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Only Visible in Darkness

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Well, there was something to be said about being the Herald of Andraste, The Inquisitor without a proper Inquisition; it was quite boring. Oh yes, Skyhold was still her home, Cassandra and Commander Rylen bringing in new soldiers for training every month with Thom, Bull and the Chargers frequenting the Herald’s Rest near as often as Sara swore from her room in the Tavern and the hold’s Undercroft with Dagna. But the keep was near empty compared to what it had once been; Varric had returned to Kirkwall with Hawke, Vivienne to Orlais. The Rotunda remained empty with Solas—no, Fen’harel’s reveal. Leliana’s rookery silent with the Spymaster becoming Divine, Morrigan’s well loved corner of the garden flourishing, yet vacant without the yellow-eyed witch, Josephine’s office gathering dust while she remained in Antiva and Cole’s corner of Herald’s Rest empty, as he travelled with Maryden.

And so when Dorian had given her the opportunity to travel with him to Tevinter, Anastasia Trevelyan had leapt at the chance to adventure once more. Oh, of course there were concerns for the Herald’s safety, but Anya promptly dismissed them. “I faced Corypheus and a dragon in the middle of the sky, I think I can handle a few months in Tevinter.”

And she had swiftly saddled the Free Marcher mare, leaving with Dorian on the next sunrise.


 

The first day of the trip is spent in jovial chatter. Well, Dorian and Anya chattered. The four inquisition soldiers Rylen had insisted accompany them to the Tevinter border are silent in the presence of the Herald and the Magister. The intended route would mean a few weeks worth of travel, and Anya assumed they would lighten up their dispositions by the time they reached Sulcher’s Pass. They would take the Imperial Highway to a Highever port, cross the Waking Sea and head through the Free Marches to Tevinter.

The inevitable fact of it was, however, that once on Sulcher’s Pass, everything would go wrong; as it was wont to do when Anastasia Trevelyan was involved.

“It is quite lovely to be out and about again, isn’t it?” Anya says to Dorian, taking in a deep breath, the blue hood tipping back as she raises her face to the sky. Dorian watches in amusement as her eyes close, usually pale cheeks pink with the heat from the sun.

“I take it there’s not a lot of travelling to be done for the Herald with the Inquisition reduced?” He asks, the snort he receives in acknowledgement answer enough.

“Because there is so much to be done by a leader of a minor peace-keeping force, a Herald of Andraste with no mark to prove she is such, and let's not forget, an Apostate. I suppose I could return to the Free Marches and accept one of the many marriage proposals my mother would wish me to, but where’s the fun in agreeing with what she wishes? Much more fun to refuse.” Anya winks, and it makes Dorian laugh. He would know something about that last part, after all. Her smile has faded slightly though, and face turned downward to the one hand holding the reigns of the mare. It had taken quite a while to learn how to once again write, use her staff and cast spells with the right hand instead of the left; and if she wanted, she could now cast a tangible prosthesis for the left arm, although for the amount of looks the green energy received as it formed the shape of a forearm and hand, it was easier just to leave it be.

The forlorn silence remains for only a moment before she assumes a smile once more, turning to Dorian in excitement. “My cousin will meet us in Ostwick, and we will rest at his estate before continuing on to Tevinter. I haven’t seen him in years.”

“My, my, Lady Trevelyan, your family will not think ill of you travelling unchaperoned with an eligible bachelor? A Tevinter Magister, no less? What sordid rumours shall we hear in your native country, this time? More blood magic?”

The two templars assigned to accompany them bristle, and at first, Anya thinks it’s because of Dorian’s mocking tone in relation to blood magic.

Oh, how she wishes that had only been the case.

There’s a whistling sound, and the first Inquisition soldier falls from his horse with an arrow lodged firmly into his skull. The horse rears up and whinnies in fright, scaring the others as the remaining three soldiers rally around Anya and Dorian.

“Ambush! Protect the Herald!”

One of the soldiers, a Templar, still young and new to the order, has a look of utter terror on his face, even as he shakily draws his sword and shield, hopping off his horse to stand in front of the Herald’s. Another arrow embeds itself in the second soldier’s chest with a loud thwack!, and the Templar recruit panics.

Before Dorian and Anya have a chance to stop him, the Templar throws all his energy into a Dispel so powerful it sends both Dorian and Anya flying from their horses. Anya hits the ground hard, head bouncing off the ground with a pain so terrible that the world goes white for a moment. The dispel has taken all the energy from her, and she’s unable to move, to lift herself, to see if Dorian is okay. The pain in her skull is blinding, overwhelming, growing larger by the second until her head falls back-- and the last thing she sees before the world goes black is that young Templar’s throat being slit in a spray of blood by a misshapen mass of fur.

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She’s on a horse. Anya is aware of that much as she comes to. She can smell Dorian’s particular aftershave next to her, nearly overtaken by the metallic taste of blood in the air and on her tongue. There’s a dull ache at the base of her skull, an itchy feeling around her right wrist, and warmth flush against her right side from toe to shoulder.

Worst of all, she’s pretty sure she’s been thrown over the back of a horse like a sack of flour.

Her eyes blink open slowly, the unnatural green of them taking in the strange angle of the ground (should it be moving like that? Why is the ground on the sky? Maker, I'm not in the fade again, am I?) and the blood soaking loose white strands of hair before she turns her head to the right.

Wonderful of you to join me.” When Dorian speaks, it’s not in Common, but in Tevene. A talented linguist, Anya is able to understand and speak quite a few languages; Dorian will only speak his home-tongue to her when he doesn’t want someone overhearing. Her suspicions about being thrown across the back of the horse were correct; her ankles are bound, as she suspects Dorian’s are, and a length of rope wraps around both of their waists, keeping them tethered to the saddle. Her one hand is tied to the stirrup. Dorian’s wrists are tied together, his elbows resting against the flank of the horse as he props up his chin with both hands. All the ropes seem to have runed charms hanging on them at regular intervals; she assumes to stop them from using their magic to escape.

He looks an utter mess, blood dripping from a cut behind his ear, lip swollen and split, covered in dirt and blood she’s not entirely sure is all his. She can’t imagine she must look better, if the blood visible in her hair is evidence.

So, who has decided to capture us today? Qunari? Fen’harel’s agents? Left over Venatori? No, no, I know, the Antivan Crows. Carrying out a contract for some Ferelden bastard, I’d wager.” The Tevene rolls off her tongue as though she had been speaking it all her life. Her time in the Circle had mostly been spent in its vast libraries, learning as many languages through the books as she could, a hobby she’d never thought she’d have a use for.

Don’t be so quick to bet, my dear, not when I already know the outcome.” His head jerks towards the horse’s head, and she looks past the bobbing creature as it twitches its ears. There are three men ahead, one leading the horse, the other two walking on either side of him, dressed in red furs and leather hide pants and boots. The furs encompass their shoulders and across their waists as loin cloths, their torsos bare of any material. Being bare of material, however, did not mean they were not clothed; war paints are slathered heavily across any visible skin in shades of red and grey.

Avvar.” Anya’s voice is low, so as not to alert their captors of their conversation. They seem heavily engrossed in their own, but she would rather not risk them knowing.

I told you not to wager.” Dorian mutters, looking positively disgruntled, as if being captured by the Avvar was a mere inconvenience. Anya, however, is not listening, instead tuning into the Avvar conversation.

The Avvar dialect had interested her extremely as a teenager, doing her best to learn as much as she could. Though each clan had slight word and pronunciation variations, they all essentially spoke the same dialect, understandable to each other.

“...think the Thane will let me keep the white girl? She ought to be good, even damaged as she is.” The one holding the horse’s lead was saying, a lewd tone to his voice sending shivers down Anya’s spine. The one to his left, a man with his head shaved clean and covered in war paints, abruptly slaps the first upside the head, the one to his right sniggering.

Fool. You know the Thane won’t allow it. He won’t allow even prisoner whores to be treated as his mother was.” The one to the right says, and the first grunts in displeasure. Anya feels the slightest bead of tension ease from her posture; maybe this Thane could be reasoned with?  The right continues; “Damned Lowlanders, you think they’d be smart enough to stop coming onto our land. Even the damaged ones like this girl. She had a full guard. What did they call her?”  

Herald. Herald of what?” The man on the left speaks up for the first time, voice deep and curious. He turns back to look at the pair on the horse, green eyes widening and posture stiffening when he realises they’re both awake and watching the trio. “They’re awake. We should speak of this no longer until we reach the hold.

Why? Look at the way they’re dressed. Weak lowlanders that sit in castles on piles of gold, throwing it around when something displeases them. What makes you think they know what we’re saying?” The first snorts, tugging the horse along. It takes everything in Anya to keep her face schooled, a blank stare directed at the man on the left. Dorian twinkles his fingers at him. The man scoffs and turns forward once more.

