she will support him.

Standing beside her, he feels utterly alone.

He turns to her, facing her fully for the first time since they left the cell. Her hair is stiff with blood, and she looks ghastly, but there is no pain on her face. He wonders if she can truly feel pain anymore.

And then he hears footsteps.

The skin on the back of his neck crawls, and his back stiffens with nerves. He reaches out with his left arm, sweeping Evelyn behind him as he calls power into his staff. Green light spills across the stone floor.

The man that steps into view is familiar. His sharp eyes alight on Evelyn, and he says, “Damn it. I knew we should have killed you.”

Ser Clacher. Of course he would be the one to do it—to snuff out the light in a person simply because he could. Solas feels a strange sort of calm settle over him; he steps forward, places his staff upon the ground, and faces Clacher with a templar’s sword in his hands.

Clacher laughs. “What? You think because you’ve got a sharp thing you can face me? A templar? I spent years training to get where I am—”

He never finishes the sentence. Solas thrusts the sword at the man’s chest and Clacher barely manages to deflect the blow. Uttering a curse, the templar tries to bring his own weapon into a defensive posture, but Solas attacks again and again, with all the strength and speed of a viper. With ever clash of steel upon steel, he hears Evelyn’s voice. The first words she ever spoke to him.

We don’t have much time—

Solas slams the hilt of the sword into Clacher’s jaw and the man snarls in fury and spits a mouthful of blood at Solas. Solas ducks to the side and brings his weapon around.

—When the templars take you in there, you’ll be stripped and your possessions seized. They will not be returned to you—

Clacher is furious now, oblivious to pain and using his bulk to try to drive Solas back. Solas finds the crack in his armor near the knee. After a heartbeat of calculation, he feigns a blow to the left and Clacher moves in that direction. Solas goes for the opening at his knee and drives the full length of his sword through the joint.

Do you have anything that you wish to keep?

He remembers the bone pendant, remembers slipping it into her hands. It now hangs around her neck, and all he can think is—

You.

Clacher screams. The sound echoes down the narrow corridor, horrible in its raw agony. “Mercy,” he gibbers, when Solas sets his sword upon Clacher’s shoulder, the blade angled at his throat. “Please—”

Solas looks over his own shoulder, at the small woman standing there. She is watching, her face utterly impassive.

“Did this man harm you?” he says.

Evelyn considers and Solas’s heart quickens, throbs with a pain he cannot let himself feel—not now. “He held me down,” says Evelyn slowly. “When he made me tranquil. I fought him. I bit him—I do not remember why. He struck me once, stunned me, and pinned me to the floor long enough for another templar to complete the ritual.” She says the words as if reciting an incantation—utterly without inflection.

He can see it, though. The scene is painted clearly in his mind’s eye: Evelyn bloodied and fierce, fighting up until the last moment, trying to hold onto herself for as long as possible. Her teeth red with Clacher’s blood, her nails sinking into the cobblestones. And then her hands going limp, all of the fury leaving her body.

“And after that?” Solas asks. “Did he hurt you?” The words are heavy, bitter on his tongue.

For an eternity, the silence drags out. But then she says, “No. He did not.”

“See—see?” stammers Clacher. “I didn’t hurt her, dammit, put the sword down—”

Solas releases a breath and something inside of him eases. “Look away, Evelyn.”

Evelyn—dear Evelyn who has never followed orders—looks away.

Clacher is making terrified sounds, little whimpers escaping his throat on every exhale. “Stupid mage bitch—I should have—”

“Be grateful,” says Solas, “that you did not. This would have been much slower if you had.”

Clacher lets loose a snarl, all of his fear suddenly flaring into rage. “We should have killed you all, you fucking—”

Solas brings the sword down.


The courtyard is a battlefield. Or rather, it was.

The battle is over by the time Solas steps outside. The large doors have been torn from their hinges, and the shattered wood still smells of ash and lightning. The gardens are torn, plants ripped from their roots; the stables are still on fire; the horses are gone; bodies are strewn about—and they all wear the pristine armor of the templars. Solas has walked over many a battlefield, and he gazes at the fallen with a keen eye. Every single one of them is unarmed; their swords are gone. As if they were taken, as if someone simply reached out and took them.

Stains of brown are specked against the cobblestones—and Solas wonders if all of it belonged to Signy, or if the first templar she killed was used as a sacrifice. He can imagine her pale, thin fingers stained crimson, and her large eyes focused on the enemy.

She would have told them to give up their swords.

Were she powerful enough, they would have done it gladly.

A glance at the courtyard and Solas sees they are not wholly alone. A few of the elderly mages are still making their way toward the broken gates, and a few tranquil trail behind. A child, who cannot be more than ten years of age, sobs in a woman’s arms. “Come on,” says a man Solas does not recognize. He is trying to hasten the older mages along. “We have to go, before the templars catch up.”

One hand on the small of Evelyn’s back, Solas sets a quick pace across the courtyard. He does not pause to aid the others, and nor does Evelyn suggest such a thing.

As they stride across the courtyard, he hears a pitiful little sound.

He goes still. Looks down. Standing in the shadow of a broken wall is a cat.

Fennel stands with his tail crooked to one side, eyeing them both. On impulse, Solas reaches for the cat and picks him up. Evelyn always had a fondness for these creatures—and just, perhaps

Fennel goes willingly, a purr rumbling to life in his chest. Solas hands him to Evelyn. “Would you carry him?”

Evelyn’s expression does not change; she takes the cat as if he is just another burden to be hauled.

Solas turns away, tries to ignore the fresh pang of grief. The cat mrowls pitifully in Evelyn’s arms, but she does nothing to soothe him.

The trail the mages have taken is simple to follow. There is a single road that winds down the cliff, and the rest is forest. The trees are twisted with sea winds, and they smell of cyprus and salt. The small, succulent plants covering the ground are broken, left to bleed viscus fluid. It reminds Solas of blundering herd animals, unused to picking their way through the wilderness. Truly, most of these mages have not seen the outside of a tower since their childhood.

This world will not be kind to them. The wilderness will likely claim as many lives as the templars.

He finds the mages in a forest clearing. They have settled in small groups, tending to one another’s wounds, talking quietly, and a few are curled on the ground as if too exhausted to remain standing. There are only perhaps a hundred—a hundred that made it out alive.

“Solas!”

He turns, sees Danforth hobbling toward him. He is using a stave as a walking stick, and his face is bloodless, but he is moving. It is good; some small part of Solas relaxes to see the old man survived.

“You got them out,” says Danforth gruffly, and he blinks several times. “I saw the boy—you saved him. And Trevelyan—”

“I didn’t,” replies Solas. Abruptly, he feels weary to his bones. He does not wish to explain that Leonel saved himself and Evelyn—Evelyn—

“I should wash,” says Evelyn vaguely. “But I have no other clothing.”

Danforth’s attention falls on her. Emotions flicker across his face, predominantly confusion and a trace of unease—and then horror. “Trevelyan?”

She looks at him. There is no trace of feeling in her gaze.

“I didn’t get to her in time,” says Solas quietly.

Something in the old man’s face shatters. Then he moves forward, takes her into his arms, holds her close. Evelyn’s arms remain at her sides, limp and unmoving.

“I’m sorry,” whispers Danforth. “I’m so sorry.”

The camp is hastily put together. Fires burn haphazardly, and he distantly wonders if the mages will accidentally set the forest alight through sheer ignorance of how to live in the wilderness. Children are asleep on the ground, and cloaks have been thrown over them. “Hey,” says a familiar voice, and Keldra approaches him. One of her eyes is swollen shut, and blood crusts her hair. But she has lost none of her ferocity; she holds a staff in one hand and a sword in the other. It is an imperfect grip; she hefts the longsword as one might an axe, but Solas has little doubt she could take a man’s head off with it. “You got out.”

“I did,” he says.

She nods. “Were they following you? Are we going to need to run? Because I’m not sure how many templars survived, and if they find us here—”

“They will not,” he says. Then, after a pause, “At least, not for some time.”

Only she seems to hear the edge in his voice. “What do you mean?”

“I mean exactly that.” He meets her eyes. “The templars will not be pursuing you, not at first. I would suggest moving in the morning. These people are wounded and exhausted. Tomorrow will be soon enough.”

She looks at him and her eyes fall to his robes.

There is still blood spatter.

Ah. Careless of him.

But rather than horror, a dark satisfaction crosses her face. “Thank you,” she says. And then her eyes alight upon Evelyn. She steps forward, and Solas has not the heart to watch her when she realizes. To see her own hope break. So he looks away.

Kinnaird moves about the small camp, healing as he goes. The templar that aided Leonel is helping bind his wound shut. Several tranquil sit, tending to the fires. There are others Solas has come to know, if only by face and not name. Mages—young and old—are free. They paid a terrible price, but they broke their chains.

Where they go from here, he does not know.


Night falls quickly. A cold wind blows off the ocean, makes the trees creak, and strips any warmth those trying to sleep. The fires have been doused, for fear of drawing templar attention. Kinnaird and Keldra sit nearby, Evelyn situated between them. She fell asleep quickly, curled upon the dirt. Fennel rests beside her, his small furry body pressed against hers for warmth.

Solas rests a few steps away, not truly sleeping but allowing his mind to drift.

Kinnaird lets out a sigh. “Some had last wishes. Some of us—we make it known.”

Solas looks up. “Make what known?”

“That if we become tranquil, we’d rather someone took a knife to our throat,” says Keldra.

He can barely speak the words. “Evelyn. Did she…?”

Kinnaird’s face softens as he looks in Evelyn’s direction. “No. She never said what she’d want done. Don’t think she wanted to talk about it, would make it real.” He looks down at her sleeping form, then away. “I’d rather die, myself. But…”

But he will not kill his friend. Not even if that friend does not truly exist anymore.

“Where will you go?” he says.

It is Keldra who answers this time. “Don’t know yet. We’ll send word out—this can’t have been a one-time thing. Other circles must be—ah. Well, you know.” She stumbles over the words, as if unable to admit that even as they sit in this forest, other mages are likely fighting for their lives. “It’s a war now. We’ll have to fight. Find one another.”

“We can’t fight the templars,” says another mage. An older woman, with tear tracks down her face and her worn hands resting on the back of a sleeping child.

“We just did,” hisses Keldra. “And we will again.”

A murmur of dissent goes through the mages; some will fight, others will not. Solas pays the conversation little heed. Keldra’s raised voice has awoken Evelyn, who rises to her elbows. She blinks owlishly at her surroundings, then pushes herself upright. She sees Solas sitting a short distance away, and moves toward him, settling beside him. Perhaps she does feel some desire to be near him, or—

She gazes at him with flat eyes. “We had a physical relationship.” She reaches out, touches his hand. “Would you like to continue?”

He takes her hand.

He was wrong. When he woke in this world and thought all people to be cut off from the Fade, to be not-people, not worth a moment’s thought.

“No,” he says softly. “Evelyn. We will not.”

She looks at the mages, still arguing amongst themselves. “I am… uncertain as to where I will go. I doubt my family will want me to return—they are not fond of anything to do with magic.”

She is too vulnerable like this. He cannot imagine with other people would do with a quiet, pliant beautiful young woman.

Well, he can. And such thoughts are unbearable.

“Do you wish to stay with me?” he says, making a snap decision.

If she says yes, he will take her. Away from this, from the blood and the weeping, and the ruins of the only place she could call home.

She blinks slowly. “I—did. Once.”

It is enough.

“Then you shall,” he says.


They leave the mages.

Kinnaird and Keldra would likely protest, which is exactly why Solas waits for them both to fall asleep. He gathers his possessions, few as they may be—the orb, another cloak, his staff, and the borrowed sword. Fennel follows Evelyn, even though she pays him little heed.

Solas bids a quiet farewell to Leonel and Danforth. As he leaves the camp, he finds Signy in his path.

The thin girl looks odd. It takes him a moment to realize why—it is because she has her hair pulled back, and she stands straight-backed. Her face is visible, her gaze steady. She is not hiding.

“You’re leaving,” she says. It isn’t a question.

“Yes,” he says.

She nods. “You’ll keep anyone from hurting her.” Again, it is a statement.

“Of course.”

She takes a step aside, leaving his path clear.

“Rage liked you,” she says, as he passes.

Solas stops in mid-stride.

“I’ll miss him,” she says, with a soft sigh. “He made the dreams so much more interesting.” And then she is turning away, and Solas watches her disappear into the camp of mages. He gives them one last look—these reluctant rebels, the fighters, those who desire little more than the freedom to live their lives in peace. He looks at these ill-prepared to fight, and he knows he cannot help them.

“Come, Evelyn,” he says, and she follows as he makes his way deeper into the forest.

 The ground is soft beneath his bare feet, and he can feel the lifeblood of the forest thrumming beneath him. There is old magic in these woods, likely some ancient ruins buried deep beneath the earth, swallowed up by time. He touches trees as he passes by, feels the warmth and strength of their bark. He wonders what Evelyn would have said, were she herself. If she would have marveled at the large trees, if she would have been afraid of the dark and the strangeness. But she is merely a silent shadow at his back.

It is a comfort being in the wilderness again. The smells, the sights, the sounds—it is as if he were being held beneath water for all of these months, and now he can breathe properly again.

It is a bittersweet pleasure.

He will find his people again. It will take some time to track them—their location will have shifted in a year. He has much to do, much to accomplish.

But he forces himself to stop walking after a few hours. He finds a fallen tree, hollowed out by time and wind, and tucks Evelyn away inside of it. Fennel leaps atop the log and tucks his tail around his paws, peering into the darkness. A silent little guardian. Wrapped in her cloak, Evelyn falls asleep at once. Solas watches her, listens to the sounds of her breathing.

He has not wept for ages. His eyes are achingly dry, but part of him wishes he would. Perhaps that would abate some of the pain. He could weep for this broken world, for the mages condemned to such a fate, for all of the elves who are mere shadows of themselves, for the ruins of Arlathan, for the people he condemned in his pride.

But mostly, he wishes he would weep because he is the only one who can do so.

Chapter Text

Through the forest moves a hunter.

His eyes are keen, his knuckles large with age and use. In his hand, he holds a well-worn bow. An arrow is tucked between his fingers, ready to be placed upon the bowstring and notched tight. The hunter follows a faint path through the foliage; few eyes would see it, but his are well-trained. It is a trail used by many creatures, leading down to a spring. He can hear the trickle of water, smell the moisture on the air.

If there is any prey to be found in this forest, it will be here.

With a practiced grace, he creeps toward the spring. One step at a time, careful not to disturb a stray branch or rock. The wind is against his face; his scent will not give him away. He must not be noticed. There are mouths to feed at home. Three children, a wife with gray-streaked hair, and a mabari hound who keeps the little ones safe. Winter will be coming soon, and he is determined to have a smokehouse full of venison before the first snow touches the land.

With one more step, he catches his first glimpse of the spring. There is movement—a creature beside the water. He drops to a crouch, notches the arrow, and draws in a breath.

But it is not a deer he sees.

It is a woman. Her hair is dark, loose. A cat perches on her left shoulder, balanced there. The woman wears blue robes, and they might have been fine were they not caked in mud and—a dark stain that the hunter knows instinctively is blood. He has seen such stains before, when he skinned fresh kills. Her skin is sallow, as if she has never seen the light of day.

As the hunter watches, the woman places her hands in the spring. It must be terribly cold, but she does not flinch. She splashes water along her forearms, then onto her face. One of the droplets hits the cat and it makes a disgruntled noise and leaps to the ground. There is no change in the woman’s expression. She leans back on her haunches, and her gaze settles on the cat.

The hair on the back of the hunter’s neck begin to crawl. Jitters of unease make him shift restlessly, but he is unsure why. He knows much of predator and prey, and this woman has the look of neither. But something about her sets his nerves jangling.

Perhaps it is because she regards the forest indifference—and this has always been a place of fear. The deeps of the Vinmark mountains are a place that few humans will venture. There are myths of demons and old bloodshed. But this woman sits on the edge of an old spring, bloodied and uncaring.

Fool, part of him whispers. She is unarmed and likely injured. What kind of man would he be to simply leave her here? Taking a breath, he prepares to rise, to step through the undergrowth and reveal himself. He will offer her help, he will—

But then another flicker of movement makes the hunter go still.

A figure rustles through the trees, stepping through them as if simply appearing from nowhere. He moves even more silently than the hunter.

The hunter’s eyes widen. The man is an elf. And while he does not wear the tattoos, he must be one of those Dalish. Only a Dalish would dare enter these woods alone—well, except for the hunter himself.

The elf kneels beside the woman. There is no hesitation when he reaches down, pushes a strand of sopping hair from her eyes and tucks it behind her ear. “Are you rested?”

“I am well,” replies the woman. “These clothes are troublesome.”

The elf draws in a short breath. “You do not like them?”

The woman tilts her head, as if the question itself is a puzzlement. “They are dirty. Stiff. I cannot move easily in them. A clean robe would allow for swifter travel.”

Something in the elf’s face shifts; it is as if some hope has been extinguished. “Ah. Yes. I see.” He stands easily, extends his hand to help the woman to her feet. “We are nearing a village; we can find you fresh clothes there.”

The woman does not take his hand. She stands on her own.

The hunter watches as the two strange travelers stride away from the spring. Entranced, he leans forward.

A twig snaps beneath his foot.

At once, the elf’s head snaps up. His lips form a silent word and abruptly the hunter cries out.

His bow catches fire. He throws it to the ground, rubs his hands desperately on his tunic. He throws dirt upon the bow, grinds the flames out with his heel. Heart pounding, throat dry with fear, he looks up, fearing a second attack.

But there is no sign of the elf. Nor the woman.


A pickpocket lingers on the fringes of the village.

He should move on—this place has few fat purses to pluck and they’ll be better takings in the cities. But he’s passing through and there’s a knot of hunger in his belly. He considers using his ill-gotten coin to purchase a room at the tavern when he sees the travelers.

They look rough. Not like bandits—not hard-edged enough for that. But the man carries a walking stick and has his arm around the slim waist of a woman. They are dressed in… well, those clothes might have been fine some time ago, but they’ve been dragged through mud and Maker knows what else. The pickpocket blinks, wonders what sort of people would emerge from the Vinmark mountains like bedraggled wraiths. And of all things, a cat trails behind them. It weaves between their feet, mrowling pitifully. “Come now,” murmurs the man. “You ate an entire squirrel, which is more than either of us have had.”

The woman turns her face toward the man. “He cannot reply to you. I don’t know why you talk to him.”

“I find it a comfort,” says the man. The light catches, and the pickpocket sees pointed ears. An elf.

Ah. Not worth swindling, then. Elves never have anything good on them. But the woman…

The pickpocket moves out of the trees, taking up a path behind the travelers. He flicks a copper coin from his pocket, watches the metal gleam, then catches it. “‘Scuse me,” he calls. “Looks like you dropped something, miss!”

It’s an old trick. But just because a trick is old, doesn’t mean it won’t work.

The travelers stop. The woman glances over her shoulder, her face oddly blank. It sends a shiver through the pickpocket, but he doesn’t let it show.

“I didn’t drop a coin,” she says.

“Yes, you did. Saw it happen.” All he has to do is get close enough. He steps forward, and the elf angles himself, placing his body between the pickpocket and the woman. A servant, mayhap. Or a bodyguard. “Let me see,” he says, and reaches for the coin.

When the elf takes the coin, the pickpocket’s other hand darts out. Seeks the place on a man’s belt where a coin purse might hang.

But there is nothing.

When the elf steps away, coin in hand, he says, “My thanks.” Then he places his arm around the woman and hastens her away.

The pickpocket glares after them, feeling a bit sullen. All that work for no pay. With a sigh, he reaches for his own purse. Might as well get a good meal before making for the city.

A jolt goes through him. He scrambles at his belt, tries to find his purse.

But it is nowhere to be found.

The pickpocket snarls a curse, startling several birds from a nearby tree.


The village of Keirglen sees few travelers.

Tucked into the shadow of the Vinmark mountains, it is one of the last vestiges of civilization. Dalish will come to trade, their eyes hard and their blades in easy reach. Hunters who venture into the fringes of the forest—but no deeper—will bring pelts of rabbits and wild turkeys strapped to their belts. But beyond the daring and the wild, visitors are infrequent. The tavern is a place for locals to gather and drink, playing card games on overturned barrels, exchanging gossip and old, well-worn jokes. It is a comfortable place. A familiar place.

Lyne has worked there since she was twelve and her mother said a girl should earn her keep. She began by sweeping floors, and now she serves drinks and food and during the slow days, she washes clothes. Her fingers are cracked with the harsh soap she must use to scrub the linens clean, but there are worse ways to live.

She likes the tavern. She likes the gossip and the warm fires, the smell of ale and sweat. There are few surprises in such a place.

Or at least, she thinks that until she sees a hooded figure slip into the tavern.

It is a man, his cloak drawn tightly around him. His face is sharply featured, and his head might be shaven, but Lyne cannot see beneath his hood to tell. “Do you have a room?” he asks, and his voice is strange. A foreigner, Lyne thinks, with equal parts disdain and interest.

She has never left Keirglen. Surely anyone who leaves their home must be strange.

“Yes,” she says, for that is the correct answer. She tells him the cost, and the man nods. Coins are passed over the wooden bar, and Lyne offers what she hopes to be a convincing smile. “Up the stairs,” she says, “to the left. Here’s a key, ser.” She passes over the heavy brass key, and it vanishes into the folds of his cloak.

He nods. His eyes glint strangely in the candlelight.

“And where might I find a place to buy clothes?” he asks.

That question startles her. “What sort of clothes?”

He hesitates. “Women’s garb. A traveling cloak—boots, if they are to be had.”

Lyne blinks several times, then forces herself to think over the matter. Her own boots are worn, patched. “The tanner will have boots. Don’t know if he makes the sort a woman would wear. As for clothes, you’ll want the shop on the edge of town.” She gestures vaguely in the right direction. “Won’t be cheap, though. Places like this, trade don’t come easy.”

He nods. “Thank you.” And then he slides another coin across the bar.

She takes it, wonders why he has given it to her.

She understands a moment later, when the door to the tavern opens and a woman slips inside. She is a small thing, and she holds a gray cat in her arms. The man places a hand on her back, gently directing her to the stairs. “Come, Evelyn,” he murmurs.

Ah. This coin is for her silence.

She watches the woman and the man. Perhaps they’ve eloped, she thinks. Run away from disapproving families or are trying to escape the chaos of the Orlesian war. She shakes her head in slight disgust.

Little good comes of the world outside of the mountains.


The room is satisfactory.

It is clean, if a little small. A single bed, with a straw-stuffed mattress. Curtains gone gray with age, but they are thick enough to keep the chill of the window at bay. A rug stretches across the wooden floor. Fennel goes through the room, sniffing at every strange object. He leaps to the windowsill, wraps his tail around his paws and gazes through the dirty glass.

Tucked in a corner is a tub for washing, and Solas pays a maid to bring buckets of water.

Evelyn trails her fingertips over the water. It is cold. Solas drops his own hand into the water and murmurs a spell. At once, steam begins to rise from the surface.

Evelyn watches. She remembers being able to do such things once.

She looks at her own fingers, wonders what it would be like to conjure such magic into them.

But it is useless to wonder. She has no magic.

And the world is quieter without it. She feels strangely aware of the world around her, as if her sight is more tightly focused, her senses crisp and clear.

“You should bathe first,” says Solas, drawing her attention back to the moment.

Evelyn does not argue; she does need a bath. Her skin is uncomfortably stiff with dirt and grime. She begins undoing the clasps of her cloak, feels the material fall away. She steps out of her clothes, looks down at herself.

Her wounds are healed, but the bruises are still evident. Her wrists are stained greenish and yellow, and she remembers the feel of armored fingers holding her down. The memory does not bother her. It feels distant, as if it were another woman who was held down, who felt her magic slip away. Evelyn has little in common with her—that woman who bit and spat at her captors, who loved with such a ferocity that her heart led her into places she should not have gone. She was foolish, and her actions make little sense now.

She rinses the grime away; her forearms and face are clean, but the rest of her is still flecked with blood. The water takes on a brownish hue, and when she rises from the tub, it is with a sense of rightness. It is not that she disliked being dirty, but given the choice, she would rather be clean.

When she looks back at her dirty clothes, a frown appears on her face.

“We will find you new garments,” says Solas. Before she can reply, he has wrapped a towel around her. She wonders if her nakedness bothers him. He has seen her before, in all states of undress and never been uncomfortable before. But now he keeps his gaze slightly averted, even when he places a hand on her elbow and gently pushes her toward the bed. “Sleep, for now. I will lock the door behind me.”

“You’re leaving?” she asks.

He nods. “I will draw less attention by myself. A lone traveler is cause for little notice, but a woman and an elf will be… memorable.”

It is a logical course of action. Evelyn remembers the hunter they met in the woods—the startled look on the man’s weather-worn face. She can recall Solas’s hand on her shoulder, the snarled curse when he cast a spell to distract their pursuer. Evelyn finds herself returning the nod. She settles on the bed, the towel still tucked around her. She watches as Solas dons his cloak, pulls the hood over his pointed ears, and steps from the room. She hears the click of the lock, and then she is alone.

Alone.

For the first time in many days. It is not so different from being with Solas; he is often silent, choosing to guide her with a touch to her elbow or back. And she feels no need to break the quiet. Idle chatter is meaningless.

She sits on the bed, naked but for the towel. Solas told her to sleep, but it is still daylight. She is not tired; she has slept deeply every night since they left the tower. She gazes at the small room, listens to the sounds of the tavern’s occupants. Laughter, the clank of tankards against wooden tables, and the constant thrum of voices. She has never been in a place such as this. Her family never visited taverns.

When Solas returns, she is still sitting on the bed. He carries a bundle of cloth beneath his arm, and a pair of leather boots beneath the other. He glances at her, and she sees the line of his shoulders relax. “I found some suitable replacements for you,” he says. “A man with a son about your age had some spare garments. And the tanner was glad to have a customer not interested in saddles or gloves.”

It is more words than he has spoken to her in days. She nods, but makes no effort to take the clothes.

Solas sets them down on the small desk, then hesitates. She watches his face, sees emotions flicker through his eyes. She can still recognize them, even if she cannot feel them herself—sadness, a touch of anger.

He sits beside her. Close enough that his clothed shoulder might have brushed her bare one, should he lean a bit. But he keeps a careful distance. “Your hair is tangled,” he says.

She glances down. Her dark hair is clean, but knotted. She considers how long it would take to untangle it, then shakes her head. “I should cut it,” she says.

“You do not like your hair?”

She gazes at the far wall. “It was a vanity. I do not need it.”

A touch of breath against her cheek. Then fingers, familiar and gentle, take hold of her hair. “May I?”

She considers; turning her back and vulnerable bare throat seem an unwise course of action. But she knows Solas, trusts him not to hurt her. She nods, tilting her head as to give him better access, and feels his touch on her hair. He begins carefully unknotting the tangles, combing with his fingers through the loosened tresses. His fingertips gently stroke her scalp. It is pleasurable, in a purely physical manner. The touch relaxes her, and she finds herself closing her eyes. Minutes slip by in silence, and then there is a gentle tugging. He is braiding her hair, she realizes. With practiced ease, he coils it around her head, tucking the edges in. Only one unruly curl escapes the braid, just behind her left ear. Solas touches it, then his hand drops away.

“Fitting,” he says. “Even now.”

She looks at him, bewildered. But he does not elaborate.

“Where are we going?” she asks.

Solas sits a little straighter, his gaze going to the boots he placed upon the floor. “I am going to find my people.”

She blinks. “The Dalish?”

“I am not Dalish.”

She considers. “You said you were from the North. Tevinter?”

“I am from the North, but not Tevinter,” he replies. There is a weariness in his voice. “I let you think such things because it was easier.”

His words sink into her. Untruths are often spoken among mages, among those who have not been fixed. She uttered a few herself, before she felt the world become right. Now, she sees little use in lies.

Nor in dissembling. “Where are you from?”

He laughs, and it is a bitter sound. “Ruins. Long-forgotten dreams. A world sunk into the earth.”

“I ask questions and receive riddles,” she tells him. Not disapproving, but as an observation. “If you do not wish to tell me, I will not ask.”

He turns his face away. Then she hears him breathe, a slow inhalation. “I love you,” he says. “I have loved you for months, but I refused to see it. I was too afraid of what it would mean, to love you. For what you are, for what you could be.” He turns to face her again. “You change everything.”

She is unsure of how to respond, so she remains quiet.

One of his hands covers hers. The sensation is not unpleasant so she does not pull away. “Evelyn. What did you—before. What did you feel for me?”

She takes a moment to mull over the question. “I—I am unsure how to describe what I felt for you. It was irrational, overwhelming. I… wanted things that I should not have wanted.” She shakes her head. The memories are jumbled.

“What did you want?” he asks softly.

She frowns. “I wished to leave the tower. To see those ruins you talked about when we were together. I wished to stay with you, always. I do not remember why.” She looks at the window, at the darkening sky. “It is growing late.”

“Yes,” he says. “Yes, it is.”

He goes downstairs to fetch a meal rather than allow a maid into their room. Evelyn dresses in the clean shirt. It is loose, meant to be belted at the waist. A man’s item of clothing. She realizes she will be wearing trousers when they leave this place, and wonders if he means to disguise her as a man.

The food is unfamiliar—a tangy, hard cheese and thick brown bread. Solas tucks more of the food into his bag, along with dried fruits and slices of salted meat. Evelyn eats steadily, not truly noticing the tastes or textures. Fennel is given scraps, and he eats them greedily, then stares at Solas’s food. Solas ends up giving most of his cheese to the cat. Then he walks to the bathing tub. 

When she goes to sleep in the bed, Solas lays his cloak upon the floor.

“There is no need,” she says. “The bed is large enough for both of us.”

He shakes his head.

She frowns at him. “We have shared a bed before. You were not so hesitant then.”

His mouth tightens. “That was different, Evelyn.”

“Why?” she asks.

“Because you were different.”

“I am still myself,” she says. “And you should not sleep on the floor. Not when there is room for you in the bed.”

She watches the emotions cross his face, feels her own expression remain still, and then he lets out a sigh and moves to the bed. He wears trousers and nothing else; his chest is bare and she can feel the warmth of him when he settles beside her. Even so, he keeps a careful distance between them.

He treats her as if she is injured or perhaps ill. She is not bothered by it—she cannot be bothered by it—but the inaccuracy of it nags. She is neither injured nor ill, and there is no reason to treat her as such.

She tells him so.

“I am fine,” she says.

He edges closer, touches her cheek. “You are the furthest thing from fine. And I am so, so sorry for it.”

“You did nothing.”

“You are right,” he says softly. “I did nothing. I said I would free you. But I could not manage even that. I am a poor excuse for a savior, Evelyn. But I had hoped—that this one time—”

She is unsure of what to say, so she remains silent.

Finally, she says, “You are upset.” For she knows the emotion, even if she cannot feel it herself. And while this does not trouble her, it feels… disquieting. “Is there anything I can do?”

He throws her a despairing look, and says, “Tell me how you feel.”

He asks for the one thing she cannot give. “I do not feel.”

For many long minutes, they are silent.

“Where are we going?” she asks, her voice soft in the dark.

She feels his breath against her temple. “To the ruins of a temple. A place dedicated to Fen’Harel.”

The answer is interesting. It is not something she would have expected of him. “That is one of the elven gods, is it not?”

A heartbeat of quiet. Then, “Yes.”

“Why?”

This time, three of her heartbeats pass before Solas answers. “Because that is who I am.”

She blinks once. “Oh,” she says. “That seems… unlikely.”

“It is the truth.”

She considers. “It seems more logical that you are mad.”

He laughs, but there is little mirth in it. “I wonder that myself, sometimes.”

She wonders if she should speak, but can think of nothing to say. She can feel the tension in his body. She does not understand why he is trembling, why she can hear his harsh breath. He is afraid. Of her? Of this place?

She reaches out and takes his hand. They used to do this and it always seemed to bring him comfort.

He makes a soft noise and it sounds like one of pain. But he squeezes her hand and does not let go.

There is something familiar in the warmth of skin against hers, in the tangle of their fingers together. She does not question it, and when she falls asleep—

—There are no dreams.

Chapter Text

Two Years After

 

Through the village of Haven moves a small figure.

Snow catches on the hem of her worn traveling cloak, and more of it sticks in her hair, melting along her skin. The coldness slips down her neck, beneath her clothes, but she pays it little heed. Her fingers are clasped tight around a sealed letter. Her face is still, almost serene, but her gaze remains eerily flat. A small child looks up at her, then cringes behind his mother’s knees, sensing something off about the stranger. The woman pays him no heed, and instead strides up the hill to the Chantry.

A Sister stands before the doors of the Chantry, speaking quietly with a man in templar armor. The woman’s eyes slide over the flaming sword that adorns his chest plate, then away. There is no flicker of recognition, nor any emotion at all. “Excuse me,” she says. “I was sent to deliver a message.”

The Sister looks at her, mouth tilted into a polite smile. “Yes?”

“First Enchanter Monette extends her greetings,” says the woman to the Sister. Her voice is even, almost melodic in its slowness. “The mages have arrived.”

The Sister nods and thanks the woman. “Welcome to the Conclave, child,” she says gravely. “And… you are?”

The woman does not reply at once. It is not an easy question to answer, and her mind sifts through several possibilities.

I am tranquil.

I am here.

I am the Dread Wolf’s eyes.

But all she says is, “I am Evelyn.”


The mages are housed as far from the templars as is possible.

Evelyn suspects this is a deliberate attempt to avoid bloodshed—and she does not complain, as this allows her to more easily slip away from the proceedings. The mage quarters are on the very edge of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, near the path that leads to Haven. Evelyn makes the walk every day, to see if there are any letters to pick up and deliver to Monette.

Monette thinks she found Evelyn in a tavern on the way to the Conclave. The former first enchanter of Ostwick saw the young woman and took pity on her, tranquil and alone, offering to bring her into the mage resistance. Evelyn agreed, because that was what tranquil do.

I would go unseen, while in plain sight, she said, weeks ago. It is logical that I would be the one to take this task.

She remembers a whisper of fingertips against her elbow. You do not have to. This will put you within reach of the Chantry, of the templars. It is not safe.

It is not safe for an apostate. It will be safe for a tranquil.

Evelyn walks down the hallway through the temple, a satchel of letters in hand. Lighted torches cast illumination through the temple, and it is… not quite warm but nor is it uncomfortable. The temple itself is a strange clash of ancient architecture and reconstruction. Fresh wood pillars hold up a ceiling that might have caved in on itself; tapestries hang over cracked walls; golden relics have been moved here from other Chantry vaults. Evelyn moves easily through the corridors, her eyes forward. She pays no mind to the others she sees—they are of no consequence. And they barely glance at her. She does not carry a stave, nor does she wear templar armor, so she is assumed to be yet another servant.

It isn’t untrue.

Evelyn leaves the Temple of Sacred ashes, stepping out into the brisk mountain air. It tastes sharp in her mouth, almost painfully cold, but she breathes deeply. A guard gives her a polite nod as she walks down the path. The way down to Haven is well-worn, groves in the snow and even the earth itself carved out by uncountable travelers. Her satchel tucked beneath her arm, she takes the path at a steady but unhurried pace.

Haven itself is yet another contradiction. She has heard stories of how there was once a true village here, but now it is a place of pilgrims and scholars, of hastily assembled stalls for those selling their wares, of the curious and the faithful and the greedy. Evelyn looks at them all with detachment, barely able to comprehend why they would cluster in such a place as this.

There are messengers at the stables. Evelyn hands off her satchel to an elf, slipping him a cold coin that Monette gave her. “These are to go to the Hinterlands,” she says. “To Grand Enchanter Fiona.”

The elf nods, and swings up onto his horse. He clucks his tongue and the horse trots down the path. Evelyn watches him go, then returns to the village itself.

Her job is only half-done, after all.

She goes to the tavern. The moment she opens the door, she is greeted by warm, humid air and the smell of—people. Warm bodies and sweat and ale and roasted meats. It is bustling, filled with those who are either here for the Conclave or perhaps are visiting for their own curiosity. Evelyn goes to the bar, orders barley water, and ignores the flat look of the barmaid. She takes her tankard of water to a table in the corner and settles herself.

She sips and waits, her eyes downcast. She can recall a conversation, one of the last ones she had before leaving the elven camp.

I can’t go with you. I have to track the Magister.

I didn’t expect you to go with me. I am capable on my own.

A tranquil draws little attention.

They are quiet and compliant, and utterly unremarkable.

Which is exactly why she makes a very good spy. When one of the elven servers comes to her table, asking if Evelyn would like another barley water, no one so much as gives the exchange a glance.

Evelyn looks at the elf. A city elf, plucked from an alienage. Her clothes are clean, but so old and worn they are nearly transparent. Her hair is dusted with gray, although she cannot be more than thirty years of age, yet. “Mint tea,” says Evelyn. “Please.”

They worked this out beforehand. What drinks she would order, what messages that would send. Barley water, to announce her presence. Rose hip tea to say that the Conclave is going badly. Mint tea to say that all is well. Such messages will be whispered through a chain of elves, until they reach the right ears.

When the mint tea is placed before her, Evelyn takes a sip. It sparks a memory—sprigs of fresh mint between her fingertips, a cat peeking through her dormitory entrance, seeking out the scent of the fresh greenery. Fennel, she thinks, and wonders for a moment where the cat is. She last saw him with Solas, the cat balanced on the elf’s shoulder as if he belonged there.

And then the memory passes through her, like water through loosely cupped fingers, and she thinks on it no more.

When she returns to the Temple, it is near evening. The sunlight is watery thin, tinted gray through the clouds. Darkness comes on swiftly in the mountains, and already the chill of the air has taken on a biting edge. Evelyn’s pace is swift but unhurried as she strides up the path. There are others, of course. Those who visited Haven during the day—mostly lower-ranked templars, as the mages do not feel comfortable venturing out alone. Evelyn hears the thud of their armored feet all around her, but she feels nothing.

“Aren’t you cold?”

A voice. Male, and tinted with a Ferelden accent. Evelyn glances to her right and sees a man. He is not dressed in the armor of the templars, but he is armored nonetheless. A red cloak is draped around his shoulders, and he regards her with some incredulity.

Evelyn knows that she is dressed too lightly for this weather, but it matters not. She can feel the cold, but it doesn’t bother her the way it used to. She can ignore discomfort, brush it away. Her own robes are that of the Free Marches—not a mage’s garb, but he must suspect she is one of them.

“A little,” she says. And then adds, “It does not bother me.”

The man’s gaze sharpens for a moment. He must realize what she is, for some of the tension in his shoulders loosens. His mouth creases with a frown, and then he looks away. “Ah. I see.”

He walks beside her, slowing his step to match hers. She does not comment on his presence, and he does not speak again. Perhaps he means to keep her company, or ensure she reaches the temple safely. They walk in silence until they reach the slope where the temple is tucked against the mountains. “Knight Captain,” says a templar, in greeting.

The man replies, “That’s not my title anymore.” His voice is harsh, almost angry. He strides into the temple without a backward glance, and Evelyn parts ways from him. The mage quarters are near the entrance, and it is a simple matter to turn left and find herself in a corridor. It is too warm to be natural—likely some of the mages are heating their quarters with magic, and at once the snow begins to melt in Evelyn’s hair. She goes to the first door on the right and knocks.

“Come in,” says a familiar voice.

The years have not been kind to Monette. There is a scar through her mouth, and she has the sharpness of an ill-fed bird. But her eyes are still keen, and her fingers quick and sure. She wears black, an old remembrance of her former station, but her robes are far more functional than pretty. “Did you deliver the letters?” she asks.

“Yes,” says Evelyn.

“Did anyone harass you?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Monette suggested a guard when they first arrived, but Evelyn declined. She used much the same argument she did with Solas—the templars have no need to hurt or detain her. Evelyn is safe. In every sense of the word. Monette seemed less than convinced, but she allowed Evelyn to venture out on her own.

“You should have some tea,” says Monette, and gestures at the still-steaming pot resting on her desk. Evelyn does not reply, but goes and pours herself a cup. It is not the bitter flower tea that Evelyn has come to associate with the former First Enchanter, but a blend of herbs meant to warm and soothe. It tastes of bitter orange rinds and sweet spices. Evelyn sits at the spare chair, holding the warm cup of tea in hand. Monette does not speak, and Evelyn feels no need to break the silence. The sound of the quill scratching across paper as Monette writes, and the crackle of the torch are the only sounds.

“The Divine has arrived,” says Monette suddenly. “I think the negotiations will begin in earnest tomorrow. But of course the templars sent a proxy, rather than their dear Lord Seeker. Cannot have him risking his life, the coward.”

Evelyn considers saying that Monette herself is a proxy for Grand Enchanter Fiona, but before she can open her mouth, Monette continues.

“I am unsure what kind of reparations the Chantry might try to make. They could try to lure us back under their thumb with promises of less harsh treatment, but I doubt most of us would agree. Fiona herself has declared we shall return as free mages or not at all.” She sets her quill down, and looks at Evelyn. “And I fear too much blood has been spilled for us to reach a peaceful solution so easily.”

Evelyn mulls over Monette’s words for a moment, then says, “You did not bring me here simply as servant, then. I am to be an example of what has been lost.”

“You are a noblewoman, who was made tranquil for defending herself,” says Monette sharply. “The Divine cannot ignore such a thing. You did not use blood magic, and you were harrowed. Making you tranquil was an illegal act.”

An illegal act.

Evelyn considers all of those dead mages and wonders vaguely if their deaths will be counted as illegal acts, as well. Or if they are considered justified, because annulment was ordered by the previous Lord Seeker.

“I see,” says Evelyn.

Another long silence, and then Monette says quietly, “I’m glad you survived. I was—sorry for what happened between us.”

Evelyn replies, “There is no need to apologize.”

“Yes, there is.”

“No.” Evelyn places the empty teacup on the table and rises to her feet. “I cannot take offense. I do not feel anger nor sadness nor anything at all. I have no regrets—and I cannot carry yours, either.”

Monette’s face softens. She looks at Evelyn with a strange expression—half sadness and half fervent relief. Perhaps grateful that this was not her fate, Evelyn thinks. But it is true that she feels no regret. She feels nothing at all.

It is rather peaceful.

“Kinnaird and Keldra remain in Ferelden,” says Monette. “They are well. I thought… you might like to know.”

Evelyn nods. She does not reply, but turns and leaves the room. Her own quarters are with several other mages, just down the hall. Three cots have been set up. Evelyn calmly removes her robes, slipping into a simple sleep shirt. The cool air touches her skin, raising gooseflesh, but she barely feels it. When she slips beneath the covers of her cot, she wonders why Monette thought she might like to know that Kinnaird and Keldra are alive.

But then she sleeps, and the world becomes quiet and dark.


She is woken by the sound of a mage having a nightmare. She wakes sobbing, and another woman pulls her close and whispers reassurances.

Evelyn watches them, then rolls over and goes back to sleep.


The Conclave is barely two days old when Evelyn hears the cry.

She is walking along through the corridors, a message for one of the enchanters in her hand, when the soft sound echo through the temple. This area is nearly empty; all of the mages should be in meetings, and she cannot imagine who would be making such a sound. She considers continuing on—she needs to deliver this letter and then go down to Haven. She needs to order mint tea and let Solas know that the Conclave is still proceeding as normal. She should—

She hears it again.

“Someone! Help me!”

Evelyn does not frown, does not react at all. She simply listens, chooses the right door, and calmly pulls it open.

“What is going on here?” she asks, in her flat voice.

The scene before her is… unexpected.

A creature stands in the middle of the room. It is tall, spindly thin, and appears to have been wrought half of human flesh and half of stone. He is monstrous—and it is a he, for when it speaks, its voice rumbles like that of an oncoming storm.

“You dare interrupt the sacrifice?” he says.

And then she sees the Divine. She is being held in the creature’s grasp, her face made nearly unrecognizable by panic, and she shouts something at Evelyn.

Evelyn does not hear her, though. Her eyes have fallen on the object in the creature’s other hand.

She recognizes it. An orb, its surface criss-crossed with old lines, the dark rock alive with glowing green magic.

It is Solas’s orb.

And all at once, she knows what this creature is.

Allow the Magister to find it, Solas had said, passing a wrapped bundle to one of his subordinates. In his attempts to weaken it, he will kill himself. We will accomplish two things in one stroke.

But the Magister is not dead. And the orb is… awake. That is the only word she can think of. The orb has been awakened.

She looks around, half-expecting to see Solas. After all, he was tracking the Magister’s process through the mountains. He should be here. But the only other occupants of the room are men and women dressed in blue garb and armor, their faces as blank as uncarved stone.

Divine Justinia’s hand lashes out and knocks the orb free. It rolls across the floor, its surface dancing with green flame, and Evelyn does not hesitate to reach for it.

It belongs to Solas.

She will return it to him.

But the moment the orb touches her skin, agony flares up her arm.

She tries to put the orb down, but she cannot—it is fused with her hand, burning, searing into her flesh and she is screaming with the pain—and she is aware it is the first time she has screamed in two years. It feels as if something in her throat has torn, shredded with the pain and the green sparks wreathing across her skin—

And then everything flares bright white and Evelyn is falling, the world cracked open at her feet, and—

 


 

A tranquil goes into the Fade.

 


 

And Evelyn comes out.

 


She is sobbing when the guards find her. Clawing at the stones, trying to yank herself back into the waking world. Tears spill across her dirty cheeks, and her hair is undone, tangled, and with every inhalation she makes a choking sound, as if she cannot draw in enough air—

It is almost a relief when she falls to her knees and knows no more.

Chapter Text

When news comes of the Conclave’s destruction, Solas is moving before consciously making the decision to do so. Staff on his back, a pack around one shoulder, he leaves the nearby village and steals a horse. Fennel is scooped up and placed in his bag—something the cat looks grudgingly resigned about—and then Solas kicks the horse into a gallop.

There is such chaos and fear that no one takes any notice of a single elf riding towards the destruction. Everyone else is headed away, rushing from the source of the strange green hole in the sky. The horse snorts and tries to shy away from the approach, but Solas ignores the animal’s protests. It can sense the wrongness in the air, just as he can. Just as every animal scurrying away from the mountain can.

This is not what he wanted. This is not the removal of the Veil—this is the destruction of both worlds, dreaming and waking alike, and he must fix this.

And—and Evelyn—

He cannot even finish that thought.

So he rides and he rides, and when his horse is too exhausted to continue, he goes on foot. And when he approaches the small village of Haven, he finds the first Chantry sister he can and introduces himself, offering his services. 

It is what she would have wanted him to do.

The village is in disarray. Those who live here are trying to leave or boarding up their windows with wooden planks, prepared to defend their homes. A Mother leads a prayer near the Chantry, asking their Maker for protection and guidance. There are no more shops; Solas glimpses several carts being dragged down the mountain path by merchants fleeing the area. The Temple has been destroyed, he soon realizes. The entire conclave is gone, and he feels himself numb a little at that knowledge. He forces himself to move, to aid those who need healing. 

It is a few hours later when the Seeker finds him, asks what he knows of the Fade and demons. He says, “A little. Likely more than most.”

“Good,” says the woman. She is hard-edged and frowning, but she regards Solas with a kind of respect. “We will need that, I suspect. We caught the person who did this.”

His breath catches. It cannot be true. The Magister must be dead; no one could have created that breach and survived.

The Seeker leads him through the village, to a small shack of a building. “She is in here.”

When the door opens, his heart ices over. For a moment, he does not trust himself to move nor speak. It cannot be her. She cannot have survived this.

Dark hair against pale skin, her body so small in the cot, and her eyes closed.

It is her.

He kneels at her side, presses his hand lightly to her cheek. She does not respond, but her breath warms his wrist. He closes his eyes for a moment, his heart shuddering in relief. “She yet lives.”

“You know her,” says Cassandra, but it is an accusation rather than a question. Solas sweeps his fingertips along her brow. Her skin is warm and damp with fever, and the rise of her chest is irregular. He can sense the magic within her, writhing like an untamed beast trapped with the bars of a cage. It wants to be free of this flesh, to rend her apart in its attempt to rejoin its focus. He thinks of the Orb, wonders where it must be at this moment, then turns his attention back to the woman before him.

“We were both at the Ostwick Circle,” he murmurs, and he can see Cassandra’s hand drift away from her sword hilt. Such an answer reassures her, and it is not untrue.

“Did she study such magics there?” asks the Seeker.

His touch passes over her chest. He can feel the thread of magic within Evelyn’s body, but it is not strongest here; he traces down her collarbone, following the familiar throb of power. It descends through her shoulder, and—

Suddenly, the magic leaps beneath her skin. It illuminates her from within, paints veins and muscles in greenish hues, and sparks fly up from her left hand. Evelyn draws in a sharp breath, and he feel her stuttering pulse beneath his fingers.

He snarls an long forgotten curse, and throws his own magic against her hand. It is like trying to stem a tide with wind—the two forces tangle, press against one another, and in the end, neither is victorious. The green light fades from her hand, and Evelyn goes still.

It is only when he looks up he realizes that Cassandra has drawn her sword. “Abomination.”

“No,” he says, and his voice is tight. “It is—is nothing of the sort. There is no spirit within her.”

In every sense of the word.

Even so, he will not let her die. He cannot—not when this is his fault, when he allowed it to happen. He has murdered her twice over, part of him whispers, and he tries to silence his own thoughts.

“The magic is killing her,” he says, rocking back on his heels. “She is as much a victim as those who died at the Conclave.”

“She may have been responsible for it.”

“I doubt it. No person of this age could have managed it,” he says, and turns his attention back to Evelyn’s hand. This is where she must have taken the Orb’s power into herself. This is the place where the deterioration has begun. He must halt the magic’s process here.

He is not sure if he can.

He closes his eyes, silently curses himself for his lack of power—and this world, for everything that it lacks.

“I will need water,” he says. “If there is a healer, please bring them.”

“You wish to help her?” asks Cassandra.

Solas’s jaw clenches. “If you wish to find out what truly happened at the Conclave, she is your only witness. You should wish for her survival, as well.”

Cassandra’s face does not quite soften, but she nods. “Agreed. I will see what I can do.” And she turns on her heel, leaving the small shack.

Solas touches Evelyn’s cheek again. And then he draws in a breath and begins to work.


He loses track of the hours. They slip by in moments of quiet, punctuated by the spark and flare of the magic within Evelyn’s hand. Solas forces it down every time, her hand tucked between both of his, and his forehead pressed to the cot. A human with some knowledge of herbs has brought salves and poultices, and Solas does not know if it helps, but he allows it.

Fennel has situated himself on the cot. At first, the healer protested the cat’s presence, but after one swipe of his claws and a hiss that sounded remarkably like a curse, he was left alone. He curls up near Evelyn’s hip, closes his eyes, and sleeps. Solas pays the cat little mind; perhaps the small creature will help to keep her warm, at least.

A headache presses against his skull, throbs more strongly with every passing moment. He is using too much of his own power. When the Seeker appears with a vial of lyrium, he does not reject it. The taste is metallic and cold, like bloody ice, but he swallows it.

“The hole in the sky is getting worse,” she says, taking the empty vial. “People are fleeing. They’re calling it the Breach. They’re—they’re calling it the end of the world.”

There is a pause in her voice, a hesitation that sits uneasily on her strong features. It must truly be bad, if she is looking to an apostate for reassurance.

Solas does not reassure her. The emblem on her armor is too close to that of the templars—and he cannot look at her without remembering that it was her superior that ordered the annulment of Ostwick. Rather, he turns his attention back to Evelyn.

“Will she survive?”

This time, Solas does answer. “I don’t know,” he says honestly.

Another hesitation, and then Cassandra says, “You knew her well at the Circle?”

The corner of his mouth lifts in a bitter smile. There are all sorts of answers he might give—he knew her in every way a person could know another. He knew what sounds she made when she was angry, how her head tilted when she was confused, how the scars along her palm felt when she touched him, how the taste of mint would linger on her lips. And then he knew how she reacted once she was made tranquil—with a detached mildness, a willingness to do as she was told, but a stubborn attachment to her own values nonetheless. Even without her soul, he could find traces of her. Her intelligence, her quick wits. It took only a few days for her to observe the way the other elves deferred to Solas, the way they regarded him, and she decided he was indeed Fen’Harel.

So I am not mad? He asked her.

On that, I am still undecided, she replied with pure sincerity.

Even tranquil, she could make him laugh.

In those years, Solas has grown used to having Evelyn by his side. She was not the Evelyn he knew in the tower—no, this Evelyn was too quiet and still, and she accepted orders too readily. He would not share his bed with her; there are lines he would not cross. He even took care not to touch her too often—only when he braided her hair or when he set a cloak about her shoulders. It seemed tranquility affects one’s ability to sense pain, as well as emotion. She did not see to her own injuries nor notice the weather. She was single-minded when put to a task, and regarded the world with no curiosity.

It has both a torment and a relief to have her with him.

“Yes,” he says quietly. “I know her well.”

The magic within her flares anew, and he closes his eyes, counters the power with his own. He dimly hears Cassandra leave the room, the door shutting behind her.

As Evelyn’s fever climbs, she begins to move restlessly beneath the sheets. She mumbles to herself, and while it is good to hear her voice, he tries to soothe her. She does not seem to hear him. “The gray,” she says softly, and the words are ill-formed in her mouth. It takes him a few moments to understand them. “Gray—the gray.”

The herbalist places a cool cloth against her forehead. “You ever seen anything like this?” he asks, his voice gruff. He told Solas his name, but Solas has already forgotten it, and the man does not seem to care.

“No,” answers Solas honestly. “I fear… I fear she has encountered a power that no mortal was intended to touch.”

The man grunts, then scrubs his fingers through his beard. “It’s the damnedest thing. Hole in the damned sky. Don’t know how she could have managed it.”

“She didn’t cause this,” says Solas. His thumb strokes a circle along her palm. He remembers the first time she touched him like this, when his fingers cramped after taking notes for Danforth. “I am sure of it.”

The healer makes another disgruntled sound, then goes to find clean cloths.

More time passes. Solas sleeps for a time, dozing for what seems to be heartbeats, his hand still laced with Evelyn’s. When the magic sparks to life, he wakens and does his best to soothe it. She sometimes moves in her own sleep, restlessly shifting, her eyes moving beneath closed lids.

His mouth is dry, his eyes aching, when the Seeker comes for him again.

“The Breach is getting bigger,” she says. “Demons have begun to spill out of it.” Her fingers clench. “People are dying. We—we could use a mage of your skill.”

Solas blinks once, twice, then realizes what she is asking. She wants him to leave this place, to abandon Evelyn to her fate. At once, defiance flares to life within him. He will not leave her like this, not sweating and wracked through with the orb’s magic. Not when—

And then he thinks of what she would have said.

He bows his head.

She would have wanted him to help others.

He rises to his feet on stiff legs. “Tell me where the fighting is,” he says.

Cassandra nods tightly, but does not thank him. “There’s a dwarf headed there,” she replies. “He’ll show you.”


She wakes in a dungeon.

It feels like being reborn. Everything is raw and too bright. She blinks tears from her eyes, feels them slide down her cheeks. Her hands are manacled, but one of them—

It sparks with magic and she gasps.

It hurts. Pain rips through her flesh and she cries out, the sound almost muffled by the sound of the dungeon door being slammed open. She barely notices two women walk in, until they stand before her.

The magic fades and she gasps for breath.

It hurts. It hurts—and Maker, she feels like it is the first time she has experienced pain. Not for years, not since—

“Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now.” says the first woman. She is tall, her cheekbones sharp and dark hair cropped short. “The Conclave is destroyed. Everyone who attended is dead. Except for you.” The woman’s voice throbs with barely suppressed emotion.

She licks her dry lips, tastes dust, and cannot answer.

“Who are you?” asks the second woman. Her hair is red as flame.

Who are you?

Who are you?

Who—

The first woman seizes her manacled hands, drags them upward. Her left hand cramps and magic flares, illuminating bone and tissue. “What is this?”

She cries out again, pulls back. The woman lets her, allows her to curl around her injured arm.

What is this, she thinks, looking at her hand. What is this—a glance about the dungeon and several swords aimed at her.

Who are you?

The two women regard her with varying degrees of suspicion. The first woman grabs at her again, but the second drags her back. “Cassandra, we need her.”

A silent exchange seems to pass between the two women.

“She needs to see,” says the second woman. “You should show her—I’ll go on ahead.” And then she turns, vanishing through the doors.

She watches, and again, she is struck by the question.

I am—

I am—

“Me,” she whispers.

“Yes, you,” says the first woman harshly. “You caused this. And now it’s time you saw exactly what you wrought.” She seizes her by the manacles and drags her upward.

It is when she steps out of the building, the light blinding her eyes and stark cold air burning in her lungs, when she sees the sky torn open and bleeding, that she remembers how to feel.

Fear swells within her, blossoms like a flower seeing the first rays of sunlight in months, and all at once—

The feel of armored hands on her wrists—the taste of copper in her mouth—her head being slammed against a stone floor—a roughened voice in her ear—her robes torn from the waist down—the cool hilt of a dagger in her hand—a snarled curse—and—and—

Evelyn Trevelyan looks up at the sky, and is only when the world swims before her, does she realize there are tears in her eyes.

Alive. She is alive and—herself. And while the pain is sharp and the memories keep flooding into her, she is desperate to cling to every emotion, every heartbeat. She is herself. And she would rather die than be less than that.

The minutes pass in a blur of confusion, fear, and flurries of action. The mountains are riddled with demons, and Cassandra fights them with sword and shield—and at one point, Evelyn sees a staff amidst a clump of fallen weapons.

Her fingers reach for it, and then she withdraws as if burned. She hasn’t—she can’t imagine—Maker. She hasn’t called magic in two years, and she is terrified to try.

Her heart beats wildly within her and she turns away. Cassandra seems a bit mollified by her acquiesce, and she unlatches the manacles. Evelyn trails in her wake, her legs burning as they trek up the mountain.

“You can hear the fighting,” says Cassandra.

“Who is fighting?” asks Evelyn. Her voice is raspy, painful. She cannot remember why.

And then they turn the corner and she sees a group of soldiers fighting shades. Several men with swords, a dwarf wielding a crossbow, and—

Her heartbeat falters, then picks up even faster.

He is there.

Solas.

Emotion blooms in her chest, and she is so full of them she feels as though she might break apart.

Solas.

Fen’Harel.

The knowledge is full of terror and affection and she stumbles, her gaze on him as he slams his staff into a demon. It breaks apart before him, and he glances about the battlefield, arms spread and ready to call another spell.

And then she remembers the touch of fingertips against her cheek.

My heart. Please come back to me.

She rushes past Cassandra, into the crowd. She hears someone cry out, but she ignores them.

Solas looks at her, his brows darting upward in surprise. She throws her arms around him, presses her face to his throat. He smells of lyrium and blood and grime but she does not care.

She is crying, trembling hard, and slowly, she feels his arms come up. His hands are shaking when they land on her back. “Evelyn—“ His voice is low in her ear.

She holds him tighter. “I love you,” she whispers. “I love you.” She repeats the words, again and again, needing to hear them.

He does not speak, but his arms are tight around her.


Solas restrains himself from attacking Cassandra.

Evelyn watches it happen, knows what is going on even if the Seeker doesn’t. She is too close to a templar; she has their symbol emblazoned on her armor, and when she says that Evelyn is her prisoner, Solas’s eyes go strangely flat.

Evelyn has seen that once before—when he killed Clacher.

He killed Clacher.

Even though she knows it, it still feels unreal. All of this feels unreal, a strange dream that might be yanked away at any moment.

“Solas, please,” she says. She has not left the circle of his arms and he seems loathe to let her go.

“She will do what she can to close the breach,” Cassandra is insisting. “And then she will face judgement for her crime.”

“You have no proof to link her to what has been done here,” Solas says, his voice too quiet, too even.

“Andraste’s ass,” says the dwarf. “Seeker, this is not the time. Two lovers reunited deserve a moment to themselves.”

Cassandra’s eyes fall to Evelyn. “I understand she is… important to you,” she says stiffly. “But we may not have a moment. We need her to stop this.”

“She was unconscious less than an hour ago.” This time Solas’s voice is less even. “You would throw her into this chaos, toss her into any fire if it meant preserving—“

“The whole of this world?” finishes Cassandra. “Yes, I would. I would do it myself, if I had the power. But I do not—only she does.”

“Come on,” says the dwarf. “We’ll give them a moment, all right? And then we can figure out how to fix the hole in the sky.”

Cassandra’s mouth pulls tight, and she glares at Evelyn, then at Solas. Evelyn gazes steadily back.

“A minute,” she finally says. “Then we must move to the forward camp. Understand?”

She feels more than sees Solas’s nod. Then the sound of footsteps on snow, as Cassandra and the dwarf walk away. She closes her eyes for a moment, breathes in the smell of Solas. She forgot this. She forgot how much she loved this, how much she loved him. They took this from her, severed her heart from her body in a single stroke, and she is still half-convinced that at any moment, she might sink into tranquility. She begins trembling again. Solas must feel it, for his arms tighten around her.

“We can leave,” he tells her. “We’ll go somewhere safe.”

“There is nowhere safe,” she says quietly. “Not unless we fix this.” She pulls back and he lets her slip through his arms. She gazes up at his face, trying to recall every detail. She has seen him for two years now, but in those two years, she did not remember that she loved the freckles on his cheekbones, the curve of his mouth, the small scar above his eye.

He seems to be studying her, as well. “How did this…?” he says, then trails off.

She shakes her head. “I don’t know. I don’t—the Conclave is gone from my memories. I remember arriving, and that’s it.”

“It was the Orb,” he says quietly. “It must have been. The Magister slipped away from me in the mountains; he must have come here, used the magic of this place to power a ritual of some kind. He unlocked it.”

The magic in her hand sparks and they both look down at it. “Somehow—somehow I’m connected to it. I—I don’t know how—” Her eyes squeeze shut.

“Shh, shh.” Solas’s hand moves in circles along her back, soothing. “You will remember in time. I do not know how you took the power of the Orb into yourself, but I will find out.”

“You mean we will find out,” she corrects.

His hand frames her cheek. “The mistake was mine. I would not see you suffer for it.”

She reaches up, covers his hand with her own. “I will do this. I can’t stand by, not again. I’ll go mad with stillness if I don’t do something.” She turns her head, presses a kiss to his cheek. His skin is cold, and she tastes the salt of his sweat.

He turns his head, and then he is kissing her. The heat of his mouth feels as sharp as the sun, and she cannot remember anything this good in—well, she can’t remember anything this good. The kiss is fraught with his anger, his desperation, the fear—he pours it all into the kiss and she accepts it, revels in the emotions she has forgotten how to feel. “It’s you,” he murmurs against her lips, and then he is kissing her again.

She pulls back just far enough to say, “Yes.” She can taste her own tears on his mouth and maker she wishes she could stop crying but it feels as if she is broken wide open, raw with the newness of her own self.

Her fingers trace the sharp edge of his jaw. “Fen’Harel?”

Regret flares in his eyes. A terrible desolation seems to drain the color from his face, as if he expects her to run away—even as he leans into her touch.

“Emma lath,” he whispers. “My love. I told you it would be kinder in the long run—”

She shakes her head, says, “I don’t care,” and kisses him again.

Chapter Text

Evelyn becomes accustomed to the smell of Haven.

It is the sharpness of the mountains, with an undercurrent of smoke. Charred remnants of the temple are still burning, and ash falls amidst the snow for many days. And then there are other smells—the incense of the Chantry, the sweetness of roasted meats in the tavern, and—

Herbs and old books.

She closes her eyes, inhales, and then smiles. Without opening her eyes, she leans over and presses her cheek to a familiar shoulder.

“You’re awake early,” he says quietly.

She stands in the doorway of the Chantry, perhaps an hour before dawn. The torches are burned down, and there are few people awake yet.

She has been given her own room within the Chantry—little more than a closet and a cot, but it is more than most people possess. She is not quite sure where Solas has been sleeping the past three days… if he has been sleeping at all.

She feels the touch of his hand against the back of her neck. His fingers are cold and she shivers. Her senses are raw, as if not having been able to feel for so long has left her unable to block out emotions or sensations. The taste of food is stronger than she can remember, smells linger in her nose, and a shift in temperature can make her recoil.

And she cannot control her own emotions. They surge to life, like some animal that refuses to be leashed, and she finds herself barely able to constrain herself.

Looking at Solas, she feels the familiar swell of affection and trust and—that terrible twinge of unease.

She does not fear him. Perhaps it is folly not to fear him, knowing who and what he is. She has seen him command others, kill a man, unlock magical secrets far older than most empires. But she remembers how he cringed when he drank tea, how he tries to keep out of the sun lest he burn himself, and how he plays with Fennels sometimes—dangling a stray piece of straw before the cat and letting him bat at it.

“Are you not sleeping?” he asks.

She pulls back, so she can look at his face. There are shadows beneath his eyes. “Are you?”

The faint ghost of a smile curves his mouth. “Fair enough.” His amusement fades. “I have been healing the injured,” he says, by way of explanation. “Making myself useful. It seems a practical way to engender goodwill among the people here.”

She looks out at the village. The dawn light is just beginning to touch the roofs. “You think they still don’t trust you?”

“I am an apostate,” he says gently. “And I have no sacred mark to protect me.”

She looks down at her left hand. The magic has been quiet, of late, but she can still feel it humming beneath her skin. “If they come for you, they’ll have to go through me.”

“I know.” He places a hand on her shoulder, turns her away from the open door. Carefully, he leads her back into the Chantry, towards the warmth of a still-burning torch. “Come.”

They find a bench in a darkened corner, and it is the most privacy they have had since she awoke after stabilizing the Breach. His shoulder is pressed to hers, and their knees brush. “We need to… discuss what happens now.”

The bitter taste of fear rises on the back of Evelyn’s tongue. This feels far too much like a prelude to a conversation she does not wish to have. She closes her eyes, fights back the urge to snap at him, to start weeping, to—

Maker. She hates that she cannot control this.

She bites down on her lower lip. Hard enough to draw the sting of blood.

“If you wish to leave, I will not hold you here,” she murmurs, when she can speak.

She senses more than sees his sharp glance. “What?”

“It’s obvious you are uncomfortable among these people,” she says, forcing her voice to flatness. “I would not hold you here. I mean—if you—”

He touches her jaw, tilting her face toward him. His gaze is intent on hers. “I have no intention of leaving.”

She sags under the weight of her own relief. “Then why…?”

“Evelyn.” He draws in a breath, steadying himself. “I have no intention of leaving. I—I merely wanted to know. If you were…” He looks away. “This was far easier to say when I practiced it.”

She smiles. “You practiced this?”

“I told a wisp,” he says. “When I took a short nap a few hours ago. It was quite amenable to this speech.”

She laughs, and the unfamiliar noise startles her into silence.

When his fingers find a stray lock of her hair, she holds still. “I missed that sound,” he says quietly. “Every moment you were beside me, and I missed you.” He strokes the line of her cheek, and she feels the touch go through her whole body.

“I love you,” she tells him. “I loved you even when I couldn’t remember the words or even recall what they meant.”

He leans closer, and his breath touches her mouth. He hesitates, and she is the one to close the distance. It is a slow kiss, more reassurance than passion. When they break apart, she touches her forehead to his.

“Fen’Harel,” she says, and feels him tense. “It makes sense in hindsight. You knew startlingly little of how life works for mages, even if you were an apostate wandering the wilds.”

“I—”

“If you’re going to apologize for lying to me, don’t,” she says. “I would have done the same thing in your place. Walking into a mage circle and declaring yourself an elven god would be a quick way to be made tranquil.”

A weak chuckle escapes him. “I took no pleasure in the lies.”

“I know.” She touches the dimple on his chin, simply to remind herself that she can. “Will you lie to me again?”

It is a blunt question, probably a remnant of her days of being tranquil.

He shakes his head. “No.”

“You’re going to bring down the Veil,” she says simply.

He does not lower his gaze. “Yes.”

She considers for a moment. “We’re going to warn Keldra and Kinnaird. Garith and his clan. Danforth. Wherever Signy has gone.”

“I,” he says, then stops. “You do not disagree with my plan.”

“I just spent two years cut off from the Fade,” she says softly. “Going into it cured me—I don’t know the specifics of it, all I know is that I’m me again. Think of how many tranquil could benefit from having the Veil gone. We could save them, Solas.”

“People will die,” he says, half a statement and half a warning.

She looks at the the Chantry altar, at the flickering candles. The orange glow. And she remembers the fires of the mage camp, when they first escaped the tower.

“People are already dying,” she says.


Solas looks at her. 

He feels a pang—for the woman that he first met, for whom acts of mercy were as simple as breathing. She has lost some of that, and he does not know if it bled away with the lives of her comrades, or if it left her when a templar parted her from herself.

He loves this woman just as dearly. But he mourns what she has lost.

He takes her by the arms, turns her gently so that she faces him. “You need not be part of this. There is a place where you might live, might be safe. You could remain out of the fighting.”

Evelyn shakes her head. “You know I cannot.”

Yes, he does.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

He can hear the rustling of the Chantry, the sounds of those waking. Soon, there will be no privacy to be found here.

“First,” he says. “We both find a new place to reside.”


In those first few days, she comes to know the leaders of the fledgling Inquisition.

There is Cassandra, sharp and so strong. Evelyn both fears and envies the woman for her surety and strength of will. And then there is Leliana—who gazes at Evelyn with some understanding in her eyes, who never touches her without permission, who confesses she is unsure of her own faith after the Conclave’s destruction. Josephine is a bright soul, as sweet as a cup of honeyed tea. She smooths out the Inquisition’s rough edges, smiles, and only falters for a moment when she asks Evelyn about her family and Evelyn’s control breaks. But Josephine forgives her the lapse.

And then there is Cullen.

She does not like Cullen.

He may insist he is not a templar, but he smells like one—sword oil and the tang of metal armor. When he passes by, she finds herself pressing into walls and small corners.

She rarely looks at him, even when they stand over the war table. When Cassandra brings up the mage rebellion, suggesting they contact the mages in Ferelden, Cullen says, “We cannot trust them. Who knows how many abominations walk among such people.”

Evelyn’s cold fingers clench. She is always cold, these days. Too thin. She had no appetite when she was tranquil, and when she looks into a mirror is always struck by the sharpness of her own cheekbones and the dimples of ribs beneath breasts that have all but vanished. Her hair is the only beauty she has left—and she remembers Solas taking care of it, brushing it away from her face and braiding it down her back.

A shiver runs through her.

“Who do you suggest we approach?” asks Leliana, drawing Evelyn’s attention. “The templars?”

“I was a templar,” says Cullen. His voice simmers with quiet intensity, and another shiver wracks through Evelyn—for a very different reason. “I know what they are capable of.”

Evelyn keeps her eyes on the war table. “As do I.”

A silence falls in the room.

“Herald,” Josephine begins to say, then falters.

“We will approach the mages,” says Evelyn.

She hears Cullen as he steps around the table, but still she averts her eyes. She can smell him, and the scent turns her stomach. It’s too familiar, and it floods her senses until she can barely breathe.

“I know you were… different before,” he says. “I remember you.”

“I wasn’t different,” she says, and her voice sharpens. “I was tranquil.”

“Tranquility exists to protect mages from themselves,” he says. “For those who cannot control their own magic—”

“A templar tried to rape me, and I killed him with his own knife,” she says, the words cracking out of her. “And for that, I was made tranquil. If Solas had not come for me, the other templars would have undoubtably used me as they pleased. Tell me, Commander, how that plays into your fine little story of protecting mages from themselves?”

He appears at a loss.

Evelyn glances at Leliana. “We approach the mages.” And then she turns on her heel and all but flees the war room.

It isn’t her most elegant retreat, but it still feels good to walk out of the Chantry. Evelyn steps into the fresh, evening air and inhales. It is so cold it burns her lungs, but she revels in the sensation. Pulling her cloak tighter around herself, she begins walking across Haven. She passes the buildings and the carts, strides through the gates and out of the small village.

The cottage used to belong to the old apothecary. It is set some distance from Haven, away from the reach of the Chantry. Smoke rises from the chimney, and when she pulls the door open, she finds the small cottage warm and bright. Her cloak goes on a hook near the door, and she kicks her boots off her feet.

Solas is boiling water for tea. When she walks inside, he smiles at her. “How was your meeting?” His eyes sharpen when he sees her expression. “Ah. That well?”

“I want him gone,” says Evelyn. There is no need to explain who she means.

His palm is warm on her back. “I know, vhenan.”

It is a relief to step into his arms, to hear his beating heart beneath her ear. “Tell me how you feel.”

It has become something of a ritual between them. For him to ask her how she feels—both as a way to gauge her mood, to find out what she needs… but also to remind her that she can feel. “The mountains are too bare,” she says, after a moment. “I wish Haven were in a forest.”

“Truly?” He sounds gently amused.

“I love forests,” she says. “They’re peaceful, even with the bears and the bandits.”

She can feel him smiling against her temple. “You love such simple, uncomplicated things.”

“You,” she tells him, “are not simple. Nor uncomplicated.”

His chest rises and falls in a sigh. “Your life would be far easier if I were.”

She catches his face in her hand, smoothes her thumb over the corner of his mouth.

“None of that,” she says.

He carries his own burdens, she knows. He mourns a world—and carries the guilt of perhaps being the destroyer of that world. He regrets his part in her past, as well.

She settles on the bed, watches Solas as he goes about his evening chores. He has taken it upon himself to set wards, and she cannot help but be grateful for them. She dares not practice such magic indoors, not yet. When he comes to bed, she scoots closer to the wall to give him room. He settles beside her, a breath of relief when he stretches out. They have not been intimate since she regained herself; Solas has not pushed and she is uncertain if she can. She accepts his embraces, kisses him, but the thought of anything more... well. It opens up a pit of fear within her stomach. 

But this is nice. Feeling his arms around her, listening to the sound of his heartbeat as it lulls her into sleep. 

Her dreams are still a shock. She is unused to dreaming, to the sights and sounds of the Fade.

Demons take on the forms of templars. She sees the Knight Commander.

She sees Grieves, sometimes.

She kills him again and again but it is never enough.

It is only after she confesses her nightmares that Solas appears in her dreams. “I did not wish to intrude,” he says, taking her hand. And he pulls her close, guides her to a new place in the Fade—to some warm meadow filled with flowers she has never seen, and simply holds her.

When she wakes, she feels rested for the first time in weeks.

Solas dreams with her after that, night after night.


There are rumors about them, of course. The Herald of Andraste keeping an elven lover. They have made no effort to hide their relationship.

Someone—Varric, Evelyn suspects—has been spreading rumors of the star-crossed lovers. The elven apostate captured and brought to the circle; the noble-born circle mage who opened his heart to love; the tragedy of the mage rebellion and Evelyn being made tranquil; Solas’s daring rescue of her, his devotion in keeping her safe; and the Bride of the Maker taking pity on the two kind souls, and saving Evelyn from her sad fate.

“It is almost true,” says Solas.

Almost true, she supposes, is good enough for their purposes.

Chapter Text

An hour before dawn, she slips from the cottage. She moves with a quick, jerky step born of nerves. She left Solas in their small bed, his face relaxed in sleep. She brushed a kiss against his forehead before leaving.

She does not want anyone to see this. She’s not sure why—if she fears the laughter of others, should she fail. Or the pity she might see in his face. Or… perhaps she simply does not trust herself to attempt this with anyone she loves so near.

She goes to a clearing. The ground is bright with fresh snow, and the air has a biting chill. She inhales deeply. The cold is nearly painful, but she welcomes it. If she can feel pain, it means she can feel. She places her pack on the ground near a tree, then takes hold of something she has not held in over two years.

The worn wood of a staff.

Her throat closes up. She tastes fear on the back of her tongue, and she forces herself to ignore it. But when she raises the staff, she sees the tip waver. Her hands are trembling.

Maker.

She hates that she is so frightened. It feels like a sickness, this tightness in her chest, the drowning heartbeat in her ears.

She closes her eyes. Breathes slowly, in and out. And then she reaches for her magic.

She has not called for this power in two years.

She is unsure if it will answer.

So she summons a simple spell—the first spell she ever managed as a child.

Fire, she thinks, and focuses her aim on a rock in the snow.

Nothing happens.

Her grip on the staff tightens. She feels her jaw clench. If she has lost this, if she has lost this part of herself, she is not sure what she will do. She cannot fight—she cannot do anything but use this barely-contained power in her hand to seal rifts. She will be nothing—

She tries a second time.

The staff remains resolutely still, the rock unscorched.

She falls to her knees. She is breathing too hard, the fear overtaking her, and she cannot even do this much. She can’t use magic.

Her fingers knot into fists, and she presses them to the snowy ground.

She thinks of all of those lessons she used to teach. Of those apprentices who could accidentally set a book on fire, or freeze a cup of water. Of scorched hallways, of burned fingers, of all the little ways their power would manifest. And now she can’t manage a single one of them.

A shudder wracks through her. She squeezes her eyes shut, feels tears threaten to well up.

She’s not the same as she used to be—and even she knows it. Unable to call magic, marked with the Dread Wolf’s power, at the mercy of her unwieldy emotions. She can’t do this. She can’t—

“Herald?”

The voice snaps her head up. She blinks the tears away, but not before a trickle of moisture slips down one cheek, catching on her chin. She thinks of how she must look, with her reddened face and running nose. She has a fleeting moment in which she prays it isn’t Cassandra who stumbled up on her like this.

No—it’s worse.

It’s Cullen.

He gazes down at her, his face unreadable. He stands only a few paces away, already dressed in full armor despite the early hour. She scrambles to her feet, unable to quell a tremor of apprehension. A templar. She’s alone with a templar—and she’s utterly helpless.

“I apologize for startling you,” he says. “I like to awaken early to train before the recruits. I didn’t know anyone else was out here.”

She remains rigidly in place, and she’s put in mind of a deer facing down a predator. But she’s too stubborn to run; her anger rises up and helps smother some of her fear.

She’s not helpless.

She refuses to be helpless.

Cullen glances down at the snow, shifting awkwardly as Evelyn stays quiet. She offers no greetings nor words to smooth over the silence. The tension between them thickens, and she sees Cullen rub at the back of his neck.

“You don’t have any reason to fear me,” he says.

Her gaze snaps up. Of all the inane statements he could have made, this must be the most ignorant. She has every reason to fear him.

“We serve the same cause,” he continues. “I’m sworn to the Inquisition. We need you to seal the rifts. So long as you’re alive, there’s hope to set things right.”

She feels her mouth tighten. “There are many ways to hurt a person without killing them, Commander.”

“I know that.” At once, he sounds tired. He glances away, and she sees the dim dawn light gleam on his armor. There is no templar insignia, but she knows what he is. He may claim to serve the Inquisition, but some instincts will be hard to break. She begins to walk away, when he speaks again.

“I don’t take lyrium,” he says suddenly.

She frowns.

He fidgets uncomfortably. “I—stopped. A few weeks ago. After accepting Cassandra’s offer to join the Inquisition.”

She watches, uncomprehending. Perhaps this is his way to of telling her that if she wishes for any lyrium for herself, she will have to ask elsewhere. But then—then something snaps into place.

If he’s not taking lyrium—

“You can’t smite,” she breathes. Without the edge of lyrium, he’s just another man. Of course, he’s a very dangerous man armed with a sword, but he cannot smite her. He can’t smite any mage.

He rubs the back of his neck. “I also cannot silence anyone, sweep an area free of any ambient magics or… well. You get the point.” His mouth crooks up at one corner, tugging at his scar. “It was quite disconcerting when I felt the abilities begin to leave me. It wasn’t that I wanted them… but… I suppose, I just liked knowing I could defend myself, if worse came to worse.”

When his gaze meets hers, a strange recognition passes between them.

A mage who cannot control her magic.

A templar who cannot use his abilities.

She realizes that he is regarding her much the same way that she is regarding him—with unease. He has been hurt. Likely by magic. It would explain his distrust of the mages, why he would willingly work at a Circle like Kirkwall. He must have faced some kind of horror and come away changed. It does not excuse any of his actions. Working for the Knight Commander of Kirkwall, allowing such atrocities to be committed under his watch, to turn a blind eye to abuses—none of it can be waved away.

She still does not like him. But nor can she simply dismiss him out of hand.

“You’re shivering,” he says. He reaches to his shoulder, begins to unclasp his own cloak.

She imagines being draped in that warm wool, smelling the tang of his armor. She skitters back, says, “Good day, Commander,” and hastens out of the clearing. She thinks he might call after her, but she keeps moving.

When she returns to the cabin, she finds Solas awake and boiling water. Fennel is sharpening his claws against the bedpost and Solas utters an elvhen curse, reaching out to gently nudge the cat away. “Stop that,” he is murmuring. “You’re leaving marks.”

Fennel looks up and makes a pitiful, hungry sound.

“I just fed you,” says Solas.

Evelyn looks at them both—ancient elf and cat alike—and she feels the anger leave her. This cottage, this small safe cottage, is a world unto itself. It is a place she might regain herself, one small piece at a time. She closes the door behind her, slips out of her snow-dampened boots. Fennels runs to her, throwing his body against her ankles in a happy gesture.

Solas pours a cup of tea, handing it to her with the half-attention of habit. She accepts it with a murmured thanks.

“Where did you go this morning?” he asks.

She considers telling him. About her magic that will not answer her call, about her meeting with Cullen. But she doesn’t want to worry him. And besides, admitting aloud her own weakness wouldn’t be the best start to the day. “For a walk,” she says, and he does not press her.


They are sent to the Hinterlands.