I suppose you’re right. We’re almost at the hold. Aemon, run ahead and request the Thane meet us in the grounds.” The left says, and the third makes a small noise of objection at the command before sighing and taking off, quiver bouncing against his back as he runs.

Anya turns her face forward, letting out a huffing sigh before giving Dorian a brief summary of the conversation, reverting to Tevene once more. “They intend to take us to their leader. He might be reasoned with. Let me talk to him, and please, for the love of the Maker, don’t antagonize them even more.

When have I ever antagonized anyone, my dear?” The retort is delivered with less pep than Dorian would like; for all his bravado and bluster, the situation was looking grim.

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They’re on the back of the horse for what seems to be another half hour, the late afternoon sunlight setting the world ablaze with the golden red of its intensity. It was a sight Anya had revelled in once; no longer did the tint of the Breach leave anything glowing sickly in its ailing light, signalling a sure end to Thedas, to the world. Now it just filled her with apprehension and, quite frankly, irritation at the situation they were in. She could see what looked like a small village growing more visible in the distance; closer to meeting this Thane. The wound on her head and Dorian’s had stopped bleeding, and Dorian had taken to dozing as Anya kept a watch over him, nudging him awake every so often to make sure he wasn’t concussed. He was nudged fully awake once they entered the hold, on display as they passed countless Avvar. Men and women, openly staring at the prisoners, the Tevinter and the strange woman with the white hair, white skin, eyes the green of the tear in the Lady that had disappeared not two years ago. Children were herded away from the procession, and only one woman approached. Golden curls dripped down her back like the sea in the afternoon light, amber eyes radiating disapproval, one hand on the sword at her hip, the other holding onto the hand of a boy that looked a mere five years old.

Delrin, what is the meaning of this? Aemon comes running into the hold, yelling about rich Lowlander prisoners. You know what happens when the Lowlanders are slighted!” The anger is set in the frown that marks her face, and the man to the left of the one holding the lead bows his head in apology.

I know, Mia. Aldrich ran ahead without permission, attacking their party. We are not the ones who injured them so, however. I will explain and accept all punishments as the Thane sees fit.” Delrin says, and this seems to appease the woman—Mia. Aldrich (Anya assumes the one holding the lead) seems unaffected by the accusation, proud as an Orlesian peacock with the outcome. Mia scoffs, turning with the little boy who had been watching the pair on the horse with curious eyes. Anya smiles at him. He hides behind Mia's leg.

My brother may see fit to flay you all. He was none too pleased with Aemon’s explanation. Come on, then, he’s waiting for you.” Mia orders, lifting the boy onto her hip and leading the procession to what Anya can only assume is a fighting ground. There is a ring in the middle, some training dummies and weapon racks set up at various intervals in and around the ring. Some benches litter the area as well; as though fighting were a spectator sport within the Avvar hold.

That’s the leader’s sister. Apparently, he’s none too happy with our capture.” Anya avoids using the word Thane. There is no Tevene word for it, and saying it in Common would be recognizable to anyone listening; they would know she understands. As it is, her quiet words to Dorian earn her sharp reprimands in heavily accented Common from Mia to stop talking. Dorian nods at Anya; a recognition that he will stick to their earlier plan of following her lead.

A few minutes later, the both of them are being untied from the saddle and hauled off the horse. Dorian stumbles, legs weak from disuse, but another large Avvar man catches him before he can fall. This man has curls of dark gold, a similarity in his features to those on the face of Mia and the silent little boy on her hip. Could this be the brother, the Thane? Once Dorian has gained his stability, the large man lets him go after checking the runed bonds that circle the mage’s wrists.

Anya’s dismount is much less graceful; and that’s saying something. Her head spins at the sudden change of angle, and her legs give out from under her. She reaches out with her left arm to catch her fall, only to realise too late that there is no hand to stop her. She ends up face first in the dirt, a slight huff of pain leaving her lips. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Dorian reaching to help her up only to be hauled back by the man that had stabilised him before. Instead, in a surprisingly gentle manner, Delrin helps her to her feet, keeping a strong grip on her waist until she gains solid footing. A nod of thanks to the warrior is her only acknowledgement, as he takes the other end of the runed rope that wraps around her wrist.

It is then she notices the man watching the display.

Anya had thought the other men large; this one was a mountain of a man. His tanned torso was bare, save for a tattoo that dances its way across his right arm and torso, crimson swirls and lines that tangle together and dip below the waistband of his pants. His legs and feet were clothed in a dark hide, a lion pelt adorning his waist. Her eyes trail upward, noticing the mane of a red lion fashioned into a mantle that adores his shoulders, red material reminiscent of Highever Weave of cascading from the mantle to form a cloak. Gold stubble graces the lower half of his face, upper lip bisected by a scar, a nose that had clearly been broken more than once, gold curls that reached his shoulders, pulled away from his face with two braids and---

Her eyes finally meet his. Fade-green connect with molten amber for a mere moment, before the Thane steps forward. Instead of talking to her or Dorian, who stands slightly behind her, he turns instead to Delrin, Aemon and Aldrich.

What. Happened?” His voice is deep and rich, reminiscent of rolling thunder as he snarls the words in his tongue at the trio.

We had noticed the party on Sulcher’s Pass, Lord Thane. Aemon and I had decided to leave them be, but Aldrich was not satisfied. He killed two of their soldiers, Aemon and I killing the other two in order to protect ourselves from what Aldrich had brought on us. Aldrich believed them to be the same men that have been slaughtering our brethren, and ran ahead before we could confirm.” Delrin speaks almost immediately, dropping to one knee, the rope still tight in hand. “I will accept any punishment you wish to place on us, my Thane.

The Thane turns away from Delrin, now, to observe Anya and Dorian. She straightens under his gaze, watches as it passes from the unnatural white of her hair, loose and messy, escaping the braided knot under her silk brocade hood. Her skin is as pale as the snow that caps the Frostbacks, an hourglass figure hidden beneath layers of clothing. Her empty left sleeve, which had been folded to the elbow and pinned neatly at the start of the journey, hangs empty by her side. With a defiant motion, she tosses her head back, the hood slipping loose as she stares right back at the Thane with her strange eyes.

Once they had been the green of the grass in the springtime, bright and warm. Once they had not been so unnerving. And then she had stepped into the Fade, and come out the other side with eyes that were the same colour as the Fade itself and an anchor on her left hand that could make the Veil bend to her will. The anchor was gone. The eyes were not, and in them swam defiance, courage, and regality.

It makes the Thane’s lips twitch upward in amusement before he turns back to the two Avvar that had not yet spoken.

If you only attacked their soldiers, why are they injured so?” He asks, and the one called Aldrich snorts.

One of their mage guards turned on them, knocked them off their horses. The stupid boy died by my sword.” It takes all of Anya’s willpower not to round on the man with anger at his nature; the Templar had been but a boy, barely in his second decade, scared and helpless. Instead she maintains a docile, unassuming nature—only Dorian notices the way her fingers twitch, reaching for her magic though the runes keep her from it, and he shakes his head at her almost imperceptibly. She forces herself to relax.

She does stiffen, however, when Aldrich saunters over to her, standing a hair’s breadth away from her, despite the warning glance from Aemon and Delrin. The Thane does nothing, instead watches with an unreadable expression.

Who will miss these Lowlanders, whether they are part of the men killing our people or not? Looked like they were running off together, the soldiers no more than sellswords. They carried a great deal of gold and other items on their horses; I bring them for our Hold. I only ask that I get her in return for my efforts to further our hold’s prosperity.” Aldrich closes the distance now, grabbing onto the front of Anya’s vest, a disgusting, lascivious glint in his eyes, and the words spill out before she can stop them.

Get your hands off me.” The Avvar rolls languidly off her tongue, despite the sharpness and disgust of her tone. It is near perfect, despite her accent, and the crowd breaks out in murmurs at hearing the Lowlander speak their tongue. Dorian sighs almost inaudibly beside her (there goes the ace up our sleeve), and Aldrich looks at a loss for words, head turning toward their Thane.

The Thane is watching her with raised eyebrows, surprise showing only in the amber of his eyes, but none of it writ across his face. One hand waves Aldrich to the side, the other on his sword as he steps forward, and the warrior has no choice but to obey. Anya straightens herself, turning to face the Thane head on. She recalls the countless lessons Josephine and Leliana had given her about dealing with foreign dignitaries, Cassandra and Bull’s about standing your ground, even Sera’s about telling people where to shove their poncy gloves, and begins to speak.