At first, Solas can see how Evelyn enjoys the travel. Her fingers stroke the worn leather reins of her horse, thumb rubbing at the stitching as if she has never truly noticed such things. She smiles into the wind, even as the cold air makes her shiver. And when the stark, clean lines of the mountains give way to softer greenery, she beams at him. The hills of the Hinterlands gently roll across the landscape, dotted with trees. The air smells of cut grass and blooming trees, and more than once Solas catches Evelyn cutting blooms and tucking them into her saddlebags. Presumably to press when they return to Haven.

But, as they venture deeper into Ferelden, this new happiness begins to sour.

As they approach Redcliffe, Solas first sees the bodies.

Some are armored, some are in robes. Stacked in piles, left to burn. The sickening scent of smoking metal and cloth—and flesh—and hangs heavy in the air.

Wars are never clean, but this one seems particularly messy.

He places a hand on Evelyn’s back when she lingers too long over a fallen trinket—a child’s toy. She picks it up, turns it over in her hands, and her eyes are over-bright. Solas takes it from her, weaves his fingers through her cold ones, and leads her on. “How many,” she says, and her voice shakes.

“Come,” he says quietly.

She can do nothing for the dead, and he will not let her burden herself with them. So he turns her away from the carnage and when they make camp that night, he pulls her close, tucking her cheek to his chest, hoping the sound of his heartbeat will drown out the noise of distant combat.

No one sleeps particularly well. Cassandra looks as if she stayed awake the whole night, and even Varric’s smiles are brittle. They travel quickly, skirting the battlefields, avoiding conflict where they can.

Part of him still wishes to run. To take Evelyn and her marked hand away from the Inquisition. But she would never go, and he knows that his mistakes will be easier to fix with aid. The Inquisition has resources, scant as they may currently be, and Solas would be a fool to scorn them. He will take their help, even as they are unaware who they are aiding.

When they find Mother Giselle, it is on the edge of a battlefield. What must have been a trading post has become a cluster of hastily-assembled buildings full of the wounded and those who have nowhere else to go. Solas sees some of those who have been injured, and without saying a word, he goes to help them. Cassandra is asking where the Mother can be found, and Solas is distracted by a child with a broken arm. He is helping set the limb when he hears a cry.

A roar of challenge. Solas looks up sharply, sees the red cloaks and flashing armor, and his heart lurches.

Templars stream out from behind the trees. Their naked swords catch the sunlight, and Solas lunges to his feet, preparing to cast a barrier around his companions. But he is too far away.

The first templar rushes toward the refugees. Solas tenses, begins to cast, but someone reacts with more swiftness.

A blast of fire catches the templar in the chest. Solas blinks the brightness from his eyes, and he sees the charred form of a templar knight falling to the sodden ground. The others are dispatched by a scout, Varric, and Cassandra.

Solas looks to Evelyn. Her hand is still outstretched, a spark lingering on one fingernail. She looks… surprised. Her mouth is parted and she glances down at her own hand, then back at the dead templar. “I did it,” she says, turning to Solas. And then relief breaks across her face and she laughs. It is a good sound. “I wasn’t sure I could.”

And he is smiling, too. “Of course you could.”


They try to contact the mage rebellion, but the road to Redcliffe is barred.

Evelyn stands at the gates for too long, staring through them, until Cassandra all but drags her away.


Haven becomes a home.

The old apothecary’s cottage truly begins to feel comfortable. Solas sets more permanent wards about its foundations, so he won’t have to reestablish them every night. A small bed of furs is placed beside the wood stove and when Fennel isn't chasing nugs, he naps by the fire. Mornings are spent practicing magic; Evelyn is still relearning some of her old skills, and Solas teaches her a few new tricks. Then, after breakfast, they venture into Haven proper, to join the Inquisition in its daily endeavors.

When a traveling merchant from the north offers fresh mint for sale, Evelyn buys as much as she can afford and hangs the sprigs over the windowsill to dry. Some of the children of those still living in Haven offer her blooming weeds—their stems tangled together and thistles protruding from the leaves. Solas has seen her turn away all sorts of tribute, but these flowers she takes. She places them in one of the apothecary’s old empty jars and they rest on the windowsill.

“I see you are settling into your role as Herald,” he observes, when he catches her arranging the wildflowers.

She gives him a withering stare. “I am no more a herald than you are a wolf.”

It still catches him off guard, how easily she accepts him. Of course, she had over two years as a tranquil to get used to the idea. But he never dared hope that Evelyn wouldn’t turn away, not after she knew the truth. Yet here she stands, glaring at him. She treats him no differently than she once did—and he is grateful for it.

He steps forward, drops a kiss against her cheek. She sighs. “I’ll never be comfortable with people calling me ‘Your Worship.’”

“I know,” he says. “But you should allow it, for now.”

“Because it’ll aid our cause?” she asks, frowning.

He strokes a stray curl behind her ear. “Because it gives the people hope. And right now, hope seems to be in short supply.”

His answer seems to surprise her. She gives a small, disbelieve shake of her head, then returns to rearranging the flowers.


Their band of companions grows.

They go to the Storm Coast and meet the Iron Bull and his chargers. The Iron Bull himself is a series of contradictions—blunt, yet sharp. A spy who tells everyone he is a spy. And he follows the Qun, which sets Solas’s teeth on edge.

The Warden is more welcome. A rough sort, but he’s good with a blade and he smiles at Evelyn in a way that seems to put her at ease. “Fellow marcher, eh?” he says, and asks if she attended any jousts before she was sent to the Circle. They talk horses for some time, and Solas watches as she relaxes.

Solas decides he likes the man.

And then there is Sera.

Who Evelyn decides she likes.

And Solas most definitely does not.

“Oh, come on,” says Evelyn, leaning on his shoulder. “She’s funny, you have to admit.”

“She’s brash and impulsive—”

“She’s young.”

“Very,” he agrees. “And you would not be so fond of her if it were your bedroll she sabotaged.”

Evelyn’s smile softens. “She’s nice to be around,” she says. “She’s… unburdened. If that makes any sense.”

It does. And Solas does not begrudge her any time spent with the young elven thief—but he chooses not to go to the tavern with them.


And then they confront the Chantry in Val Royeaux.

Solas supposes it could have gone worse, but he cannot truly think how. The Seekers make an appearance, leaving a bloodied woman in their wake. Solas watches the Lord Seeker go, and it is only his need to remain unseen that keeps him from unleashing his own magic. He wants the man dead, and it is has been years since he wanted something so viscerally. Not since Clacher, in the dungeons at Ostwick. The Lord Seeker might have ended this war, saved countless lives, but instead he hungers for power.

As they leave the city square, a woman steps out to meet them.

Solas does not recognize her, but Evelyn brightens.

“Grand Enchanter Fiona,” she says, startled. And then her face breaks into a grin. She rushes forward, past the Grand Enchanter, and flings herself into the arms of an old man. His hood falls away, and—

“Danforth,” says Solas, and even he is smiling. “It is good to see you again.”

The old mage is slack-jawed, his arms pinned to his sides by Evelyn’s tight embrace. “I—I thought,” he says, then turns an accusing look on Solas. “What in the void have the two of you been doing? Where have you been?”

It takes some explaining—and a few lies.

Always a few lies.

“You should come back with us,” says Evelyn. “Please—it would be good to have you again.”

For all that it has been over two years, Danforth appears much the same. Shrewd and worn, and Solas is glad to see him. “Wish I could, girl,” says Danforth, cuffing Evelyn lightly on the chin. “But not all of us have Inquisitions at their beck and call. Some of us have to make do with rebellions.”

“You’re fighting with the mages, then,” says Solas.

Danforth scowls. “Well, I sure wasn’t going to simply lay down and let anyone kill me. Figure I’m old enough to die. Might as well die doing something worthwhile.”

“Oh, come now,” says one of the mages. “You’re far too stubborn to die.”

Danforth huffs.

“The others?” asks Evelyn eagerly. “Keldra? Kinnaird? What about Signy? Leonel?”

Danforth shifts on his feet, considering. “The twins are back at Redcliffe. Kinnaird’s got his hands full healing everyone he can, and Keldra’s keeping the templars at bay. Leonel was with them, last I saw. Signy went her own way after we left Ostwick—haven’t seen her in years.”

For a few minutes, Evelyn peppers him with questions, inquiring about old friends. Solas half-listens, but he watches the crowd always. This city is beautiful and bright, but he does not trust it. There are too many masks to hide behind, too many billowing gowns that might conceal weapons.

“We must leave,” says the Grand Enchanter. “But I invite you to Redcliffe, to continue this discussion.”

Evelyn clasps Danforth’s hands one last time. “I’ll see you soon,” she promises.

Solas watches the mages go, his own hand resting on Evelyn’s back. When she looks at him, her eyes are near overflowing with emotion. “He’s alive,” she says softly. “They’re all alive.”

He nods. “I am glad, as well.”

She looks at the place where the mages vanish around a corner. “We’ll bring them into the Inquisition,” she says, her voice firm. “They’ll help close the Breach.”

Such simple words.

But the actions themselves turn out to be much more complicated.

Chapter Text

Duke Bastion’s estate is far more lavish than anything Evelyn is comfortable with. She wears the same clothes as when the messenger first found her—a travel-stained cloaked, worn boots, riding leathers, and her hair is loosely swept back into a braid. Her face is unadorned, her lips unpainted and cheeks too pale. 

She is utterly out of place amidst these decadent men and women, and not for the first time, she wonders what she is doing here. Satisfying her own curiosity, perhaps. She wishes to know why an enchanter in the Empress’s court would invite Evelyn here. But she regrets her decision to accept the invitation within moments. A man and a woman corner her, asking if the rumors are true.

“You were tranquil?” says the woman, a fan held in one hand. She uses it to cover her mask’s stenciled mouth in an approximation of horror. “I cannot believe it.”

“I can,” says the man, and even with his eyes hidden, Evelyn can sense his gaze raking over her.

And then a third man arrives, declaring Evelyn a fraud. He raises a hand to strike her and—

His whole body frosts over. He is paralyzed by magic, and that is when Evelyn realizes this whole introduction must have been carefully planned.

She was meant to feel this way—out of place among these people, meant to be accosted by one of the nobles. And Madame Vivienne was meant to save her, to engender goodwill and gratitude in a single gesture.

When they stand by a window, out of earshot of the other nobles, Evelyn looks over the woman. She is undoubtably beautiful, her skin polished and gown impeccable. She moves as one used to power, willing to take up as much space as she likes, never hiding. She walks as a noble, not a mage.

“With Divine Justinia dead, the Chantry is in shambles,” she says, “and the faithful flock to your banner, pinning their hopes on you to deliver them from chaos. As the leader of the last loyal mages of Thedas, it is only right that I lend my assistance to your cause.”

The words ring through Evelyn, and she feels her polite expression falter. “Deliver the people from chaos,” she repeats. “You mean the Breach?”

Vivienne gives her a smile. “Of course, my dear. But the war itself, as well. It must come to an end if we mages are to have peace again.”

Again.

She cannot ever remember a time of peace.

“And how do you see the war ending, Madame Vivienne?” Evelyn manages to hold her voice level. “Shall the Circle break away from the Chantry completely?”

Vivienne’s mouth pulls tight. “One does not throw away a tool simply because it was misused, my dear. The Circle still has its uses, and Thedas will only accept mages if they are contained.”

“Contained? As you are here?” Evelyn’s tone fractures. She can feel her own emotions bubbling to the surface. “Dining in luxury among Orlesian nobles? I can see how the abuses of the Circle must seem so distant to one as yourself.”

The older woman holds herself carefully, her face poised in a look of gentle rebuke. “I understand you have had a difficult time, my dear, but you must not judge all Circles by your own experiences.”

Evelyn takes a step back. She thinks of Solas, thrown to the cobblestones, of Orla with a tranquil’s brand on her forehead, of the countless children left dead in their own beds, of poisoned wine and armored hands.

“I will never support the Circles,” she says quietly. She watches the comprehension flash through Vivienne’s eyes. She must have expected that Evelyn’s noble family or her youth would make her an easy ally. And perhaps, years ago, Evelyn might have accepted her. She might have welcomed one such as Vivienne into the Inquisition if only because she will have valuable connections, and Evelyn might have bitten her own tongue to keep her opinions silent.

But not now.

“The Circles are gone,” says Evelyn. “And if I have any power as Herald, I will ensure they never rise again.”

“That is remarkably short-sighted of you,” says Vivienne smoothly. “I thought, as a fellow noble—”

“You must have seen the destruction at your own Circle,” replies Evelyn. “The White Spire didn’t escape the violence.”

Vivienne’s face goes tight. “I saw panicking mages act upon unwise urges. I saw violence on both sides. It takes two opponents to fight a war, darling.”

Evelyn turns away. If she were to open her mouth, unkind words would spill out. Biting down her lip, she strides from Duke Bastion’s elegant estate. Vivienne makes no move to follow—and Evelyn can only be grateful for it. She is shaking with suppressed anger, and hot tears spill down her cheeks. But she holds her chin up as she walks out of the decadence of the party and into the arms of the elf waiting by the horses. 

It takes a few moments for her voice to steady. “Madame de Fer will not be joining us,” she says.


When they return to Haven, it is well past midnight. Evelyn strips down to her leggings and breastband. Fennel is asleep on their bed, and Solas shoos the cat down with a disapproving sigh. Fennel gives Solas a dour look, then winds around Evelyn’s ankles. She gives him an absentminded scratch before heading to the bed. It feel indescribably good to wrap herself in the familiar blankets and close her eyes.

“She wanted to bring back the Circles,” she says abruptly. “She wanted to join our cause so she could make things like they were.”

Solas settles himself beside her. “I suspected as much.” She feels his fingers wind through her hair, loosening the braid, then combing out the tangles. “Those in power fear having it taken from them. The Enchantress has found a place in the Imperial Court to protect her, and from there she made herself a comfortable home.”

“So she turns a blind eye to such abuses,” says Evelyn, “because they don’t affect her?”

“Many do,” he says gently. “It is easier. Particularly for those in power. Those who have coin or influence—they cannot imagine what it is like for those who do not.”

She nestles closer, presses herself to him. She can feel him through the thin barrier of their clothing—and abruptly, thoughts of Madame de Fer slip away. The rise and fall of his chest is a familiar comfort, and it lulls her to sleep.

When she awakens, she hears the howling cry of a storm. The wind tears at the small cottage, branches from overhead trees dragging needles along the roof. The windows have frosted over, and the air bites at Evelyn’s nose and cheeks. She listens to the snowstorm, wonders if the tents and hastily-assembled buildings outside of Haven will still be standing in the morning.

The arm around her waist shifts, and she realizes she isn’t the only one awake. She rolls over so that she faces Solas; his half-lidded eyes gleam in the darkness. “It’s a snowstorm,” says Evelyn. She realizes she must sound ridiculous, pointing out the obvious, but some part of her thrills at the idea.

“Yes,” says Solas, his voice heavy with sleep. “You didn’t get many of those at Ostwick, I assume.”

She shakes her head. For all that Ostwick could have its cold winters, the breezes coming from the ocean didn’t allow for snow. Ice, sometimes, but never snow—and certainly not snowstorms. “It’s amazing,” she whispers. “I mean—so long as the house is still standing.”

His fingers card through her hair and she closes her eyes, shivering from pleasure rather than cold. “It will,” he murmurs, and pulls her even closer. It is pleasant, the heat of his skin compared to the freezing air. But facing him like this, their legs tangled together, only thin clothes between them… she can feel every part of him. And rather than frighten her, she feels strangely bold in the intimacy of this small, isolated cottage.

She breathes, her heartbeat quickening. She strokes her fingers down his chest, feels the muscles contract beneath her touch. Her fingers trace his navel, then the sharpness of his hipbone. She has not explored his body in such a way in… well, years.

She hears his breath go a little more ragged as she touches a place on his ribs—ticklish there, she remembers. “What are you doing?” he says, his voice still soft.

“Can I touch you?” she asks. She is still not sure how much between them has changed. If he even still wants her.

She feels his breath against her temple. “Only if you wish to, vhenan.”

She does. So she runs her fingers over his collarbone, feels the dip beneath her thumb, then across the bone to his shoulder. She remembers a slight indent there, a scar from years past. Then down his arm, to the soft skin of his inner elbow. Farther down, she traces the sinews of his forearm, to the familiar marks and calluses of his hand. His fingers catch hers, and he brings her hand upward, pressing a light kiss to her palm. A gentle deflection, if she needs one. She doesn’t. 

“I want to,” she says, in answer to the question still hanging between them. She traces his jaw, then his neck. The beating of his heart is a comfort, and she lingers there for a moment, feeling the pulse of it beneath his ribs. Alive—they’re both alive. Against all odds, they made it through.

She smiles, ducks her head so that he can’t see her blush. She’s acting like an adolescent, but some part of her feels that way. As if this is were all new—and she supposes it is. This is the first time she’s touched him since they left the tower.

She ignores the flutter of nerves that goes through her. She shifts, reaching down between them. She strokes the outline of his cock through his sleep clothes. A soft breath escapes his clenched teeth, but he makes no move. She has all the control in this. She slips her hand beneath his breeches, feels the silky smoothness of his bare skin. She remembers this, the weight of him in her hand, and she allows the old memories to steal over her. He is sensitive just beneath the tip, and she rubs a small circle there with her thumb. His heartbeat throbs against her palm. His hips jerk, and then he stills, as if it is an effort of will.

He sounds ragged. “Vhenan,” he whispers, and she kisses him. His mouth is soft, so familiar, and she can hear the moan caught in his throat when she strokes him. His reaction is an encouraging one and she repeats the motion, falling into old rhythms. Each motion is unhurried, but not tentative. She remembers how he likes to be touched, and she puts that knowledge to good use. She squeezes, strokes more firmly. There is something endearing about the way his control frays, his body canting towards hers even as he tries to hold himself back.

It doesn’t take long for him to be undone; it has been two years, after all. Soon, he is rasping her name and fumbling for the small bedside table. She keeps a towel there to wipe down the window in the mornings, to keep dew from dripping down the windowpane and into their bed.

He spills himself into the towel, his face twisted up in pleasure. She strokes him through it, gentling her touch, and then he is tilting her face up, kissing her fiercely. When she pulls away, his breathing has evened out.

“I missed that,” she says.

He chuckles, but the amusement sounds rather exhausted. “Do you wish for me to return the favor?”

She shakes her head, knowing he will see the gesture, even in the dark. There is something about ceding control that still makes her uneasy, and she is glad when he doesn’t press. Rather, he kisses her forehead.

And, of course, at that moment Fennel leaps atop their bed.

“Not now, you damned creature,” Solas growls, flailing his legs about, trying to dislodge the cat. Fennel rides the buckling covers, his claws sunk deep. His wide eyes gleam in the dark, as if bewildered why he is being shoved from the bed.

Evelyn begins laughing.

Once Fennel has been shooed off the bed and the blankets untangled, Evelyn finally catches her breath. She cannot remember feeling so light. Solas continues to grumble, but when when he sees her mirth, he also smiles. “It seems we’ll never get a moment to ourselves without someone interrupting,” he says, with a small shake of his head.

She snuggles against him, and the sleep she falls into is a deep and restful one.


There are Tevinter Magisters in Redcliffe.

Of course there are, because nothing can ever go smoothly.

And to make matters even worse, there’s some kind of time magic. Time magic—something that is supposed to be impossible. Even Solas seems rather appalled by the idea, murmuring something about unraveling the fabric of worlds. The meeting goes rather badly, with secret meetings, a rift in the Chantry of all places, and when they return to Haven, it is without the mages. She does not even see the twins, as they have been sent into the Hinterlands to root out a cluster of rogue templars.

When they return to Haven, Evelyn’s feet are dragging with discouragement. She forces herself to keep walking, to trudge up into the Chantry and stand by the war table.

Plans are offered and discarded. Arguments are hidden in diplomatic words. Less diplomatic when Cullen reminds them all that the templars are still an option. Maps are consulted—a secret passage revealed. And then the idea of using Evelyn herself as bait—

Evelyn goes to her cottage that night, shaking with ill-dealt emotion, and picks up Fennel, settling him in her lap and rubbing his ears until he purrs. His presence calms her enough that when Solas arrives an hour later, she feels almost normal.

“They want to use me as bait,” she says. “To distract the Magister while a group of Leliana’s agents use a secret passage.”

She watches her own emotions pass over his face—initial anger, followed by grim practicality. “I… see. Is there no other way?”

She shakes her head. “The Magister’s apprentice, Dorian, showed up today. He’ll help us.”

Solas nods. He sits beside her, absentmindedly pats Fennel on the head. The cat looks up sleepily.

“Do you want me with you?”

She looks at him. “Of course.”

He nods in slow acceptance. “I will ask Minaeve to look after Fennel until we return.”

Until we return. She relaxes a little at his words, the silent promise.

They will return.

They will.


She stands waist-high in cold water, and Dorian is beside her.

They are in a dungeon—that much is clear. Bars and locks and—

“Is that a skeleton?” asks Dorian, his brows drawing together. “How ghastly. You’d think they’d clean this place out every once in a while.”

So much for the plan going smoothly. All she remembers is going into the Great Hall, speaking to the Magister, and then an amulet—the magic slamming into her—

“Where are we?” she asks.

“Displacement,” murmurs Dorian, clearly to himself. “In space, clearly.” He turns in a circle, studying their surroundings.

“What did the Magister try to do to me?”

“I believe he tried to erase you from time completely.” His answer is absentminded, as Dorian goes to the barred door and begins studying the lock. “He failed, clearly. Or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“Could you take us back… whenever?” she says. “I mean, if we’ve gone ahead or back a few days…”

“It’s possible,” says Dorian. “If I had the amulet, I’d say it was even likely.”

A shudder drags through her. The water has seeped through her worn leathers, and she moves stiffly to Dorian’s side. Maker, this has all gone badly. She wonders if Solas escaped the blast, or if he’s wandering around in a different part of this dungeon. Leliana’s agents must be in the Great Hall by now, and she’s down here—wherever here is.

Dorian freezes the lock and then snaps it with a well placed kick. “After you,” he says, smiling at her as she walks by. At least he’s enjoying himself; he seems fascinated by the spell that brought them here, and even as they make their way from the dungeon, he is murmuring about possible applications.

But when they reach the stairs, it isn’t the Magister’s guards waiting for them. It isn’t even Inquisition forces.

It is—

“A spirit,” says Dorian, nonplussed. “Well. I must say, this day just keeps getting more interesting.”

Evelyn’s eyes rake over the form. “A spirit,” she repeats softly. It is blue, the form of a human only slightly taller than she is. She can see through the spirit’s edges, barely able to make out any individual features. The head turns toward them.

“You’re here,” says the spirit. It steps forward, its hand extended toward Evelyn.

Dorian places himself before her, his staff at the ready. “Keep your distance, spirit. We don’t want to—”

The spirit passes through Dorian and comes to a halt before Evelyn. “I have seen you before,” it says.

She forces herself to answer, even as her voice shakes with cold. “I—I don’t remember you.”

“You have never met me.” The spirit makes no move to attack, and it seems calm. “I have seen you in his memories. Eyes like stormy seas. There are nights he wished to drown in them.” Something about the words sends a flicker of unease through Evelyn.

“What are you on about?” asks Dorian, bewildered. “Who are you?”

The spirit hesitates, as if dredging up an answer. “I had a name once, but not anymore.” It turns, half-walks, half-floats up the stairs. “You should come. He will want to see you.”

“Who?” asks Dorian.

“The keeper of the castle,” says the spirit. “The one who tried to stitch the skies back together. He failed, of course, but it matters that he tried.”

Dorian gapes after the spirit. For all that he enjoys magic, this seems beyond him. “Is this making any sense to you?”

Evelyn shakes her head. Not wholly truthful.

Her suspicions are confirmed when they reach a guard station. It is not decorated in the trappings of a Ferelden noble. There is a banner belonging to some strange heraldry that Evelyn doesn’t recognize. Dorian frowns.

“What in Andraste’s name,” he begins to say, when the elf steps around the corner. Her dark hair is cropped short, the edges pulled back to keep her gaze unhindered. A sword appears in the elf’s hand, and she holds it with ease.

She regards Evelyn dourly. “Intruders coming in through the dungeons? You really thought to—”

The spirit appears at the elf’s elbow. “I told you she was here. He’ll want to see her.”

“Who?” says Dorian, exasperated.

The elf’s mouth pulls tight. She looks as if she would rather simply kill Dorian and Evelyn, but the spirit’s presence compels her to answer.

“The Dread Wolf,” she says.


Only Evelyn is taken to the Dread Wolf’s rooms.

She assures Dorian it will be fine; she will see him soon. He looks less than reassured as the spirit travels on ahead and Evelyn follows in its wake.

The castle is different. Its edges have been worn down, the decorations shifted from red velvets to fine linens and magical torches. When she steps through the doors, one of those lights casts shadows upon a familiar face.

She sees his features at once: the dimpled chin, the steady eyes, the freckles along his nose and cheekbones. But then her eyes slide over a scar she does not recognize—a silvered mark across his neck, as if someone tried to cut his throat. His eyes are more sunken, his cheekbones starker. Even his mouth seems thinner, as if worn by months of being pressed into a line. His clothes are nothing she recognizes. Golden armor, sleek and decadent, with a wolf’s pelt tucked around one shoulder.

When he sees her, several emotions flit through his eyes. If she did not know him so well, she would not have seen them. Astonishment, wariness, and then something like hunger.

Solas’s gaze never leaves Evelyn. “Dismissed.”

The spirit retreats, shutting the door behind it. The moment the lock clicks into place, Solas is moving. Evelyn barely has time to pull in a breath before his hands are on her shoulders, as if testing to be sure she is real.

“How,” he breathes, and there is pain deeply embedded in that single word. Her heart twists.

“Time magic,” she says. “One moment I was in the great hall, and then—”

His grip on her tightens. “Is it truly you?”

She touches her fingers to his scarred throat.

“You left mint sprigs,” she says, “in my room. That time after we first argued.”

He makes a soft, agonized sound and pulls her tightly against him. She realizes it is the first time since becoming tranquil that he has been less than gentle with her. She is almost glad of it; there is something honest in his desperation. Part of her has feared that he remained with her out of obligation, some desire to make up for a past wrong. But there is no mistaking the way he holds her now—as if he wishes he could draw her within the confines of his own body.

“Shh,” she whispers. “Solas, it’s all right.”

A shudder wracks through him. “I fear no one calls me that anymore.”

“What happened?” she asks.

She doesn’t need to clarify the question; he understands at once. “You vanished,” he says curtly. “You and that Pavus. It was chaos—the Magister’s son was trying to shout him down, to get him to reverse the spell. When Alexius said he could not…” He glances away. “I thought I might have a better chance of it, if I had the amulet.”

Time magic.

Maker, she hates it.

“How long?” she asks.

He pulls back, his gaze still searching her face. “A year.”

A year. For her it has been a matter of hours, but for him it has been a year. She can’t imagine.

She tries to assemble her thoughts. “The amulet—Alexius gave it to you?”

His face is still and cold as a frozen lake. “I took it from his corpse.”

A shiver runs through her. “I… see.”

“Cassandra would have done it, if I had not,” he says. “She was furious. I’ve never seen her quite so angry—nor so lost. I tried to figure out what had been done to you… if you had been displaced somehow. But I could not unravel the spell. And soon enough, we had other worries. A demon army conquered Orlais within a matter of months. The empress was assassinated by a traitor within her own court. And Corypheus himself used the orb to crack open the Veil.”

She draws in a sharp breath.

“He did it… badly,” says Solas. “Like a river that has been dammed too long, but when the damn is broken, pieces of it remain in place. It was inelegant. People died. Spirits died. When the Inquisition fell, everything changed. I gathered as many as I could, both of the old blood and the new. And I began taking territory back.”

“Including this place,” she says, glancing at the walls around them.

A shadow passes through his eyes. “This was the first fortress I retook,” he admits quietly. “I—perhaps it was foolishness on my part. But I would not have allowed this place to remain in enemy hands.”

This place. Where he thought she died. He made it his own, built his own alliance upon this spot. She wonders if he did it to remember her, or perhaps if this is the place he could feel his own anger most keenly.

“Come,” says Solas, and he draws her deeper into the chambers. “You keep shivering—you can’t stay in those clothes.”

She would protest, but her muscles are aching with exhaustion and she can still feel the chill of the water seeping through her clothes. She follows him into a washroom and he draws a bath. She half expects him to disrobe, as well, but he merely points out there the soaps and oils can be found before sweeping from the room. Evelyn places her soiled clothes on a chair before sinking into the blissfully hot water. She feels a stab of guilt at the thought of Dorian, who must be worrying for her. She will have to return to him—alone. If they can return to their time, he must not know the Dread Wolf’s true identity.

Solas returns with clean garments. They are far finer than her leathers and worn travel boots, and she feels out of place the moment she pulls the tunic over her head. When she looks up, she sees Solas watching her. He holds himself an arm’s width apart, as if he does not trust himself to come closer. She is the one to approach him—this strange Solas that she knows and does not know at the same time. “I had a meal brought up,” he says quietly.

The food is a welcome sight: a braised hare, with juniper berries and roasted carrots. It is finer fare that she would have expected of him. “The cooks who worked in the Winter Palace fled when Orlais fell,” says Solas quietly. “Many servants are ill-suited to fighting, and they were glad to offer their aid to the fight in this way.”

“Ah,” she says, and can’t think of anything else to add.

“Does the Magister think he can reverse the process?” he asks.

Evelyn nods. “He said that if he had the amulet, he might be able to manage it. I don’t suppose…”

Solas pulls the chair out for her, gesturing for Evelyn to sit. She does, and he pours a goblet of red wine. “It is in one of the vaults,” he answers. “I’ll have it brought to Pavus at once. You should eat and I’ll have quarters prepared for you.”

Which, of course, leaves her alone with the food. She eats what she can of the meal, barely tasting the well-seasoned meat. She is caught up in worries, in this future that seems to have gone so badly awry. She is so distracted that she drinks a mouthful of the wine—and nearly spits it out. The earthy, peppery taste of it brings back all sorts of memories.

Keldra will not wake. Her own heart is beating too quickly, but Keldra will not—

Her hand shakes when she sets down the goblet. Crimson liquid spills over the edge, stains the white tablecloth like blood. “Damn it,” she whispers, and tries to wipe it up.

“I’m sorry.”

She looks up, and he is there in the doorway. Before she can compose an explanation, he is taking the stained tablecloth from her hands, setting it back on the table. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “I should have realized.” He uses a napkin to dry the wine from her fingertips, and for a few fragile moments, neither one speaks.

“It has been a year,” she murmurs.

“That should not matter.” All of his recrimination is turned inward. “It was thoughtless of me.” He will not quite meet Evelyn’s eyes; he gazes over her shoulder. “There are rooms for you and Pavus. If you wish, you could retire to them. I must leave, in the meantime. Matters must be attended to outside of the castle.”

She still has so many questions, but she doesn’t have the courage to ask them. Who survived and who did not. What became of Haven. What became of Fennel. Perhaps it is selfish to worry about a cat when the world is going to the Void, but she still does.

When she steps into the corridor, she finds a servant waiting for her. “I’m to take you to your quarters, Your Worship,” he says, straightening.

Evelyn nods, and follows the elf through the hallways. The castle is nearly as she remembers it—with lush rugs meant to keep the chill of the stone walls at bay. The paintings have been taken down and replaced with dried greenery, and she can sense the hum of magic through the building’s foundations. Powerful wards have been laid through the stones.

Her own quarters must have been the guest wing when this place belonged to Bann Teagan. Unsurprisingly, Dorian is already there, pacing before a fire. The gleam of a familiar amulet rests in his palm. He looks up, his face tightening with surprise. “You’re all right. Good. I was beginning to worry you’d been gobbled up by this wolf everyone’s on about.”

“He’s just an elf,” says Evelyn. Not quite a lie. “He asked me where we’d come from, what we were doing here, how it happened.”

Dorian’s mouth twists. “And I assume he’d rather ask you than the Tevinter mage?”

“Probably.”

“Well,” says Dorian, “considering how eager he is to send us back, I’d say you did a fine job.”

“Can you do it?” She nods at the amulet.

He frowns. “I have yet to fail. But then again, I have yet to try something along these lines.”

“Comforting,” she says dryly. “In the meantime, we should both get some rest. We’ll have plenty of time to work on it in the morning.”

His mouth twists. “Ah, yes. Time.” 


A few hours before dawn, he goes to her.

He should not.

He is not the man she should depend upon. The last few months have made that quite clear. He failed her, in every way he could. And yet, she lives on, and perhaps—

Perhaps not all is lost yet.

Perhaps this world might be undone.

He goes to her quarters. The hour is late enough that he is nearly sure she will be asleep. If she does not answer his quiet knock, he will go. That he promises himself.

But when he raps lightly on the door, it is mere moments before she pulls it open.

She is dressed in the nightgown he asked the servants to lay out for her. Blue silk cascades down her body like a waterfall, and her face is drawn with worry and her hair tangled—

It is only now that he truly allows himself to acknowledge how much he has missed her.

“Solas,” she says, then glances into the corridor, as if checking to see if they are alone. “Come in.”

Not a question about why he is here; no hesitation whatsoever. Even in this world, where he is the battle-worn old wolf that legends deem him to be, she still accepts him.

The room is one of the smaller guest quarters, but it is secure and comfortable enough. She has the candle on the desk still lit, and one of the books on the shelf rests on the bed. He stands in this room, feeling out of place in his armor that still smells faintly of battle.

“Where did you go?” she asks.

He draws in a slow breath. “Corypheus’s forces have been pushing against these borders. I’ve had to drive them back several times.”

She nods. “Are we safe here?”

“For the moment.” He sits carefully on the small desk chair. Evelyn seats herself on the edge of the bed. “My spies tell me the magister himself is dealing with an uprising in Nevarra. The mages there unleashed thousands of the dead to fight the demons and it’s become something of a nightmare.”

Her lips press together, and she looks down. She blinks rapidly, as if to hold back some unspoken grief.

Without thinking, he goes to sit beside her. “Evelyn.”

“I wasn’t there,” she says, still not meeting his eyes. “I know it wasn’t my doing—but seeing how all of this could go… I mean. What difference can one person make?”

“You should know how important a single person can be,” he says. “You’ve witnessed it. A single person can affect the world for centuries to come.” He brushes a hair off her cheek. “For better or for worse.”

Her gazes comes up and locks with his.

He should never have come here. He should have remained in his rooms, waited for Pavus to devise a way to use the amulet to send them both back to their own time. It is too easy to slip into old habits, and now that she’s here, he doesn’t want to let her go. But she doesn’t belong here—in this abomination of a world. She’ll be safer in the past—

And he won’t remember a thing of this.

“Evelyn.” He must say the words now, or he will never manage it. “It was my doing, not yours, that brought us here.”

Her frown deepens, lines forming around the corners of her eyes. “You tried to kill him, didn’t you?”

“I tried.” He looks away. “I failed. Many ancient elves died that day so I might escape. While he possesses the orb and the red lyrium, I cannot defeat him.”

She leans against him. Just a touch of her shoulder against his armored one. The silken nightgown leaves her arms bare and part of him wishes he had taken off his armor before coming here, if only so he could feel the warmth of her skin.

“I never wished for you to see this side of me.” The words slip out, unbidden.

She lets out a breath. “This—this persona. It is part of you. You’ve never turned away from me—why would I do any less?”

For many minutes, they sit in silence together. It is comfortable, companionable. Solas feels no pressing need to speak; rather, he contents himself with the quiet of the small room, the scent of Evelyn’s clean hair, and the touch of her fingers twined with his.

“You should get some rest,” he finally says.

“So should you,” she replies.

He gives her a pinched smile. “I have matters to attend to.”

“You can still lie down for a few minutes,” she says.

He hesitates. He should speak with his spies. He should be setting out war strategies. He should—

But if all goes according to plan, none of that matters.

This matters. This moment.

“All right,” he relents, and she smiles.

It feels natural to settle beside her on the bed. She curls up on her left side, her legs slightly bent. It is so familiar, the sight of how she always falls asleep, and he allows himself to relax. He reaches out, brushes his fingers through the loose ends of her hair. He falls asleep like that. And when he wakes, it is to the sounds of battle.


Evelyn jerks awake.

A crash.

Somewhere outside there is a crashing sound—like a rockslide—

Solas is already moving, blowing out the candle on the desk. A spirit appears, this one laced with red and silver. Solas snaps a question in elvhen and the spirit answers in kind. Evelyn scrambles from the bed, feeling suddenly far too vulnerable in her silken nightgown. “What’s happening?”

“He’s attacking this place,” says Solas grimly. “You must return to your own time.”

Another crash shakes the castle to its foundations; a chunk of ceiling falls and shatters.

The spirit vanishes through a wall.

“Come,” says Solas. “I’ll take you to the Great Hall. That’s the safest place, right now. Pavus will be brought there as well.” He straightens, pulls the door open. She suddenly sees the sword in his hand and danger snaps her into the moment. Her breathing quickens, and she hastens after him. As they hurry through the castle, Solas snaps orders to passing servants and spirits, and they hastily obey him. Some in elvhen, some in common.

Get to the grounds—

Send a messenger to Briala—

Tell me where the attack is coming from—

This is Fen’Harel—an elf hollowed out by anger and a desire to fix every wrong by any means necessary. He smells of old blood and armor, and the wolf pelt drawn over his shoulder is the only soft thing about him.

She will not let him become this.

Not only for the world’s sake, but for his.

When they reach the doors outside of the great hall, Solas says, “Go inside. Pavus should already be there.” He thrusts a roll of parchment into her hand. “Give it to the other me,” he says. “It’s important.”

She nods. “What are you going to do?”

Solas turns from her, and she sees the set of his shoulders as he straightens, the smooth, subtle transformation from familiar apostate to elvhen general. “I will stop Corypheus. Delay him long enough for you to leave.”

A flutter of panic rises in her chest. “You—you can’t—”

He cannot defeat the magister. Not like this. Not without the orb.

And what if Dorian cannot send them both back? What if she remains here, trapped in this future, and Solas has been—

Solas must see the fear in her face. Gently, he touches his forehead to hers. 

“The Magister,” she says, her voice barely a whisper. “You said you couldn’t defeat him.”

The corners of his mouth tilt upward. “I don’t have to.” And before she can muster a reply to that, he kisses her. It is the lightest touch, barely a kiss at all. Something soft touches the skin of her neck, and before she can quite react, he steps back. The door swings shut between them, and he is gone.

She reaches up, touches something warm and soft. The wolf pelt, she realizes. He slipped it over her shoulders. She pulls it a little tighter around herself, irrationally comforted by its presence.

When she enters the great hall, Dorian is at work. The amulet hangs between two of his fingers, and he murmurs words she doesn’t recognize. Evelyn fidgets, restless and keyed up. She feels utterly useless here; she cannot cast a spell to affect time. All she can do is wait. Wait, and hope that Dorian will manage the spell in time.

An inhuman roar reverberates through the floor. One of the torches quivers, and the light flickers. Evelyn realizes she is trembling; she tries to swallow down her own fear, but she cannot keep it at bay. There’s too much at stake for her to be calm.

A crash—the sound of breaking glass.

Something is inside of the fortress.

Dorian pays the distraction no mind; the amulet rises into the air, catches the light.

Something slams into the doors. The wood splinters but holds. Evelyn draws the fur more tightly around herself, prepares to call fire into her hand.

Magic swirls around the amulet, expanding, swelling ever wider.

Another crash. The wood cracks, and a clawed hand reaches through.

“Come on,” says Dorian, and he seizes her by the arm. It is only then she realizes the amulet is vibrating, and she can almost taste the magic on the air. It tugs at her hair, pulling her braid free. She can barely see; her ears are filled with rushing wind, and—

She hits the stone floor hard.

For a moment, she squeezes her eyes shut. She is too afraid to reopen them, to see the same great hall, the breaking doors, the horrors beyond them.

Hands grasp at her, hauling her upright in a less than gentle motion. The world tilts, and her stomach swoops. When she blinks, she sees Cassandra’s face staring down at her. The seeker is pale, her lips utterly bloodless. “You’re alive.”

“I’m all right, too, in case anyone was wondering,” says Dorian, from Evelyn’s other side. He sits up, brushing dust from his sleeves.

Cassandra helps her stand, and Evelyn clasps Dorian’s hand, grinning at him. Then she glances about—and there he is.

Solas. Her Solas—with his small scar above his eyebrow and his worn tunic. He appears startled, a little concerned, but there is none of his counterpart’s hollow desperation. Relief floods her.

“We’re back.”

Chapter Text

The quiet of the Hinterlands is welcome.

They move in a small, swift group—Evelyn, Pavus, Cassandra, and of course, Solas. The mages will be somewhere behind them, their numbers forcing a slower pace. They will have wagons and children and what few possessions they managed to salvage during the uprising. They will be forced to keep to the main roads. But Evelyn glances at Solas, and he can easily read the request in her eyes. She wants to be as far from Redcliffe as is possible; he agrees with her sentiment, so he takes a path through the wilds. Pavus makes a comment about living like southern barbarians, and Cassandra replies that he could travel with the other mages should he so desire. Evelyn pays them no heed. Her gaze is forward, and she uses her staff as a walking stick, aiding her way up a steep incline.