I am Anastasia Evelyn Trevelyan, leader of the Inquisition, Herald of Andraste. I am she who defeated Corypheus, the Darkspawn Magister who attempted to tear open the Veil. I am she who struck down his dragon and closed the breach in the Sky. I would hope for a peaceful conclusion of any misunderstandings your men have done unto me and my companion, as well as reparations for the losses we have suffered, our belongings and gold returned, and safe passage to Highever. I will see that you are rewarded for your efforts to put us back on our path.” Her voice is loud and clear, as unwavering as her gaze as she faces the Thane. The watching crowd of Avvar is silent, and out of the corner of her eye she can see Mia and the man holding Dorian exchanging glances.  The Thane is still watching her silently, unreadable, before a chuckle erupts from his lips. After a mere second, it is echoed by his people, the amusement at her words rife among them; though she does not know why they are causing such hilarity.

Slighted, Anya falters a moment, before regaining her composure and staring at him, trying her very best to emulate the stone faced look of determination that had been a constant mask on Leliana’s face as she refused to accept anything less than what she demanded. The Thane is more relaxed, hand moving from his sword to cross his arms over his chest, an amused grin on his face. If anything, it serves to irritate Anya further.

“All those titles, all those demands. What reassurance do we have that the moment we let you and your Tevinter go, you won’t return with all these armies you claim to have?” The Thane finally speaks, in Common this time, amusement rich in his tone. It sets Anya ablaze with anger, but he continues over her before she can open her mouth to respond. “You are nothing here, Herald of a false prophet, Leader of a false army, defeater of a false demon. Here you are my prisoner, trespassing on lands not your own, your lowlander men responsible for the deaths of nearly a third of my people, your own mage guards turning against you. Who are you now to make such demands, Herald of Andraste?”

Her title is spoken mockingly; a title that had made her uncomfortable once, but she had come to realise the hope it had inspired. And he laughed and mocked it! Each word fills her with fury, though she manages to keep it off her face and out of her posture. Dorian is tense beside her, but he remains true to his word of staying silent. Finally, she responds, voice even, though the simmering rage is resonant under each word.

“My men have not ventured this far into the Frostbacks for a near year. Whoever is killing your people, they are not flying my banner. The Inquisition has no quarrel with your people; a peacekeeping force half the size it once was; peacekeeping within Orlais and Ferelden, we have accepted that the Frostbacks do not fall under our jurisdiction. I would be more than willing to look into the deaths of your people and find the source of the attacks and end them. All I request is our freedom and safe passage.” The request garners another chuckle from the Thane, and after another moment, he shrugs, and takes the dagger from his waist. Everyone tenses, but he merely uses it to cut the rope from around Anya’s wrist, despite the questioning glance from his sister.

“Okay.” The Thane says, and everyone looks at him in confusion.

“Okay?” Anya repeats, rubbing her sore wrist against her hip, shooting a sideways glance at Dorian, who looks as confused as she feels.  The Thane’s grin widens.

“Okay.” He says simply, and claps a hand on Aldrich’s shoulder. “If you can defeat Aldrich in the test of Hakkon, you and your Tevinter shall have your freedom.”

“What?” The word is said in unison, Anya, Dorian, Aldrich and Mia all at once. The Thane’s grin never wavers, and Anya begins to wonder if he’s as mad as the Avvar that had attacked Skyhold with goats a mere two years ago.

“Aldrich’s actions brought down your soldiers, and if your men find out you were treated poorly by us, they might see fit to wipe us out. Delrin has accepted any punishment, but why should he be the one to suffer for actions not his own?” The Thane’s voice is a barely veiled threat, that should Aldrich not accept the proposal, he would suffer greatly. “Surely this should appease your people; if you win, Aldrich’s life is yours to do with as you see fit in return for the suffering caused. If he wins, you and your Tevinter will spend your lives in our cells, maybe even have the honour to become our Hold beast’s sacrifice, should the need arise. Do you accept?”

Anya takes a moment to look over Aldrich; a large mass of a man, covered in warpaints. The great sword on his back is sharp and deadly, the glint in his grey eyes as hard as the steel on his back; he would not accept defeat from her. She shoots a glance over to Dorian, who seems almost pleased with the proposal—she remembers all his jokes about the dead she left in her path leading up to the battle with Corypheus.

Of course, now she was a hand down, injured, and without the magic of the rift that had so enhanced her skills. Her cousin, Sirius, would not realise they had not boarded the ship to the Free Marches for another two weeks, and no-one in Skyhold would hear of her disappearance until he reached out to them.

The fight was her only option, and The Thane knew it. She takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly, facing the Thane with her best smile, reserved for only the highest of nobility.

“I accept your terms, Lord Thane.”

Chapter Text

Cullen sits on the fence that surrounds the ring, looking far more regal than any Barbarian Lord had any right to be, he’d heard the Tevinter mutter to his Lowlander lady. She’d spared him a glance before scoffing, her fingers weaving blue trails around his head, healing the Tevinter’s injuries despite his warnings to conserve her energy for the fight as they switched languages, from Common to... was that the Tevinter tongue? She seemed to care little for the impending battle, though she’d been given fifteen minutes with which to prepare. Branson sits on the Tevinter’s left, and Mia had returned from taking Felix to stay with Rosalie during this 'mess'. The boy was too young to witness so much ‘bloodshed’, Mia had said; whisking her son away with a look that promised Cullen’s decision would be discussed. And now it was to happen, her arms folded across her chest, a stern look on her face, tense, despite her younger brother’s relaxedness.

“What were you thinking, brother? If she dies, we’ll have waged war upon the Lowlanders.” She doesn’t look at him, nor does he at her, but he knows the look on her face. It’s one of disappointment that his mother had worn so well, especially that one time he and Branson had snuck out to the lake without telling anyone, and half the keep had been out searching for the Thane’s children. “Aldrich won’t go easy on her. And have you considered the consequences should Aldrich die? The clan would be up in arms and slaughter her and the Tevinter anyway! What were you thinking?”

He isn’t at all fazed by his sister’s comments, eyes still glued to the pale Lowlander. She’s fiercely protective over the Tevinter, and he’d seen the way she’d tensed up at Aldrich’s comments over the mage-guard boy, despite his betrayal. If she really had done all that she’d stated, she was a force to be reckoned with. And, well, he thinks to himself, it had been quite intriguing, the way his native tongue rolled so easily off hers, voice never showing any weakness.

“---clan—Cullen, are you listening to me?” Mia’s still going, and Cullen lets out a sigh, finally ripping his eyes away from the Lowlander and turning to the stormier gaze of his sister.

“I confess, I wished to see if she’s as fierce as she claims. She has all these titles, all these... victories. Surely Aldrich will not be a problem for someone with her skill. I would have Aldrich locked up, anyway.” The glare on his face turns towards the warrior, where he sharpens his sword, his own glare directed at the Lowlanders. “Gods-damned fool rushing in like that, he’d have brought a whole army down on our heads should the Lowlanders have escaped. This is an acceptable alternative.”

Acceptable—an acceptable alternative, having one of your kin killed by a Lowlander in our own hold? Is this how mother raised you? The reason she wished you to be Thane after her death?” Mia’s words are a growl, ones that have Cullen’s amusement drying up in an instant. He doesn’t answer Mia’s words, instead raising a hand towards Delrin, waving him over. The dark-skinned warrior is over in an instant, eager to atone for Aldrich’s mistakes. A fist thumps against his chest, head bowing in respect.

“My Lord Thane?”

“The Lowlander mages had staves with them, did they not?” Cullen asks, ignoring his sister as she scoffs and goes to join Branson by the Tevinter’s side. Delrin nods, confusion written on his face as Cullen hums thoughtfully. “Good. Go get them, take them to the Lowlander. It would not be a fair fight should she be unarmed.”

Another thump of his fist across his chest, and Delrin goes in search of the staves the Lowlanders arrived with. Cullen relaxes once more, arms crossing against the broad expanse of his chest---though his amused grin is not as wide as it had been before Mia’s words.

Mother’s kindness got her killed. I shall not make the same mistake.


 

She was given fifteen minutes to prepare for the battle as the crowd migrates outside the ring. Dorian is taken with the unnamed to sit by the fence, hands still bound to prevent him from helping her cheat. She uses the fifteen minutes preparation to heal his wounds despite his protests, speaking in rapid Tevene.

So, this was not the plan, but the quicker we get this done, the quicker we can be on our way to the Free Marches.” Anya mutters as she unwraps the scarf and hood from around her neck, handing them to Dorian, who rolls his eyes as he tucks them into his belt. Mia makes her way over to join them, eyes meeting the unnamed man’s eyes behind Dorian’s head. Anya pays them no mind as she focuses on Dorian as he chuckles, reaching up with bound hands to tuck the loose strands behind her ears, eyes apprehensive behind the bravado. For once, he is silence in thought, and Anya fills the silence with reassurance. “You remember those jokes you used to make when I’d visit you in the library? ‘Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t kill anyone on your way over here!’ I defeated Corypheus; this should be a piece of cake. Those little ones we had after the battle. With the blue icing and the chocolate filling.

You will be fine. I know it.” Dorian says confidently, but he falters. “In the event you should fail—

“I will not.” Anya responds defiantly, the switch from Tevene to Common taking Dorian by surprise. Mia and the silent man glance at her wearily. “I will not fail.”