She is dressed in borrowed clothes—a green tunic and slightly too-large boots. Her own leathers have been lost to a future that he hopes will never come to pass. Evelyn told them what she and Pavus encountered—but he knows she has not told them everything.

Should she wish to tell him more, she will.

The forest’s thick canopy blocks out most of the sunlight, and when night falls, it comes on quickly. They make camp, drawing up two tents and rolling out bedrolls. Cassandra and Solas work out a watch between the two of them and when he goes into his and Evelyn’s tent, he is greeted by the sight of her bare back. She has slipped off the green tunic, dressed only in breastband and breeches. She doesn’t meet his eyes.

He sits on his bedroll and begins to remove his own outer layers. “You were different,” she says suddenly.

His hands go still. A sudden chill sweeps through him, and he wonders if her silence has not been entirely fear of a possible future. Perhaps it has been fear of him, as well.

He knows she met him in this future; she and Pavus took refuge in the stronghold of the Dread Wolf. But Pavus luckily never identified him, and Evelyn simply told the others that the Dread Wolf was an elf who organized against the Elder One.

“Was I?” he asks, with the air of one stepping into shallow waters. Testing the depths.

She nods. “It was a bit of a shock,” she says. “Seeing you like that.”

He moves a little closer to her. “I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

She shakes her head. “You didn’t frighten me. It was just odd—you in that role. I mean, when you were with the other elves, you still maintained your mask with most of them. Seeing you simply discard it, cease to be Solas and simply be the Dread Wolf… it was disconcerting.”

“The Dread Wolf is my mask,” he replies. “For all that I never told you who I was, I am the man you met in Ostwick Tower.”

She touches his cheek. “I know you are. The man in Ostwick put himself between a templar and a young child. And the Dread Wolf faced Corypheus alone. You are always fighting for something.”

He hears her unspoken words and realizes why she is troubled. She fears for him.

For a few moments, neither speaks. He will not offer her hollow reassurances and she will not ask for them.

Evelyn leans back. “I need to show you something.”

The parchment she withdraws from her pack is a surprise. Small, crumpled and the writing upon it is starkly familiar.

“You gave this to me.” She smooths her fingers over the wrinkles. “You said it was important. I haven’t read it.”

Solas calls light to his palm, and together, they read the note in silence.

It’s half-sentences, scraps of information. There’s a mention of a temple to Mythal, of sentinels still alive. Of eluvians. Of a demon army and an empress’s assassination. There are few enough details—just enough to give a vague shape of the months to come.

And then there is a line at the end that surprises him.

When the Magister sundered the Veil, the city of Ostwick was destroyed. I found nothing in the wreckage.

“You—he… went to Ostwick? Why?” She looks up at Solas.

He studies the parchment, searching for some scrap of knowledge he might have missed. “Perhaps he meant to save your family.”

She frowns. “Why? I’m not… I mean, I wouldn’t want to see them dead, but I’m not particularly close with my parents.”

“You have siblings,” he says quietly. “You do not speak of them often, but the few times you mentioned them, you seemed fond. Of your older brother, your sisters.”

Her lips part in silent understanding.

Solas reads on.

No red wine.

He looks up at that, his brow creasing.

“I’ll tell you later,” she says.

He reads the parchment a second time, committing all the details to memory. “A demon army conquers Orlais,” he says. “And a royal assassination.”

Her mouth curls up at the corner. “Seems we won’t be getting much sleep in the coming months.” Her wry acceptance warms him—it is the first time she has smiled since they left Redcliffe.

“I’ll write to my agents,” he says. “See what information they can find in Orlais. Perhaps we will find a way to use these warnings to our advantage.”

Solas places the parchment back inside of her pack. His fingers brush the soft fur of a wolf pelt. He settles on his bedroll. He allows the light to flicker out, and in the sudden darkness, all he can make out is Evelyn’s silhouette. She curls up beside him, and he throws another cloak over them both. Her skin is soft and smells of fine oils. She must have bathed well in that terrible future. He inhales, his nose brushing the downy hairs at the nape of her neck.

“You were quite the picture in that dress,” he says softly. In a slip of blue silk, her shoulders bare.

He hears her snort. “Barefoot and still messy from sleep. I’m sure I was a sight.”

Solas presses a kiss to the back of her neck. “A beautiful one.”

She makes a startled sound, then says, “I kept the nightgown. Maybe I’ll wear it again.” Her voice goes teasing. “If only because you gave it to me.”

He kisses her a second time, and the sound of her breathing slows. He feels the rise and fall of her back, smells the oils from her hair, and hears the sounds of the forest all around them. It takes only a few minutes for her to fall asleep.

Solas follows her into dreams.


Only Leliana seems truly happy with the outcome of Evelyn’s visit to Redcliffe.

Cullen is short-tempered, Cassandra snarls, and Josephine’s true emotions are kept walled away behind her polite mask. Evelyn defends her decision as best she can, but there’s no mistaking her own temper when Cullen mentions possible abominations, and how the Breach could affect the mages. Evelyn has to bite her tongue to remind him that she herself is a mage and thus far hasn’t succumbed to demons.

By the time Evelyn leaves the Chantry, her lips are sore from being pressed together. She stands in the open air, her arms clamped around her chest, and breathes in the scent of snow and mountains.

It’s Blackwall who finds her. He smiles a bit when he sees her expression. “Ah,” he chuckles. “You look as though you’ve endured better days.”

Her hand goes to her hair—frizzy in the moisture. She tries to smooth it down, then decides she doesn’t care. “Worse ones, too.”

“Aye,” he says, a little more gravely. “That you have.” He offers her his elbow and she takes it, surprised by the gesture. He walks her down to the tavern, nods at the woman behind the counter, and then guides Evelyn to a table. A small tankard is placed before her and Blackwall accepts one for himself, as well. He clinks his drink against hers. “To hard won victories,” he says, and drinks.

Evelyn leaves her tankard on the table. The tavern is quiet this time of day; it’s in between meals. “I’m not sure I’d count this as a victory.”

He snorts into his tankard. “Right. As if going into an impenetrable fortress, doing away with a magister’s forces, dislodging a foreign power, and allying yourself with the free mages of Thedas is something a person does every day.”

She blinks. “I—hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“‘Course you hadn’t.” He nods at her. “You’re so caught up in things—you’ve got your head all knotted up in plans that you forget there are people still breathing because of you.”

Her chest feels a little too tight. She thinks of Solas, of her own loyalties. They are certainly not to the Inquisition. “I’m not sure they should depend on me. I’m probably not the best person to follow.”

“You’re the best hope they have,” he says, with a glance at her right hand. Her fingers are curled about the still-full tankard. “Whether or not Andraste sent you, you’ve done more than anyone thought you could. Freeing the mages, setting things right in Redcliffe.”

“I’m still not sure I can close the Breach.” It’s the first time she’s said those words aloud, and they frighten her. The last time she stabilized the Breach, she was knocked unconscious for over a day. “Even with the power of the other mages, it might not be possible.” She’s not sure why she can say this to Blackwall when she hasn’t even mentioned it Solas. But something about the Gray Warden puts her ease. He has no illusions about the world; he doesn’t look at her like she’s anything but what she is—a woman trying to keep the world from unraveling.

“But you’re going to try.”

Her lips press together. “Yes. I’m going to try.”

“Aye,” he says. “And that’s why I’ll follow you.”

She smiles, looks down before he can see the emotion welling behind her eyes.

For a few minutes, they drink in silence. The ale is watered down, and Evelyn is grateful for it. It tastes of ripe wheat and sunlight. “Can I ask you something?” says Blackwall.

She swallows. “Of course.”

He hesitates, and she wonders what question might make him look uneasy. “You never considered approaching the templars, did you?”

A quick shake of her head.

“Because a templar hurt you,” he says. And his eyes are gentle, understanding. He knows something of the darker aspects of this world, enough to figure out what happened to her.

She looks away. “Yes. They hurt me. But it is more than that. I saw—during the uprising, when they killed the mages, they killed all of them. They drugged the wine and killed mages in our beds. Adults, the elderly, and the children.”

Blackwall’s hand tightens, his knuckles gone pale. “You can’t forgive them that.”

“No,” she says. “I can’t.”

He downs the last of his ale, then sets his tankard down. “Fair enough.”


When the mages arrive, Evelyn is there to greet them. Josephine has a speech prepared, but when the gates swing open, all thoughts of propriety fly out of Evelyn’s head.

Danforth is among the first she sees—he has claimed a place in a wagon, and even some distance away she can hear his snappish voice when he tells the driver that the wagon driver that he need not run over every single stone in the road. And then there is Keldra, thinner than Evelyn remembers, and with new scars on her arms but she is alive and when she sees Evelyn she breaks into a run and catches her in a tight embrace. A second pair of arms encircles them both and Evelyn just knows it’s Kinnaird, even with her eyes squeezed shut.

Maker. They’re alive.

There are no words for this. No way to convey her relief at seeing them again. This is what she is fighting for—not just for order or Thedas, but for them. For all those who never had anyone to fight for them before. Once the arms around her ease, she finds herself caught up in another embrace. A student, this time. Gerald, she recalls. Her memory feels sluggish after years of not caring to remember old names.

There are so many of them. Mages from other towers, children stumbling along in snow that has been churned to slush, apprentices with gangly limbs. Voices are raised in greeting, in relief, in welcome. Haven is not much to look at, but the mages seem appreciative of it. There will be tents and hastily-assembled barracks and people will have to squeeze together.

But they’re safe. They’re here.

And they’re free.

For the first time, Evelyn looks down at her left hand, at the spark of green that flares in her palm, and she feels glad for it.


The tavern is noisy that night.

She hears it even as she walks by, carrying elfroot to the apothecary. He asked her to pick any she found in the mountains, and she enjoys the small walks.

Inside the tavern, someone is singing. Light spills through the cracks in the door. A glance through a window, and she sees the building brimming with people dressed in ragged mage robes. She feels her mouth pull up at one corner. Kinnaird and Keldra are there, along with Leonel. The boy has grown into himself; he’s filled out and something about him is more confident, easier. They’re all celebrating their newfound freedom.

Evelyn lingers there, watching them. She feels too disconnected to step inside and join them.

This is what their lives could be. If she succeeds—if the world is restored, if magic is made a part of this world again—

Many of them might not survive.

Her heart twists. She still remembers that terrible future vividly. A war-torn continent.

If the Veil is sundered, will that future be inevitable?

But if the magic comes back, and it is Solas who brings it back, not a power-mad magister, will that change things?

She closes her eyes.

“Mage Trevelyan.”

The sound of her name has Evelyn whirling around. A woman stands a short distance away. She is dressed a little too lightly for the weather; her cloak is thin, but she does not shiver. Her hair is cropped short, but what Evelyn can see of it is curly and lush. A touch of gold gleams between her brows.

Evelyn feels her lips form the name. “Orla.”

The young woman nods. “I was told you would be here at Haven.” Her voice is uninflected, and far too familiar. Evelyn remembers that voice coming from her own mouth.

“How have you been, Orla?” she asks quietly.

Orla considers. “I have been with the mages since the uprising. Leonel took me with him when he joined the rebellion. I could not do magic, but I aided in other ways. I could enchant items, work on potions, and help the wounded.”

The answer is cobbled together out of facts and memories, but no true feelings. Maker. Was this what she sounded like for two years?

“Are you well?” asks Evelyn.

Orla blinks. “I am in good health.”

Evelyn feels a lump rise into her throat. Speaking becomes a little painful. “I mean—you’re tranquil, Orla.”

“I am,” says Orla, rather agreeably.

“Does it bother you?” Evelyn hears her own voice fray. Her emotions have steadied some in the past weeks, but confronted with Orla, she finds herself unraveling. “Do you want to be like you were?”

Orla gives a slight shrug of her shoulder. “I do not mind the way things are,” she says.

Of course she doesn’t mind. She can’t mind. She’s been forced not to mind.

The taste of bile floods Evelyn’s mouth, and for a moment, she fears she will be ill. She forces herself to breathe, to inhale the sharply cold air.

Orla watches her. Still and quiet.

Evelyn unclasps her own cloak. Her fingers shake and she’s unsure how much it has to do with the cold. The garment is heavy with wool, and she places it around Orla’s shoulders.

It’s the only thing she can do for the girl.

For now, anyways.


Solas finds her outside of the Chantry. The candles have burned low, and even the tavern has quieted. She should be in the cottage, she realizes. She must have worried him when she did not return.

He knows her well enough not to inquire about her missing cloak. He simply slides something warm and soft around her shoulders. She recognizes it as the wolf pelt. Her fingers tangle in the fur and she draws it more closely about herself.

For a few minutes, she does not speak and he does not question.

“I told Leliana and the others I will try to close the Breach tomorrow,” she says.

She sees him nod out of the corner of her eye. “You are ready?”

“No,” she says. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.”

His warm fingers weave through her cold ones. “Then you should sleep.”

She allows him to lead her through Haven, out through the gates, and to their small cottage. She curls up on the bed, listens to Fennel purr beside the fireplace and the soft snow settling on the roof. It is a peaceful night, if not a restful one.

“What will we do?” she asks, into the darkness. “After the Breach is closed.”

She feels a touch of lips against her hair. “We will consider our next steps. We will gather what information we can. And we will return to this cottage, preferably with plates of hot food, and watch Fennel try to steal what morsels he can.”

She smiles, warmed by the thought.

But it is the last night they ever spend in the cottage.

Chapter Text

Two figures approach the Breach, their fingers interlocked.

It is far away, nigh untouchable, a whirlwind of green in the clouds. It looks like a roiling storm, but no rain nor wind emerges. It is deathly quiet, and that silence makes Solas uneasy. Evelyn’s fingers are cold against his, despite his thumb rubbing circles against her palm. Standing beneath the Breach, she seems suddenly very small.

“You can do this,” he says quietly. Half to reassure her, and half to convince himself.

She nods. Her face is pale, set with determination. “Tell Cassandra I’m ready?”

His fingers slip from hers. Some distance behind lines of mages stand ready. This is why they went to Redcliffe, why they’ve risked so much. For this.

Cassandra nods at him. Her hand rests on her sword hilt, but only lightly. As if she needs the touch to steady herself.

“Let us begin,” he says.


The village brims over with music and light. Torches are lit throughout Haven, and the snow packed down by dancing feet. Someone rolled a keg of ale out of the tavern and cups are passed from hand to hand. People twirl, fingers locked tight, twirling so fast that some of them lose their feet and go sliding across the snow, laughing. Several children roast nuts over an open fire, and Danforth sits by them, watching the flames as if to make sure they don’t grow too large. Fennel has found his way to one of the merchants selling dried meats, and somehow he managed to steal a strip of chicken for himself.

It is lovely. All of it—the chaos and the music and the dancers. Evelyn watches from a distance, sitting on an overturned barrel with a cloak wrapped tightly around herself. She’s a little tired, and her left hand still twitches, but it’s a pleasant exhaustion. A satisfied one.

Her gaze slides upward, to the sky. It’s scarred but whole.

A bit like herself.

She smiles, closes her eyes. Solas wandered away a few hours ago; he said he wished to check on a few things.

The sound of footsteps makes her look up. Cassandra approaches, her boots cutting through the soft snow with ease. She looks down at the revelry, and her face softens. “Solas confirms that the heavens are calm,” she says, without preamble. “You’ve sealed the Breach. We’ve reports of lingering rifts, and many questions remain. But this was a victory. Word of your heroism has spread.”

Evelyn blinks, taken aback. “That’s—very kind of you to say.”

“I mean it.” Cassandra sounds gruff, and Evelyn realizes that the seeker is slightly embarrassed. “I know we have not always seen eye to eye. But you did well here. I was uneasy with your decision to ally with the mages, but I can see now that it was the right one.”

The unexpected admission makes Evelyn glance away. The dancers are twirling, and she sees Keldra among them. She is trying to get Orla to dance with her and the young woman seems mildly baffled by the attempt. “I did not ally with them solely for their help,” she says quietly.

Cassandra lets out a sigh. “I know that. And I understand. Were it the Seekers placed in such peril… I would have done the same.”

Evelyn looks sharply at her. Cassandra holds her gaze and does not look away.

For the first time, something like understanding passes between them.

Evelyn feels herself relax. “Thank you.”

“I still think you are too easily swayed by emotion,” says Cassandra. “And I have no doubt I will disagree with you in the future… but I am glad to serve at your side, Herald.”

Evelyn lets out a small laugh. “I wouldn’t know what to do if you did agree with me, Seeker.”

That earns her a derisive snort. Which only makes Evelyn laugh again. Shaking her head, Cassandra turns to leave.

And then a bell begins to toll.

Evelyn’s chin jerks up. She has never heard that sound before, and for a moment she’s unsure what it means—but when the dancers begin to run, she understands. It is a warning. The children scatter, and out of the corner of her eye, Evelyn sees Danforth try to herd them toward the Chantry. Fennel leaps from his perch and scurries beneath a crate. A few of the mages have gone still—Keldra and Kinnaird are in hurried conversation.

“We must get to the gates.” Cassandra’s voice snaps Evelyn back to herself. She nods and hastens after the older woman. The path is clear of snow, and she is glad for it as they all but run for the gates. The bell is louder here, the constant clanging an irritant that Evelyn wishes would go silent. She reaches for her staff, feeling its reassuring weight on her back. She’s not defenseless, she reminds herself. Even when Cullen tells them that there are soldiers coming for Haven, she forces herself to remain calm.

“Under what banner?” asks Josephine, because of course that is what she’s concerned with. Evelyn cannot fault her for wanting to know.

“None.”

Josephine’s voice lowers in surprise. “None?”

Evelyn is barely paying attention. She steps closer to the gates, watches the play of light. There’s something there. A silhouette—

“I can’t come in unless you open!”

She knows that voice.

I had a name once.

“Open the gates.” The command jerks out of her. “Open them, now!”

Her own fear is beginning to rise, crawling up her throat. It’s as if the bad future has come for her, has been angered by her closing of the Breach. It’s here, at her doorstop, and she cannot stop it.

The gates swing open.

An armored brute stands beyond them. He saunters toward the gates, weapon in hand, and Evelyn hears the whisper of Cassandra’s blade being drawn.

But before any of them can act, a sword bursts forth through the man’s helmet.

Evelyn draws in a quick breath; it’s such a violent little act, and she cannot seem to keep a grasp on her own emotions. Not anymore. She wants to go back to five minutes ago—to the dancing and the laughter and the warmth of the fires.

The man falls, revealing his attacker. It’s not a spirit, like Evelyn expected. It’s a boy. He’s a thin, ragged thing.

He takes one step forward, then retreats, as skittish as a startled colt. “I am Cole.”

You’re here.

“I came to warn you—to help.”

I have seen you before.

“People are coming to hurt you. You probably already know.”

You have never met me.

“What is this?” Evelyn says. “What is going on?”

The question seems to settle the boy. His voice steadies and he says, “The templars come to kill you.”

Evelyn closes her eyes. Darkness is easier to face than the world around her. It has become too loud, too bright and too chaotic. She wants to vanish, to will herself elsewhere. She cannot face this. She cannot—

There are children in Haven. Tranquil. Mages she promised protection.

She opens her eyes.

She is shaking, frightened beyond measure, but she will not run.

In her panic, she barely hears Cullen. Outrange rings in his voice, a sharp betrayal that turns into brittle anger. Any fears she might have had that he would side with the templars is quickly quashed; he looks at Evelyn, and she sees his scarred mouth tighten.

“The red templars went to the elder one,” says Cole. “He knows you. You took his mages.” His arm lifts, points to the mountain pass. “There.”

Cullen and Evelyn look—and she catches her first glimpse of the magister.

For it must be the magister. Scarred flesh drawn tight across stone—a too-tall form, as if someone who had only a vague idea of what a man should look like made this creature. It is too far away for her to see more, but she recoils nonetheless. Her stomach turns over—and it is only partially because of the magister. The man standing at the creature’s side is familiar. Not in face or form, but in his armor. The heavy weight of it, the emblem etched into the breastplate. A templar.

Hundreds of templars.

Come to finish what they started.


Haven is in chaos.

People trip over themselves in their haste; they rush for the Chantry, bringing what possessions they can, fleeing to the only safe place they know. A child sobs in a man’s arms as they run; several tranquil follow at a stately pace; a dog is barking some distance away.

And Solas runs in the opposite direction. While the others flee from the gates, he rushes toward them.

He can hear the battle before he sees it—steel raining down, arrows hitting the walls, the ring of swords upon shields, and the roar of sudden fire. Lyrium hangs heavy in the air, the tang as cold as fresh snowfall. Mages are fighting, facing those come to kill them with a fierceness that Solas has not seen in two years and hoped not to see again.

A trebuchet flings a boulder into the air, and Solas sees it slam into several of the enemy, crushing armor as if it were made of paper. Solas’s gaze darts about, seeking the familiar sight of blue mage’s robes and messy brown hair.

A templar emerges from the bushes and without thinking Solas’s fingers clench, calling the Fade to twist and warp around the man. The templar spins, caught off balance, and Solas sees it isn’t a man.

This templar is riddled with red stone. It protrudes from the hollows of his face where eyes should be—and his hands are claws. It is wrong, and it turns his stomach with the smell. Like wine that has been in the bottle too long and turned to vinegar. It is heavy and sickly, sweet with rot.

Red lyrium. These templars have been taking red lyrium.

Solas ends the creature’s existence with a blast of fire, then he hastens on. The freshly churned snow slows his pace, and he grits his teeth. They cannot hold this army off for long. The enemy’s numbers are simply too great and Cullen’s forces are ill-equipped to hold off such an attack.

He finds Evelyn near the farthest trebuchet.

She stands with Varric and Cassandra, holding off a giant creature with a howl of wind. She snarls a curse and knocks the giant off balance with a glancing blow of her staff. Cassandra takes advantage of its distraction and thrusts her sword upward through the creature’s chest. It bellows in pain, then falls.

Evelyn is breathing hard, but she seems to be unhurt. She is so intent on the battle she does not notice his approach—not until he touches her arm. She whirls on him, raising her staff, but then she sees his face. “Solas.”

He wraps his free arm around her, pulls her tight against him. There is no time for more than a quick embrace, but he breathes in the scent of her hair and drops a kiss against her temple. “I fear our plans for the night might have to be postponed.”

She lets out a shaky laugh. “I’m still holding you to them.”

And that is all they have time to say before the dragon appears and the trebuchet is shattered.


Everything happens in a whirl of action and panicked reaction.

Saving the villagers—because she cannot let them die. Taking refuge in the Chantry. Seeing Roderick bleeding heavily and Cole helping him speak. Knowing that the villagers might get to safety, but she will not. Watching Cullen’s face as he realizes the same. And desperately wishing that she could send Solas with them, but knowing that he would never go.

“You’re not leaving me behind, either,” says Cassandra. Her sword shines with fresh blood.

Varric throws a longing look at the departing villagers, but he does not move.

The four of them step out of the Chantry and into the battle.


When the dragon comes again, Evelyn knows she has little chance.

She can only imagine how this looks—the small outline of a woman against flaming wreckage. And the creature standing before her, its clawed fingers wrapped around the orb. Solas’s orb. Her hand aches in reaction, clenches of its own accord. She wants to run but can’t. Wants to fight, but knows she cannot win.

The magister takes her by the wrist, lifts her into the air and wrenches her shoulder so badly she cries out. Corypheus tells her she is insignificant, a mistake to be rectified.

As if she has not heard that before. She glares at the creature, waits for the blow to fall.

But the magister does not expect Solas. 

He attacks from the shadows, and the magister barely has time to block. A twist of the Veil, and something slams into the Corypheus. Evelyn drops to the ground, falling heavily upon her injured shoulder. She grits her teeth, vision blurred with pain, and looks at the battle between ancient elf and magister. 

Solas has raised a barrier around them both, keeping it in place with one hand while he holds his staff with the other. The tip of the staff burns hot with fire, and the sharp edges of his face are illuminated. His expression is set in lines of hard determination, and Evelyn knows that face. She saw it in the terrible future, just before Solas stepped out a door to meet his own death. Fear wells up within her, and she pushes herself upright. She has to do something.

The dragon lets out a roar, its barbed tail lashing at the snow. Solas murmurs a word in elvhen and the ground trembles, making Corypheus stagger. The snow shifts, and Evelyn wonders if the spell will cause another avalanche. 

Her heart leaps, and she looks to the trebuchet.

It is agony to stand, to stumble toward the weapon. She has to fire it, has to ensure that something good comes out of this battle. It is sheer stubbornness that keeps her on her feet. She seizes a sword out of some fallen soldier’s hand and swings it down hard.

The trebuchet snaps forward, sending its projectile toward the mountain. The rocks slam into the cliffside with a deafening crack that echoes again and again, bouncing through the small valley. 

There is a moment of stillness and silence. It has not worked; they will die here, and—

A rumble—and then the snow cascades downward. Toward Haven, toward the small village Evelyn has called a home for months. There is no time to mourn for Haven, for those lost in the battle. 

The magister climbs atop the dragon and they are gone in a matter of heartbeats. Solas runs toward her and she catches his hand. He throws a look at the oncoming snow, and his mouth tightens. “Jump,” he says grimly. 

She throws her arms around him, holds on tight.

They plunge into darkness together.


Her teeth are chattering.

That is the first thing that comes back to her. The sound of her teeth clicking together as she shivers. She sits up, snow falling away from her. The darkness is oppressive—and she realizes they must have fallen into the caves beneath Haven. She calls light to her hand, searching for Solas. She half-expects him to be already awake, searching for a way out of this.

But he is still beneath a thin blanket of snow; a broken shard of wood protrudes from his side.

She breathes a near-silent denial, falls to her knees beside him. “Solas,” she says. “No. Maker—no.” She touches his face, her fingertips held against his lips. There is the light touch of breath.

“Come on,” she says, her voice shaking. “Come on.”

But he does not wake.

She closes her eyes. He needs a healing spell, but she knows little of healing magic. Just a few minor spells, and even those are clumsy.

But she has not used magic like this since—

Not since—

She fears harming him. She imagines her magic flying out of her, setting him alight, incinerating the person she loves most in this world. Fighting back a swell of sickness, she pulls his cloak aside to reveal the wound. It is an ugly, dark stain across his tunic. She dares not remove the piece of wood; it could be the only thing preventing him from bleeding out.

She places her palm against the wound. Closes her eyes.

And she calls a spell.

It comes slowly, a trickle of power through her fingers. She tries to draw the pain from him, to keep any infection from spreading, to stem the flow of blood.

When she is finished, she is shaking from the effort. She’s unsure if she’s done any good, but at least she hasn’t seem to have done any harm. She touches his cheek again. “Solas?”

At first, there is no response. Then, a slight grumble.

“Thank the Maker,” she says, unable to hide her own relief. His eyes move beneath closed lids, and then he blinks several times.

He tries to say her name and she shushes him. He’s only half-aware, but still lucid enough to realize they’re in danger. She helps him stand, hauls his arm around her shoulders and begins to make her way down the tunnel. He is warm against her side, and the sound of his breathing is a constant comfort. Their pace is a slow one; his steps are little more than shuffling. All the while, Evelyn murmurs quiet encouragements, trying to coax him forward.

That’s it—

Come on—

We’re almost out—

And then they step out of the tunnel and a blast of freezing air slams into them.

Evelyn nearly falls. She keeps a tight grip on Solas, her eyes squinting against the wind. Tears freeze on her cheeks and she lets out a low moan of discomfort. The cold seems to wake Solas, a bit, and she feels his fingers tighten on her shoulder. “W-we have to keep moving,” she says. She’s not sure if he hears her over the gale, but they begin walking.

Every step is a struggle. Through thick snow, against harsh winds. Evelyn shakes so hard she fears biting her tongue or dropping Solas. This cold cannot be helping his wound. She calls warmth into her hand, presses it to his chest. She remembers when he did this for her, after she came to him from the dungeons back at Ostwick. He has never failed her—and she is determined not to fail him.

By the time she sees the black coals of an abandoned fire, she cannot feel any of her limbs.

She stops shivering.

She wonders if perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe it is getting warmer, or the storm is ending or—

She stumbles on something unseen. A root or a rock. She hears Solas grunt when they fall—she first, and he on top of her. She barely feels his weight, and… it’s oddly comfortable to lie down in the snow. She’s exhausted, she’s finally warm, and—

She will rest here. Comfortable in a bed of snow. Everything is finally quiet and she is exhausted. She will find a few minutes rest here before continuing on. 

The wind brushes her, or perhaps those are hands. A bright burst of warmth against her throat, so hot as to be painful. She squirms, trying to escape it.

She thinks she hears someone say her name but then she knows no more.

She awakens in a bed. Well, it is what passes for a bed—a series of blankets in a makeshift cot. Her skin is raw with cold, but her shoulder is wrapped tight and she wears clean, loose clothes. There is a tent around her—made of hastily assembled linen and cut trees. But it is a shelter, and it keeps the cold at bay.

They made it.

She is numb with the realization; she is alive.

Alive, but that is her only victory. 

They have lost everything. Haven will be buried, their forces scattered, their influence all but broken. She does not know who survived and who did not. The small life she cobbled together has been shattered beyond repair, and even now she wonders if it would not be better to give into Solas’s desire to leave the Inquisition and—

She straightens, glances around. “Solas?”

She is alone. Fear jolts through her—not for herself, but for him. He should be here, in this warm tent. If he is not, does that mean...? 

No. He is alive. He has to be. 

Someone moves into the tent and Evelyn sits up, a name on her lips. But then candlelight glints off of her visitor’s armor. 

“Cullen?” she croaks. Her voice comes out jagged but audible. 

He steps forward, strides lengthening. “You’re awake,” he says, relieved. When she begins to swing her legs over the edge of the cot, his mouth tightens, pulling at his scar. “You shouldn’t stand, not yet.” He straightens the fallen blankets, and for a moment she is struck by the oddity of the situation—her in a tent, with a former templar fussing over her. 

“What happened?” she asks. 

“We’re alive,” he says. “Most of us. We managed to get through the tunnels, with only a few casualties.” He hands her a cup of tea. It must be lukewarm, but it feels scalding in her half-frozen hands. She sips at it, tastes mint, and a shudder of relief goes through her.

“W-where are we?”

A flash of irritation crosses his face, but she can tell it is aimed inward. “We’re a little unsure of that,” he says. “We’re still trying to get our bearings, nursing the wounded and taking stock of our supplies. If the cloud cover clears, we might be able to use the stars to find our way. But for now, we’re staying put.” 

“You found me,” she says. Now that he’s speaking, it tugs at a distant memory. Her name in his mouth—a little clumsy, as if he were unused to calling her that. 

“Cassandra, as well,” he says. “She was the one who carried you back to camp. Once we were settled, there were many volunteers who wanted to search for you. You’re heroism during the battle did not go unnoticed."

She looks down at the tea. She forces herself to ask the question; she has been avoiding it until now, because she fears the answer might crush her. “Solas?”

“He’s recovering.” Cullen sounds abruptly exhausted. “He had a worse time of it than you did. Pavus said he could take care of most of the damage, but Solas will have some healing to do on his own. He’s in the next tent over, with the other wounded.”

She releases a breath. It’s not quite a sob, but close. Cullen looks at her, and his hard expression softens. He stands there, awkwardly hovering before he says, “I’m sorry.”

She looks at him, confused.

“You should never have had to risk yourself like that.” He rubs at his neck. “We should have been more prepared for an attack. I should have—”

She looks down her hands. For all that she lost in the battle, she blames him for none of it. “No one could have predicted this,” she says. “Least of all you, Cullen.”

He nods, but he doesn’t seem satisfied. She suspects he will be at loose ends until he has a place he can fortify. He desires walls and armor the way she yearns for staves and magic. Protections, old habits—all tangled together and drawn tight by the danger of the battle. They’re all rubbed raw, made irritable and exhausted.

“I have something for you,” says Cullen suddenly. He steps out of the tent before she can ask, and when he returns, he carries a lump in his arms. He gently sets the lump into Evelyn’s lap, and she touches soft fur. The ball uncoils, looks up at her with keen eyes.

He has a patch of fur burnt from his tail, and he looks bedraggled, but he’s alive. “Fennel,” she breathes, and touches his cheek. He merts softly at her and rubs his chin along her hand.

“He was found in one of the carts.” Cullen rubs at his neck again. “I remembered seeing you with him.”

He turns to go.

“Cullen,” she says. He goes still, glances over his shoulder. “Thank you,” she says, and means it.


Solas awakens in camp. There are bandages around his middle, warm blankets thrown over him. He sits up, winces, and looks about him. Barely an arm’s reach away, her arms crossed on his cot and chin resting on the blankets, is Evelyn. She sits on the ground, and Fennel is curled up in her lap.

“Evelyn,” he says, and his voice comes out rusty and hoarse.

She sits up, her face smudged with sleep. He reaches for her, feels the solid weight of her hand against his. “How did you—”

“You are heavier than you look,” she says, smiling. “But I managed.” Her mirth fades, and he sees the grief hiding behind her eyes. And with it, all of the answers to questions he has yet to ask. 

“Haven’s gone,” she says. “We’re somewhere in the mountains. We’ve got wounded, and Cassandra and Cullen and Josephine are snapping at one another. I’m not sure where we’ll go from here.”

She looks away, and he has a stark realization. It is not merely the people and the battle that have worn her thin. 

Every home she has ever had has been taken from her.

Certainty gives his words strength.

He will give her a home. A place that will never be taken from her. One that will be hers.

“I know of a place,” he says.

Chapter Text

She loves Skyhold.

It is sturdy and old and so very Solas. She can see his handiwork in the structure—practical, yet with flourishes of self-indulgence. The courtyard is lovely, even if all of the dirt is dry and bare. “You will have a garden, should you wish it,” he tells her, nodding at the archway. His fingers are laced with hers, and she thinks she’s never loved him more.

“It’s beautiful,” she says. “It reminds me of you.”

A smile touches his mouth. “It is a ruin. Much like myself.”

“It is old, and strong, and I love it,” she says, and touches his cheek. “Much like yourself.”

He is recovering; the wound was a deep one, and the healers fear internal damage. He spent the journey to Skyhold in a cart, a blanket tucked around him and Fennel curled up at his side. Evelyn led the way north, the Inquisition falling in behind her—just as Solas said they would. One night they sang a hymn while Evelyn tried not to squirm and retreat into the tents. When she finally managed to extract herself, she found Solas smiling at her. “Not a word,” she said tightly. He laughed, winced.

The journey took nearly a week, and by the time they came upon the fortress, the Inquisition was all but spent. To find walls and roofs—however dusty and old—was a deep relief. Even the harsh winds seemed to retreat from Skyhold, and the sun warmed Evelyn’s bare hands and face.

They settle in with surprising ease. The wounded are set up in the courtyard while the able-bodied try to clear the rubble from the fortress proper. Cots are arranged; roads are made safe; food is unpacked. Evelyn sleeps in the same room as Cassandra, Leliana, and Josephine—and much to her chagrin, she finds Cullen on a chair outside of the door. “You don’t have to do that,” she says, a bit bewildered at finding the former templar dozing in full armor. He jerks awake. “There are enough cots. You could bunk with the other soldiers.”

“I know.” He rubs at his eyes, runs a hand through his rumpled hair.

“Then what are you doing out here?”

Cullen straightens his shoulders. Something about the set of his mouth makes her frown. “You stayed behind.”

If anything, this confuses her more. “What?”

“At Haven,” he says. “You stayed behind. Because we were outnumbered, out maneuvered. Because we weren’t ready for an attack of that magnitude. You risked your life and—”

Abruptly, she understands. It’s not for lack of beds that he’s sleeping in a chair outside her door.

It’s because of her door that he’s sleeping in a chair. Maker help her—he’s guarding her.

A few weeks ago, that might have frightened her: the thought of a templar shadowing her. But something has changed between them, shifted during the battle for Haven. Perhaps it was when he ordered mages to fire upon his former comrades or when she offered to distract a dragon so that the others might escape. Or perhaps it was in the quiet moments afterward, when he did her the kindness of finding Fennel. He seems to regard her... not quite as a friend, but something close.

“It won’t happen again,” he finally says. “I’ll be ready this time.” 

She tries to sort out her reaction; she’s unsure if she’s embarrassed, indignant, or a little touched. “Cullen. Go get some sleep. In a bed—not just a chair.”

Cullen’s mouth curls upward. “Is that a command?”

She has no power to command him. So she merely sighs, returns to her room, and emerges with a spare blanket.

Another week passes, and the ravens flock to Skyhold. Leliana said they would—intelligent birds that they are, she said they would find her. They carry messages from her allies, promises of food, of aid, of soldiers. By attacking so openly, the templars have declared themselves an enemy of the Inquisition. But the Inquisition has survived, diminished the templars’ numbers, and there are those who wish to show the fledgling organization their support.

It is nearly a month after Corypheus attacked that Leliana beckons her to the courtyard, when Cassandra places a sword in Evelyn's hand and asks her to lead them.

The moment is a blur. Evelyn stares at the blade; it is dull, a ceremonial thing, but she can feel its heft. And the weight of a new title settling upon her shoulders.

She awoke that morning as the Herald of Andraste.

She goes to bed that night as the Inquisitor.


It turns out, there are certain benefits to such a position.

The first day Solas is allowed to leave the infirmary, she takes him to her new quarters. He walks a little stiffly, but he no longer winces with each step. “You will not believe where I’m supposed to sleep,” she tells him, as they take the stairs.

“I should believe it,” he replies, with some levity, “as these rooms used to belong to myself.”

She feels herself flush. She should have guessed these would be his quarters. The room is not overly large, but it is unmistakably the place from which a person might rule. The balcony and the desk, the large windows, even the way the ceiling slants—it’s all simultaneously practical and luxurious, and she hasn’t mustered up the courage to sleep here yet.

When she tells him as much, he frowns. “What is wrong with it?”

“The bed is too large,” she says.

He huffs out an amused breath. “I see. However will you endure this hardship?”

She moves to the bed, sits on the edge. “Hopefully not alone.”

She expects Solas to sit beside her, but he remains on his feet. There is a slowness to his response that sets her on edge, makes her heartbeat quicken. “That… might not be wise.”

She looks at him sharply. That twinge of fear grows. Seeing her distress, he takes a step toward her. “If I share these quarters with you, our relationship will become common knowledge.”

“I know.”

“It might damage your—”

“If you say anything about my reputation, I’ll bite you.”

He chuckles at that. His thumb drifts across her lower lip, and the touch sends an unexpected jolt of arousal through her. Maker. She has been feeling such things more often of late, even if she has not the courage to act on them. Part of her wants to do as she might have done in the old days and quip that they should test out the bed. She wants him, and for a heartbeat, she imagines how it would feel to slip out of her clothes, to feel him against her, inside of her. She can see it in her mind’s eye, her on the bed and him over her— 

Not so much fight in you now, is there?

Grieves’ voice comes back to her, and the memory settles like a sickness at the base of her spine. She hates that he still has some measure of control over her, even after two years. But then again, it was two years of tranquillity. She did not have the time to process the... she is not sure what to call it. It was an assault, an attack, and even if he did not rape her, it feels as if he took something. She feels a twinge of guilt; there are other women who endured far worse than she did. Evelyn escaped mostly by chance. If Grieves had placed his belt anywhere else, if he had decided to keep it on, she knows exactly what would have happened.

Coarse hair against her bare thighs—callused fingers pressing down at the base of her tongue, gagging her—the damp breath against her throat—the sight of him erect and excited at her helplessness... 

She shudders, trying to will her own thoughts away. 

Solas’s hand drops away. He must have seen some of her thoughts play out across her face. “I apologize,” he says, at once. “I should not have—"

She takes his hand and kisses it. It’s a little clumsy, as her hands are cold and uncertain. A touch of lips against his knuckles. “It’s not you,” she says quietly. “It’s never you."

“Even so.” He looks at her, and she is afraid to look back, in case she sees pity on his face. But when she meets his eyes, all she sees is sorrow. “Is there anything I can do?"

“Stay here,” she says. It’s more a question than an order, and he hesitates. “Do you not wish to be here?” The question leaves her in a rush.

“Vhenan.” He sighs. “There will be those who will fight you. Not because of who you are, but because of what you represent—what you might become. An affair with an elf is seen as something shameful in these power games. I would not be your weakness.”

She thinks on his words. He will not appreciate a hasty reply, and she knows there is some truth to his words. But after she mulls them over, she shakes her head. “I did not traipse through snow, dragging you all the way, to sleep in a bed by myself. I did not survive the mage uprising just to lose you for propriety’s sake.” She looks him in the eye. “Stay with me,” she says. And then, in halting elvhen she says, “for as long as I draw breath.” She has picked up a little of the language, after listening to it for two years.