Delrin has made his way over during their conversation, and now holds out two staves. “We found these with you. I was unsure which one was yours, but the Thane has instructed you have a weapon you are comfortable with, in order to make the fight as fair as possible.”

Anya nods her thanks, picking out her staff from amongst the two; the other belonged to Dorian, and she would see it returned to him by the day’s end. She twirls her staff expertly in her right hand, the Paragon’s Lustre blade glittering in the sun’s setting light. With it back in her hand, she feels more comfortable—but quickly realises that summoning a tangible prosthesis for her left arm would be a struggle with her sleeve in the way. She hums thoughtfully, before sliding the staff into the brace on her back and turning to Delrin.

“Ser Delrin, might I borrow your dagger a moment?” She asks sweetly, right hand held out for it already. Delrin throws a cautious glance over at Mia, passing the small blade to Anya when the Avvar woman nods. Anya holds it tightly, getting herself comfortable with the grip before reaching up and slicing at the seam of her left sleeve. The dagger is passed back to Delrin with a nod of thanks, and she reaches with her right to yank down hard on the sleeve, tearing it from the shirt.

As the bloodstained sleeve flutters to the ground, there is a quiet murmur from the onlooking Avvar. Solas had taken the anchor, but the arm hadn’t been able to be saved. Truly, it was all a blur after he had left her, the pain of losing the anchor blinding. She vaguely recalled a flash of white-blond hair not her own, a soft apology that was repeated as a dagger sliced into her arm above the elbow, not stopping even as she screamed and pleaded for them to stop--

Later, she learned that Solas had allowed Cole through the Eluvian in order to help her, and he had cut off her arm to save her. The skin was now knotted over and pink, angry with the scars of healing, but she holds her head high at all the glances at the stump. She can feel the Thane watching her curiously, though she never breaks her determination to avoid looking at him. With one last reassuring glance to Dorian, mirrored back at her in his nod, she takes a hold of her staff and makes her way to the center of the ring, where the Thane and Aldrich were waiting.

The Thane watches her with open curiosity as she comes to a stop, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. Her lips move soundlessly, and there is a low gasp that runs through the crowd as green energy flows from the stump of her arm, the light weaving and threading, forming a forearm, wrist, palm, and finally, five fingers that she flexes and rolls. Though the anchor had been two years lost, whatever magic she appeared to wield with the left arm looked remarkably like that she had used with the Anchor. Whether it was residual and would fade or she was impenetrably connected to the Fade in a more advanced manner, no-one had been able to tell.

When Anya’s eyes open, she lets out the breath slowly, switching her staff to her left hand, the magic making it solid enough to hold the weapon. Dorian watches on with pride, remembering the first few months without the limb, how she had struggled to even form half of the forearm, let alone make it tangible enough to interact with the world around them. He does worry, however; with her head wound, and any she will no doubt gain in this fight, if sustaining the prosthesis will leave her at a disadvantage. Would it not be better to use her right hand to wield the staff?

Aldrich growls at the display, but the Thane quiets him and the crowd with a wave of his hand, before speaking. “The Lowlander Lady Trevelyan has accepted the test of Hakkon. It is a fight to the death; recompense for slights against both parties.” His voice is loud and booming, but Anya keeps her eyes on Aldrich, trying to ascertain any weaknesses she could exploit; he doesn’t use a shield, and seems to favour his right leg, even in this, a simple stance of pause. He would no doubt attempt to strike at her left side, even at the wounds that already grace her body, but her revised training had made sure she would not leave any weak spots open. She was ready.

Apparently not ready enough, however, as in her examination of her opponent, she missed the Thane’s call to start as he retreated to his seat on the fence. Aldrich lets out a loud war-cry, and she barely has time to roll out of the way as he brings down his sword where she had been standing. Anya can hear Dorian calling out her name, but she doesn’t look. Her breath leaves her in a loud huff as she rolls into a crouch, right hand gaining balance against the dirt, green hand wielding her staff as she pours what energy she can spare into a static cage. There are faint gasps from the crowd that she barely notices, sweat dripping from her forehead as she pours her energy into the cage for as long as she can. It works, trapping Aldrich, the shocks dragging him back every time he tries to step out with an angered roar. She’s hoping it will be enough to weaken him—surely the Avvar warrior hadn’t encountered this before; only few magi that she had known had been able to do it, none ever so successful as she had.

“She can’t hold it for much longer. She’ll wear herself out.” Dorian mutters under his breath, struggling against his bonds even as Mia and the silent man tug him back down. He shrugs them both off, knuckles gripping the fence so hard they turn white under his sunkissed skin. Venehedis, she’s going to kill herself before that Barbarian can. He leans forward, fingers flicking uselessly, unable to pull magic through the Veil while bound in the runed ropes. Instead, he yells at her, all decorum lost. “Let go, you daft woman!”

Cullen leans forward as the purple lightning rains down on Aldrich, tugging him back within its reach every time the warrior roars and attempts to leave it. It’s unlike anything he’s seen before, and though it is doing its apparent job of weakening Aldrich, it appears to be weakening the Lowlander, too. Sweat drips down her face, leaving tracks in the blood that had dried there, and even from where he’s sitting; he can see her chest heaving with the effort, teeth grit in determination. The Tevinter’s yelling at her to let go, but it seems she will not—at least, not by her own will.

The glowing green hand she had summoned in place of her missing limb flickers, and with an exhausted shout, she drops to her elbows, the staff falling from her hand as the green hand disappears.

Anya!” Dorian shouts, and for the first time that she’s ever heard, he’s panicked. That’s not good, she thinks absently as the world spins around her. Aldrich’s fallen too, but he’s rising back to his feet swiftly, though he fumbles as he attempts to gather his sword, hissing and spitting Avvarian curses in her direction.

The Thane leans forward, resting his elbow on his knee, propping his chin up on his hand. His face is impassive, but amber eyes sparkle with curiosity; how will the Lowlander sway this battle, now missing her magic limb, worn out? Does the fire he saw burning in her eyes fuel her? Is she broken now, years on and a limb down from her supposed victory against the tear in the Lady? Her Tevinter yells her name, looking ready to vault himself over the fence and charge Aldrich, as though his head were hard enough to save her alone. But he saves his thoughts on the Tevinter for later; the Lowlander Lady is moving. Hasn’t lost that fire just yet.

Logically, she knows she has to move, has to summon the arm again, find her staff and cast something, a paralysing bolt, an immolation, something. But all she can do is use her good arm to slide herself across the ground to her staff, panting heavily as Aldrich stumbles towards her. The man is angry, rage fuelling him. While it is nowhere near as terrifying as being around the Iron Bull in Reaver mode, it’s enough to get her to shuffle along on her belly faster, fingers just barely glancing off the wood of her staff before it is kicked away by a fur-trimmed boot.

“Not so tough now, are you, Lowlander?” Aldrich hisses from above her, a firm kick to her ribs sending pain lancing throughout her body, a shriek that she clamps down as the force rolls her onto her side. Dorian’s yelling at her to Get up, get up, venhedis, get up, you crazy woman, but before she can, another kick forces her onto her back, and this time the scream echoes throughout the hold as she feels her ribs crack under the pressure. There’s nothing she can do as the large Avvar grabs her by her throat, lifting her so that her feet dangle above the ground.

Her good hand scrabbles at both of his, and she gasps for air, vision going dark around the edges. She can see Dorian out of the corner of her eye, his mouth moving, a desperate look on his face, but she can’t hear the words. All she can smell is the foul breath of the Avvar warrior on her face, can feel his hands bruising her throat, and then he leans in close, baring his teeth in a disgusting parody of a grin.

“You will die here, Lowlander,” He rasps in her ear, hands tightening, “and once you’re dead, I’ll kill that Tevinter too, mount his head on a pike. But not before I make him watch me fuck your pretty pale corpse.”

Her eyes find Dorian’s, the desperate, terrified look in their green depths screaming out to her; and then back to the blue of Aldrich’s, swimming with vile lasciviousness, rage, and sure arrogance that he’ll win this fight.

No. No. I will not end like this.


 

Cullen’s leaning so far forward; he’s in danger of falling off the fence. The shouts of his kin are deafening, but he’s not sure who they’re shouting for. Delrin shifts uneasily beside him as Aldrich lifts the Lowlander off the ground by her throat, not taking his eyes off the battle, but moving closer to Cullen.

“Forgive me for speaking out of turn, my Thane, but would it not be wise to stop Aldrich before he kills the Lowlander? Would it not bring more trouble on our Hold should she die?” Delrin says lowly, but Cullen doesn’t answer.

He’s focused on the fight, if it could be called that anymore. Aldrich’s saying something to Anastasia as she grapples with her one hand at his, gasping down breath. He can’t hear over the shouts of his hold-kin, nor over those of the Tevinter, who seems the loudest; pleading for the pale Lowlander to fight back, but whatever it is Aldrich says, it has her tensing in his grasp, eyes flaring with anger. Her hand falls to her side as she continues trying to drink in some air, and the Tevinter shouts in dismay, thinking her given up. Aldrich’s got a smug grin on his face, breathing heavily with adrenaline—

--and it is because of his arrogance Aldrich misses the Lowlander’s actions.

Her right hand forms a loose fist, and there’s a faint glimmering that Cullen doesn’t get time to properly examine the shape of before she raises her hand and brings it down over Aldrich’s wrists in a sharp motion.

Aldrich screeches in pain that silences the hold as both his hands are severed from his wrists in a spray of blood that stains both Lowlander and Avvar. The hands drop, and so does the Lowlander, a shimmering golden sword in her hand. She lies there a moment, gasping down the cool, fresh air into her lungs, before rising on unsteady feet. She stands over the whimpering Avvar, sword pointed at his throat.

“Yield.” She rasps, throat sore from the abuse, yet her tone is unwavering, apathetic, all her power behind the words. When Aldrich doesn’t respond, she presses the tip of the sword against his throat, a small bead of blood drawn to the surface, yet never staining the gold sword. “Yield.

“I y-yield, I y-yield.” Aldrich cries, and the Lowlander leans down, murmuring quietly to the disarmed warrior.

“Try and fuck my corpse now, ser.” And with that, she turns on her heel, walking to her Tevinter. The adrenaline is masking the pain, her shoulders thrown back, chin high, looking every bit as regal as her titles and birthrights suggested. When she reaches Dorian, she uses the sword to cut the bonds around his wrists.

Just in time, too, as the sword flickers and disappears, exhaustion claiming her. Anya stumbles and falls, Dorian catching her before she can hit her head against the fence. He leaps over, ignoring the staring Avvar and the advancing Thane as he drops to his knees and pulls her in his lap. Anya’s grinning up at him in exhaustion, barely able to move as each breath draws pain to her broken ribs. “Easy, amicus, give me a moment to shake off the numbness from the runes, and then I’ll heal you. Fasta vass, must you always be so bloody reckless?” He murmurs, fingers twirling idly before several orange sparks finally spit to life. He lets out a relieved sigh, didn’t take as long as I thought it would, and the sparks turn to blue mist, rolling gently over Anya’s body as the morning fog would over a calm lake.

His healing spells are nowhere near advanced as Circle Mage Healers are, but it’s enough to bring some more lucidity back to Anya’s features, healing her ribs and headwound to faint aches. It’s enough that she sits up, placing her one hand gently over Dorian’s, urging him silently to stop before they both rise to face the waiting Thane.

His face is impassive, though Delrin holds a kneeling, whimpering, bleeding Aldrich at his feet. The curiosity is still strong in his eyes, and Anya’s not sure if she’s imagining it, but there’s a small glimmer of what looks like respect there too. “So, you have passed the test of Hakkon, and Aldrich’s life was yours to take, but you chose not to. His life is yours to do with as you please.” As though he were discussing the weather, the Thane’s voice is casual, even, arms crossed over his chest. Anya hums quietly in thought, before kneeling in front of the warrior. Her hand weaves the blue healing magic that had restored her moments before, and though she doesn't have enough to close the wounds, Aldrich’s severed wrists stop bleeding. She then stands, her hand held aloft, and a small gasp ripples among the crowd as her staff flies to her hand. She does not wield it, however, instead tucking it into the brace on her back. Dorian has collected his own, mimicking her actions, though he does give her an odd look out of the corner of his eye. He wonders if such a ruthless Herald had existed before Solas’ betrayal, a Herald that would cut off a man’s hands and then heal him so that he would live with the consequences.

“I have no need nor no want for his life. He is your kinsman, do with him as you will. I have earned our freedom, now I request our belongings returned and we be put on our way.” She intones coolly, and the Thane’s eyebrows tick up in amusement.

Barely in the hold for half a day, and Anya can already tell that isn’t a good sign.

“You’ve earned your freedom, aye, but we’ll not be showing you the way out just yet.” He replies nonchalantly, and Anya’s cry of outrage and Dorian’s now, hold on a moment—are spoken over.

“You said you’d investigate the men responsible for the death of my kinsmen. You’ll not be out of my sight until you do. Now, you can either stay in a guest house, or you can share our hold-beast’s cave. She doesn’t take so kindly to strangers.”

“I—You--!” Anya splutters for a moment, before realising she’d been outplayed. Had this Barbarian been raised in Orlais, he’d be an expert at the Game. “Fine. Fine. Lead the way, Thane.”

The title is spat like an insult, and yet the Thane only laughs.

 

Chapter Text

Well, Anya supposes, at least they’d realised she needed a bath. She’s still slightly dazed, the adrenaline having worn off, so she’s not entirely sure of all the details that had brought her to the Avvar bath house. Dorian had been whisked away to a separate one by the silent man-- Branson, Mia had called him, with promises he’d find her as soon as he had washed the unknown putrid substance from his hair.

Hair being part of Anya’s current dilemma.

The bath house was merely a passage that led to an underground cavern, where natural hot springs from the mountains were used by the Avvar. Lit by torches, Mia had left her at the pool’s edge, telling Anya she’d wait in the passage. The Avvar woman was considerably less irate away from her brothers, kind even. She had not approved of her brother’s actions, and she’d made it clear as she’d placed a gentle hand on Anya’s shoulder, leading her away as she glowered at the Thane.

It occurs to Anya that she still doesn’t know the Thane’s name. She’d felt his amused gaze on her back as they’d walked away, and had turned back to look at him; his grin had widened at seeing her curiosity, and she’d turned forward again with a huff. Dumb, handsome barbarian, who does he think he is, keeping us here?

Handsome? --Concentrate, Trevelyan.

Back to the task at hand. Anya’s managed to kick off her boots and socks, untie and drop her pants, lay her coat and thick sash aside, but the fingers of her one hand fumble clumsily on the buttons of her tunic . She hasn’t even yet attempted to untangle the knotted mess her braid has become. Her hand drops, and she lets out a huff. She’d already attempted once to conjure up the prosthetic arm, but with how drained she was, she’d barely been able to form even half a forearm before it had flickered out.

Her eyes flick towards the passage, and she sighs, tugging her tunic down over her thighs before tottering barefoot towards Mia’s turned silhouette by one of the torches.

“Mia?”

The Avvar woman turns at her name, golden curls glittering in the torch light, eyes kind but curious at the Lowlander walking towards her half dressed. “Lady Trevelyan?”

“I, uh, I appear to be having some trouble with my tunic. Would you be able to call Dorian to help me?” It wasn’t unusual for Dorian to help her with such troubles; having travelled together so much, there was nothing odd to them about dressing in front of each other—No tent in the Fallow Mire had been anywhere near enough to stop everyone from seeing each other undressed at least once.

“Is he your husband, Lady Trevelyan?” Mia asks bluntly, curiosity getting the better of her. Anya laughs, a full, amused peal that bounces off the walls of the passage. What image must they present to the Avvar that they believe Dorian her husband?

“Dorian, my husband? That’s a laughable concept. He’s just a very good friend of mine, one I trust with my life.” Anya clarifies to the bewildered Avvar. This seems to displease Mia, as she flaps her hands at Anya, shooing her back to the pool. So modesty and social no-nobetween genders existed in the Avvar culture too.

“On with you, then, I’ll help you.” There’s a motherly tone to her voice, as though she were talking to the silent little boy that had been at her side earlier. Her son, maybe? Anya immediately feels put into her place, obeying the other woman silently. She’s clinical and professional as she helps Anya out of the rest of her clothes and tuts at her hair, ordering her into the springs.

It takes everything in her not to flinch away from the water as it seeps into the cuts and bruises, washing away the blood. Mia’s kicked off her boots and sat on the edge of the pool, trousers rolled to her knees and sleeves to elbows as she takes a clay jug from where it sits on the side of the pool, filling it with water and tapping the top of Anya’s head so that she’ll tilt it back.

It’s soothing, the feeling of the water loosening the knots enough for the both of them to tug free the braids. “Didn’t look that long this afternoon.” Mia mutters in surprise at the sheer length of Anya’s hair as they both wash it out, watching the dried blood run out, from red to pink to the white of the snow that was so abundant in the Frostbacks.

“Was it always this colour?” Mia asks as she passes Anya a wash cloth, and Anya smiles ruefully as she begins to drag the cloth over her body, scrubbing until her milky skin turns pink.

“It’s the oddest thing. My magic manifested when I was twelve, and the first week in the circle, the first white strands started to show. By the time I was fourteen, it was completely white. No-one quite knows why. It was brown, before. Dark, almost black.” Anya responds, squeezing out the wash cloth as best she could with her one hand before leaving it to dry on the side of the pool.