She hears his sharp inhalation. And when he kisses her, the affection is tinged with a desperate sort of yearning. She tries to focus on him, on all the small details that make him Solas—the dimpled chin, the smell of herbs and old books, and the familiar press of his lips. Solas, she thinks, and tries to hold onto his name. This is Solas; she loves him, and he would never hurt her. 

It works; she is able to kiss him without the memory of Grieves rising to the surface. When he pulls away, he is smiling. 

“As you wish,” he replies and then adds, “Although you used the wrong verb.”

“Oh, hush,” she says fondly.

That night, when she pulls on a night dress and slips into the bed, Solas is already there. He reads from a book, and he smiles when she curls up beside him. He reaches for her, and she closes the distance between them, tucking herself into the place beneath his arm. He holds her and she exhales, rests her ear against his chest. He does not say a word, but she feels a kiss against her hair. He reads by the golden light of the lantern, and the sound of his heartbeat and the occasional turning of pages eases her into sleep.


Hawke is nothing like Evelyn expects.

She is hard-edged, her armor dented but functional. Her hair is cropped short, her nose a little crooked from an old break. Her staff is more pole arm than stave, and she carries it with the ease of a practiced warrior. Evelyn heard rumors of Hawke being from an old, noble family—the Amells, if she remembers correctly. She thought of someone refined, hiding from the Chantry in plain sight.

They meet on the ramparts, under Varric’s careful eye. He relaxes in a way Evelyn has never seen. He and Hawke speak in the language of old friends—in half-sentences and raised brows. “The woman who healed the sky,” says Hawke, tipping her head in a mock salute.

“The woman who began the mage rebellion,” says Evelyn.

“Ah, ah, not true.” Hawke’s smile never wavers. “The templars did that when they slaughtered a room full of senior mages.”

Evelyn learned the details in her two years as a tranquil; the story seeped throughout the lands, spreading even as Solas’s spies learned the truth of the matter. While the explosion in Kirkwall enflamed the tension between mages and templars, it was a series of events in the Spire that tipped things into open warfare. When the vote was called to withdraw from Chantry control, the templars massacred those involved. She remembered seeing the report in Solas’s hand, reading it over his shoulder.

“Varric says you might be able to help me,” says Evelyn.

Hawke nods, her gaze sliding to Varric and back, and then she says, “I’ll tell you what I can.”

For the next hour, Evelyn listens to a story that seems more myth than truth. It’s a tale that one would tell when the candles burned low and there were children to scare—of a ruined old prison, of blood magic, of carta dwarves, and a creature from another time being dragged into this one. One who seemingly cannot be killed by a mere blade, if Hawke’s words are to be believed. And Evelyn does believe her.

When Varric drifts away, leaving Evelyn and Hawke alone on the ramparts, Evelyn finds herself gazing at the older woman. Without the dwarf present, her smiles fade and she looks far wearier. “Can I ask you something?” says Evelyn.

Hawke looks at her and nods. Even so, Evelyn hesitates. “Anders,” she says.

It’s not a question, but Hawke understands. “It’s not like they tell it in the stories,” she says. “It’s… complicated. He believed he was doing the right thing.”

“The way I heard it,” says Evelyn, “the Knight Commander had already sent for the rite of annulment. By acting when he did, he saved the mages.”

Hawke looks down at the courtyard. “Yes. That’s true.”

“You helped him.”

“That’s also true.” Hawke tips her head back, closes her eyes. “It was necessary. It doesn’t make what happened after any less ugly, however.”

Evelyn thinks of the Hinterlands—of the bodies lining the roads, the refugees driven from their homes, of the smell of burning flesh on the winds. She wonders if it will be any different when the war is not between mages and templars, but mortals and demons.

She leaves the ramparts, unsettled and unsatisfied.


Crestwood is damp.

Of course, it is also overrun with the walking dead, filled with the desperate and the fearful, threatened by a rift in a place no one can approach—but it’s the dampness that nags. It seeps into his clothes and he has to keep a constant spell of warmth burning around his skin. It’s a slight irritant, but a constant one.

They fight their way to the village. Evelyn moves a little stiffly in her sodden clothes, but she and the Warden Blackwall exchange a few jokes when they catch sight of the rift in the lake. “Does that mean water is pouring into the Fade?” he asks, and Evelyn lets out a snort of laughter.

When they find the mayor, he is haggard with strain. He nearly turns them away, but Evelyn offers her aid with such sincerity that the man hesitates. He tells them the controls for the dam are beyond a fortress overrun with bandits.

“We need to meet Hawke,” Solas says quietly, as they stride through the village. “We saw those wardens—it is only a matter of time until they find her friend.”

Evelyn gives him a sharp look. “You would abandon these people to their fate?”

She does not have to say anything else, but he knows what is on her mind—that it is the rift causing this, and it was Corypheus that caused the rifts. She feels a sense of responsibility, however misplaced. And beyond that, she could never abandon an innocent in danger. It is simply not in her nature.

He shakes his head. “No,” he replies. That earns him a slight smile, and she touches his hand, squeezes his fingers.

“Come on,” she says. “Let’s fight some bandits.”

They retake the fortress with some effort. Blackwell ends up with a shallow head wound and Evelyn limps a little after slipping on the slick cobblestones. But the Inquisition flag is raised above the fortress, and they find a way to drain the lake.

Blackwell remains behind, a healer helping bind his wound, while Solas and Evelyn venture into Old Crestwood. A whisper of a presence, and Cole appears at Evelyn’s elbow. She gives the spirit a smile, and it heartens Solas to see their interaction. Evelyn told him that Cole had joined Solas’s rebellion in that terrible future, and that was enough to gain Evelyn’s trust. “Hello,” she says, and Cole nods without meeting her eyes.

They find the ruins of the old village—and more dead within.

“How many are there?” asks Evelyn, breathing hard.

Cole answers. “Enough that the houses still remember.”

That makes Evelyn shiver and she does not speak again—not until they find the spirit trapped in one of the houses. It blazes crimson, full of indignation, and when Cole tries to introduce himself, the spirit cuts him off.

Compassion.

Ah. Another suspicion confirmed.

Evelyn looks at a loss when the spirit complains of this world being too still, too unmovable, but Solas understands. He tries to soothe the spirit, but it remains irritated, still bound by its nature. It needs to command something, and when Evelyn offers to kill a demon in its name, the spirit seems to relax a little.

“It could cause trouble elsewhere,” says Evelyn, when they walk away, and Solas is unsure if she refers to the spirit or the demon.

When they emerge from the mines, the demon is slain and the rift sealed. Cole—Compassion—is satisfied, and even Solas is pleased. When Evelyn catches sight of him, she raises her brow in silent question. “It’s stopped raining,” he says, and that earns him a laugh.

It is the last time Evelyn smiles in many days.


They find the Warden.

And learn that Corypheus has taken the minds of his companions.


That night, Evelyn does not sleep well. She shivers and then jerks awake, only to fall back into a restless sleep. Solas does what he can—he warms the bedroll, murmurs quiet words when she is dragged awake by some fright. It reminds him far too much of when she received the anchor, and every time she comes alert, he does as well.

“What is wrong?” he finally asks. “Is it the anchor?”

She shakes her head. “Nightmares,” she says.

A familiar anger wells to the surface. “Of the uprising?”

She rarely talks of what happened in the dungeons. Solas has seen her nightmares, glimpsed a few of those terrible moments. Part of him wishes that Grieves were still alive, if only so Solas could slay the man himself.

“No,” she answers. “Of—drowning. Of what happened to those villagers.”

He holds her a little tighter. “You eased their way, even in death.” 

She does not reply for a long while. When she does, her voice is tinged with apprehension. “The mayor. He saved people,” she says slowly. “By drowning others. It—it seems a terrible sort of mercy.”

He closes his eyes. Remembers waking to a too-bright, too-solid world. They camp on ground that is filled with bones—some of the villagers, and some from a people far older.

“Sleep, vhenan,” he says. “I’ll see that the nightmares do not bother you again.”

It is the only comfort he can offer her.

Chapter Text

When Evelyn falls from Adamant, she sees the sky above her.

It moves as she does, whirling and catching in the wind, and for a moment, she thinks this would not be a terrible way to die.

But she is not alone. She remembers her companions about her, falling as she does, and it gives her new strength.

Her left hand clenches, and she calls to that strange power within her.

And then everything goes silent.


She awakens in darkness.

The air is oppressively cold, heavy with moisture, and it catches strangely in her throat. The familiarity prickles up her arms and sends a sliver of ice through her veins. It’s the smell—damp stones and the tang of the sea and lyrium. Not the sickly sweetness of red lyrium, but the crisp edge of the bottles that templars keep on their belts.

She sits up, blinks several times, and holds her hand palm up. Flames gather between her fingers, casting warmth and light across her—

—Cell.

It’s a cell.

And abruptly, she knows where she has been taken.

Ostwick.

She scrambles to her feet and reaches for the bars, the fire flickering out as her own fear overwhelms her. She’s in the dungeons, and her heartbeat is roaring through her, burning away all thoughts but escape. She needs to run, to claw herself free of this place. She shakes the bars, but they are immovable, as solid as bedrock. With a desperate cry, she calls ice and tries to make the metal brittle.

“You thought you’d gotten away, hadn’t you?”

The voice that emerges from the darkness makes her shrink back. Like her surroundings, it’s familiar. It rings through her, makes her want to crumple into a ball and squeeze into the corner. It’s the voice she hears in all of her nightmares.

A man steps into view. He has pale blond hair laced with gray, and his mouth is fixed in a smile. It’s the same smile he wore when he smote mages for defying him. It’s the smile he wore when he cornered Signy in a corridor. And it’s the smile he wore when—

“Grieves,” she says.

He reaches for the cell door, slides a key into the lock, and the bars swing open. He closes the door behind him. Evelyn feels the cell wall at her back, the coolness of the stones creeping into her. She is pressed there, trapped between the templar and the stones, and she cannot run. She cannot escape this. 

A sob rises in her throat, but she forces it down. She will not cry in front of this man. Not now, not ever. But he must see the fear in her face, for Grieves’s smile broadens, and his hand comes up. He takes hold of her chin, forces her gaze upward. “I will enjoy this,” he says softly.

The sharpness of his glove cuts into her chin and she feels a trickle of dampness down her throat. That small sting of pain brings Evelyn back to herself.

She has faced him before; she will do so again. 

“So will I,” she says, and without breaking his gaze, she calls her power.

It is not flame, not in the traditional sense. There is no time for that. So she presses her palm to Grieves’s breastplate and summons a flare of sunlight. It is scalding hot, this brilliant thing, and in a moment, she has welded the templar’s armor to his flesh.

It takes a heartbeat for his body to register the pain. And then he makes a terrible noise. It is too hoarse to be a scream, too loud to be anything else. He twitches, falls, and Evelyn skirts around him, trying to escape his grip. But he reaches for her, and his armored hand closes on her ankle.

They struggle, with Evelyn trying to wrench out of his grip and Grieves hanging on with the desperation of a man with nothing to lose. She tries to kick him, and he clings on.

“You—are—mine,” he pants, his eyes fixed on her.

At once, all of her anger burns to the surface.

She is tired. She is tired of being afraid. Of this man, of these walls, of everything Ostwick represents. She survived the place, she and her kind left it in ruins, and she will burn it again and again and again if she has to. 

Evelyn’s lips peel back in a snarl. She says, “I belong to no one.”

Grieves shivers. A strange expression passes over his face, and then his edges seem to blur. Evelyn’s ankle passes right through his flesh and she falls against the bars—but then there are no bars and she falls to raw stone instead. She finds herself on a slab of jagged granite, staring at the glowing form of a wraith.

It gazes back, and then it breaks apart, vanishing into nothing.

Evelyn lays there for a moment, breathing too hard to rise. It was Grieves—and not Grieves. Because Grieves is dead, she reminds herself. And Ostwick is destroyed. She tries to remember how she got here, and—

Adamant.

She was at Adamant and she was falling. Hawke and Stroud, Cassandra and Varric, and—

“Solas,” she calls out. Her voice is tinny in the wide open space. She looks up, sees floating spires of rock and a city on the horizon. The sky, if it can truly be called a sky, is green.

She’s in the Fade.

She fell into the Fade.

She pushes herself upright, braces herself on a rock. She aches, and she’s not asleep, no matter how badly she wishes she could wake up. She forces herself to walk, to move forward. The rocks are threaded with light, and she can see wraiths moving on the edges of her vision. But she will not yield.

That thought gives her the strength to continue.

She will not yield.

One step and then another. She walks through water, thick and churning around her knees, until she sees a light glowing in the distance. She follows it, hoping it will be one of her companions, but when she rounds the corner, she sees someone she never thought to see again.

An old woman in red robes.

“Hello,” says the Divine.


Solas stands on a battlefield.

He wears armor that is familiar but has not seen sunlight in centuries. And when he looks down at his hands, they are flecked with blood.

“Is this what you wanted?”

A woman speaks. She wears the fine robes he remembers, the silken drape of it around her shoulders. Her face is unaging, beautiful, and remote. When she speaks again, her voice is like a thunderclap.

“Is this what you wanted, my wolf?”

He breathes her name and it feels like a plea and a denial. “Mythal.”

Her steady gaze is heavy upon him. Judging—and if her expression is anything to go by, he is found wanting.

“I wanted to free them,” he says. His voice is that of a younger man, one who burned with anger and yearning. “I always knew there would be a cost.”

“Did you?” Mythal’s voice softens. She touches his cheek, but is not a caress. She makes him look at the ground.

It is not a battlefield, as he thought. He stands upon a field of corpses. Rot and gristle, armor and emblems, bones and flesh as far as he can see. So many dead that it takes his breath away. And he knows, he just knows, these are the elves that perished when the Veil was erected. Those who died in the chaos or the fighting afterward. Those elves who died because they were born afterward, with no magic. Those who died of old age, because time was given the freedom to ravage them. These are his victims, his regrets, and he falls to his knees before them.

“Is this what you wanted?” Again, Mythal asks.

Solas closes his eyes. It is a coward’s gesture, but he has never made any great claim to bravery. “No.”

As if the answer was all that she desired, Mythal vanishes. Fades like morning mist, and he is utterly alone.

For a few moments, he does not move. He cannot bear to take a step, for fear of what he will be walking upon. But then he forces his eyes open and his body to rise. He cannot remain here. He cannot—

Where is here?

The question nags at him, and even as the answer comes together in his mind, his surroundings flicker and break apart.

The bodies are gone. Left in their wake are roughly hewn rocks laced with light.

A woman is coming toward him. Fear thuds though him, thinking that perhaps this vision has not ended, but this figure is not clad in silk and jewels. She wears the robes of a mage, and her dark hair has come loose from its braid.

At once, he is moving. The world is shifting all around him, mutable and filled with uncertainty, but he finds surer footing when his hands land on the woman’s shoulders. She is solid beneath his fingers. No wraith could smell as she does or imitate the small curl of hair around her ear. He pulls her close.

“Evelyn.”

Her grip is just as tight. But she is steady, and when she speaks, her voice is sure. “We’re in the Fade.”

“I just realized that.” His own voice is a little dry. “That would explain why I saw a dead woman.”

“Did she try to kill you? Because that’s what Grieves did.”

He shakes his head. He cannot imagine how to explain the tangled intricacies of his own relationship with Mythal, so he merely says, “No. Trying to kill me would be too simple. It was—” Her words sink into him and he stiffens. “Grieves?”

Evelyn pulls back. Her face is set in hard lines. “I killed him. Again. I’m getting quite tired of doing that.” To his relief, she sounds more annoyed than frightened.

He pushes a strand of hair from her eyes, kisses the place just above her brow. “It’s a nightmare, vhenan.”

“I figured that part out,” she replies. “Some kind of demon?”

“It must be.” He hesitates. “Fear, if I’m correct. It must be very old, to use our fears against us.”

She nods. “We have to find the others. They must be dealing with their own nightmares.” She takes his hand, weaving her fingers through his. He is glad of it—in the Fade, it is best to tether one’s self to a single truth.

“Together,” he tells her, and she smiles.


They find Cassandra in a crypt full of undead.

It stinks of incense, and Evelyn is sure the smell will never come out of her clothes, and they spend a good time fighting off corpses until Solas can convince Cassandra that none of this real. When the Seeker nods, the undead fade away.

They find Varric in the smoking ruins of Kirkwall. He is more easily convinced, and Evelyn realizes that it is because he doesn’t want any of this to be real. She catches sight of a familiar woman in dragon armor—Hawke’s body. When Varric turns away from it, the corpse disappears into a wraith.

“We’re never going to get out of here,” says Cassandra. Her own fears have made her brittle and short-tempered, while Varric merely looks grim.

Solas appears serene, but he has not released Evelyn’s hand. Not even when they fought those fragments of Cassandra’s nightmare. His skin is a little too cold, and she knows whatever he saw, it has shaken him badly.

Whereas she feels—well, no exactly good but better.

There comes a time, she thinks, when one cannot run. One must fight.

And so she does.


In the end, Hawke and Stroud find them.

As does the Divine. She comes bearing memories Evelyn thought lost. Scattered fragments of her tranquil self are fed back to her in increments, and she finds herself shaking as she recalls them. She remembers feeling hollow, seeing the Divine in the clutches of the Gray Wardens, remembers reaching down to pick up Solas’s orb, remembers the pain traveling up her arm and the sudden plunge into the Fade. She remembers a spirit—a wisp, truly—coming toward her. It was such a small creature, curious of the mortal that had come into its home.

What are you?

Evelyn remembers not knowing how to answer, at least not until the wisp touched her.

And everything came flooding back. All of herself. All of her memories and emotions—all of her choking fear. When the Divine held the demons back while Evelyn scrambled for the way home, she did not turn back to fight. She should have—but she didn’t. She—

“You saved yourself,” says the Divine quietly. “There is no shame in your actions. You were told to run, and you did.”

“A spirit cured my tranquility,” Evelyn says, and her voice is ragged. “It—it can’t be that simple—”

The Divine’s head tilts, and there is a serenity about her that Evelyn envies. “The answers are before you,” she says gently. “Now, come. Let us continue.”

Cassandra balks, of course. She is unsure if the Divine is truly the Divine, and while Hawke says it does not matter so long as they have an ally, and Stroud agrees with her, only to have Hawke snap at him for the actions of his order, Evelyn finds herself retreating from the small group. She sits on a rock, trying to breathe evenly.

“You all right?” It’s Varric who speaks. He hasn’t spoken much since his own nightmare.

Evelyn looks at the horizon. “I’ll be better once we’re out of here.“

Varric snorts out a small laugh. “I’ll drink to that. In fact, I’ll buy us both drinks. All of the drinks I can find.”

“I’m holding you to that.” Evelyn takes his proffered hand and stands.


Of the six people who enter the Fade, only five emerge.

“Where is Stroud?” asks a Warden, and Evelyn tries to think of an answer.

“He died a hero,” she says, and if that’s not quite the truth, it’s close enough. But for all of Stroud’s loyalty, she cannot look at the Wardens without knowing what they did to the Divine. They may not have been themselves, but they are a liability, and she cannot allow them near. They are a danger to others.

Hawke offers to go with them to the Anderfels, and although Varric looks a little resigned, he agrees. “Take care of yourself, Hawke,” he says, clasping the woman’s hand. She smiles down at him, and there’s a fondness in her face. The ease of old friends.

“You, too,” she says. “You keep an eye on this Inquisitor. She seems a decent sort, and we need more of them around.”

Evelyn turns away so that she can pretend she wasn’t eavesdropping. But then there is more to do—there are explanations to be given, reports to be made, letters to be send, wounded to be tended to, troops that will need sleep and food, and—

It is hours before she finally stands still.

Evening comes slowly in the desert. There are no mountains to obscure the sun, so it sinks slowly. Cold creeps along her skin, and she is shivering when she receives her last report from Cullen.

“You did well,” she says. He looks down, flushes, and then looks up again.

“We have good soldiers,” he says. Then corrects himself. “You have good soldiers.”

“You’re training them,” she replies. “You’ve led them into battle. I think they’re yours, at this rate. It’s fine—I have enough trouble just leading a few companions.”

He relaxes a little. “You give yourself too little credit. This victory was yours, today. Word will spread, as it tends to. And we’ll have even more recruits.”

“And you can yell at them some more.”

He laughs, rubs at the back of his neck. “I don’t always yell. Sometimes there’s a bit of creative shield work.”

“Oh, well that makes all the difference,” she says, with a crooked smile. He laughs again, and looks unmistakable pleased. It’s not because of the battle. It’s because of her, she realizes. Because they’re talking. She’s bantering with him, the way she might talk with Kinnaird or any other friend. 

The fear demon must have thought it was tormenting her when it gave her that vision of the dungeons and Grieves. But what the demon did not know, what all fear did not know, was that nightmares could be conquered.

“You’re shivering,” says Cullen, and some of his good humor fades. “Come on—I’ll walk you to your tent.”

She’s about to protest, but he gives her a look. “Don’t make me call for Leliana,” he says. “I will.”

She shakes her head, both amused and a little aggravated, but she knows better than to fight him on this. She is exhausted, for all that she pretends.

Her tent is set up within the walls of Adamant. An added protection, but one Evelyn hopes they will not need. It is larger than the others, and part of her still wishes to protest the indulgence. She is not a herald and she barely feels she fills the role of inquisitor, but she knows the large tent is not for her. It’s for the others—who need to see a herald.

“Good night,” says Cullen, holding the door open for her. She gives him another small smile.

“Get some rest,” she replies. “That’s an order.”

He grimaces and allows the tent flap to fall between them. Evelyn turns, looks at her temporary home.

It’s far too luxurious. There are furs spread across the stone, a hastily assembled bed in the corner and—a bath tub. She does not even know how they managed to carry a tub in here. It must have been confiscated from the fortress.

A servant has drawn her a bath—a scrap of a young girl, smiling and bobbing a curtsey the moment she sees Evelyn. “My lady,” she says, then flushes. “I mean—your worship.”

Evelyn shakes her head. “Evelyn is fine. And you are?”

The girl looks startled, then nods. “Lady Evelyn. Lady Montilyet asked me to ready a bath for you. And to ask if you would like a meal brought up, as well.”

“That would be lovely.” Evelyn gazes at the girl. She’s not a mage, not a tranquil, and she can’t remember seeing her at Haven. Perhaps she came among the families of pilgrims.

The girl curtsies again. “It will be done, your worship. Your letters are on the bed and I’ve laid out a nightgown. If you need help—”

“I can undress myself,” Evelyn says.

The girl’s blush deepens. “Of course, my lady. I’ll see about that meal.” She hastens away, and Evelyn gives a small sigh.

If it were up to her, she wouldn’t have an attendant. But Josephine would disapprove, and Evelyn cannot stand the wounded looks that her ambassador might give her. Better to let the girl do her work, and to ensure she’s well paid.

The bath water is cold, but that is little matter. Evelyn touches the water and summons flame. The water goes from frigid to steaming in a matter of moments. Her tired fingers are clumsy and it takes a long time to free herself from her robes and her armor, but it is worth the struggle when she steps into the tub. A hiss of discomfort as the hot water touches scrapes and bruises, but then she is groaning in pleasure as she scrubs the remnants of the battle away.

There is movement at the tent’s entrance, and Evelyn looks up sharply, expecting the servant’s return. But it is Solas who steps inside. He looks as weary as she feels, and she reaches for him. He takes her hand, kisses her damp palm and she feels a pulse of magic go through her.

“Is this a show of affection or are you checking me for injuries?” she asks, but there’s no bite to it.

“Both,” he answers. He begins pulling off his cloak. “I fear that if you are injured, I will not be the help you need.”

She frowns at him, leaning on the edge of the tub. “Were you healing all this time?”

Now that she gets a good look at him, she can see the signs: his pallor, the uneven breaths, and how his fingers tremble. She has seen Kinnaird react so after he has been forced to heal long after he should have stopped. It is a bone deep exhaustion, one only fixed with food and rest.

“There are many wounded,” says Solas. Not quite an answer.

Evelyn begins rinsing the soap from her arms and shoulders. “I’d drag you in here with me, but it’s too small. You can wash as soon as I’m done, and then we’ll see about supper.” She dunks her head beneath the water—partially to wash her hair and partially to block out his protests that he is just fine.

When she emerges, she sees the servant slip into the tent. The girl carries a plate of food in one hand and a goblet in the other, but she goes still. Her eyes widen when she alights on Solas, then to Evelyn. Who is currently naked and bathing. And then back to the elf, who is clearly familiar with this. Evelyn can almost see the thoughts fly through the servant’s head, but she will not be ashamed. She is not ashamed of Solas, and no one can make her feel so. “Please set the food near the bed,” she says gently. “My friend is famished. Would you mind retrieving a bit more? If there’s any to spare?”

The softness in her voice seems to settle something in the servant. She straightens, gives Solas the kind of curtsey that befits a noble, then says to Evelyn, “Of course, Your Worship,” before striding from the tent.

There is a moment of quiet. “There will be rumors,” murmurs Solas.

Evelyn huffs. “No, there won’t be.” At Solas’s startled look, she says, “Did you see how she regarded you? You belong here, and she recognizes that.” She tilts her head. “And there is something to be said about servants and loyalty. The well treated ones have very little incentive to betray their employers.”

For all that she has forsaken her noble upbringing, seeing Sera in action has reminded Evelyn of such things.

Solas regards Evelyn with something she can’t quite put her finger on. It’s not amusement, but it’s close. “What?” she says, bewildered.

Solas reaches for the clasp at his tunic, begins unlacing it. She watches as the layers of cloth and metal come away. “You,” he says, stepping out of his leggings. When he is bare, he kneels beside the tub and kisses her. She feels the last of the day’s tension unwind as his mouth moves against hers. Her fingers slide up his neck, cradle his jaw, and she wants to devour him. To drag him into this tub and—

He breaks the kiss, breathing a little harder than before. “You regained something of yourself today.”

“My memories.”

“Not only that.” He touches her damp hair. “It is heartening to see you like this.”

She does not ask what he means; she thinks she knows.

“You should take your bath before the servant returns,” she says. “For all that she is loyal, I think it might give her a fit to see us like this.”

His mouth curves upward. “Does that mean I will have to find my own tent tonight, lest I scandalize the servants?”

“Don’t even say that,” she replies, and kisses him again.

Chapter Text

Evelyn’s return to Skyhold is a flurry of activity. She is clapped on the back one moment and handed reports the next. Any hope for a rest is quickly cast aside. She promises to let Varric teach her Wicked Grace, but she spends an entire day in the war room, pouring over intelligence with Leliana. It seems the war in Orlais has come to a stalemate, yet there is still some sort of crisis within the Exalted Plains. Communications have slowed, and some have stopped altogether.

“I’ll go,” says Evelyn, placing yet another scribbled missive onto the pile. “We can’t let things deteriorate further. We saw how Corypheus used the Wardens to create chaos. He’s trying to unravel Orlais. We’ll stop it.”

The words come easily enough, but she knows that following through will not be so simple. She thinks of Monette, her face marked with the lines of a mask, returning from her own travels to Orlais. The First Enchanter was accustomed to the intricacies and games of the court, and it showed in her every action and glance. Aways thinking ahead, always smiling, always placing more care on her own survival than anyone else’s. If all of the Orlais nobles are like Monette, then this will prove difficult.

Evelyn closes her eyes. Monette is dead, along with all of the other mages at the conclave. She should not think ill of the dead—yet she still feels a moment of anger. Not for what Monette was, but what she might have been. A voice—a leader. Rather than a person who allowed others to suffer so that she might remain safe.

Evelyn leaves the war room, gives Josephine a wan smile, and walks to the courtyard. She feels an ache in her chest, a yearning for fresh air and sunlight. As much as she loves Skyhold, the walls can sometimes feel a little too heavy around her.

As she steps into the garden, a weight lifts from her shoulders. She trails a hand along a few potted plants, then goes to sit at one of the stone benches. The garden is coming along. There is a desiccated tree that has yet to be removed, but all of the ivy has been cleared out and replaced with herbs and flowers. The healers can often be seen taking small cuttings of elfroot, and she’s glad that the garden can be of some use to them.

As she rests, she spies a familiar form moving among the plants. “Kinnaird,” she calls, and he looks up. A smile breaks across his face and he hastens to her. A basket is tucked beneath one arm, and his hair is unbound. There is an unfamiliar scar across his mouth, but he looks good. Happier than she can remember seeing.

He sits beside her, places the basket at his feet. She finds herself drawn into a quick, fierce hug. “You’re back,” he says. “I assume the battle was a success?”

She nods. “We took some casualties, and the wardens won’t be allowed in Orlais for a long time. But there won’t be a demon army rampaging across the lands, so I’m counting this a victory.”

“As you should.” He shakes his head, his smile a little disbelieving. “You running around leading armies. This place. I’m still getting used to it, you know.” His voice lowers, and he looks at the courtyard.

She follows his gaze. There is a young boy—an apprentice, Evelyn realizes. He is helping a gardener pull weeds, seemingly delighted with the task. He shakes dirt off the roots, then brandishes the plant at another child. The other one gives a shriek and falls over. The plant bursts into flames, and the gardener hastily stamps out the sparks.

She understands.

Two years ago, those children would have been in a fortress like this one. But they wouldn’t have been allowed to leave. They would have been snarled at for such a show of magic, taught to fear their own powers. Here, they are merely given a scolding by Keldra, who tells them if they want to play with fire, they need a proper teacher.

“They’ll never know another Ostwick,” says Evelyn quietly. “We’ll make sure of that.”

Kinnaird takes her hand and squeezes. For a few minutes, they don’t speak. It’s a comfortable silence.

“You know,” he says, picking up one of the sprigs of elfroot. “When you befriended me all those years ago, I didn’t think I was telling all of my darkest secrets to a religious figure.”

She makes a derisive sound. It just slips out, without her meaning to. “Maker’s breath. I hope you’re not going to start bowing to me, Kinnaird.”

“So that means I shouldn’t show you the ballad I’ve begun to compose?”

She gives him a flat look.

He laughs. “All right, all right. I understand you’re uncomfortable with it.”

She crosses her arms, feeling herself hunch a little. “They’re wrong, you know. I learned the truth of it at Adamant. How I was cured of tranquility—how I got this mark on my hand. It was all coincidence. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, touched something that I shouldn’t have.”

His own face sobers. “I think it was more a matter of being at the right place at the right time,” he says gently. “For all the trouble you’ve been through, I find myself being grateful that it’s you and not another. Another might not have… done this.” He gestures at the children still in the garden. “We might have found ourselves with another who thought it better to ally with the templars, to leave the rebellious mages to their fate.”

Her gaze goes to her hands. To her left hand, in particular. She traces the lines of her palm, feels the flicker of power beneath the skin.

“Better me than someone who might be worse,” she murmurs. And perhaps that’s a good way to look at it, when she feels the weight of all those lives bearing down upon her.

“And,” he replies, still smiling, “you’re not about to take the power and let it go to your head. Begin declaring yourself a god and demanding people worship you.”

She shudders. “I truly hope you were jesting about that ballad, because that’s the last thing I want.”

That earns her another laugh. “That’s what I mean. And… it’s good to see you again, Evie.” There is a slight emphasis on her name, and she realizes that he saw her. Back when she was made tranquil—it had only been for a night, but he’d seen her unfeeling and unresponsive.

Her fingers clench. There are still so many like that, and now that she knows how to fix them them—

“This is just the beginning,” she says quietly.

And Kinnaird nods.


Solas hears the cry in the Fade.

It is a weak thing, at first. A whisper carried on a whisper. For a moment, he thinks it a memory. He often dreams of those pleading for his aid, only to find them beyond his reach. He reaches now, fumbling through the landscape of Skyhold’s dreamers.

This place makes it easy to dream. It is where the Veil begins—and ends. Something about the magic woven into the stones brings his own sense to life, and it feels easy to close his eyes and immerse himself in the dreaming world. But the voice he seeks is yet far away, and even as he drifts through the landscape, he finds himself turning in circles.

Help me, old friend.

The words are spoken in the old tongue, and that is when he knows it is not a memory. That voice is familiar, even if he has not heard it for an age.

An image comes to him—the figure of a woman. She looks up at him; her body is that of a middle aged woman, but her eyes are far older. Her form is a new one, but he knows those eyes.

Wisdom. He says the word, and she hears it, for the spirit looks at him. The world shifts around them, and he sees a stretch of half-dead grass, mountains in the distance, and he smells the dampness of a nearby river. Where are you?

Waiting, the spirit replies. They found me. Bound me. I cannot return home.

A flare of anger unfurls within him. I’ll come to you. He is already memorizing their surroundings, committing them to memory. He will know how to find his friend, once he awakens.

I know you will. The spirit reaches out to touch him, but before her fingers brush his cheek, he awakens.

He is in bed. He meant to only rest for a short while in the afternoon, but he realizes that the light has taken on the golden hues of evening. The exertion of the battle must still be wearing on him. He sits up, throws his legs over the side of the bed. He can hear the sounds of water in the next room; Evelyn must have returned for a bath before bed.

He goes to the desk, finds one of the rolls of parchment. Unfurling a map of Orlais, he spreads it across the desk. His fingers skim over the surface, tracing lines of roads and boundaries. The landscapes have changed, but he thinks he recognized the place he saw Wisdom. His finger alights on a place in the Dirthavaren, and his mouth creases. Of all the places he might wish to visit, the Exalted Plains are not among them. Those blood-steeped fields will hold far too many nightmares and spirits. But he will venture there, if it means saving an old friend.

Distantly, he hears the rustle of cloth and footsteps and he turns.

Evelyn walks into the room, a soft towel wrapped around her body. Her hair is bundled into a knot at the top of her head, and she is pink with warmth.

“You’re awake,” she says. “I’m sorry—did I disturb you?”

He shakes his head. “I slept too long. You should have woken me.”

“You have been exhausted for days.” The smile Evelyn gives him is a little too knowing. “Don’t think I haven’t seen you almost dropping off when we were on horseback. You needed the rest.” She pulls a pin free and her hair tumbles down her back.

He picks up the comb from the bedside table, and when she sits on the edge of the bed, he settles beside her. It feels like old habit to draw the comb through her hair, angling the teeth so that they slip through the wavy strands. She closes her eyes, mouth still curved upward as he works. The familiarity of the task soothes him as much as it does her. He braids her hair loosely, so that it will not tug or bother Evelyn in her sleep. A droplet of water runs down her neck, falls down her shoulder blade.

On impulse, he leans down and kisses the water from her skin. A sharp breath is drawn through her teeth, but rather than pull away, she leans a little closer. Her hand comes up, touches the line of his jaw, and he kisses her shoulder again. Her skin is warm and clean, and he can feel the muscles working beneath his lips as she shivers.

He sits up. “Come,” he says. “You should get some rest, as well.”

Evelyn looks up at him. Her lips are pressed tight, and her fingers knotted in the towel. She seems to be on a precipice of some sort, deciding whether to retreat or step forward.

“Or perhaps,” she replies, “there’s something I want more.”

She lets go of the towel and it whispers along her skin, falling into a small heap around her hips.


Evelyn waits for his response; her own heart beats wildly in her chest. When she came here, it was to bathe and to sleep, but feeling his touch, his mouth, she wants. And even old fears cannot drown out the wanting.

He goes still. It’s not the reaction she might have hoped for.

“I—don’t know how to do this,” she says, and Maker, her voice is uneven. “I don’t know if you still want me. I know things have changed—”

He moves closer. His clothed leg touches her bare one. “Vhenan.” He sounds a little shaky himself. “If I have held myself back, it was for fear of hurting you. It was never for lack of desire.”

She makes a soft sound that might almost be considered a snort. She has filled out some in the last few months; her breasts are rounder, her ribs less visible, and she no longer quakes in the cold. But when she looks into a mirror, she still sees a hollow slip of a girl. Not exactly an object of desire.

“Listen,” he says, as if hearing her own thoughts. “It does not matter how you have changed. You have always been beautiful to me. Your spirit—you are undimmed.”

“You are a flatterer,” she says, smiling. His mouth curves upward, and something about the quiet moment puts her at ease. She reaches for his hand, weaves their fingers together, and squeezes.

“I feel like everything was taken from me during the uprising,” she says. “My home, my friends, even my very humanity. I just want to get one thing back.” She takes his hand, twines their fingers together. “I miss you. And I miss sex, if you don’t mind me being blunt about it. When I was tranquil, I didn’t think about it—and when I came back, I was afraid that all I’d remember was Grieves trying to force me in that dungeon. But now, I want to try. I’m not sure if I’ll be able—but I want to try.” She holds her breath, waits for him to answer.

He nods. “Your body is your own,” he says quietly. “That you should choose to share it with me… I will strive to be worthy of that trust.”

She burrows her face against his chest, feels his arms tighten around her. She thinks of how he always touches her so gently, of the way his lips turn up when he sees her, of how he placed himself between her and an ancient magister. She loves him—and she trusts him.

“If I do anything you dislike,” he says, “tell me. I will stop at once.”

“I know.”

But he does not seem reassured.

“Evelyn,” he says. “Promise me that you will say something.”

She considers. “No fingers in my mouth,” she says. “And no hair pulling.”

She feels him nod. And when he eases her back onto the bed, it feels right.

He kisses her throat, her collarbones, her shoulders, her breasts. She inhales sharply when his lips close around her nipple; Maker, she forgot how good that could feel. He kisses a line down her arm, until he reaches the ticklish patch of skin on her wrist. She laughs and that seems to ignite something within him; he smiles—just a quirk of his mouth, and then his mouth is on her stomach, lower, and then—

She bites down on her hand to remain silent, but he kisses her thigh. “No one can hear us, vhenan,” he says.

He pulls her closer, anchors her with the touch of his tongue and lips. Gentle laps against her folds, soft and light. Pleasure unfurls within her, and soon she is rocking against his mouth, all of her thoughts scattering. She moans and he encourages her, humming around her clit. She is fevered with need, a tension tight in her belly. It’s good—it’s so good. Part of her is relieved to find that she can still do this, accept pleasure, and she is smiling even as her hips move, grinding against him. His fingers slip into her, and his mouth is perfect and—

She shatters. She falls and he is right there, easing her through it, murmuring soft words as she trembles. Only when she has steadied does he rise from her. He helps her astride him, and she is confused for a moment, and then she realizes his intent—he does not wish to make her feel trapped. She can take this at her own pace. 

She half expects to feel discomfort when she sinks down upon his length. It has been years, after all. But there is only a sweet fullness, and she savors the sensation for a moment. The intimacy of having him inside her again takes her breath away. She leans down, kisses his lower lip. His fingers catch in her hair and he deepens the kiss, his tongue grazing hers. She moans, lets him feel the sound caught in her throat, and then deliberately, she lifts her hips and presses down. It is slow, and she enjoys the simplicity of it. Rise and fall, pressure and fullness.

He chokes out her name, clutches at sheets. He does not wish to hold onto her too tightly, she realizes. Does not wish to scare her off, even in the throes of pleasure. She rises, feels the drag of his cock inside of her, and then sinks down upon him again. There is little rhythm to it—she simply feels him, reveling in the fact she wants him, wants this. As she moves, she watches a ripple go through Solas, feels his stomach contract beneath her. She wants to feel him unravel. She moves a little faster, and Solas gasps.

“The tea,” he rasps. “Have you—”

She presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “Yes.”

She feels him spasm, feels the flex of his hips as he presses deeper, filling her. His groan reverberates through them both, and she smiles. For a few moments, she simply relaxes atop him; his ragged breaths begin to even out, and she feels his heartbeat against her cheek.

She pulls off of him, tucking herself against his side. Her muscles are loose, her body utterly sated.

“That ended… rather more quickly than I had intended.” He sounds a bit miffed, and she laughs. “Are you…?”

“I am perfect,” she says. “And we are going to do that again in the morning.”

“Gladly.”

For a while, there is comfortable silence. His fingertips trace her side, down to her hip, then back again.

“I thought I’d never have this,” she murmurs. She is not referring to the sex, and he must know it—but rather, the intimacy, the exchange of pleasure and affection.

“Nor I,” he admits.

They sleep for a time. Evelyn wakes from a dream she cannot remember; she rises, wraps a blanket around herself, and goes to the washroom. A quick washing up, and she feels more awake. Still naked, she goes to the balcony and gazes through the window. Night has crept in all around them, and starlight shines overhead.

Arms encircle her. She lets out a breath, leans into him.

“I wish we could stay here forever,” she says.

She feels his chest rise and fall. “I know, vhenan. But I fear I must leave soon.”

She turns, faces him. His face is drawn with fresh worry. “I must go to the plains. A friend of mine—a spirit—has been captured. I fear what will happen if I do not get there in time.”

Evelyn tenses. After reading those reports on the Plains, she is not surprised to hear of such a thing. “I’d been planning on going there soon. The reports have been… troubling. Something about the civil war has gone wrong, and things have gone quiet. If you like, I could gather a party and we could all leave Skyhold in the morning.”