“And your eyes? Never have I seen such an odd colour.” Mia hums, standing and holding out a linen towel for Anya to step into. “The green is exactly the colour of the tear in the Lady. The Breach.

 Anya pauses in scrubbing herself dry, hand clenching around the towel. Run! Warn them! She takes a deep breath, forcing herself to relax as she holds the towel against her skin, pink from the heat and the force. “No. They weren’t always this colour.”

She doesn’t elaborate, nor does she get the chance to, as the sound of slapping feet against stone sounds from the passageway. Anya tenses, stepping slightly behind Mia as the Avvar turns to face the passageway, a scowl on her face that becomes exasperated at the sight of a young woman skipping down the path, golden curls streaming behind her as she waves around—

--Is that my saddlebag?

“Mia! Meeeeee-aaah!” The woman can’t possibly be older than twenty, yet there’s a childish excitement and air to her as she comes into the light. “Mia, Cullen sent me with the Lowlander’s things. He said as appealing as the thought may be, I can’t let her walk around the Hold in a towel.” She assumes a deep voice as she holds out the saddlebag proudly, eyes widening at the sight of Anya hiding behind Mia. “Is that her? Hello! I’m Rosalie, sister to Mia, Cullen and Branson. You must be Anastasia!”

Anya’s almost overwhelmed by her enthusiasm, and can only manage a flustered “please, c-call me Anya,” as she backs away slowly. Mia’s watching her with an odd look, and Anya realises distantly that she’s shaking.

“Ros, quiet. Anya, are you alright?” Mia asks gently, but Anya can’t quite seem to answer.

The day as a whole had been extremely overwhelming, too many emotions, too many people, too much that could have gone wrong. It’s not Rosalie’s fault, but her excitement was simply too much for the mage to handle—the last straw that broke the metaphorical camel.

All at once, the emotions from the day come crashing down onto Anya in an overpowering heap. The terror that had been lingering since the first guard had been killed, the horror as Dorian had been thrown off his horse, unresponsive, the trepidation of the trip to the hold, the sickening fear at Aldrich’s lewd threats, the Thane’s refusal to let them go, the despair, so much despair almost blurring lines and Aldrich’s face is replaced with Samson’s, blurred with Corypheus---

In the back of her mind, she can register Mia ordering something of Rosalie, and the younger girl running off as a cool wash cloth is pressed to her forehead, and then she hears Dorian’s soothing baritone, long fingers carding through her wet hair.

“Easy, amicus, easy. You’re safe, Anya, listen to me, darling. Try and match your breathing with mine.” He’s shifted, and she’s sitting between his legs with her back to his chest, feeling the exaggerated rise and fall, though she doesn’t know how she got to the floor.  “You’re not breathing with me, Anya. In and out.”

It’s a struggle but she manages to take in a deep breath, letting it out slowly and shakily in time with Dorian’s. It takes a few more tries before she’s able to stop forcing it, her senses slowly coming back to her bit by bit. Assert yourself. Where are you? Bath house. Avvar hold. Frostbacks. Corypheus and Samson are two years gone. Who’s with you? Dorian. Mia. Branson. Are you hurt? No. Safe? Are you safe?

I don’t know.

“There we are, amicus.” Dorian murmurs soothingly, gently stroking her hair. “My, it’s been a long day for you, hasn’t it?”

Her eyes close, and she rests her head back against his shoulder with a heavy sigh.


 

“It was a stupid, stupid decision, brother.” Cullen seems disinterested in Mia’s opinion, and more interested in cleaning his sword. He had made an offering to Lejoninna after dealing with Aldrich, should the gods not be happy with his choice. Their red lioness had pounced on the offering with no hesitation, and Cullen had taken it as a good omen.

He’d left Mia and Branson to show the Lowlanders to the bath house and then to the guest housing, next to their own. He’d been sitting on the stairs, cleaning his sword, when they’d approached the guest house, curiously, with Mia and the Tevinter supporting the Lowlander Lady between them. She seemed highly dazed, almost ready to collapse, hair curling slightly, the white of it glimmering in the moonlight as it drips down her back to her waist.

And then the Tevinter had taken her inside and Mia and Branson had come over to him. Branson had sat ever silent next to him, but Mia had started once again.

“Holding them hostage? Everything you’ve done today has been one bad decision after another, you’re going insane.” She’s pacing back and forth, and Cullen rolls his eyes, sheathing his sword.

“She said she would help find who is killing our people. What’s to say I let them leave, they run off to Tevinter and we never hear from her again?” Cullen scoffs, standing and stretching. Mia steps forward, hand raised as though she were going to slap him upside the head like she’d done when he was a child, before scoffing and muttering under her breath, hand dropping.

“She’s broken, Cullen. Don’t toy with her.” Mia seems strangely protective over the Lowlander, and it gives Cullen pause.

“What do you mean, broken?” Cullen asks, and Mia shrugs.

“Rosalie greeted her and she... seemed to fall in on herself. She wouldn’t respond to anyone other than the Tevinter, kept muttering something about a Samson.” Mia shakes her head, and crosses her arms. “She’s been through a lot, whatever it is she’s been through. Do not toy with her, Cullen.”

She walks off to collect Felix from the nursery, leaving Cullen alone with his brother. The Thane rolls his eyes, turning towards Branson with a sigh. “Well then. Your turn? Any criticism about the way I run my Hold?”

Branson says nothing, but the accusation in his eyes is enough.

“Thank you, brother, truly, for your upstanding support.”

Chapter Text

Since when has Skyhold invested in furs? Anya presses her face further into the warmth, a soft, sleepy hum, the soft bristles tickling her nose, the gentle musk of woodlands and greenery filling her lungs---

That’s odd. Most mornings, Skyhold was filled with the fragrance of fresh bread wafting up from the kitchens, the crisp, cool air coming in from the mountains; she should be able to hear the waterfall from Undercroft, big and loud as it was, with Josephine waltzing in rise and shine, Inquisitor, sleeping until noon never accomplished anything—

But she’s met with silence.

Well, of a sort. There’s a soft murmur of conversation outside, and oddly enough, the sound of small, quick lungs bringing in air.

Avvar hold. Not in Skyhold. It comes back to her slowly, as she shakes off the sleep and remembers where she is--- and there’s someone standing by her bed.

Fade-Green eyes fly open, and Anya’s vision is filled with a child’s curious gaze. He’s got a mop of brown curls, amber eyes, and a dusting of freckles over sun darkened skin. A little gasp leaves his lips as he realises she’s awake, and hesitantly, he places his hands on the edge of the bed to get a closer look.

“Felix! Let her sleep!” Mia’s voice whispers from the doorway, and the child—Felix—turns to the Avvar woman in the doorway.

“She’s awake, mother.” He pipes up defensively, and Anya sits up slowly, drawing the furs up to her chest as she goes. Felix smiles toothily at her, and when she gives a little smile back, he lets out a little giggle and runs to clutch his mother’s leg, hiding behind it as Mia rests her hand on his head.

The innocence of his smile makes hers wider,  soft laugh leaving her lips at the childish giggle he lets loose again.

“Sorry, Lady Trevelyan, did he wake you? I told him to stay out.” Mia apologises, pinching his cheek and grinning at the playful squeal he gives. Anya shakes her head and wraps the blanket around herself, placing her feet on the cold floor, standing after a moment of hesitation.

“Not at all, Mia. Please, call me Anya. And this little man is?” The white-haired mage kneels in front of the boy, grinning when his shy smile widens a little more and he hides further behind his mother’s leg. Holding the blanket in place with the stump of her left hand, she holds out the right, twirling her fingers to create harmless little ice chips that dance in the air above her palm. His eyes widen, and with a little giggle, he lets go of his mother’s leg with one hand try and catch one of them, giggling when it explodes into a little puff of snow that dusts the tip of his nose.

Anya’s so intent on amusing the little boy that she almost misses the way Mia tenses, her hand tight on his shoulder. The mage suddenly remembers what it is her magic had done yesterday, blood an almost artful spray as her Knight-Enchanter’s sword sliced through Aldrich’s wrists as easy as a sharpened sword through a threadbare linen. In an instant, Anya draws her hand back to hold the blanket around her like a robe, settling back a few paces from the boy and Mia relaxes.

“This here’s Felix, my son. He’s a troublemaker, got his father’s looks, unfortunately for him.” Mia ruffles his hair, even as the boy pouts at his mother’s joking insult. Anya laughs again, and he grins toothily back before running off through the house with a loud laugh. Anya straightens up again, pulling the blanket tight around herself once more, feeling dwarfed by the Avvar woman’s height; all Avvar seem to tower over her, although at 5’3, that wasn’t exactly a big feat. “Your Tevin—Dorian, he’s still asleep. I don’t know if you want to wake him or—“

Mia’s words are interrupted by a loud bang, and both women look past the curtain that hangs over the bedroom doorway, and Anya’s good mood evaporates instantly. The Thane stands there looking mighty irritated, his eyes finding hers with an angry gleam that makes her pull the blanket tighter around herself—being caught in nothing but a blanket, an overlarge tunic and her underthings by the man who had been willing to let her die yesterday was not part of her plan.