She watches as something like relief passes across his face. “You needn’t do that.”

“I’m going with you,” she says. She leans up on her toes, presses a kiss to his cheek. “Besides. I’d like to meet one of your spirit friends.” She begins to walk away, back to the bed.

He catches her, spinning her so that her stomach gives a pleasant little jolt. His mouth meets hers, and she thinks she feels his lips form thank you as he kisses her.

Chapter Text

Evelyn has always been fascinated by history. One of the few places that she was fond of at Ostwick was the library, with its endless supply of stories that could take her out of the walls—at least, for a little while. She could spend hours reading about lands that she never thought she would ever see—and she would imagine them as brilliant golds and greens, as pastoral and beautiful as her mind could conjure.

When the history books spoke of the Dales, they talked of endless fields, of rivers carving their way through forests, of trees so old they stood higher than any building. They spoke of the pride of the elves, of how they rebuilt something of their old empire into the stones, and of how an exalted march destroyed it all. But even with its bloody history, Evelyn thought the Dales still could be a beautiful place.

Once, perhaps. But not now.

The first thing she hears are the flies. Their low buzzing assails her ears, makes her swat the small creatures away. The horses flick their ears and tails irritably, and when the smell of rot reaches her, Evelyn dismounts. She finds a broken cart—the wheels smashed beyond repair. The contents have spilled out—fish. Their small bones shine in the sunlight and the smell makes bile rise in her throat. The flies clot around the fish and bodies of those who tried to cart them here. She turns her face away.

The Exalted Plains are not beautiful. Any beauty they might have possessed has been stripped away. The trees are dead and burnt, their lower branches hauled away for wood. Leafless branches reach to an overcast sky. The ground has been trampled, the grass a sickly yellow. Rocks are so strewn about that the horses must be left at camp and the journey taken on foot.

The others seem as ill at ease. Out of the corner of her eye, Evelyn sees Dorian shift on his feet, so that he may reach his staff if needed. Cole flits in and out of existence, reaching down to touch fallen bones and then vanishing, only to reappear with tangled wildflowers to place beside the corpses. And Solas does not speak at all. He moves with the kind of determined pace of a man who does wish to look too closely at his surroundings.

The Exalted Plains feel wrong. And that is before she sees the corpses.

They find the walking dead at one of the battlements. A lone Orlesian soldier fights them off, and Evelyn speaks with him for a few moments. He is a corporal in the employ of Gaspard, and he speaks with fierce loyalty. Evelyn wonders if all that roam the plains are Gaspard’s followers, if perhaps Celene’s soldiers have retreated from this forsaken place.

“We should deal with this,” says Dorian, with a glance at a body. It is twitching, one hand making as if to grab a weapon.

With a silent gesture, Solas sets it aflame.

“If we clear out these ramparts, the soldiers may be able to reestablish a foothold.” Dorian nods to Evelyn, and she nods back. She can see the wisdom in making these soldiers grateful to her, as well as trying to drive out the spell that has caught so many spirits in its grasp.

They spend several hours going through the battlements; they are hastily assembled of cut wood and pieces of other buildings. Evelyn walks alongside her companions in silence, using her blade-tipped staff to take down any dead she can find. A demon attacks, and they destroy it, as well. It is grueling work, and by the time the fires have been relit, her arms are shaky with exhaustion.

There is little to love about the plains. Victory Rise is little more than broken boards, shattered arrows, and dead grass. Nothing will grow here, not for many years. Not with the stones pressed deep into the earth, with the ramparts blocking out the sunlight.

It is only in the ruins that she finds some beauty. The arches of stone are lovely, even half-crumbled. Evelyn traces the outlines of old glyphs, feels power well behind the etchings. It is an old magic, tucked away where few would look. Her left hand tingles when she touches them.

By day, they fight their way deeper into the plains. Varric charms his way into a Dalish camp and they clear demons out of a sacred burial ground. That night, when Evelyn sits near the cookfire, Dorian passes her a flask. She takes it with a look, clearly distrustful. “It’s not from the Inquisition stores,” he says, with a flash of a smile. “That swill should rot down there. More vinegar than anything else. But this—this was a gift from our dear ambassador.”

Evelyn takes the flask and sniffs. It is not wine, but something sharper. She sips, hesitant. It tastes of anise and dried flowers, sweet and bitter. She is not sure she likes it—but she does enjoy the flood of warmth in her belly. “It’s… interesting,” she says. A stray droplet lingers on the flask’s lip, and she says, “Is it… green?”

“I thought you might enjoy seeing something green in this place,” replies Dorian, with a grim little smile. She sips again, then returns the flask.

An odd sort of friendship has sprung up between them. They couldn’t be less alike—Dorian was flashy and vibrant, buoyant and confident, and he came from a family where his magical talents had been praised and encouraged. And while he could be a bit of an ass, she saw the way his jaw hardened when he fought the Venatori. And the way he spoke of his homeland, with half-bitterness and half-fondness—there was an honesty to it, and she could respect that.

And besides, she liked having him around. He would say what she was thinking, and he always had a quip at the ready. He smirked at Solas, and made snide comments about how the elf dressed, but there was no true malice to it.

“I’ll leave you to your elegant bedchamber,” says Dorian, with a glance at the nearest tent. Solas retreated into it already, and Varric has the first watch. Evelyn smiles, gives him a nudge with her shoulder, and rises to her feet.

She steps into the tent, slipping out of her boots as she goes. Solas sits on his bedroll, legs folded beneath him. His face is remote, and he barely looks at her when she sits beside him. He dislikes this place, she thinks, and she wishes she could take him from it. But there’s nothing to be done. They are here for a reason, and Solas will not retreat until it is completed.

“Are we nearing where your friend will be?” she asks quietly.

Solas nods, but his gaze remains faraway. She touches his shoulder, kisses it, then curls up on her own bedroll. She can hear Varric moving about the camp, humming an old Marcher tune. Something about a runaway horse with a jouster still hanging on. A smile tugs at her mouth, and she falls asleep easily.


Solas wakes her before dawn. His face is drawn with little sleep. “Did you rest at all?” she asks.

He nods. Just a sharp jerk of the head. “A little. I heard the cry again—and it is close. I’m leaving now. I’d rather not deal with the others, having to explain my friend to them.”

Evelyn reaches for her boots. “I’m coming with you.”

Something in his posture relaxes. Not much, but enough. “Thank you.”

Evelyn slips from the tent, whispers an explanation to the guard on watch, and then follows Solas into the mists. The dawn is not quite near, but shards of light trickle over the mountains, piercing the clouds overhead. Solas walks with surety and silence, his feet finding their own path. Evelyn follows in his wake, not half as quiet as he manages to be.

When Solas comes to an abrupt halt, she nearly steps into him. She stumbles, then sees what he does.

A corpse. But is not like the others they have seen—it is charred and smells of cooked meat and smoke. The scent turns her stomach, and she covers her mouth.

“This wasn’t bandits,” she says, when she can speak.

“No,” he says. “It was not.” A frown line appears in his forehead, but he continues on.

A slow, creeping dread settles in Evelyn’s stomach. The air smells… wrong. It is sharp as lightning, and it reminds her of the time she has caught storms between her fingers, hurled them at enemies. It calls to mind the memory of violence and the thick copper taste of blood. Solas must feel it, too; his step quickens and she hastens to keep up.

When she sees the demon, her heart lurches.

It is huge. Bound in a ritual circle, kneeling the way a man might if bricks were laid upon his back. An unwilling supplicant, forced to bow to its captors.

“No, no no,” whispers Solas, and at once she feels the cool dungeon air sweep over her skin, the memory so strong it makes her shudder.

No, no, no, Evelyn.

She has not heard him speak this way. Not since—

“Thank the Maker!”

It is not Evelyn nor Solas that speaks. When she turns, she sees a man approaching. His hair is inky black, and he’s soft in a way that she recognizes. A circle mage—not used to traipsing about the countryside. He sees the staff in Solas’s hand and relief breaks across his face. “A mage,” the man says. “You’re not with the bandits.”

Solas rounds on the man. The look on his face is terrible. Contorted with fear and fury, his fingers so tight on his staff the knuckles are bloodless. He looks like the man that came for her in the Ostwick dungeons. Power flares around his fingertips, and the light catches in his eyes. He looks like the legend that the Dalish believe him to be.

“You,” he says. “You are the one who captured it.”

The man cringes back a step. Uncertainty flashes across his face. “I don’t understand—”

Solas strides toward him. “The spirit of Wisdom. You bound it.”

Evelyn glances to the demon, for that is what the creature has become. Perhaps once it was a spirit of wisdom, but now she can see blood beneath its claws, and it hunches like a beast waiting to break free of its chains.

“No,” says the man. “You don’t understand. I see how it might be confusing to someone who hasn’t studies demons like I have, but—”

Solas speaks, his voice cracking under the strain. “You commanded the spirit to kill. That is when it turned.”

The mage bristles. “I am the foremost expert on demons,” he says, drawing his pride around himself like armor. “In the Kirkwall Circle, I was—”

Kirkwall. Evelyn’s stomach lurches within her. It is as if the man weren’t quite real before, but she sees him now. There is blood clinging to the hem of his robe; he smells of stale lyrium; there is a sallow cast to his face, as if he has been without food for weeks. If Kirkwall was anything like Ostwick, he was wholly unprepared for the world that awaited him. The past years have not been kind. Summoning a spirit to fight bandits must have been a last resort, a desperate attempt to defend themselves.

“Shut up.” Solas’s jaw flexes, and she watches as he looks from the demon to the man, then back to her. “We need to break the binding. No binding, no orders to kill, and it should revert.”

The man protests loudly, but Evelyn pays him no heed. The look on Solas’s face is beseeching. He looks as if he might break apart at any moment, and a well of protectiveness rises within her.

She nods.

“I’m not helping,” snaps the mage, and Evelyn steps around him.

“Then don’t,” she replies.

She pulls her staff free and steps forward.


Solas learned a long time ago to keep his temper in check.

It did not serve one, in a world of magic, to dwell on furious thoughts. Not when fire could be summoned with one of those stray thoughts. He remembers, as a younger lad, accidentally setting fire to a noble’s tunic and having to explain that one to his teachers. Magic is driven by intention, and intention can be too easily swayed by ire. Solas learned to harness his own anger, to wield it as a blacksmith might use a hammer. Careful strikes.

But there are times when his temper has flared.

When he knelt in the blood of the All-Mother.

When he found a mortal woman made empty.

And now, when he sees his oldest friend tortured beyond recognition.

He is glad that the Dalish clan is not here, for they may have seen him—and realized what he is. He does not move like an apostate; he slides into the battle stance of a general. When he attacks, it is with the swift surety of a man who found himself in battle, who knows the thrum and rhythm of it the way he knows little else. He surges forward, lashing out with all of the power left to him.

He can sense Evelyn to his left, holding a barrier around them both. Lightning lashes against the barrier as the demon lunges. It crackles against her magic, and Solas pays them both little attention. All of his focus is on the summoning stones. On breaking the binding that holds his dearest friend against its will. He calls the raw power of the earth, and one of the stones cracks in two, crumbling beneath its own weight.

The demon whirls, a snarl falling from its mouth as it hurls itself forward. Solas leaps to one side, sees Evelyn rush in the opposite direction. The demon stands between them, calling a tendril of lighting, and whipping it at Solas. He parries the blow with a snarl, but all of his anger is still directed at the stones—at those mages.

He calls water into the second stone, and with a rush of power, he freezes it. The water expands into ice, and the stone cracks.

A glance over his shoulder, and he sees Evelyn hurling her own lightning at another summoning stone. Her mouth is drawn tight and she keeps glancing at the demon, then away. It is only that attention that saves her when lightning sinks into the earth at her feet. She leaps back, avoiding the worst of it. Even so, pain darts across her features as she rolls, then surges back to her feet.

The last stone is beside the river. Solas slams his staff into its surface, and he calls raw power. It flares within the rock, light streaming through the cracks, and it shatters. He feels several pebbles strike his cheeks, but he ignores them.

For when he turns, he sees the demon has gone still.

It shudders, its edges rippling, and a moment later, it is a demon no longer.

A woman folds to the ground. Her eyes are illuminated, brilliant like a warm summer’s day. When she sees him, she smiles.

He sinks to his knees beside her. Words clutter in his mouth—all the things he wishes to say. I missed you. How have you been? What have you learned in all of these centuries? Tell me of your travels, tell me of your life, tell me how things have changed and tell me how things have not.

But he cannot say any of this.

She is dying.

“I’m sorry,” is all he gets out. He has slipped into the old tongue out of habit. She reaches out, touches his hand, and her mouth curves into a smile.

“I’m not,” she tells him gently, before she fades away. “Thank you.”

For several heartbeats, he cannot move. He breathes, tastes ash on the air, smells the river water, and then the familiar scent of Evelyn as her hand finds his shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”

He covers her hand with his, holds on tightly. He is shaking, trembling beneath the weight of this terrible new grief. He cannot bear it. He has borne so many deaths, seen so much loss, but this one aches. Because it was so utterly pointless. Wisdom did not perish in battle, defending knowledge, or for some other purpose. It was summoned, tormented, changed—and all because of one mortal’s ignorance.

Before he’s aware of it, Solas rises to his feet. He rounds on the mages. Three of them, he sees, and his anger is stoked like breath upon flame. He cannot think; all he knows is that this should never have happened.

“You,” he says, and he barely recognizes his own voice. “You tortured and killed my friend.”

“We didn’t know,” says the first mage. His mouth gapes wide, his palms held out in surrender. “The book.

Solas feels the power gather in his palms. Fire, this time. It will serve well enough to end this. To end them—

“Solas!” A figure steps before him. He blinks several times, and her shape comes into form. Into dark hair and pale lips. “Solas, no,” she says.

He tries to step around her, but she moves with him.

“They killed—”

“They didn’t know!”

He feels hands on his chest, holding him back. He takes hold of her, to move her aside so he can do what must be done.

She clings to that arm and pulls him off balance. Solas stumbles, tries to right himself, but Evelyn is not so lucky. She falls to the hard ground and a soft sound escapes her.

He goes still.

She is gazing up at him. Not the way she always looks at him—with tenderness and joy, always glad to see him—but with shock.

She looks at him and he sees fear.

That alone halts him. He feels the power in his hand, waiting to be unleashed, but he clenches his fingers and grinds it out. The mages are trembling, seemingly aware of how close they are to death. Solas cannot remain here. Not without hurting them.

He does not say a word; he turns aside.

Evelyn doesn’t call after him. Not when he walks away, and not when he doesn’t return.


She walks to camp by herself.

She is still shaking; her breaths are a little too jagged and when she says she’s fine, it comes out breathy. Dorian gives her a disbelieving look, but she retreats to her tent before he can ask. Pulling it shut behind her, she allows herself to sink to the bedroll.

She never—she can’t remember seeing Solas like that. He wanted to kill those mages, nearly did kill them. Would have killed them, if she hadn’t stopped him.

She remembers how he reacted after she was made tranquil, but those memories are blunted. She couldn’t feel fear then, so she hadn’t. She had never known she could fear him, not until she found herself looking up into the face of a man who might have killed her under different circumstances.

Because that might have been her.

If they hadn’t met, if she had escaped the circle. She could have been one of those mages being attacked by bandits, who went along with the sake of a desperate plan because she was afraid or hungry or hurting.

And Solas might have come along and ended her.

She presses her hand to her aching eyes. Her sore muscles have begun to stiffen and she knows she should eat, but the thought of food turns her stomach.

Dorian’s flask is still by the fire. She downs the rest of it in a single gulp.


Solas does not return to camp. Not the first day, nor the next. Evelyn waits, all the while pretending that she is not waiting, until she can remain still no longer. There are Venatori to be killed, rocks to be cleared, wyverns to be fended off, a marsh to be traipsed through, and a damn dragon to defeat.

That goes about as well as expected. Evelyn’s hair is singed so badly that she has to cut several inches off. Dorian heals burns for hours, and Varric nurses several broken fingers. Only Iron Bull seems jubilant about the fight. Evelyn bids the Inquisition soldiers to take what they can from the dragon’s cooling body, but she is too tired to do little more than flop onto the ground.

“I don’t like dragons,” she says to the sky.

“I should hope not,” replies Dorian. He has taken up residence on a nearby boulder. “Considering you just disemboweled the creature.”

“I did not disembowel it.” Evelyn covers her eyes with a hand, trying to block out the sunlight. “It—stumbled into my staff. The pointy bit. I was trying to freeze one of its legs. Much cleaner.” She groans. “I want to sleep for a week.”

“I fully support this decision.”

For a few minutes, they remain in pleasant silence. At least, until the Iron Bull approaches. He’s elbow-deep in blood, and there is a light behind his eyes. “Boss,” he says happily. “We’re harvesting the teeth. You want one? Might make a nice necklace.” He holds out what appears to be a brown knife, but then she sees the sinew and gristle attached to one end, and she lurches to her feet, retching.

“Pretty sure that’s a no,” says Dorian, and she can hear him smiling. The bastard. Which makes her smile, her roiling stomach forgotten.

And something about the whole situation is so absurd that she begins laughing. The kind of laughter she cannot remember—it comes up through the belly and makes her shake until she has to sit down.

“Is this some sort of delayed fear reaction?” asks Dorian.

She waves a hand. “No—I mean. We’re in this marsh. A marsh. And there’s a dragon. With all of this water. I thought—I thought dragons would live somewhere majestic and be beautiful, and no. We killed it, and Bull is ripping out its teeth to make jewelry.”

“It would not be jewelry,” said Bull, a little indignant. “It would be a pendant. You know—something awesome and terrifying. To prove to everyone that you’re not just a tiny little mage. You’re a tiny little dragon-slayer.”

“I’ll make sure that goes in your eulogy,” says Dorian, and she starts laughing again.

All in all, it’s not the worst day she’s ever had.


She returns to Skyhold with a new scar and a bag full of dragon teeth. She’ll give them Dagna, she decides, and the dwarf will figure out a use for them. Once that has been sorted out, she spends a good half-day giving reports to Leliana and Cullen and Josephine, and then there are letters to answer, diplomats to meet, and by the time she makes it up to her rooms, she feels heavy with exhaustion.

She finds Fennel sprawling across the desk—the one place he’s not allowed. Solas has shooed him away from the maps and the papers more than once, but now—now Solas isn’t here.

Fennel stretches luxuriously, his claws flexing into a scroll, leaving tiny holes. He leaps down from the desk to throw himself against Evelyn’s ankles. She picks him up, carries him to the bath chamber. His rumbling purr is a comfort, but when she begins to fill the tub, he sprints from the room. Josephine has continued to procure a startling variety of oils and creams, and this is one luxury that Evelyn has yet to turn away. This bath smells of sage and jasmine and it helps the memories of the last few days dissipate.

Once he is sure that he is not the one to be bathed, Fennel creeps back into the room. Her maidservant must be overfeeding him; he looks rounder than before.

“You are becoming a spoiled creature,” she tells him. She skims her fingers over the fragrant bathwater and says, “I suppose we both are.”

Once she has scrubbed the dirt and wear from her skin, she pulls on a nightdress and picks up Fennel on the way to the bed. The sheets are warm and clean and slipping into bed feels so good she nearly groans with the pleasure of it. Fennel allows himself to be cuddled—at first enduring the attention and then giving a few reluctant purrs as he settles into the crook of her arm.

Clean and warm for the first time in days, she falls asleep nearly at once.

She awakens to the sound of footfalls.

Her eyes flick open; the room is still dark but for moonlight. Her whole body tenses. The sound of footsteps creeping into her room makes her heartbeat flare with panic and she remembers her staff is propped against the desk. Her teeth clench and she silently curses herself.

She does not need it, though. She is never unarmed.

Another soft footstep and Evelyn’s fingers curl. She lunges upright, calls flame into her hand and—

The flickering light casts odd shadows across Solas’s face.

She is so startled the spell expires and flames die out. She is left cupping open air and little else. Her chest rises and falls, remnants of fear making her limbs twitch. “W-what are you doing?”

He must have just arrived; he wears his traveling cloak and he smells of the outdoors. “I thought you would be asleep,” he says. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She does not answer. She is not sure she can.

He looks at her, seems to take in her expression. “Evelyn? Are you all right?”

Anger swells within her. He comes back, as if nothing between them were changed. As if he had not tried to murder mages, and was willing to push her aside to do it. She forces herself to still.

She finally manages to speak. “That could have been me, you know.”

His head tilts in a silent question.

“If I’d been at Kirkwall.” She shivers. “If I’d survived the massacre and escaped. I might have been one of those mages.”

He understands at once. “No.” His voice is rough, and she doesn’t know if it’s from disuse or emotion.

“You don’t know that.” Her fingers tighten on the blanket. “If things had been different—if I’d been living like they had for over two years, I don’t know who I would be. And you—you didn’t look at them like they were people, Solas.”

He sits on the edge of the bed, but he does not move closer to her. She sees the outline of his stance in the dim moonlight: shoulders bent and head bowed.

“I understand that you’re grieving,” she says. “And I’m sorry for your friend, I truly am. But how you reacted—you frightened me.”

His words are a rasp. “I should have gone alone. It was selfish to bring you with me.”

“If I hadn’t been there,” she says, “those mages wouldn’t be alive, would they?”

Silence.

“That is what I found frightening.” She pulls her knees closer to her chest; she has begun to shiver without truly feeling cold. “That you could so easily take a life because you were angry. Like their lives were inconsequential. Like they weren’t even real to you.”

She hears his sharp inhalation. She feels his gaze on her. But her own eyes are locked on the weave of the cotton beneath her hands. She cannot look at him.

“Solas,” she says. “I understand what it is to hate someone. Maker knows I hate the templars. But even when I was fighting them, I never stopped thinking of them as people.”

Silence falls between them.

Sometimes she is glad that she learned the truth of him when she was tranquil. It blunted the knowledge somehow—at first, her coldly logical mind was certain he was lying. But when he took her among his agents, when she saw how they reacted to him, watched as he uncovered old ruins that no one else would have found, she believed. For over two years, she lived at his side. She watched him study old magics, order spies into the governments of Thedas, establish his own small kingdom amidst servants and messengers. And always, he was kind to her.

And now that she is herself again, she wants to trust them both—the immortal who led uprisings and the man who scolds Fennel when he scratches the curtains.

It takes several moments for him to reply. “Most of the time, I think I am nothing like the Evanuris. That I would never fall into the same trap of arrogance that ensnared them. I never thought myself a god. But it seems I can still act the part, when it suits me.” His warm hand covers her cold one and he gives the smallest of squeezes. “I apologize. I let my wrath dictate my actions.”

She nods.

“I am sorry about your friend,” she says again.

When he speaks, every word sounds painful. “I would have like to introduce you both. Wisdom—would have liked you, I think. It had the same gentleness, the same passion for knowledge. Always curious, but never forceful. I—“ His voice hitches.

“Evelyn,” he says, voice rough. “If you wish me to sleep elsewhere…”

She considers it. She truly does. But she does not wish this fissure between them to become larger, to swell into something that might not be traversed. “Stay.”

He does. She watches him shed the traveling cloak, his tunic, and his undershirt, and for once he leaves them at the foot of the bed rather than draping them neatly over the wardrobe. At first, he remains an arm’s length away. But she rolls onto her side, facing him, and his eyes are on her. Slowly, so slowly, he reaches out and touches the lock of hair that spills over her bare shoulder. The hesitancy in that small gesture seems to shatter the last of Evelyn’s own anger. She crosses the distance between them. His arms encircle her, and she breathes in the scent of his bare skin. He smells of dried grasses and crisp mountains. His grip is a little too tight, as if he fears letting go. A tremble runs through his chest, and then another, and dampness touches her shoulder. For several minutes, she holds him close, hoping her presence will ease his grief.

Enough time passes that Evelyn wonders if he has fallen asleep. His breathing evens out, and his tight grip loosens. She kisses the place just below his collarbone.

The words are spoken so softly she barely hears them.

“You are real.”


Solas wakes to find the bed empty. Well, not entirely so. Fennel has taken up the spot where Evelyn would have been—curled up with his tail wrapped around his paws.

He sits up, glances about the bedroom. He is unsurprised to find her gone.

In the days that follow, Evelyn spends more time with the others. She goes to the tavern with the Iron Bull and smells of the dried flowers that Sera keeps in her room. He sees Varric trying to teach her Wicked Grace, and from the little Solas overhears, she has little talent for it. But she goes to a game with the others, and he hears the laughter through the walls of the rotunda.

She is not cold to Solas. No, never that. But she is reserved.

It will take some time, he thinks.

Chapter Text

The mists soak into Evelyn’s clothes and they never truly dry out. No matter how close she sits beside the fire, hands extended toward the warmth, there is always a bite of chill. She is used to fog—Ostwick’s winters never saw snow, and the weather would turn grey and misty. But the Fallow Mire has mud and rain and mist, and Evelyn resigns herself to the damp.

Others are less accepting.

“This place,” says Dorian, “is appalling.” His hair is plastered to his forehead; even his fine mustache seems to droop. He glares at the skies as if he might will them into submission. “If it’s not the rain, it’s the smell.”

“Burning corpses,” says Blackwall knowingly. “I’d know that scent anywhere.”

Dorian shoots him a sharp look. “The fact that you recognize that smell isn’t encouraging.”

“Oh, come off it,” says Sera. “Or I’ll lob a handful of mud at your head.”

“And I’ll knock you into the bog,” replies Dorian, unfazed. “You can try to talk some of the walking dead into joining your Red Jennys.”

Sera snorts out a laugh. “I’d like to see one of these things set loose in a noble’s house, I truly would.” Her gaze sharpens. “Think we could catch one?”

Blackwall’s hand comes down her shoulder, giving a fond squeeze. “None of that. As enjoyable as it might be, our resident diplomat would likely frown on such behavior.”

Evelyn listens to their banter, but her attention is on the path ahead. The clouds are so thick that it may as well be evening, and the shadows themselves are not to be trusted. Already, she has seen walking dead emerge from them, rotting fingers holding the hilt of a weapon.

The Mire must have once been home to many; they pass by houses and barns, and Evelyn glances at the empty structures, feeling a twist of pity. “Do you think anyone will ever return?”

“After the plague and the corpses?” Dorian sounds incredulous. “I should hope not.”

“Once we’ve dealt with that,” says Evelyn. “I mean, this place is beautiful… once you exclude the risen dead.”

“That,” says Dorian, “is a pretty significant thing to exclude.”

Another corpse comes shambling out of the bog; it is hit by an arrow and a blast of fire. It goes tumbling into the water, still burning.

“Come on,” says Evelyn. “Let’s find our people.”

Blackwall makes a sound of agreement.

The four of them journey toward the fortress—and along the way, they find veilfire beacons to light. The first one they come upon, Evelyn pulls her gloves off, cupping her bare fingers together. She has never called veilfire on her own before; it has always been Solas.

But Solas is not here. He is back at Skyhold—at her quiet insistence.

It isn’t a punishment, she tells herself. Because Solas would have hated this place. The veil is weak, the dreams are restless, and the smell is appalling. He will be much happier at Skyhold. No—it isn’t a punishment. It’s… distance. And it’s something she needs.

She has spent most of her life in the company of others. There was never any privacy in the circle, and after she was made tranquil, she did not care what company she kept. And after she regained herself, she was almost frightened to be alone. As if the energy of other people might keep the nightmares at bay. But as time has passed, she finds herself enjoying moments of solitude. The journey to the mire, she slept in her own tent. It was odd at first, to have no presence beside her, no sound of breath or warmth of another’s body. As the nights passed, she grew more used to it. And now she’s come to enjoy the solitude, to take what moments she can to herself.

It gives her time to think. And she does need to think.

They find one of the Avvar beside a rift. Amund, he calls himself.

She has never met one of the Avvar before. He towers over her, built broad and tall, and he speaks with a deliberate care that Evelyn has come to associate with Chantry mothers. “I thought the Avvar wanted to fight me,” she says, when he makes no move to attack. Even so, Blackwall’s hand never moves from his sword hilt.

Amund scoffs. “Our chieftain’s son wants to fight you. I’m called in when the dead pile up. Rites to the gods. Mending for the bleeding. A dagger for the dying. That’s what I do. I don’t pick up a blade for a welp’s trophy.”

Ah. There is dissent in the ranks, then. That is good to know.

They walk for another hour; Evelyn listens to Dorian gripe, to Sera and Blackwall exchange stories and the gasps of walking dead break into the conversation. They are silenced with a blade, a bow, or a spell. It is only when they begin to swarm, clotting like flies around a—well, around a corpse—that Evelyn begins to worry. There are too many of them, and finally, she shouts at the others to run into the fortress. The dead do not follow—perhaps they know what resides within.

The other Avvar are less pleased to see them.

It is a bloody, swift battle. Blackwall has none of Cassandra’s finesse, but he is just as deadly. He uses the weight of his body like a battering ram—and he fights with an eye toward his enemies’ weaknesses. Dorian is all flash and flare, staff always in motion as he moves from one enemy to the next. As for Sera, she’s loud. Snarling and shouting, laughing and whooping when she scores a hit. Her arrows find their marks, even when her gaze is turned elsewhere.

As for Evelyn, she fights the only way she knows how: with a vicious swiftness. Fire to burn, wind to deafen, and storm to paralyze. Every instinct screams at her to end the battle quickly, before her enemies can get too close. Part of her fears that if she sees the faces of her enemies, she will falter. She knows how to fight templars—but everyone else? An Avvar she has never met? Bandits? There are moments when she hesitates.

Once, she spoke to Bull about it. At the tavern, over tankards of terrible ale, she asked him about how he fought on Seheron.

You make them not-people, he’d said, with surprising patience. That’s how you fight. You can’t think of your opponents as men and women—they’re targets.

I don’t think it’s healthy.

It’s healthier than a sword to the gut, Bull said, smiling wryly.

And perhaps that is how she must fight—but at the same time, she fears losing part of herself in the battle.

She can still see the fury on Solas’s face, how he looked upon those terrified mages—and how he must have not seen them as people, either.

Now, Evelyn steps over the fallen corpse of the Avvar who’d wanted to challenge her. He falls with his weapon still gripped tight, and his staring eyes gaze up at the clouds. She wonders if she should feel sorry for him—if she should look upon him with pity. But she doesn’t feel much of anything.

Not until she finds the Inquisition soldiers. One of them cries out when they see her. “My lady,” he gasps, and the shock is evident on his face. “You came.”

“Of course she came,” says another soldier, nudging him. “I told you she should.”

A small tendril of warmth kindles in Evelyn’s chest. “Are you injured?” she asks, helping one of them stand.

“A few have small wounds,” says the first soldier, snapping to attention. “But their dead outnumbered ours.”

She nods at him. “We’ll see to the injured, then make for an Inquisition camp.”

She leaves the fortress, only to find Amund waiting for her.

He watches her with a mouth crooked up at one corner. For a moment, they regard one another in silence.

“You were sent by the Lady,” he says gravely. “You must have been.” He glances up at the clouds.

“Where will you go after this?”

“There are many dead to lay to rest,” he answers. “Much to do.”

She considers. She thinks of the dead Avvar in the fortress—and she doesn’t want that memory to become all she knows of his kin.

She has to remember they are people. Because if she doesn’t, she isn’t sure what she’ll become.

“Might I offer you a change of employment?” she asks.

Amund grins.


The journey back to Skyhold takes a few weeks. First, Blackwall wants to track down Gray Warden artifacts, and she goes along with it for his sake. That night, she finds him by the fire, holding maps of the deep roads on his knees. His fingers, creased by calluses and scars, are very gentle with the parchment. Reverent, almost.

Then Sera gets word of some of her people at Verchiel, and there’s a murderous noble to deal with. Sera is all for beating the man into a bloody mess, but Evelyn convinces her it would be far more fitting to make the man work for the Inquisition instead.

By the time they return home, Evelyn is ready for her own rooms—not to mention, a bath. She makes the trek up the many stairs to her quarters, and she finds Solas at the desk. A jolt of anxiety goes through her; they parted on less than ideal terms. Not quite fighting, but… he must have known she wasn’t happy with him. He sits there, quill moving gracefully over a sheet of parchment. At the sound of her footsteps, he glances up, and a small smile tugs at his mouth.

“You look rather worse for wear,” he says. And that is such a Solas thing to say—she finds herself laughing, her worries vanished.

“That’s a fine greeting,” she says. “Not, ‘I missed you?’ Or perhaps, ‘How was the Mire?’”

This easy banter feels nice. Like old times, when they were in the Tower.

Solas rises from the chair. “That’s a rather… interesting smell.”

“Burning bodies,” says Evelyn. “Mud. Horse shit. Oh, and Avvar blood. I should have stopped by Val Rouyeax on my way back—I might have started a new trend in fragrances.”

Fennel comes out of the closet—he must have been sleeping in there. Seeing Evelyn, he throws himself at her legs, purring so loudly he sounds like a small thunderstorm. She reaches down to rub his ears. “I think I’m going to take a bath. I’ll leave these clothes beside the door for laundering. Or burning. Whatever seems simpler.”

The bath is scented with dried leaves that smell sharply of lemon and the water is so hot that it makes her every muscle clench with pleasure. She uses a soft rag to wash the scent of battle from her skin, and then she luxuriates in the water. Her head tilts back, resting against the tub’s edge, and she closes her eyes. She hears a gentle knock and says, “Yes?”

Solas slips into the washroom. His bare feet are silent on the tiled floor, and if her eyes weren’t open, she might have never realized he was there. He lowers himself to a crouch beside the tub, one hand resting on the porcelain. “What is it?” she asks. She hopes no messengers are banging at their door; all she wants is a few hours of quiet.

He does not answer right away; rather, his gaze sweeps over her face, as if searching for something. “Solas,” she says, sitting up. Water sluices down her shoulders.

His thumb brushes her chin. His hand lingers on her cheek, as if he needs the contact. “I considered searching for you,” he says quietly. “Every night that I slept—I wondered if I shouldn’t reach out. It is harder to find people in the Fade if they are far away… but I thought perhaps I should try. And then I thought that you had left for a reason, that you needed time on your own—and I wanted to respect that.”

She exhales. “That’s a rather roundabout way of saying, ‘I missed you.’”

“I did,” he says. “And—I am sorry. You know that I am sorry.” His gaze meets hers. “I sent out my spies in the Plains. They found those mages.”

Every muscle in her body goes tight; Solas must feel it, for he shakes his head at once. “They are fine. I let Grand Enchanter Fiona know that there is a group of mages that needs help.”

She swallows. It is such a kind gesture, and before the incident with Wisdom, it is exactly what she would have expected of Solas. “Thank you,” she says simply.

They are quiet for a few minutes. Solas finds a comb and sits beside the bathtub, working the knots out of her damp hair. It is familiar and the touch is soothing. Evelyn closes her eyes, relaxing into the touch. It feels good—the comb sends pleasurable shivers through her whole body. It is the most comfortable she has been in weeks. When he is finished with her hair, his fingertips skim down her spine, finding the knotted muscles at the base of her neck. “May I?”

“Please,” she murmurs. His thumb presses into her shoulders, smoothing out worn muscles. After days of carrying a pack and her staff, the massage is much needed. She groans softly when he finds a sore spot, and when he is finished, she is both relaxed and—not. A throb goes through her lower belly when his lips touch her neck.

“Is this all right?” he says, very quietly.

“Yes,” she replies, and twists around so that she can kiss him. Her damp arms twine around his neck, and he does not seem to care that she’s getting his clothes wet. His mouth is hungry against hers, and she meets that need with her own. A groan reverberates through his chest. His hand finds the small of her back, pressing her closer, and somehow this feels all the more decadent for her naked, slick skin and his fully-clothed state.

“As much as I am enjoying this,” he says, and to her satisfaction, he sounds a little breathless. “This floor is rather unkind to my knees.”

She leans in and gently bites his lower lip. Maker, she loves his mouth. “Perhaps we should take this to the bed?” She rises to her feet, bathwater dripping down her skin. He reaches for a towel, gently, wrapping it around her. She expects him to help her from the bath, but before she can react, he hooks one arm beneath her knees and—

Maker. He carries her, towel and all, from the washroom. “Eager?” she says, a little dryly.

She feels more than hears his quiet laugh. Then the bed is against her back and she gasps at the suddenness of it. And then he’s above her, smiling.

“Yes,” he says, and kisses her again.


Cold metal slides along Evelyn’s skin. The chill prickles, makes her want to flinch from the sharpness. But a single wrong movement, and that point will find flesh.

“If you would stay still, Your Worship,” murmurs the woman.

Evelyn twitches. Sweat rolls down the small of her back, and it itches, but she dares not scratch. Josephine is watching from an arms length away, circling like a bird of prey. “Bring it in around the shoulders,” she says.

The seamstress nods, tucks another pin between her teeth, and goes to work.

Evelyn’s arms ache from stillness. She has been here an hour and the room is a little too warm and she is buried beneath layers of chiffon and silk.

“I remember seeing such gowns when I went to court,” says Josephine, with a certain amount of nostalgia. “Bards were known to favor garments that were both lovely and functional. You will not be able to carry a stave, but you will not go unarmed.”

Evelyn glances at the mirror, then away. The sight is an odd one—like looking into the life she might have had, if she were not a mage. She might have gone to court herself, sent to Orlais to find a suitable husband. She was the youngest of her siblings, so she would likely be expected to marry well, but without the rigors of knowing she would one day inherit the rule of Ostwick. She cannot imagine that life: going to noble parties, dressed in finery, exchanging gazes and promises with men that her parents’ deemed proper. It might have been unbearably dull. Or perhaps, it would have been peaceful.

She shakes her head, trying to rid herself of the thought. The seamstress makes a clucking sound, and Evelyn goes still again.

If she had lived that life, been the noble girl her parents had wanted her to be, perhaps she would be more practiced at stillness. Her fingers wouldn’t have the urge to fidget, her feet aching from standing in the same position, her neck held stiffly. She listens to Josephine rattle off names and titles, trying to memorize as much as she can. “One cannot play the game without knowing the players,” Josephine said, when they first began measuring her for this dress. And while Evelyn can think of a thousand things she would rather do, she listens and nods.

Once the seamstress’s measurements are finished, she promises to have the dress completed in a few days. Josephine thanks the woman, and then Evelyn is being helped out of the dress, and she goes back to her wardrobe for a clean shirt and leggings. Josephine smiles at her, seemingly grateful for her cooperation, and then leaves with the seamstress.

The sky has begun to darken, but Evelyn slips out of her rooms. Having spent all of the afternoon in stillness, she feels the need to move. She walks across the courtyard, smelling the freshly cut grass and planted herbs, and then she climbs the stone steps up to the parapets. The wind pulls at her, crisp and cold, and smelling of winter. She inhales deeply and the tension eases from her neck and shoulders.

She loves it here. On this edge of the world, where it feels like she might fly away on a stray wind. She closes her eyes, and when she opens them, she sees that the light in Cullen’s rooms is flickering. A silhouette moves within, and she shakes her head, a little rueful.

Of course Cullen is still working. It is the supper hour and yet he remains in his office, likely reading new scout reports and trying to trace Samson’s movements. She should go to his office, drag him to the great hall and try to coax him into eating a true meal.

Course set, she walks down the parapet, fingers skimming along the smooth stones, feeling their cool weight. It’s a comfort, even now, to the strength of Skyhold. It feels a solid place—a place where she is safe. When she reaches Cullen’s door, she raps with two knuckles.

There is no answer. She frowns, then tries the door. It swings open, and she steps inside.

“Cul—” she begins to say, and then something smashes against the wall. It is a hairsbreadth from her cheek, and she feels the impact of wooden shards, and pain prickles along her skin. She ducks, falls to her knees, and then sees the remains of… a box?

“Maker’s breath! I—I didn’t hear you enter.”

Cullen stands beside his desk. He sounds breathless, and truly surprised to see her.

Her own lungs are straining, breaths coming too quickly. She rises to her feet, gazes at the wooden pieces at her feet. What looks to be a spoon and tools are scattered on the floor.

When his gaze meets hers, shame crosses his face. “I—forgive me.”

“I knocked,” she replies. Her own voice is a little unsteady. “Is… something—did something happen?”

Cullen begins to walk around the desk. His gait is wobbly, and his left knee gives. He grabs for the desk, and a grunt of pain escapes him. His eyes squeeze shut, and she realizes he is sweating terribly. As if in fever or pain.

“Are you ill? I can get a healer,” she says.

His arm comes up, as if to ward her off. “No, no. No healers. They cannot help.”

She takes a step forward. “But if you’re ill…”

Another shake of his head, and he looks up. His eyes are bloodshot, rimmed with darkness. As if he has not slept in days. “They cannot help with this,” he repeats. “It is… I told you. Back at Haven. That—that I no longer take lyrium.”

And she understands. It is no true illness, but withdrawal.

He must see the comprehension on her face, for he says, “I never meant for this to interfere with my duties.”

“Are you going to be all right?”

“Yes,” he says at once. His voice softens, becomes less sure. “I don’t know.” He pushes up from his desk, as if he cannot bear to show weakness, even now. For a few moments, he does not speak; he paces from one end of the office to the other, perhaps trying to outpace his pain.

She waits, quiet, wondering if perhaps she should find a healer regardless of his words. There must be a way to ease the symptoms, if only for a short while. “Maybe Solas could—”

“No.” The word tears out of him, and it comes with the force of that box striking the wall. She winces. “No magic,” he says. He turns to her, and his mouth tightens, tugs at the scar. “Do you know what happened at the Ferelden circle?”

Startled by the change in subject, Evelyn shakes her head. “I heard… rumors of an uprising? We had a templar transfer from Kinloch Hold, but he never spoke of it.”

“He wouldn’t, if he saw the things I did,” Cullen said harshly. “It was taken over by abominations. The templars—my friends—were slaughtered.” He paces again, back and forth, like a caged animal. “I—I was tortured. They tried to break my mind and I… how can you be the same person after that?” He laughs a little, and it sounds raw and painful.

Ah. So this is the pain he has carried with him. 

“Still, I wanted to serve,” he continues. “They sent me to Kirkwall.” He spits out the name like a curse, and she flinches. Part of her wonders if he ever crossed paths with Anselm.

“I trusted my knight commander and her fear of mages ended in madness.” He snarls the words, anger still rising within him.

A flicker of unease goes through her. She is not sure what sets her instincts off—the barely-restrained pacing, the way he holds himself, or the fury that turns his words into rasps. He is on the edge, and she—

She is alone with him.

She wishes she could dismiss that thought. Banish it, because this is Cullen. Who smiles at her in the hallways, who once sat outside of her quarters for a week every night because there were no guards to be spared, who works too hard and—

The stone walls. The smell of lyrium, still clinging to the tools from that box. The taste of sword oil in the air.

“Kirkwall’s circle fell. Innocent people died. Can’t you see why I want nothing to do with that life?” It sounds like an accusation. 

“These thoughts won’t leave me,” he grits out. “I will not give less to the Inquisition than I did the Chantry. I should be taking it. I should be—”

Her heart throbs with fear. But she forces it down, tries to say, “Cullen.”

His fist slams into the bookcase. It is sudden, and violent. Books fall to the floor. 

Something within her shatters. 

Her vision dims at the edges. It is as if her body has taken hold of her mind, all her old instincts surging to the surface.

It does not matter that this is Cullen. That this is Skyhold, not Ostwick. Her feet move, and she is turning, reaching for the door.

Cullen steps toward her, hand extended, and she feels the brush of fingers—and it makes her sick with terror. That he might grab her, drag her back, and—

She throws open the door and runs. Down the stairs, through the dark courtyard, past the healer’s quarters and the tavern, to the great hall. She ignores those who call out to her, ignores the smell of food and the light of the torches. She hastens up the stairs to her rooms.

They are empty, thankfully. She does not think she can explain herself to anyone right now—the thought makes her feel physically ill. She wants to hide, to make herself small and invisible. She sits on the bed, wondering what she will do if Cullen comes after her. She does not know.

Silently, Fennel crawls into her lap. She wraps her arms around him and holds on.

She does not stop shaking for hours.


Solas returns a little before midnight. She hears the sound of his footfall, the hesitation when he sees Evelyn sitting up in bed. Fennel squirms free of Evelyn’s lap and walks to Solas, meowing for food. Solas ignores the creature; rather, he goes to sit beside Evelyn.

“Bad day?” he asks quietly.

Now that the worst has passed, she feels embarrassment. She should not fall apart over something so simple as a yelling man, a fist against a bookshelf, the crash of tomes falling to the floor.

“The Commander was looking for you,” says Solas, after a long moment. “He came through the rotunda, looking quite… disheveled. He mumbled something about apologizing.” Solas’s voice is low, the rise and fall as comforting as a lullaby. “Tell me, vhenan. What did he have to apologize for?”

And despite the soothing quality in his voice, she finally recognizes the tension in his body. He has been hiding it for her sake, but he is angry. Having a former templar looking desperately for her, only to find Evelyn like this… well. She realizes how this must look from his perspective. “He’s going through withdrawal.”

All of his gentleness is directed at her. “Tell me.”

She tells him.

“I know I should find it admirable,” says Evelyn. “That he would go through such pain to be free of the lyrium. That he would even try when most don’t. But—when he was yelling—”

A shudder rips through her.

“Perhaps this was a cry for help,” she says. “Some way of ceding the decision to me. To get me to tell him to stop taking it or to start again.”

Now that she is removed from the situation, she can see it a little from Cullen’s perspective. He has lost his way, and he hopes for one to offer guidance. Perhaps she might have given it, under other circumstances. But her own hurts are still too raw.

“I thought I was getting better,” she says, and all of her anger turns inward. “I thought I was past this.”

Solas exhales a long breath. “Old wounds can reopen, if prodded. It does not make you weak.”

Evelyn closes her eyes, then reopens them. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

“You needn’t—”

She shakes her head. “I can’t avoid him. I won’t avoid him—he doesn’t deserve that.”

She won’t stop thinking of him as a person. And people make mistakes.


The next day, she finds Cullen on the battlements.

“I’m sorry,” he says, at once. “I’m so sorry. I frightened you—I didn’t think—”

She nods. She doesn’t accept his apology, nor excuse his behavior. “Are you feeling better?”

“I am,” he says. “I should not have pushed myself so hard that day.”

“No,” she says. “You shouldn’t have.”

“I’m sorry,” he says again.

“You said that already.”

“No,” he says. “Not for my outburst. I’m sorry I make you uncomfortable.” He looks at her, and then away. “I know I do. I have since the very beginning—and that was my fault, I know. You were right about abuses in the Circles. I turned a blind eye to many of them, because I was swayed by my own anger. It makes feel ill to think of how I acted.” He seems to steel himself, and then he meets her gaze. “I would like to think, knowing what I do now, that I’d do things differently.” 

She would like to think so, as well. Because he isn’t a bad person—but then again, it does not take a bad person to allow abuses.

“Hopefully neither of us will ever be in that situation again,” she says.

He nods. “I want you to know that whatever happens, I’ll follow you. You’ve proven to be a good leader and…” His voice quiets. “I wish to continue being your friend. If… if you’d rather keep things professional, I would understand of course.” He trails off, looking unbearably awkward.

She considers.

“Do you play cards?” she asks. “Varric has been trying to teach me.”

He shakes his head. “I’m terrible at cards. Little practice. They were frowned upon by the Chantry—too close to taverns and drinking.”

“Is there a game you can play?”

He blinks. “When… when I was very young, I played chess.”

“Chess, then,” she said. “How about the day after tomorrow. After the midday meal?”

Relief seems to sap the stiffness from his joints. He slumps, leans against the parapets. “I’ll be there,” he says, smiling.

She walks away, feeling lighter.

It is only once she is in the courtyard that she realizes she never asked him if he was taking lyrium again.

She decides she won’t. 

Chapter Text

She spends time in the gardens. Working fresh soil with her fingers, placing seedlings with care. She goes for water herself, hauling bucketfuls by hand. More than once, a servant darts forward to try to take the burden from her, but she waves them off with a smile. She knows little of gardening, but she found a book in the library. It is propped open on a bench, and often she wipes her fingers on a stained apron before checking a page.

She regards a half-dead tree. There are a few leaves still clinging to its branches, but it has been twisted by wind and years, and it will serve little use. She finds a small hatchet and begins to work on dismantling it.

An hour later, her arms are aching and her brow damp with sweat. She considers asking Blackwall to take an axe to it, but then she hears Cassandra. The seeker walks into the garden the way a cat might enter an unfamiliar home—glancing every which way, as if to take in everything at once. “I wanted to talk with you,” she said. “We’ve had some letters from Starkhaven.” She hesitates, and then says flatly, “What are you doing?”

“Gardening.” Evelyn takes a tighter hold on the hatchet and brings it down on a particularly thick root. Grimacing, she reached for a spade and tried to cut at the smaller tendrils.

“If my uncle told me gardening required so many weapons, I might have taken to it with greater enthusiasm.” There is a rare note of amusement in Cassandra’s voice. It makes Evelyn smile.

Cassandra surveys the garden. “It seems a pity to dislodge such an old tree.”

“It was choking the life out of everything else.” Evelyn goes back to hacking away at the roots, yanking them free. “If we ever wish to grow anything that might help the Inquisition—healing herbs or teas or even food—then the tree goes.”

And oddly enough, the older woman kneels beside her and takes hold of one of the roots. She helps for more than an hour, and Evelyn admits the process goes more swiftly with two pairs of hands at work.

“You said there were letters from Starkhaven?” says Evelyn.

Cassandra nods; she is helping haul clay pots to one corner of the garden. “Yes. Prince Sebastian Vael has written to you again.”

Evelyn rises from her crouch and her knees creak audibly. “I should get something to eat. Have the letters brought to the dining hall.”

She washes her hands and face, but she still smells of earth and greenery. Then she sits at one of the long tables, nodding to a server. The young lad gives her a nervous bow before setting a tureen of stew before her. She smiles at him, but that only seems to set him on edge.

The letters are sealed with wax; she runs her fingertips over the red form of the Vael crest. Had she not been born with magic, her parents might have tried to marry her into the Vael family. It was a well-regarded name, although she heard that in later years, most of the bloodline had been assassinated. Only a single prince remained, and he has written to the Inquisition before. Mostly the same promises offered by other noble houses—promises of aid, of help, and she suspects at some point, they will have their own opinions on how the Inquisition will repay that debt.

She cracks the letter open and glances over it. Vael’s penmanship is neater than her own, and the note is not a long one. But as she reads it, her stomach tightens and any thought of appetite vanishes.

She rises from her seat, food untouched, and stands for a heartbeat. Indecision slows her—she does not know who to ask about this.

But then it comes to her. She should ask a person who lived there.

She strides through the great halls, into the weak sunlight of the afternoon. She breathes the sharp air, forcing herself to take slow, measured steps. She cannot be seen rushing through her own fortress. Not even if she wants to.

She walks up the stone stairs and her hand hovers over Cullen’s door. She remembers the last time she knocked, and a knot of fear lodges in her throat. She pushes past it, rapping at the wood. “Come in,” he calls, and he sounds well enough. Evelyn pushes open the door. Cullen is sitting at his desk, and when he glimpses her, his back straightens so quickly she hears something pop. “What’s wrong?” he says, and she cannot contradict him.

“Sebastian Vael wants to invade Kirkwall,” she says. “He’s asking for our help.”

She isn’t sure what to expect: perhaps he will nod and say it is the best thing to do. Perhaps he will shake his head and say they should not offer help, as it is not their place.

She is not expecting a flash of anger to cross Cullen’s features. “He—what?”

She hands him the letter. As he reads it, his mouth draws tighter and tighter, until his scar is a rigid white line. “I should have known,” he says, with surprising vehemence. “He means to retaliate against anyone who ever harbored Anders.” He looks up at Evelyn. “You’ll want troops to protect the city?”

It is what she came for, yes, but she did not expect him to agree so readily. To protect a mage—to protect the mage who committed the first violent act that led the rest down a path of rebellion. No, the uprising was not wholly because of Anders; there was the dissolution of the college, Wynne’s actions, a possessed tranquil, and the massacre orchestrated by the Seekers, but Anders remains the public face of rebellious mages.

“You won’t argue against protecting Kirkwall?” she asks.

A sharp breath escapes him. “I wish it had not come to this. But if Vael invades, it will be a bloodbath. The people of Kirkwall have seen too much violence.” He grimaces, and says, “His vendetta is of a personal nature. I had thought his threats empty when I first heard them—but—” He shakes his head. “I would not see Kirkwall burn a third time—not if I can prevent it.”

She slumps a little, hand on his desk to steady herself. “Thank you.”

Her gratitude seems to startle him. “Well, ah. You’re welcome.”

They are quiet for moment.

“A third time?” asks Evelyn.

Cullen blinks. “Pardon?”

“You said you wouldn’t let Kirkwall burn a third time,” she replies.

“Qunari invasion,” he says, understanding. “It happened years before the rebellion.”

“Oh.” She has heard vague bits and pieces about a Qunari incident, but she never realized it had been in Kirkwall. No wonder Varric is a little harder around the mouth when he is in the Iron Bull’s company. Not that he is ever rude, but he’s never been particularly friendly, either.

Evelyn feels a smile lurk at the corners of her mouth. “You certainly had a few interesting years in Kirkwall, didn’t you?”

“That,” Cullen says dryly, “I did.” There is another moment of silence, and he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Now that there is no Inquisition business to speak of, all of his confidence evaporates. “Are we still—this afternoon. I mean, if you’re too busy I would understand.”

She grasps his meaning. “I’ll see you this afternoon for chess,” she says. “Of course, you’ll have to forgive my skills. I haven’t played in years.”

“Nor have I,” he says, with a self-deprecating shake of his head. “It will be a wonder if I can remember how to arrange the pieces.”

“We’ll manage,” she replies, and gives him a small smile.


Several weeks after, Evelyn receives word that Kirkwall’s guard forces and the Inquisition aid have successfully repelled Starkhaven’s invasion. A rather angry letter arrives for her and she drops it in the fire on her way to the gardens.


The next missive comes from Iron Bull—and it’s one word long. Tavern, it reads.

Evelyn smiles, tucks the note into her pocket, and glances at Leliana. Cullen and Josie have been caught in an embittered battle over what he shall be wearing to the ball at the Winter Palace. Leliana sees the note, and Evelyn mouths, Iron Bull. The spymaster gives the smallest of nods, and Evelyn slips from the room.

She finds Bull at the tavern, sitting beside Krem. Krem is a goodnatured sort, and in the few conversations she has had with him, she’s enjoyed his company. With his easy charm and dry wit, he reminds her of Kinnaird. He gestures at the empty seat between himself and Bull. “Hey, Boss,” says Bull. “How’re you doing?”

Evelyn slides onto the stool, resting her elbows on the wooden bar. “Well, when I left, Josie was insisting that Cullen wear a silk sash to the ball and he was saying that he’d rather eat it than wear it—so I think things are going rather well.”

Bull nods gravely. “He should wear the sash. In a pinch, he could strangle someone with it.”

Krem snorts into his drink.

Another tankard is slid before Evelyn and she sips at it—ale, luckily, and none of that stuff Bull tried to get her drink the last time. She would rather not spend the rest of the afternoon in a drunken haze. “Why did you ask to meet me here?”

Bull sobers. “Ah, right. Got a message from the Ben-Hassrath.”

“Shouldn’t we do this somewhere more private?” she says, glancing at the tavern.

“Not like everyone doesn’t already know what the boss does,” says Krem. “Besides, this place is as good as any. With the music and the chatter, there’s less chance someone will overhear.”

“He’s right,” says Bull. “You want a private conversation, pick the noisiest place you can find.”

Evelyn takes another drink. “All right, then. What do your people want?”

What they want is an alliance.

Which should thrill her—such a thing has not been offered to any power in many, many years. But something in the Iron Bull’s voice gives her pause. It isn’t what he says: it’s what he doesn’t say. There is little excitement in his words, only caution. And there’s a moment of hesitation when she agrees to meet with his people. The Inquisition and the Bull’s Chargers will help cover a dreadnaught run, and the Qun will offer aid.

It’s a good deal—but then again, she has become rather untrusting in these last few years.

As she returns to Skyhold, she veers into the rotunda. Solas has taken to spending time here. Voices from the library and the spymaster’s tower echo off the circular walls, and few would even notice the quiet man below. He can listen without being observed.

Solas is at work. He has been painting again, and his fingers are stained in shades of blue. Before they came to Skyhold, she knew he could sketch—she watched him create maps and drawings of people for his spies. But his true talents are in these frescos: bold, elegant lines that belong to an age long past. They are beautiful, and she has spent time trying to piece together the meanings of each. Some are easily understood: a woman clad in blue, standing before a crack in the sky. Mages in robes, walking away from a broken tower. And flowers growing from the walls of a tower. 

He glances over his shoulder. “Have your advisors decided on garments for the Winter Palace yet?”

She shakes her head in disbelief. “How did you find out about that here?”

“The ambassador and the commander have been rather unquiet,” replies Solas. “Several of the servants overheard.”

“Well, as far as I can tell, Josie wants us all to look our best while Cullen wants to go in armored for anything.”

His mouth lifts in a half-smile. “They can be one in the same. Let finery be your armor, allow it to deflect attention.” He sets the paints down and walks to the desk.

“They’ll never take their eyes off of me,” says Evelyn, with resignation. “You might be able to slip by, but I certainly won’t.”

“True,” he agrees. “I have that luxury.” His fingertips rest lightly on her hand. “But you did not come here for a discussion about garments.”

“No,” she says. And she explains about Bull’s arrangement and their possible alliance with the Qun. By the time she has finished, Solas looks as if her words have soured his mood.

He hates the Qun. He hates anything that threatens free will—and while Evelyn does not hate the Qun, she cannot say she finds it comforting, either. She has seen what becomes of people who will follow orders blindly.

“I think we should go,” she says quietly. “It would be foolish to simply ignore this.”

“Agreed,” he says, “but nor should you rush into an alliance with anyone.” His gaze slides to the rotunda’s walls—to the pictures of battle. “Only an ally can betray you. The worst an enemy can do is kill you.”

She lets out a rueful laugh. “You’re just full of optimism today.”

He smiles, but the expression does not touch his eyes. “I have tasted betrayal in my lifetime, vhenan. It is something that stays with you.” 

She knows some of his past; he told her bits and pieces while she was tranquil. The rest, she has pieced together from overheard conversations—that he is Fen’Harel but he is no god, that none of the elven pantheon were truly divine, that their splendor was built upon the blood and bones of the elvhen people, that he led slave rebellions, that he constructed the Veil as a last resort to seal away his brethren, and there was a betrayal. His—or someone else’s. He fell into the deep sleep of the elvhen, and when he awoke it was to a world greatly changed. She knows he wants to change it again, because he did not anticipate the Veil making the elves mortal, or making magic into a rarity, or trapping spirits in a dream world. She knows that when the Veil falls, it will likely cause untold chaos.

There are gaps in her knowledge, but she hasn’t pressed. She will not prod at unhealed wounds unless there is no other choice.

“You don’t have to come to the Storm Coast,” she says.

He straightens, as if shaking off the weight of old regrets. “I would rather be there. I would suggest leaving Dorian behind, though. We wouldn’t wish to cause a diplomatic incident.”

“Not Varric either,” she agrees. “I was thinking Cassandra.”

“When shall we leave?”

“In the morning.” She rises to tiptoe so she can press a kiss against his cheek. “I should return to the war room.” She turns to leave, but he catches her by the arm. Before she can say a word, he pulls her close. His forehead rests gently against hers, and in the circle of his arms, she hears him say, “I’ll tell you. Whatever you wish to know, I will tell you.” He speaks quietly, so those in the library will not hear.

“I know,” she whispers. “When you’re ready.”

He makes a rough sound that might have been a laugh. “You would have to wait millennia.”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“I fear you do not have that sort of time.”

And he does fear—she can hear the sharp edge of it in his voice. While it is not the first time she has considered his long lifespan, it is the first time she has compared it to her own. “When you’re ready,” she repeats. Because she would wait until she was a crotchety old crone, using a walking stick to beat demons back into the Fade.

The kiss, when it comes, has a vein of need running through it. A need for touch, for closeness, and most of all, for reassurance. When she pulls back, his face is shuttered, all emotion carefully hidden. She gives his hand a squeeze, before turning back to the door.

As she walks, she catches a glimpse of a new sketch along the rotunda walls: a wolf facing a creature much larger than itself. 


It does come down to a matter of betrayal.

Coastal rains have soaked Evelyn’s clothes; the brine of sea salt catches between the cracks in her lips. She stands on the edge of a cliff, watching as Tevinter mages approach the Chargers. They will be overwhelmed. But this is the cost of their alliance with the Qun—and suddenly, Evelyn wonders if this was how the plan was supposed to go. If this was not a test for her, but for Bull. By sending someone he trusts, by using an old friend against him, they have placed him in a position to choose between his people and his crew. Gatt watches him, keen eyes focused solely on Bull, waiting.

As for Bull, he is looking at her.

No, no. He is looking to her. For guidance.

“Boss,” he says quietly. It is as close to a plea as she has ever heard from him.

They can have this alliance—all it will cost are the lives of his men.

But it is a cost she is unwilling to pay.

“Sound the retreat,” she says, and something like relief flickers across Bull’s face.

Gatt snarls, steps forward, his expression one of fury and betrayal. Out of the corner of her eye, Evelyn sees Solas move. Just a slight gesture of his fingers, spinning a spell between them. All it would take is a single nod from her, and he will end the threat.

She shakes her head.

Bull has lost enough this day.

After the Qunari dreadnaught is smoking ash and rubble, sinking beneath the waves, Bull looks at her a second time. She isn’t sure what he will say, but he just heaves a breath. “Let’s go home,” he says.

Not Skyhold. Home.

Because now, it is the only one he has left.


That night, they sleep in tents on the Storm Coast. Wind whips the canvas, rain lashes, and beneath several layers of wool blankets, Evelyn lays on her side. Solas is behind her, and she can feel his even breaths against her neck. Bull has taken the first watch—and she suspects he will take the second and third, as well. He has the look of a person who would rather work than sleep. She listens when a scout comes by to report, but she can’t hear much over the rain.

She sits up, glances down at Solas. His face is relaxed in sleep, and she gently slides his arm from her waist. She steps from the tent, sealing the door behind her. Sure enough, Bull sits beside the fire—or what is left of the fire. His gaze is fixed on the embers. “Hey,” she says softly, sitting beside him.

Bull looks at her sharply. “Boss.”

“You don’t have to call me that, you know.” She wraps her arms around her legs for warmth. “Everyone calls me ‘Inquisitor’ or ‘Your Worship.’ Sometimes I think I’ll forget my own name.”

He turns his attention back to the guttering fire. “It’s a habit,” he says. “In the Qun, we were all numbers. And then we were our occupations.”

“So I’m ‘boss.’” She shifts, trying to brush some of the rainwater from her hair. “But you chose your own name.”

“Yeah.” He sounds exhausted. “And look how well that worked out.”

She looks at the tent where the Chargers are sleeping. “I think it worked out just fine.”

He catches her glance, follows it. His rigid posture loosens.

The forest shifts with the coastal winds. At Ostwick, those winds drove the forests back; the trees were scattered cypress that had bowed to the winds and thick succulents scattered along the rocky cliffs. The Storm Coast’s forests are thicker, the winds kept at bay by trees that must be centuries old. 

She is still considering the forest when Bull says, “He hasn’t told you everything.”

She flinches, drawn out of her thoughts. “What?”

Bull’s gaze is steady. “Solas,” he answers. “You probably don’t want to hear this, but you should. I know liars. There is a reason I used to be called ‘Hissrad.’ You’re involved with him, but you need to protect yourself. His story doesn’t add up. No self-taught apostate can do what he does.”

“And what does he do?” Her heartbeat is a little too fast; this conversation has veered into a place she is wholly unprepared for.

“Paints frescos,” Bull replies. “Uses magic that only the Vints employ. Knew where to find Skyhold—and don’t give me that bullshit about Andraste guiding you through the mountains. It was him, I know it was. I don’t know who he’s working for, but it’s not the Inquisition. I know the two of you were friends before this mess, but even old friends can be dangerous.” 

She should have anticipated this. Bull is a spy—and a damned good one. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because,” he replies, “you deserved to know.” One of his massive shoulders rolls in a shrug. “You saved the chargers.” 

“You did that,” she says gently.

He doesn’t argue, but nor does he agree. “I won’t call you soft because I’ve seen what you do to templars. But you like to give others the benefit of the doubt. People like you have a way of getting used.”

She wonders what he would say if he knew how she often wakes up in a sweat, sheets tangled around her legs, heart pounding as she remembers sliding the knife into a templar’s throat, if he knew how the anger seizes her sometimes, makes her dig her fingernails into her own palms, pain centering her, if he knew that she plans to help unmake this world as he knows it.

Iron Bull would probably kill her now, if he knew. 

She considers several replies. She could throw out all sorts of untruths, try to tangle him up in half-lies. But Bull is a spy and she is not. So she does the only thing she can. She tells the truth.

“I know who Solas is,” she says simply.

That earns her a raised brow. “You're sure?”

“Yes. He told me who he was before we ever joined the Inquisition.” And something in her voice must appease him, because he gives a sharp nod.

“And you’re all right with that.” It’s half a question, half not.

“I trust him,” she says. “He won’t do anything to jeopardize our cause.” 

He nods. There are many unspoken words behind that simple gesture.

He trusted her when he didn’t trust himself. And will accept her judgement on this, as well.

For a few minutes, there is comfortable quiet between them. Evelyn listens to rain patter through the trees, dripping to the moss-covered ground.

“Are you going to at least give me a hint?” says Bull. But his voice is lighter now, and there’s a hint of amusement. “Escaped slave? Secret Dalish cult leader? It’s not like the Ben-Hassrath will take my reports now—tell me something I don’t know.”

She can’t help herself. “He has freckles all down his back.”

Bull lets out a laugh. “Not quite the detail I was looking for, but I’ll take it.”

When she returns to her tent, Bull is smiling.

Evelyn does not smile. She closes the tent behind her, sits on her bedroll. Solas has not stirred, and she watches his sleeping form. 

She is not doing this for him. She is not even doing this for herself. 

Orla. Malorel. Anselm. Marley. Those children, still in their bunks, who will never awaken. 

She murmurs the names under her breath, if only to remind herself why she is walking this path. 


She opens letters with her morning tea.

It has become part of her day. Many an ambassador has sent gifts for the Herald of Andraste, and after several unfortunate encounters—one mabari war hound that growled at Solas, a set of embroidery needles that Evelyn has no idea how to use, a golden sword, several offers of marriage, and three summer homes—Evelyn let slip to her own ambassador that she enjoyed tea. Since then, the offerings have been far more enjoyable. She has been gifted all sorts of teas, from spiced black teas to airy herbal concoctions. 

This tea is a Nevarran blend. It is flavored with cardamon and cloves, and she pours a generous helping of milk into her cup.

Fennel winds around her ankles, mewling pitifully, as if he were starving. "I fed you five minutes ago," she murmurs, only paying him half her attention. The other half is on a message from an Antivan assassin, and she is unsure if it is real or not. Do assassins just announce themselves? She should ask Josie about it.

The next letter is from a Ferelden lord, offering to help clear the roads that lead to Skyhold—at least, for a small price. It's a good deal, and she knows she will accept, even as she makes a note to herself to ask Leliana if their spies wouldn't be more effective off of the roads.

The letter after that is more welcome. Kinnaird has gone to the Exalted Plains. The civil war and the walking corpses have caused untold injuries, and he offered to accompany the Inquisition’s troops. His handwriting is messy, and she can see the places where he must have rested the parchment against his knees.

The first paragraph reads as any report—an account of his dealings with the troops at Fort Revasen, accounts of demons seen on the edges of the wood, and his own observations of morale.

If you ask me, this place is a rabbit hole, he writes. The fort is little more than a place for weary soldiers to take a breath before venturing out again. The civil war is supposed to be at a standstill, but the risen dead and the demons don’t seem to care. Nor do the Freemen. One of them was up in a tree, picking off soldiers at his leisure. That is, until the tree caught fire. He scrambled down, right quick, and into the hands of Gaspard’s soldiers.

She shakes her head, smiling.

I wish you were here, if only because the food might be better. They wouldn’t dare serve day-old porridge to the Herald of Andraste. The beds are little more than rope and torn rags, and the flies are everywhere. But, despite everything, I rather like this place. It’s raw and it’s broken, but I can do some good here. And besides, I can leave whenever I like.

She knows what he means. She has felt it herself; no matter how terrible the world might be, the freedom to traverse that world is still wondrous to her. To all of the freed mages. She writes a reply, and places it on the pile to be given to Leliana. One of her ravens will bring it to Kinnaird.

There is a shorter note from Keldra.

I have killed eleven undead, three demons, and a nug that looked at Kinnaird the wrong way. All right, so that last one was an accident, but you never know. It might have been possessed.

Fennel rubs his head against her ankle. Were Solas here, the cat would try to beg from him—but Solas has his own messages to answer. He will be down in the rotunda again, listening for the morning gossip.

The next letter is on thick parchment. She absentmindedly uses her thumbnail to pry open the seal, and then she glances at the first paragraph.

Her tea slops over the cup's edge, threatening to stain her papers. Hurriedly, she scoops them up and sets them at a safe distance. She mops up the tea with her sleeve. Her heart is beating too quickly and her fingers tremble when she opens the letter a second time.

My Dear Sister, reads the first line.

She feels a little lightheaded. The words swim, and she has to blink several times before she can properly read them.

My Dear Sister,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I fear we have not corresponded as much in recent years as I would have liked. After the unfortunate mage rebellions began, it was impossible to find you. We all feared you dead for two years--and I hope whatever kept you from writing us was worth the agony you put Mother through. She has been insistent on seeing you ever since we heard that you had been named Inquisitor. At first, we thought perhaps it was one of our cousins, but when we heard it was you

The ink has been scratched out, and then the letter continues.

I am glad to know you are alive. Please write back at once, so we may come visit you.

Your Brother,

Leander

A laugh escapes her. A horrible, hiccuping laugh that makes Fennel stop batting at her ankle. He looks up at her, eyes wide and unblinking. "They want to visit," she says and her voice sounds odd.

The last time she saw her brother, she was fourteen. It was a supervised visit of family members—and her mother had brought only her brother, saying her sisters were too busy to attend. Her mother had been all smiles and kisses, but the kisses had been the kind that never touched skin, and her smiles were cold. Leander had looked at her as if she might burst into flames at any moment, and when they’d hugged, he let go very quickly.

It wasn’t his fault. He was a child—and no doubt had been taught the usual line of Chantry thought: mages were a danger to themselves and others, and they were best kept bound. He did not know better, back then.

But he will be thirty years old now—and this is the first time he has written.

She carries the letter down the stairs, into the great hall. She is so caught up in her own thoughts that she nearly collides with Mother Giselle.

“Oh, my dear,” she says, catching Evelyn by the shoulder. “I am so sorry.”

“My fault,” says Evelyn. “I—was not paying attention. What can I do for you?”

Mother Giselle hesitates, and thens says, “May we speak about the Magister?”


Skyhold’s library is always occupied. 

It has been divided into several distinct territories: Fiona and her followers, the researchers, Dorian, and lastly, Danforth. Some tables have been pulled together, and more often than not, there are men and women leaning over books and notes, talking eagerly to one another. Evelyn sees Fiona and a mage she does not know conversing over a tome of old alchemical formulas. The researchers are quieter, most of them tranquil, and Evelyn’s heart twists when she sees them. She speaks to each, mostly because she refuses not to, but every conversation feels like taking a blade to barely-healed wounds. Their voices are too flat, their faces too mild, and it feels like looking into a mirror of something she does not wish to remember.

It is a relief to walk by Danforth. He has been all but sleeping in the library, caught up in the revelations about the Fade and the veil. It must be a researcher’s dream: all of his theories are testable now. “Well, look who it is,” says Danforth. “Come by to grace us with your presence?"

His barbs are a welcome distraction. “Old man,” she says fondly. Then she drops a bundle on his table. “Samples from the rifts I found on the Storm Coast."

His face alights with joy. “All of those universities that refused to read my journals,” he says, “are going to beg for my research. I will see them grovel."

She crosses her arms. “It’s nice to see you’re using this knowledge for the greater good."

Danforth waves her away. “Oh, it will. But there’s no harm in some well-earned gloating.” 

She shakes her head and walks to one of the library alcoves. 

Dorian has claimed this place; he dragged a cushioned chair up the stairs, and there are piles of books, sheets of paper and quill pens are scattered everywhere. He is leaning indolently in the chair, fingers flicking through the pages of a small, bound manuscript. It looks to be about old Tevinter bloodlines. 

“Well, hello there,” says Dorian. “I hope you brought something to eat, because I don’t think I can finish this chapter without sustenance. The sheer amount of—”

“Your family sent us a message,” says Evelyn. “They want me to lure you to the Hinterlands. Also, my brother wants to visit Skyhold.” There is no softening these kinds of blows, so she does not try. 

They regard one another for a moment.

“So do we burn the place down and run?” says Dorian. It’s such a flippant answer and so unexpected that she feels the corners of her mouth lift.

“Skyhold’s made of stone,” she says. “I don’t think it’ll burn all that well. We could try following the Grey Wardens to the Anderfels—they might hide us.” She sits on the floor, her back to one of the bookshelves. It’s a surprisingly comfortable place to linger—surrounded by books and quiet, with the morning sunlight streaming through a window.

“Terrible food in the Anderfels,” he replies. “And the Wardens are a dour bunch. I suppose we’re better off simply hiring assassins to do away with our families. Maybe Lady Nightingale can help with that.”

She settles more comfortably against the bookshelf, crossing her legs at the ankles. “You don’t get along with your family?” She says it matter of factly, as if inquiring about his taste in food. 

Dorian considers his answer. “They are a detestable lot.” He tilts his head. “What of yours?”

“They never hurt me,” she says. “They were never cruel.”

“Yes, I did assume they were very kind and gentle when they imprisoned you.”

The stark way he says it is strangely reassuring. Part of her felt guilty for not wanting to see them, as if it were somehow a flaw.

“They thought the Chantry was right,” she says. “They probably still think it. They never made any effort to get in contact before. I assume they’re only doing so now because I’m important.” She winces. “That came out wrong.”

“That came out entirely right,” says Dorian with a sharp laugh. “Your noble relatives sound much like mine. Can’t have any embarrassment in the family, no, no. It’s much better to smile and hide who you truly are, if it’ll save face.” There is no mistaking the bitterness in his voice.

“What did they do to you?” she asks. 

Dorian’s gaze drifts from hers. She isn’t sure he will answer, not until he says, “I prefer the company of men.”

Given most of his comments in the past, this isn’t a revelation. Evelyn nods. “And your family didn’t approve?”

“I was supposed to marry a delightful noble woman,” says Dorian, “and have children who will be powerful and carry on the bloodline. My happiness didn’t factor into things. When I broke my engagement, my father decided to use more… drastic means. Blood magic—meant to bend me to his will.”

All the breath leaves her. “I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago.” But judging by the tone of his voice, those years have not lessened the pain of it. His fingers flex, and he forces them to relax. “I forged a path for myself. One that didn’t make me hate my life. It only cost me my family, my reputation, and my place in society.”

She reaches out, lays her hand on his forearm. “I’m glad you ended up here.”

He lets out a breath. “Believe it or not, so am I.” He takes a moment, and she watches as he pushes the memories away, seems to center himself. “As for your brother, do you want to meet him?”

Part of her does—and part of her cringes away from the idea.

“I wouldn’t know how to talk to him,” she says. “We’ve grown so far apart. I’d like to try… but…” She closes her eyes. “Not now. Not in the midst of all of this. Maybe another time.”

“Get your Lady Ambassador to cobble together an excuse,” he says. “And in the meantime, we’ll scamper off to some corner of the wilds.”

His offer is a kind one. She knows he prefers the comforts of Skyhold. But if it would distract her, he would venture back into the muck of the Mire or the ragged winds of the Coast. He is a friend, she realizes, and a dear one. She never thought to find friendship in a Tevinter mage, but he understands family in a way that few of her other companions would. 

“We can’t run,” she says. “We have a ball to attend.”

“Oh, I forgot about that.” He smiles. “Have you been practicing your curtsy?”

“I think I’ll manage,” she says. “If anyone comments on my lack of table manners, I’ll just open a rift and let demons eat everyone.” 

“Hold onto that cynicism,” Dorian replies. “It’ll serve you well at Halamshiral.”

Chapter Text

The remnants of fire linger in Halamshiral.

The slums are little more than husks of charcoal and ash; Solas rides past them, gaze sliding over the skeletons of taverns, of shops, of eateries and—people. There are still charred bones amidst the ruins of the slums. The nobles have yet deigned to clean out the buildings. Or perhaps those bodies are a reminder to the elves of what should happen if they rebel.

Solas knew of the massacre; word spread for weeks after it happened. Fearful whispers of a new exalted march, of Dalish clans taking refuge deep within forests where humans would never tread, elven servants driven away from Orlesian cities. This small act of defiance had resounding effects throughout the empire, although he knows they will only be temporary. This is yet another result of the civil war; Halamshiral’s elves were merely one of its casualties. A chess piece that Celene had wielded against her opponent, to harden the resolve of her supporters, and quash any rumors that she held sympathies for the elven people.

It is only when his hand begins to shake that he realizes he has clenched his fingers. He makes a conscious effort to relax them, to breathe into the anger, letting it curl at the base of his spine. He will use it later. But for now, fury is a distraction.

Thousands of elves died here.

Thousands.

All for the petty machinations of two nobles squabbling over who should wear a crown.

He glances to his left. Evelyn has slid off her horse, venturing into the ruins on foot. Their guide calls out to her, saying that Her Worship should not enter those ruins. They are not safe, and she is far too—

Solas slips from his own horse’s back and follows her. Ashes crumble beneath his bare feet, and he can feel the death upon this place. It lingers in the cracked wooden frames of the houses, in the stones of the streets, and in the sour taste of the air. To dream here would be to invite nightmares. To taste flame and fear, to see the faces of frightened men and women as they huddled behind makeshift barriers, waiting to die by either steel or flame.

Evelyn stands at the doorway of a house. It must have been a house, once. The roof has fallen in.

He comes up beside her, but he does not speak. There are no words of comfort that would not sound false—so he does not speak them.

“How many people would have lived in this house?” she asks.

He considers. “Ten, at the very least,” he says quietly. “Often one or two families would live in such a dwelling.”

Her bloodless lips press thin. She gazes at something, and she does not look away.

Solas glances inside and sees the remains of a rocking horse. It is scarred with black embers, but he can see the places were a child would have grasped the reins.

Her hand finds his and squeezes hard. She pulls into him, as if she needs the closeness. He holds on, as well. He turns his face into her hair—and she smells of scented soaps and wind.

“Come on,” she says, and turns back to the horses. “I’ve seen enough of this place.”


As they are here at Gaspard’s invitation, they will stay with one of his allies. A man called Pierre, who rules over Halamshiral. His house is all Orlesian splendor: majestic and exuberant, stained glass and arches, the papered walls adorned with paintings. Scenes of fields, of forests, of ladies riding horses and chevaliers in tournaments—they tell a story of a benevolent empire, of artistry and wealth.

But the windows are arranged so that shadows fall over certain doorways—likely to cover the entrance of a household spy or assassin. The door is heavy, meant to be defended. And the guards stand with the ready attention of men who have seen bloodshed before.

It reminds Solas of a spun sugar sweet—but with a drop of poison nestled inside. It is thoroughly Orlesian.

Pierre’s servants guide them through the house, but Solas can feel eyes on them. They are led to several elaborate bedchambers. Evelyn is given the largest, as befitting the Herald of Andraste. It is nearly the size of a house, and he can see her eyes widen. But she swallows and gives the servant a nod, asking for the evening meal to be brought up. She will be too tired to dine with Pierre that night. The servant curtsies and gestures to the others.

Cassandra is given a smaller room. As for Dorian and Solas—they stand at the doorway of their own rooms. The servant hastens away and the two of them are left to stare at one another. “If we’re to duel for the bed, we should probably move all of the furniture,” says Dorian.

Solas strides into the room. “There is a couch. It will suffice.”

Dorian takes one step inside, as if the room might be a serpent’s jaws that will slam down around him. “You’re not offended they took you for my servant?”

“If I were going to be offended, I would not have worn these garments.” He wears the simple garb that will allow him to blend into the household help. Solas sets his pack on the desk, and gazes about the room. “Now, before this goes any further, will you call a light?”

He might have done it himself, but he waits to see if Dorian will catch on. The man’s brows knit together, and then a smile crooks at his mouth. “Ah. Well.”

Dorian cups one hand and calls sunlight. It blossoms in his hand, spilling across his fingers and illuminating the room. Solas’s gaze slides over the walls and Dorian makes a full circle before he says, “There. By the mirror.”

Solas sees it, too. The slightest glimmer of glass is embedded beside the mirror. He goes to it, and without hesitating he rubs his thumb across the glass. His fingers are still heavy with soot—an intentional choice on his part. The soot covers the spyglass—impeding the view of anyone gazing into their rooms.

“I’m impressed,” says Dorian. “I didn’t think southerners had learned that trick yet.” A shrewd look. “Nor that a wandering apostate would be so familiar with them.”

“Spies exist everywhere,” says Solas. And then he adds, “And I read.”

Dorian laughs. “Ah. That’s why you didn’t insist upon rooming with Her Worship.” His mouth twists on the last two words—not quite mockery but a little ironic. As if he believes, but he does not wish to admit it. Interesting.

“We agreed it would be best if we did not bring more attention to me,” Solas replies. “I am of more use if the Orlesian court thinks I am merely a servant myself. I can go places that the rest of you will not.”