“Get dressed, Lowlander, get your Tevinter. More of my people have been killed.” He orders, and as he turns to leave, Anya feels a sense of righteous anger fall over her.

“He’s not my Tevinter, his name is Dorian. My name is not Lowlander, it is Anya or Lady Trevelyan. Choose one or don’t address me at all.” She straightens her spine, tossing the bed-mussed waves of white hair back over her shoulder. “Should I have been the one to order those kills? In the time between being tied to your horses and almost killed by your kinsman?”

He doesn’t seem to know what to make of her defiance, and for the first time that she’s seen, the Thane falters, eyes flicking hesitantly to his sister. Mia stays silent, seemingly refusing to offer any assistance. His jaw clenches, gloved hand resting on the hilt of his sword as he strengthens his resolve.

“The only reason you are alive is because of your promise to investigate the deaths. You start now, Lowlander.” He snarls, and this time, he leaves, slamming the door shut behind him in the wake of his fury.

“Well,” Mia says after a moment of stunned silence, “it’s good that you’re here. He needs someone to put him in his place every now and then.”

"I mean no offense, Mia," Anya's still glaring at the door, knuckles white where she's holding the blanket, "but was your brother always so infuriatingly and exceedingly rude?"

To her surprise, Mia chuckles, although a sad sort of smile graces her lips. "Not always, no. He used to be a warmer man, kinder. But Cullen's done what he thinks he must to keep us safe."

"Cullen?" Was that his name? Cullen. It suited him, Anya supposed, Thane Cullen. It sounded regal, strong, impenetrable. 

"Is this how all Avvar wake their guests? Slamming doors and stomping about the place?" Both women turn to the second curtained off room, where Dorian stands in the doorway, looking as impeccable as ever, despite the bleary way he squints at the light from the windows as if he'd just woken. "I also believe this belongs to you, my dear Lady."

'This' turns out to be Felix, standing by Dorian's leg and staring up at the Tevinter's staff, utterly mesmerized by it. Anya suppresses a laugh as Mia snaps at the boy in the Avvar tongue, and he grins toothily at both Lowlanders before running to his mother's side. "I'll send Bran to take you to Cullen when you're ready."


 

"So, how are we going to leave?" Dorian's leaning against the doorframe as Anya flicks her fingers at the laces of her boots to tie them, huffing a sigh. She hadn't spoken a word since Mia had left, lost in her own thoughts. 

"Help me tie my hair, please." Is all she replies as she rolls the left sleeve, pinning it neatly. Dorian scoffs, but nevertheless pulls her hair gently into a ponytail and secures it with a ribbon. "Sirius won't realise we're missing for another two weeks when we don't alight in the Free Marches. Rylen won't know until the soldiers don't correspond from Highever before we depart for the Free Marches in a week. Only then will he and Scout Harding send someone out to investigate and our trail will be long cold. There's no way we could sneak out without the Avvar knowing, and we wouldn't get far on foot before the Avvar'd drag us back again. I know when I'm beat, Dorian." 

Anya stands then, twirling her staff experimentally in her right hand (a habit she'd never been able to break since she got her first staff at sixteen) before sliding it into the brace on her back. "It seems we have no choice but to aid Thane Druffalo-Arse until either Sirius or Rlyen realise we've not arrived where we're meant."

"Thane Druffalo-Arse?" Dorian asks, raised eyebrows more at her childish insult than her decision to stay. Anya rolls her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest.

"He's got a face like a druffalo sat on it. One of those fat ones we had in Haven, you remember?" But Dorian's smirking, despite her explanation, as though he didn't believe her. 

"I don't know, my dear, I think he's rather handsome." He's baiting her, and she makes the executive decision to ignore him--if by flipping her hair childishly in his face as she turned away from him to the door could be considered ignoring.


 

"Lord Thane." Delrin thumps his fist across his chest and bows in salute as Cullen approaches, a grim look across his dark face. All around them, he can smell and taste the metallic tang of blood in the air, and it makes the Thane shudder ever so unnoticeably. Four of their hunters had been killed, their horses slain alongside them. Cairn Ar Elena lay among them, and that filled Cullen with rage; the boy had been due to steal and wed Tallis Mirasdotten of Stone-Bear Hold upon the fortnight. Cullen had personally overseen the negotiations, had watched the love that had been so obvious between the two. Now Cullen would have to tell Tallis her love had been killed, watch the pain tear through her as his words shatter her world. 
"May the Lady guide your spirit back to her." Cullen murmurs, kneeling to shut Cairn's unseeing eyes and brush the black locks away from the boy's head. 

Cullen's head whips up as he hears a movement behind him, and looks over his shoulder to see the Lowla--Anya standing with her Tevi-- Dorian, taking in the scene set out before them. 

The other three hunters, Aline An Isobel, Mara An Kiara and Michael Ar Jelissa, had been lain out deliberately in death; all four lying in a row, hands stabbed to each other and pinned to the ground in a grotesque depiction that the four were holding hands. Cairn and Michael were the outer two, their free hands pinned to the ground above them as though welcoming others to join them. Come, join in our deaths, die with us, die with us, more will die—

"Thane?" 

The voice is so quiet he barely hears it, and then a small, pale hand is on his shoulder. It draws him out of his thoughts, and his gaze follows the hand up the arm, swathed in deep blue cloth that looked as soft as a fresh cleaned fur. The arm meets a shoulder, a slender, pale neck, frowning pink lips; compassionate eyes the colour of the Spirit Realm. 

"Cullen?" 

It's the first time she's said his name. Later, he will remember how it sounds in her Lowlander accent, soft and gentle and rhythmic, and he will realize he does not mind it as much as he thought he might. 

For now, though, he realizes he is shaking, tears welling in his eyes on the precipice of falling, a low keening noise building in his chest that he tamps down; there would be time to mourn the loss of more of his people later, at the Sky burials. 

"Cullen, listen to my voice. Listen to me, don't look anywhere but me." He should be aggravated that she's talking to him like a child, but she's only trying to help. Amber locks onto fade-touched emerald, and he takes a steadying breath. "What is your duty, Thane?"

"To protect my clan." The words slip past his lips almost instantly, and she nods in approval. "To protect my family." 

"Strengthen your resolve, Lord Thane. Every kinsman you lose is another reason to fight." She says kinsman and not soldier, or clan member, and he wonders if the choice is deliberate. In this moment, he can see the Leader she had claimed to be yesterday; he can see how her victories had been achieved--she did not speak like a leader to her people, rather a friend to her comrades, loyalty ensured with the kindness of her heart. "We will find who is behind this, and they will not be left unpunished." 

Cullen nods, and her hand slowly drops from his shoulder as she rises, leaving him alone to compose himself as she joins Dorian in investigating the scene.

How can a woman so infuriating be so kind and warm at the same time?


 

Anya had frozen in place at the sight of the dead of Avvar, laid out so disrespectfully and grotesquely, but her eyes had been drawn to the Thane, kneeling by one of the boys. His large form had seemed almost impossibly small, curled in on himself, shoulders shaking. His hand had trembled as he’d reached out, stroking the boy’s hair and closing his eyes, murmuring in his native tongue, a small sound of despair slipping past his lips. A wave of sadness rolls over her, compassionate towards him—and she wonders absently if maybe Cole is influencing her actions.

“I do so hate to interrupt, but might I have a word, Anya?” Dorian asks, but before she can answer, Cullen is standing, unreadable mask back in place.

“What have you found, Tevinter?”

--And Anya’s back to feeling irritated at the Avvar. Dorian looks to Anya for direction, both exchanging looks of exasperation at Cullen’s sudden change in demeanour. She nods at Dorian in a gesture for him to continue.

“You know I’m a Necromancer, Anya,” He speaks directly to Anya instead of Cullen, without a care for how the Thane twitches at the defiance. “Perhaps I can reanimate one of these hunters long enough for them to tell us who is to blame.”

“Possibly. Thane?” Anya looks to Cullen for approval of the plan; surely he would object to resurrecting his people in such a manner just for a conversation. Though he looks apprehensive and hesitant, Cullen nods. Indicating to the boy he’d been knelt by earlier, he moves aside to create a path for Dorian.

“Cairn may have the answers we need.” Is all he says, before snapping at the Avvar soldiers milling about to clear some room. “Is there anything you need for this particular ritual?”

“Some breathing space and straightforward questions would suffice. I can’t hold this particular spell for long, so no dillydallying with small talk, yes?” Dorian says flippantly, kneeling by the boy. Anya kneels by him, ready to lend her energy if need be as he starts to weave the spell, blackened smoke with an odd purple shimmer dancing above the boy as Dorian closes his eyes and murmurs the Tevene spell.