Dorian slips off his cloak. “How unexpectedly shrewd of you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see what kind of wine stores his house has.” He drapes his cloak over the back of a chair. “Shall I ask the servants for two glasses, or one?”

It is a kind little gesture, but Solas did not come here for the pleasures that Orlais has to offer. He goes to the desk, finds sheafs of paper. “One,” he says, picking up a pen.

He has messages to write.


They have arrived two days before the ball—which gives all of them time for preparation. Evelyn finds herself dining with Pierre. He greets her with all of the courtly manners she has come to expect of Orlesian nobility. When he sits at their morning meal, a flash of pain crosses his face and his hand goes to his belly, as if pressing at scar tissue. From the little she knows of him, he was ruler of the city during the elven rebellion. Yet he refused to march his own people into the slums—leaving Celene to do it herself. Afterward, he was pressed into the service of Gaspard. Evelyn is unsure if it was political machinations or pity that stayed his hand. But she finds it easy enough to converse with him, to listen to news of the civil war and the players involved.

She is invited to tea at another noble’s manor house—and Josephine goes with her, to smooth the way and offer polite conversation. Evelyn feels a bit like a doll for her ambassador to dress up and take around, but she smiles and nods and offers the correct responses.

Dorian goes to the markets, claiming he wishes to see what kind of wares he might find here. He returns with spices, oils, and a box of honeyed fritters stuffed with gingered almonds. He shares the latter with Evelyn, and she is grateful for a moment of true conversation rather than sparring. She listens to his tales of the marketplaces, smiling when he talks of a small urchin that tried to pick pocket him. “I gave him a fritter for his troubles,” says Dorian, with a shrug.

As for Solas, he vanishes into the city and only returns after nightfall. He wears a nondescript dark cloak, drawn over his shaven head. Meeting with spies, Evelyn suspects. Checking dead drops. And sending coded messages to those of his people in the Winter Palace.

For this is the truth of their visit—yes, they do need to find Corypheus’s spy in the court. They need to end the civil war.

But they need the eluvians, as well.

Solas told her of the enchanted mirrors when she was tranquil. It was the way he told her everything in those days—with half-carelessness and half-hope. It was as if he harbored the thought that he might bring her back if he just shocked her enough, if he told her all the truths that he would have never otherwise let slip. At meals, he told her of wars among would-be gods. When he braided her hair, he spoke of spirits with enough power to change the world. When they walked to one of his temples, he explained the eluvians to her. Mirrors that were not truly mirrors—a way of crossing distances in mere moments. But they were closed to him now, magically sealed. And he told her of Felassan’s betrayal. Of how Felassan had been sent to Orlais to find the passcodes to the eluvians, yet he had been swayed by the fire and passions of a young imperial spy called Briala. A woman who burns with the need to help her people, who desires to use ancient magics to aid her own spy network.

In theory, it’s a good cause. An army of elven spies, unbound by distance. But it is not enough. For as much as Briala can do with those mirrors, Solas and his people can do more.

Briala seeks to win the game. Solas seeks to end it.

As for Felassan, he was sent elsewhere—a place where his torn loyalties would not be tested. Evelyn was glad for that; he had been… well, perhaps ‘kind’ was not the right word for it. He teased her, and in her tranquil state she had been mildly baffled by him. But he had also brought fresh mint for Fennel and glared at the elves that had glared at her. She had liked Felassan—as well as any tranquil could. And now that she was herself again, she didn’t want to see him hurt.

She wrote him a message just before they had left Skyhold. She used one of Solas’s ciphers.

I’ll do my best to make sure nothing happens to her.

-E

She knew he would understand. And she intends to keep her promise: if it is within her power, Briala will not be among the evening’s casualties. She is an admirable woman, and Evelyn hopes to count her among the allies she makes this night.

The day of the ball, Josephine shows up at her room at dawn.

“The ball isn’t until evening,” says Evelyn through a yawn. Her hair is mussed, eyes unfocused with sleep. “What’s wrong?”

Josie strides into the room with the air of a general surveying a battlefield. Her lips purse. “We have work to do.”

Which is how Evelyn finds herself stripped and put in a bath while one servant trims her nails and another scrubs her hair.

It’s a good thing the circle had communal bathing or she might have been embarrassed. All she truly feels is slight annoyance as she’s hustled from the bath, wrapped in towels and another servant takes a pair of scissors to her hair, trimming away the broken ends and smoothing oils into the strands.

She feels a bit like one of those Orlesian dogs—a small, fluffy thing meant to be groomed and tucked into the crook of someone’s arm. Once her hair meets with satisfaction, a scrub of sugar and lemon is applied to her face, neck and shoulders before being washed away with fresh, warmed cloths. After that, there are more oils and lotions, and color applied to her nails. A breakfast of fruits and sliced egg is brought up, and Evelyn eats with care while Josie makes her rattle off the names of nobles.

After the midday meal, her hair is arranged into an elaborate knot. Color is painted across her lips, the lids of her eyes, her lashes are darkened, and a bit of shimmer brushed across her cheekbones. When she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she barely recognizes the woman staring back at her. The gown is the last thing—and it takes three servants to get her into it.

The gown is lovely. The bodice is black, overlaid with golden thread. The gold twines through the fabric, giving the effect of a military commander’s garb. But the neckline sweeps across her collarbone in elegant lines, leaving her shoulders bare. The skirts fall to the floor in layers of black silk.

It is beautiful, but there is an edge to it. A ferocity caged in thread and cloth. It is not a noblewoman’s gown; it is an Inquisitor’s gown. The silk is double-layered, made so that the outer skirt can be easily torn away, leaving a thinner one behind. The second skirt falls just below her knees, and she is freer to move about in it. The double skirts also hide the knives sheathed at her thighs. The bodice is lined with the cloth enchanted by Dagna. It will turn a blade. As for her bare shoulders, the black fabric is a stark contrast to her pallor, and she wonders if perhaps this was a design flaw. Tut then she notices the thin scars. Of course she has scars on her shoulders—it is where the templar’s armored fingers always dug in. To punish, to shove, to control. Over the years, the faint white marks have simply grown to be part of her. But in this gown, they are adornment.

I survived them. I will survive you, as well.

“Perfect,” murmurs Josephine, and tells the servants to escort Evelyn to the carriage.

When Dorian sees her, he flashes a grin. Cassandra nods in approval, but keeps speaking to the driver. As for Solas—

The cut of the clothes is flattering and the symbol of the Inquisition embroidered just over his heart. He is dressed as a servant, but he does not move like one. He stands with the easy grace of a man used to power. And when he sees Evelyn, he does not give the differential dip of the head that every other servant has offered. Rather, his gaze sweeps over her form, taking in every detail. The corner of his mouth lifts, and his eyes glitter.

When he offers his hand to help her into the coach, she murmurs, “All right?”

His fingers tighten on hers, and as she passes, she feels the brush of lips against her ear. “Exquisite.”

The journey to the Winter Palace takes them out of Halamshiral. She sits beside Cassandra—who flatly refused a gown and instead wears military garb. Cullen has done the same, and he looks about as comfortable in it as the Seeker. He meets Evelyn’s eyes, gives her a small smile and then he looks away, his cheeks a little pink. Josie is dressed in a gown as well. It drapes around her shoulders, and she looks lovely in it.

A servant opens the door to their coach. Cassandra and Cullen emerge first to check for threats, and then Dorian, Josie, and finally, Evelyn steps out. Solas, having ridden with the driver, stands at attention. His posture has shifted; he has his arms crossed at his back, his gaze distant. Observing, always observing.

The Winter Palace is lovely—in shades of blue, with columns and flowers and elegant arches. The garden is illuminated with soft torchlight, and she can hear the soft whispers of a fountain nearby… and the whispers of the onlookers. As Evelyn walks into the gardens, the masks of the nobles gaze back at her. They are wrought in finest laces and steel—and she thinks she sees a silverite one on a chevalier. They are works of art—but then again, everything here is mask. Everything is artful. And she trusts none of it.

For one awkward moment, she feels the gazes of every person there, noble and servant alike. Uncomfortable prickles crawl up her bare arms and she wishes she might vanish into the shadows.

“There you are.” The man that strides forward to meet her must be Duke Gaspard. He has a resonant, pleasant voice and his own mask is gold. “My friend.” He takes her hand, giving her a slight bow. He speaks loudly enough that every passerby will hear. “It is an honor to meet you.”

Evelyn presses her lips into a smile. “Duke Gaspard. I have heard so much about you.”

He barks out a laugh. “Yes, yes you would. And I am sure it is all terribly scandalous.” He leans forward, so close she can feel the heat of his body through his uniform. “If I may tell you a secret—I am considered something of a treasonous wretch.”

She takes care to remain in place. “Are the rumors true, then?”

Gaspard takes half a step away, still smiling. “Of course. All of them are true—the ones that say I am a murderous traitor that tried to take the throne from my cousin. Also the ones that say the throne was to be mine, and it was only my lack of interest in the Game that allowed Celene to take it from me. Oh, and don’t forget the rumors that say I tried to forestall the war with an offer of marriage. It was refused, obviously.”

“How about the rumors that you would enjoy going to war with your neighbors?”

He gives a gentle tilt of his head, gesturing toward the palace. Together, they walk toward the gates. “Well, blades do tend to lose their edge if they are left to rust.”

“And blades matter more than lives,” says Evelyn quietly.

“Those blades save lives. It is all a balancing act—a weighing of the scales, if you may. After all, you should know something of that.” He slides her a shrewd look. “Did you not make a decision to ally with the rebel mages, rather than the templars? I imagine that cost some lives.”

She does not tense; Josephine has drilled her too well to tense. Rather she says, “I had a choice to make.”

“As do we all.” He turns to her. “Now, we should both keep our wits about us if we wish to live through tonight. I detest the Game, but if we ignore it, they will make us all out to be villains.” He nods to one of the footmen waiting outside of the palace. “We shall go in, if you are ready.”

He offers his arm to her. Behind his mask, his eyes are alight with something like satisfaction.

The traitor and the apostate. What a pair they will make.

Evelyn slips her hand over his arm. At least he is steady. “Let’s make our entrance, then.”


Solas moves through the Winter Palace like a shadow.

In his servant’s garb, he does not draw a single glance from the humans. Their gazes slip over him, like water from an oiled blade, and then move on. After all, they are nobles; they care little for the affairs of those who bring their food, who wash their clothes, who bring their bathwater, who sharpen their blades and tighten their bowstrings, who bring their letters and whisper amongst themselves.

The nobles ignore the servants—to their own peril.

Briala’s army of spies is built like a stone wall; every brick of information laid upon another, so that if a person tries to ram against it, they will find it impenetrable. And likely, their own secrets will be leaked within a day.

His own spies are scattered throughout the Winter Palace—although they would not recognize him if they glimpsed Solas. They take their orders through dead drops and were recruited by others in his network. No single spy could compromise the whole of his organization.

If Sera were not who she is, he might have tried to recruit her. She would be ideal: young and angry, with her own vast web of intelligence. But she will never accept him nor his cause. She prefers the way things are, rather than the way they could be. She takes refuge in the chaos.

As he walks, he hears the whispers. Nobles cover their mouths with elegant fans or gloved fingers, murmuring about the Inquisitor.

Dressed in black—

—Such pale skin, would have chosen a lighter color. Perhaps peach or—

—I thought she would be prettier.

—I thought she would be taller.

—Older.

—Came with Gaspard! I wonder if he will try to ally with the Inquisition through marriage.

—Isn’t she from the Free Marches? Not a very good match.

—Better the Free Marches than one of the Dog Lords.

—Trevelyan’s youngest. I heard she was sent to the Circle because she incinerated a man.

—If we’re lucky, perhaps she’ll do the same to Gaspard.

Solas listens, tucking the rumors away for a later time. Leliana will want to know what the Orlesian nobility think of their Inquisitor, whether or not the whispers are credible.

He catches a glimpse of Evelyn, once. When she is being presented to the Empress. Her chin is raised and gaze unflinching. When one of the nobles murmurs that she is plain, a laugh rises in Solas’s chest. In her gown of sweeping black and gold, her hair bound and shoulders bare, she is beautiful as a winter night.

He remembers the last words he spoke to her as she left the carriage.

Hunt well.

A smile curls at his mouth, and he turns away, striding into the crowd.

There is a message awaiting him in one of the servants’ quarters. A simple cipher, written into a recipe for soup.

A name. It will be one of Briala’s spies—one who knows the passcodes. He will find them.

The eluvians will be his to command.

His step lengthens. He has been bound by the constraints of this new world for far too long.

It is time to take back something of the old.


The Winter Palace is a wonder. Evelyn walks past gold lion statues, chaise lounges with stuffed velvet pillows, intricately patterned rugs and tiled marble floors. When she passes through the vestibule and into the great hall, her steps slow. The marble statues gaze down at her, shadows from clusters of raw candles dancing along their surfaces.

And the food.

Venison stewed in red wine with pearl onions and mushrooms, small pastries stuffed with cheeses, an orange blossom cake, lamb with olives, honey, and spiced with anise, burnt sprigs of rosemary on roasted quail, and small cakes with frosting made to look like lace. Evelyn gazes at the array of delicacies, but she takes none. Her stomach is knotted with anxiety.

She walks around the table, toward the great hall. She rounds a corner and stumbles, nearly running into a woman. She looks up, ready to offer an apology, but the words wither on her lips.

Madame Vivienne stands before her. She glitters in a gown of silver, her mask pearlescent, and her lips are pulled into a smile. She is every bit as lovely as Evelyn remembers. “My dear, I had hoped to meet you, again.”

There are so many things she wishes to say—and none of them can be said. Not here, not with watching eyes and listening ears.

“Madame de Fer,” says Evelyn, a little stiffly. “I… was not expecting you.”

It is true; Evelyn has given the First Enchanter very little thought since their last meeting. She never thought to meet her again.

“Walk with me, darling,” says Vivienne, and before Evelyn can protest, the older woman slides her arm through Evelyn’s, and they are moving. Again, Evelyn feels a bit like that leashed dog. Vivienne nods and offers greetings to those they pass, seemingly pleased by the inquisitor on her arm.

“Smile, my dear,” says Vivienne, very quietly. “Always be smiling, even when you despise the person next to you. Especially then.”

“I do not despise you.” It is not quite a lie.

“No, you despise everything I represent.” Vivienne clucks her tongue, as if disciplining a child. “But for tonight, we are allies.”

“Are we?”

Vivienne glides them both past the great hall, down into a small gallery of paintings. Light from the candelabra glitter on golden frames. Once they are alone, Vivienne releases Evelyn’s arm. Evelyn steps away so quickly that she almost loses her balance. She does not retreat, but nor does she move closer.

She imagines how they must look: Madame Vivienne in her lovely silver gown, tall and sure and beautiful—and Evelyn, small and full of doubt, in a gown of black and gold. Two mages, yes, but they have lived wholly separate lives.

“What did you want to speak to me about?” asks Evelyn. She half-expects Vivienne to scold her for such a direct question, but the older woman simply nods.

“You are here for the traitor, I assume.”

Evelyn meets the First Enchanter’s eyes and she does not flinch. Anger coils through her muscles, and she crosses her arms. Not to look more intimidating, but to keep herself from doing something foolish. “Gaspard? Do you truly think I have a stake in the civil war?”

“Not Gaspard,” says Vivienne dismissively. “You are right in that the Inquisition would not come here merely for that. You are here because of the Magister. Because somehow he has stretched his hand into the Winter Palace, and you wish to cut it off.” Something hardens behind Vivenne’s mask; her mouth tightens. “I am going to help.”

Well. From their last encounter, Evelyn though perhaps Vivienne would chide Evelyn for her rudeness or perhaps make veiled threats. An offer of help is most unexpected. “And how would you do that?”

“Because I know who the traitor is,” says Vivienne, with a small wave of her hand.

Evelyn jerks in surprise. “Who?”

But rather than answer right away, Vivienne makes a show of walking to one of the paintings, gazing at it. Her fingers come up, hovering just over the flecks of oil paint. It is a scene of a sunrise over a city—oranges and reds spilling over darkened buildings.

“I admit,” she says, “I had hoped to be invited to join the Inquisition.”

Is this a less than subtle threat? A way to gain access to the Inquisition? Trading information for a place at Skyhold. The thought makes Evelyn’s fingers clench. She does not trust Vivienne, and thus far, she has managed to keep the ranks of her inner circle relatively small. The thought of having Vivienne at Skyhold is a chilling one. Evelyn would have to watch her every word, her every action.

“The last of the loyal mages,” she finally says. “That is what you call yourself, I believe.”

Vivienne gives her a small nod.

“How,” says Evelyn. “How can you still cling to the circles and the templars, after all that they have done?”

“As I said before,” replies Vivienne, “it takes two sides to wage a war.”

“It only takes one for a massacre.”

Vivienne waves away her words. “You are hesitant. I understand that.”

“Do you,” say Evelyn flatly.

Vivienne’s voice softens, just a fraction. “I have friends among those templars. Not all were caught up in red lyrium debacle. There is one—a woman called Karin, who was at Ostwick. She had the most fascinating stories of the uprising. She helped some of the mages when the templars were abusing the rite of tranquility. She told me that she came upon a man and a woman in the dungeon—the man was elven, and the woman was small, with dark hair. She remembered that they stood amidst bodies and carnage, yet the woman was utterly calm. Unnaturally calm.” Vivienne’s eyes sweep over Evelyn. “Karin also said, the woman looked as if she had been attacked.”

In the hours after Evelyn was made tranquil, those memories are like a painting of someone else’s life: remembered in moments, rather than in emotions. Evelyn remembers Solas finding her, helping her from the cell. The scratch of the blood-stiffened garments around her, belted clumsily where Grieves tore them. And distantly, she remembers a templar helping Leonel escape. She never thought the templar might remember her, as well.

A chill takes hold in Evelyn’s stomach. She doesn’t want those stories told; those memories feel fragile, and she wants to curl around them, protect them.

If Vivienne knows—no, if Vivienne suspects what Evelyn survived in that dungeon, then anyone might know. The rumors might be spreading as she stands here. For one terrible moment she wonders if she will be sick in an antique vase.

“I have not allowed that knowledge to be widely known,” says Vivienne, not unkindly.

Evelyn forces herself to breathe.

“I understand you saw the worst of the templars,” continues Vivienne. “But they are more than that, my dear. You must give them a chance.”

Evelyn shakes her head. She feels a tendril of hair slip from its knot.

“I did not come here to remember my past,” she says, and there is an undercurrent of ice in her voice. “Now, you either give me a name, or I shall walk out of this gallery.”

She waits a moment, and then turns to walk away.

“There is a position for a mage at court,” Vivienne finally says, and Evelyn halts mid-step. “There has always been. Before myself, the position of court mage was little more than jester.” Her mouth curls in distaste. “Magic for other people’s amusement. Little babbles and tricks. But I changed that.”

She turns from the painting, facing Evelyn. “Until that position was taken from me, of course.”

“You allowed someone to replace you?” Evelyn tries not to take any pleasure in the words, but she does not try very hard.

Vivienne’s nostrils flare. “I did not allow it. My place at court was stolen. By a woman… who came here recently. A mage with no ties to any circle, who has charmed the court and the empress… seemingly by magic. She goes by the name of Morrigan.”

Evelyn’s breath catches. A blood mage, perhaps. That seems almost too perfect.

“I thought that might capture your attention,” says Vivienne.

Evelyn looks at her—truly looks at her. “How do I know you’re not giving me the name of a personal enemy in hopes that I will kill them?”

Vivienne laughs. “Oh, you have learned. But of course, you are of noble blood. You would learn the Game quickly. But I digress—yes, this woman is an enemy. But I will not force you to take me for my word. You should look through the empress’s library. There are records you might be interested in. Of course, the doors are locked… but for someone with your reputation…” She gives a delicate shrug.

“I do hope,” says Vivienne, “that in time, you will see that this chaos harms everyone. It must be ended, if our world will be restored.”

She glides away, to speak with a duchess, leaving Evelyn by the painting. Of a sunrise, or perhaps a sunset.

An ending or a beginning—she cannot tell them apart.

She turns away, and leaves the gallery behind.

She finds Dorian in the courtyard—a glass of wine in hand. He stands a bit apart from the others, but he’s smiling. “It’s just like home,” he says merrily, when he catches sight of her. “The hidden blades, the honeyed lies, the roasted quail. And here I was expecting to feel out of place. All of this is making me rather homesick.”

She stands beside him, and his presence is a soothing one. A single point of trust amid many shifting loyalties. “I’m glad you’re here,” she says sincerely, and it may be her imagination, but he smiles with pleasure.

“Go on,” he says fondly. “I know that our resident spymaster must have you collecting blackmail or some such. I’m supposed to stand over by these bushes as it’s a wonderful place to eavesdrop. But I’m sure you have other things to do.”

Evelyn lets out a breath. “I need to get into the library. But the door is locked.”

Dorian considers. And then his mouth curls up in a way that makes her a little nervous.

“Well,” he says. “There’s always that lattice.”

“No,” she says. “I am not climbing a lattice in this dress. Some nobleman would look up my skirts and proclaim to have seen the face of Andraste in my underthings or something.”

Dorian snorts, nearly choking on his mouthful of wine. “Well, then.” He considers for a moment, then says, “We need a distraction.”

“We should have brought Sera,” says Evelyn. “She would be wonderful at that.”

Dorian makes a derisive sound. “I said ‘distraction’ not ‘destruction.’ No, no, what we need is…” He hands his wine glass to Evelyn. “Hold this.”

“Hold this,” she repeats. “Wait, what are you—”

But Dorian is moving—heading toward one of the noble ladies. He brushes past her, and as he does so, his fingers move in a silent gesture.

Flame catches on the hem of her dress.

The woman does not notice—not at first. And by the time she does, Dorian is gone from the courtyard. There is a screech of fear, followed by a servant hurling a whole ice bucket at the woman. Soon, the attention of every person in that courtyard is on the noble lady and her flaming skirts.

Evelyn’s fingers lock around the lattice and she hauls herself upward.


As it turns out, Dorian’s distraction is quite effective. Evelyn scales the lattice, only snagging her bodice once against a stray nail. Grimacing, she hopes that the torn fabric will be taken for part of the design. As for the library itself, it has the warm darkness of a den, a place for a person to retreat into the pages of an old book. Evelyn’s fingers itch to reach for some of the tomes, to caress their leather-bound spines and gaze at the pages. She is not here for pleasure, she tell herself. If all goes well, she might return here at a later date and peruse the books to her heart’s content.

She finds the letter on Celene’s desk. A missive to someone she calls her arcane advisor.

It must be the apostate that Madame Vivienne mentioned. Evelyn tucks the letter into her bodice and makes for the door—no descending into the garden for her. She unlocks the library from the inside and slips into the vestibule.

Someone is waiting for her.

A woman lounges against one of the high windows, her arms crossed and stance one of indolent power. And she wears no mask. When she sees Evelyn, she says, “Well, well. What have we here?” But it sounds more a taunt than a threat. She pushes away from the wall and walks toward Evelyn. It is a predator’s gait—every step measured and confident.

She is unmistakably beautiful. Her golden eyes are light the first rays of dawn, and her lips painted the color of overripe berries. She wears her dress the way a knight might don armor; it is something to fight with, not to be proud of.

“The leader of the new inquisition. Fabled herald of the faith. Delivered from the grasp of the Fade by the blessed Andraste herself.” Her voice drips with wicked amusement. “What could bring such an exalted creature here? Do you even know?” She settles her hands on her hips—and it is not a gesture a noble lady would ever have made.

Evelyn inclines her head in greeting. “You are the arcane advisor?”

The woman laughs and the sound is rich and lush. Several mens’ heads turn in their direction. “You are a wily little creature. But then, I suppose you would have to be, to survive in a place such as this.”

“Not as cunning as an apostate who manages to slip into the imperial court,” says Evelyn, “but I do all right.”

“Yes, yes you have.” The woman nods, and it is is almost a courtly gesture. “I am Morrigan. Advisor to Empress Celene. And I believe you are here for the same reason I am.”

Evelyn remembers the flash of fury in Vivenne’s eyes. “Are we?”

Morrigan leans against the railing. Again, it is something a noble lady would not have done. She cannot have grown up amidst the nobility, no matter how well she wears their clothing. “Considering I just found and killed a Tevinter spy, I would think so.”

That makes Evelyn jerk with surprise. In this nest of feigned smiles and coyly spoken untruths, she did not expect Morrigan to simply answer her. “What?”

“Do you wish to see his body?” says Morrigan. “I have it stowed away.”

The thought of this woman dragging a corpse through the Winter Palace, stuffing it into a broom closet and and then striding away—it almost makes Evelyn smile. “I… would rather not. How did you even find him?”

“I found him going where he should have gone,” says Morrigan. “He attacked me—I defended myself. Had I known where he hailed from, I might have tried to take him alive. Answers are a valuable thing. Even so, I did find this.” Her hand slips into the folds of her gown, then reemerges holding a small iron key. She passes it to Evelyn. “I do not know where it leads, but may it aid your search. I cannot leave Celene’s side to search, not without endangering her.”

If Morrigan is one of Corypheus’s agents, surely she would not give this up. Not unless it leads to a trap.

“How do I know I can trust this?”

“You mean to say, how can I trust you?” Morrigan’s smile never wavers, but her eyes seem to grow harder. “I assure you, Inquisitor. We are of one mind on this. If the Empress falls, suspicion will immediately be cast upon her advisor. And I have little desire to be executed.” She turns to face Evelyn fully, one hand lingering on the railing. “I have those who depend on me. Just, I suspect, as you do. Corypheus threatens the whole of Thedas—and I will not allow one man’s ambitions to harm those under my protection.”

Something in her voice rings true. Evelyn nods. “I think I know where this key will go.” The servants’ quarters, it must be. The servants have been whispering about it when they think she cannot hear. “Thank you.”

“Do not thank me yet, inquisitor,” says Morrigan. “I know not what awaits you behind locked doors, but it will likely not be pleasant.”


Morrigan is not wrong.

The night takes a bloody turn once they enter the servants’ quarters. Evelyn goes first, Dorian and Cassandra at her heels. She has no staff, but then again, she is not expecting a battle. They walk past the dead servants—bodies twisted, fingers raking at the floor as if they were trying to crawl to safety—and Evelyn’s heart twists. She cannot look at them for long. Then there is the dead emissary, and the ambush waiting in the gardens.

Evelyn calls storm to her fingers, and when the first attacker lunges at her, she lets the lightning fly.

They leave more corpses in their wake, and by the time the battle is finished, Evelyn has to reach down, take hold of her outer skirts and give a good yank. The threads give, and she leaves the layer of silk behind. Her second skirts are shorter, lighter, and will allow for better movement.

She will have to thank Josie when this is all over.

As she reenters the ballroom, she is accosted by Florianne. The woman is dressed in the motif of a butterfly—all delicate edges and flutters, but she speaks with the sharpness of a razor dipped in honey.

They dance. A sparring of movement and words, and by the end of it, Evelyn is unsure which side was truly victorious. All she knows is that Florianne’s fingers are cold and dry, and they grip hers a little too tightly. “We shall have to dance again.” Florianne smiles at her, but it makes something in Evelyn’s stomach churn. It is a smile of hunger, the way a child might smile at an insect before yanking out its legs. Evelyn gives her a little curtsy.

Josie finds her and guides her to a darkened corner of the ballroom where Leliana and Cullen await. “Were you dancing with the duchess?”

“Dancing,” says Evelyn, “exchanging poisoned pleasantries.”

Josie sighs. “I suppose it’s good we made you take those few dance lessons. You weren’t entirely unskilled.”

“Thank you for that ringing endorsement.”

When Evelyn tells her advisors of Morrigan, Leliana’s face darkens. “I know her,” she says curtly. “I traveled with her, for a time. During the blight. And she is a conniving, self-centered—“ She bites down on her lip, then says, “But I cannot see her allying herself with Corypheus. If only because she would serve no master willingly.”

“Another ringing endorsement,” says Evelyn dryly. “Either Vivienne truly believes that Morrigan is the spy, or else she’s trying to use us to do away with a political opponent.”

“Or both,” says Cullen, a little sour. “These types can never just have one motive.”

“I do think I’ll take Florianne up on her tip, though. She said to investigate the grand apartments.”

His face darkens. “Are you sure that’s wise? It could be a trap.”

Evelyn gives him a small smile. “I’m sure it is, one way or another. But we have to find the spy if we are to have any hope of defeating Corypheus’s agents.”

He nods sharply, but he still appears unhappy. “Tread carefully, Inquisitor,” says Leliana. “Those who play the Game have a long memory—and they are an unforgiving sort. Do not make enemies here.”

Forgiveness.

It is a thing that Evelyn isn’t wholly sure she can give—not to some people. There are some crimes that cannot go unanswered. Not when her nightmares are still full of dormitories, small bodies gone too still, of the smell of oiled metal and the copper of blood. She has seen too many injustices to simply let them continue. It was what drove her to rebel. It was what drove her join Solas’s cause, once she was fully able to comprehend what it would entail.

Evelyn leaves a bloody path through the grand apartments. She finds a spy who points the finger at Briala—although whether or not the elven spy is responsible remains uncertain. She comes upon a Ferelden mercenary who can definitively prove that Gaspard is planning a coup; and she finds an Orlesian guard who can prove that Celene allowed the treachery in hopes of ending things.

So much death. It is a waste.

And for a throne—a court that takes is pleasures in sweet poisons and lies. By the time Evelyn is accosted by Florianne, a dark storm of anger is clawing at her ribs. She wants to let it free, to see all of these nobles held accountable for the lives lost in this game.

None of them will be, though. That is the nature of power; one can escape the consequences of their actions.

But perhaps—not tonight.

Once she is through fighting demons and spies, Evelyn strides into the ballroom. Her skirts are stained with blood, and her hair has come loose. It falls around her bare shoulders in waves, and she sees a few noble women give her scandalized glances. Evelyn pays them little heed. She moves through the crowd, trying to get to the empress as she begins her speech.

And this is what the night comes to: a moment of decision. Not a great battle or a victory, but a choice. It rests on her shoulders and for one dizzying moment, she thinks the weight might crush her.

Evelyn sees the knife in Florianne’s hand. She alone can step forward, offer a word of warning to the Empress.

She can save Celene—and her lips part. Because Celene is the better choice, in a perfect world. She favors diplomacy, and she allowed elves to attend university.

But this is not a perfect world. And soon enough, it will not matter who sits upon the throne.

Evelyn glances to one of the tall windows. Her reflection stares back—a woman dressed in a gown of a deepest black. The color of obsidian, of night—and of the charred ruins of Halamshiral’s alienage.

She closes her eyes. Keeps her lips tightly shut.

It is a fine gown for a funeral.


After a hurried meeting and a few choice words, the crown is given to Gaspard.

It is a bloodied circlet—and it will hold no true weight. Not when Briala’s pockets are filled with scraps of blackmail, of enough knowledge to kill a man without ever raising a finger. She will be the true power of Orlais—and Evelyn can only hope Briala will make good use of it. Briala catches Evelyn by the arm to offer quiet words of thanks. “I will not forget what you have done for my people,” she says quietly.

Evelyn does not reply; if Solas’s plans have come to fruition, then Briala will find the eluvians closed to her. She may have been given a gift, but she’s had one taken from her, as well.

When Evelyn leaves the ball, she is heartsick and exhausted. Every step is an effort, and she leans heavily on the balcony.

She let a woman die tonight.

She might as well have stabbed Celene herself.

Her elbows press into the marble railing, and she closes her eyes. A fist of pure self-loathing grips her, and for a moment, she cannot breathe. She did this. She did this—and how can she live with herself afterward? A shudder makes her quake.

“Are you cold?”

A hand falls upon her bare shoulder. She looks up in surprise. “Solas?”

He still wears his servant’s garb and his mouth is curved into an expression of satisfaction.

Ah. Well, least one of them is pleased with tonight’s outcome. His arm slides around her waist, and she leans into him. He feels steady and warm.

“You are upset,” he murmurs.

She gazes at the mountains, if only so she does not have to meet his eyes. “Yes. There was—so much bloodshed. In the servants’ quarters, in the gardens. It was so senseless.”

His grip on her tightens. “Yes. Yes, it was.”

“They died—for what? Not because of Corypheus or some great evil, but because this is how the Game is played.” She closes her eyes. “But I may be no different.”

“No,” he says at once. “You have never taken a life without just cause.”

“I could have saved Celene.” She must say the words; they feel like a poison in her blood. “I could have saved her, and I stood there.” She bows her head, too exhausted to justify herself. 

“I feel like I’ve bloodied my hands,” she says, and her voice is aching.

Solas brings her right hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to her palm. “I trust you,” he says. “In this—and in all things.”

The gesture helps thaw her. She bows her head, and allows his words to sink into her.

“We have what we came for,” Solas says, “And the spirits of those lost in the massacre—perhaps they will rest easier now.”

She thinks of those burned homes, and while it does not soothe her guilt, it makes her breathe a little easier. 

He nods at the ballroom. “We have been offered rooms at the Winter Palace. Gaspard is quite eager to demonstrate his gratitude toward the Inquisition.”

“I imagine he is.”

“You will feel better once you’ve rested.” He tucks her arm into the crook of his elbow, and they walk from the balcony. She knows many will be watching, but she cannot bring herself to care. Let them see her on the arm of an elf. Let them talk and wonder. 

One corner of his mouth twitches. As they pass one of the golden buckets of ice, Solas reaches out and takes a bottle of wine without so much as breaking stride.

“Are we drinking in celebration or memoriam?” she says, very quietly.

“Both,” he answers.

Chapter Text

Someone approaches.

Solas has placed wards around the edges of the room; they wake him when someone steps near to the door. A moment later, there is an audible knock. Solas rises to one elbow, glancing about the room. It is as he remembers it: all velvet softness and golden luxury. It is a place for the Orlesian nobility to find rest.

Much to his relief, Evelyn has not stirred. She is curled on her side—an old habit. She is so used to bunks that no matter the size of the bed, she will try to make herself small. She did not find rest easily; it took two glasses of the Empress’s finest ice wine and a gentle pulse of his own magic for her to fall asleep. Even now, there is a small line etched across her forehead.

He strokes her hair. Part of him yearns to take her from this place, to find a quiet corner of Thedas and leave her with a guard. He has asked too much of her already. She has never uttered a word of complaint about the anchor or her duties, but he can see how they weigh on her. She winces every time she closes a rift, shaking her hand as if to dispel the sensation. Even now, her left hand is fisted in the sheets. He can sense the power throbbing just out of time with her pulse, like a second heartbeat, centered in her palm.

Another part of him is selfishly glad that of all the people at the conclave, it was Evelyn that picked up his orb. Not only because she would never use the power against him, but because the idea of anyone else carrying his magic—it would have felt like a violation. An intimacy.

A knock comes a second time—more sharply.

Solas swings his legs over the side of the bed and prowls to the door. He wears trousers and little else. If their visitor is from the Inquisition, his presence will be accepted, but if it is a member of the Orleisan court, they are in for a surprise.

A woman stands in the hallway. And for all she is dressed in a gown of a noble lady, she smells of the wilds. Of southern winds and the scent of trees.

She is as much a noblewoman of the court as he is.

“I was hoping to speak with the Herald,” says the woman.

“She is indisposed,” he replies. “I will carry a message to her.”

The woman places one hand on her elbow, using the other to gesture. “I am here to introduce myself as Gaspard’s aid to the Inquisition. He wishes you have all of the help you may require. Or, rather, he wishes me gone—as I pledged myself to Celene’s protection.”

Ah. This will be Morrigan, the arcane advisor. He heard whispers of her through the servants. They say she is an odd woman; she chooses to prepare her own meals and keeps the company of a young child. Some have said she is a Ferelden apostate, while others claimed she must be from some place even farther.

And he might have given her no more thought—if not for those eyes. Golden as sunlight, as ripened wheat. It is a shade not found in humans—and not in elves for many an age.

Yet she is human. The contradiction is a tangle, and he will have to unravel it at a later time. There are other matters to attend to. He gives the woman a nod. “I would introduce yourself to Lady Nightingale,” he replies. “She will find you quarters among the Inquisition’s forces. I suspect we will depart in the next day or so.”

The woman inclines her head. “Such a polite response. Is this the official Inquisition reply?”

She is asking if he has the power to make such decisions.

“The Inquisitor does not make a habit of turning away anyone who can help her,” he says, because it is the truth.

Morrigan’s brows lift. “You know her well.”

It is not a question, but he answers regardless. “Yes.”

And then he pulls the door shut. He thinks he hears a quiet laugh from the hallway, and then the familiar rhythm of heeled shoes upon the floor.

He returns to the bed. Evelyn is still, but she grips the sheets more tightly. Her sleep is restless, and he settles in beside her, wrapping an arm about her waist. There will come a time when there will be no burdens upon them both—or so he hopes. But that is a long way off.


Evelyn wakes in a bed much larger than her own. It takes a few moments to remember where she is—the Winter Palace. She is dressed in a nightgown of white silk and lace, and Solas is beside her. The ceiling is painted in hues of gold, and the first light of dawn illuminates the gauze of the curtains. She remembers the horrors of the previous night and she closes her eyes, trying to block them out. There will be time for remembrances and sorrow, but this morning all she wants is a moment of peace.

“Good morning.” Solas rolls over. “You’re awake?”

She nods, and gives him a half-smile. “I think so. I’m still a bit tired.”

“You spent half the night chasing wicked spies and battling dread assassins,” he replies. He touches her cheek, fingers sliding down her jaw in a light caress. “You can sleep longer, if you like. No one will begrudge you the rest.”

She smiles. “It seems I can still play the role of the noble.”

“You are noble.” His hand sweeps up her shoulder, tracing the line of her neck, settling just beneath her jaw. “In every way that matters.”

“You are such a flatterer,” she says. 

“Perhaps.” He kisses her ear. “That black dress was lovely on you.” His hand drifts down the nightgown, thumb gliding along the stitching. “You caught the eye of a few men and women. I would not be surprised if there were courting gifts for you by the time we return to Skyhold.”

She snorts. It’s such an undignified sound that she begins to laugh.

“And what should I say to them?” She draws the words out, gently teasing. “Should I send them letters, encouraging their affections?”

His lips touch her throat and she feels his teeth when he bites down. It does not hurt—but she is sure there will be a mark. Evidence of his touch upon her.

“You are in a mood,” she says. 

“Consider me caught up in the intricacies of court.” He laughs, and she feels the rumble of it. “I do adore the heady blend of power, intrigue, and sex that permeates these events.” The way he says ‘sex’ makes a jolt go through her; his voice is always lovely, but when he wants to, he can unravel her with words alone. “It has been many years since I was at court.”

“Oh?” She tilts her head, allowing him better access to her shoulder. Maker, that feels good. She inhales when his fingers graze her breast; through the silk, her nipple hardens beneath his touch. “And—were you a terrible flirt at such parties?” Her own hands skim down his chest. 

“Incorrigible,” he says against her ear.

“Of course you were,” she says. He bites down again, this time where her neck curves into shoulder. His knuckle glides across her mound in the lightest of touches. She gasps and her hips jerk, trying to follow that touch.

And then his other hand is on her cheek, tilting her face so that he can kiss her. He tastes of sharp, sweet wines—honey and citrus, and she makes a soft noise into his mouth. After glimpsing the ruins of Halamshiral, the carelessness of the nobles, the blood upon the marble floors, and the death of the Orlais’s fallen empress, Evelyn needs this distraction.

The solitude feels like a luxury to Evelyn: they are alone, in a bed and no one will barge through the door. She will never take such things for granted. One kiss melts into the next, and it is easy, so easy, to be with him like this. She is relaxed and comfortable, and for the first time in a long while, there are no pressing matters to attend to. She draws her fingers over his skin, one of her nails lightly raking over his nipple. His muscles quiver beneath her, and she feels the subtle shift as their kisses go from pleasant and slow to fierce and wanting. She nips at his mouth and he responds by pulling her closer, his fingers toying with the straps of her nightgown.

“Take it off,” she says, breaking the kiss.

His mouth curves into a wicked smile. “I rather like it. You should be clad in silks more often.” His thumb skirts the edge of her breast, and the barrier of the thin cloth makes his touch all the more tantalizing.

“Solas.” His name becomes a plea when his leans forward and laves his tongue over her nipple. She draws in a sharp breath, and when he begins to suckle, her exhalation becomes a whine. It is good, but she wants more. He seems to delight in taking things slowly; one fingernail traces the hard peak of one breast while his mouth works on the other. She writhes beneath him; Her fingers fumble at his breeches, and he hums when his cock is freed from the confines of his clothing. He is hard, a bead of moisture collecting at the tip. She licks her lips, and then she is squirming out of her nightgown. Gown and smalls hit the marble floor and are forgotten. She kisses Solas again, and this is what she wants. Bare skin and closeness and—

“Will you hold still?” she asks. He nods.