Everyone gasps as the boy bolts upright with a gasp, eyes milky and unseeing as he looks to Dorian and Anya.

“Ask your questions.” Dorian’s voice is strained as he maintains the spell, and Anya leans forward. The boy’s decaying eyes  snap towards the movement, head tilting to the side like an animal listening for its prey.

“Cairn? Cairn, I need you to answer a few questions for me.” Anya starts gently, hands out in a calming manner. Cairn nods jerkily, intently focused on the mage. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“Am... Ambush. Laughing soldiers, taunting, planned, they knew, how did they know? For her, they said. As she ordered, they said. Chaos and ruin and destruction and war, they said.” His voice has an eerie undertone to it, scratchy and hoarse and alien underlying that of a scared boy. “Tallis... tell Tallis... I love... I’m sorry...”

Anya.” Dorian sounds weak, a sign that his magic will wane at any moment, and so Anya pushes forward with her questions.

“Who are they, Cairn? What uniform did they wear?” Anya asks desperately, her hand on the boy’s shoulder. He looks down at the hand, head snapping up like a marionette to look her in the eye.

“In... In... Inquisition.”

Whether from the shock of the boy’s word or his exhaustion, the spell breaks, and Dorian collapses onto Anya, breathing heavily as she stares in disbelief at the corpse as it falls back, her heart in her throat. “No. It can’t be. It’s not my people, it’s not, they wouldn’t do this.”

Lock. Them. Up.”

Her eyes snap up at the Thane’s words, full of anger and turmoil and grief, and she scrambles to her feet, only to be hauled back by Delrin and Branson amidst weak protestations from Dorian as he tries to pry them off her, only to be too worn out to do more than grab at their hands where they’re bruising her arms with their grip. “I didn’t order this, Cullen, I didn’t order this! My people didn’t do this, you have to believe me!”

A slap rings out, effectively silencing and freezing everyone in their place. Anya’s neck stings with the whiplash of the force, a cut split open on her cheekbone from the sheer force, dripping crimson against alabaster skin, raised pink skin taking the shape of a hand a telltale sign of where the bruise would be apparent in the hours to come. Cullen is seething with rage, shaking with grief. He had been intrigued by her; his sisters already adored her, his nephew fascinated by her. Only moments ago, he had started to trust her, in that moment of vulnerability where she had reminded him of his duty to his people and strengthened his resolve. “Enough of your lies, Lowlander, and never let my name pass those traitorous lips again. Lock them up, throw away the gods-damned key.”

Chapter Text

“Seeker Penteghast, Commander Rylen, thank you for joining me.” The air in the War room is almost stale, despite Scout Harding’s initiative to open the windows, the room hasn’t been used since the Herald left.  The Scout herself seems unsure, almost worried for the first time that Cassandra has seen.

“That look don’t bode well.” Rylen seems to be thinking along the same lines as Cassandra, if slightly more willing to call it out between the three of them. Harding doesn’t find the dry humor in it that the Starkhaven native does, and instead pulls a letter from her belt. Written in code, Cassandra can see the scribbles and lines of decoded sentences all over the letter in Harding’s handwriting.

Lead Scout Harding,
We were to inform you as soon as the Herald arrived on the estimated date, a week from leaving Skyhold. She has not arrived. It is now a day from the ETA, and we have received no sign of the Herald, nor our scouts, soldiers, or Magister Pavus.
We have begun preliminary searches on the path they were to be travelling, but as of yet have nothing to report. We believe they may have gone missing closer to the start of their journey to Highever rather than later.
We await your instruction,
Scout Noor of Highever.” The letter is placed on the War Table, almost immediately snatched up by a disbelieving Cassandra as Rylen consults the map.

“The Herald is missing?” Cassandra repeats, the letter sagging in her hands, and she seems at a momentary loss for what to do before her back straightens once more. There is no time for disbelief, no time for despair or thoughts of worst-case scenarios; they must find the Herald before either Orlais or Ferelden finds out she is missing and takes the opportunity to seize control of the Inquisition. “Right. Send Scouts out on the path the Herald took, the exact path. She would not have strayed without first leaving something to mark her presence.”

“A handful of my soldiers will come too, in case there is something on that path intent on attacking anyone that comes through.” Rylen suggests, and both Harding and Cassandra nod. Rylen takes a pin from the box beside the map, twirling it in calloused fingers. Placing it back in the map would signal a time of chaos once again, and not one of the three wants to fall into that again.

The pin shines in the morning light, but Rylen’s hand is sure and swift as he places it at Sulcher’s Pass.

“We’ll need to send a message to Viscount Trevelyan.” Cassandra says after a few moments silence in which all three members of the council take a moment to accept the change.

“I’ll do it.” Scout Harding volunteers, already making towards the rookery while Rylen and Cassandra co-ordinate search party movements.


 "A raven for you this morning, my lord."

A day later, across the Waking Sea in an Ostwick Manor, Viscount Sirius Trevelyan is handed a letter from an impassive Chamberlain over his morning meal. The seal on the rolled letter has the young lord nearly overturning his plate in order to rush to his study.

The chamberlain frowns in disapproval, but says nothing.

Fifteen minutes later, Sirius has the letter decoded and starts cursing up a storm that would make even the most hardened sailors blush. Shoving the letter into his pocket, Sirius tears through the study to his room, much to the dismay of the maid that had just finished cleaning as he rifles through drawers and armoires, all the while shouting for the Chamberlain.

“Send someone to secure me a place on the fastest ship to Highever! Where are my daggers, for the bloody Maker’s sake?” The dark haired lord growls. The young maid lets out a little squeal of embarrassment and dashes from the room as Sirius drops trou without a care, pulling on the dark rogue leathers he’d given up when his father had died.

“Might I ask why, milord?” The unimpressed Chamberlain asks, disapproval in the young Viscount’s actions rife across his weathered face. Another growl leaves Sirius’ lips, emerald eyes flashing as he pulls twin daggers from a chest hidden in a floor panel, twirling them before sheathing them into their places on his back. He rolls his shoulders, taking a breath as he feels right for the first time since he took his father's position as head of the household.

Like sliding into a second skin.

“My cousin’s missing. I’m going to find her.”


 “Not so tough now, Lowlander.” The raspy taunt from the next cell grates against Anya’s mind, adding pressure to an already present headache that she can’t relieve with her magic, not with the runed and lyrium-threaded chains that wrap around her arms from fingertip (and stump) to shoulder suppressing her connection to the Fade. Her hair has come loose from the ponytail Dorian had tied for her a near week ago, dirt and grime muddying the snowy sheen of it. As it is, being unable to reach through the Veil makes it hard to concentrate, Fade-Green eyes glazing over occasionally, the mage becoming unresponsive for minutes to hours at a time. It's actually quite remarkable she's been able to keep track of how long they've been in the Avvar cells at the far end of the Hold.

“You’re in here with me, Lowlander, no Thane to protect you now.” The hoarse taunt comes from the cell to her left again, and Anya’s only half-lucid, head tilted back against the steel bars of the cell. Her head rocks to the side, and she meets Aldrich’s eyes as he bares his teeth at her.

“Shut your mouth before I shut it for you, highlander. ” She shoots acidly, ignoring the rasped laugh as her head lolls back into its previous position.

"Anya, dove, no need to get worked up over the cretin." Dorian intones from the cell to her right, though there is a vacancy of emotion to his voice she knows is from the suppressant lyrium chains on his arms as well. He's pressed himself right up against the bars between their cells, leaning back like she is, pressed so close she can almost feel the heat of him through the bars. Once carefully styled hair lays limp and greasy, dark circles shadowing his eyes. A bruise has formed in a mottled clump of yellows, greens and purples down his left cheek--he had refused to come quietly when the Thane had slapped Anya, earning himself a forceful punch from the aforementioned Avvar warrior.

“Dorian...” Her right hand slips through the bars, blindly grasping for Dorian’s. His own fingers bridge the gap, sun-darkened olive twining absently with dirt-stained alabaster. His head rolls to the side, an almost similar motion to Anya’s previous one. Behind the vacant glaze, there’s a glimmer of exasperation.

“If you’re going to apologize again, I’m going to tie your pretty hair to the bars.” His fingers squeeze hers, and she lets out a huff, resting her head against the bars to her right, opening her mouth to reply before Dorian speaks over her. “No, amicus, I mean it. Don’t. This isn’t your fault. Someone’s working to bring you down. None of this is your fault.”

“Solas warned me, Dorian.” She murmurs, breath leaving her in a long exhale. “He said... that his spies tripped over Qunari spies. The Inquisition’s size would be its downfall. And I didn’t listen. I should’ve disbanded at the Exalted Council.”

He squeezes her fingers again, but he doesn’t get a chance to reply—the cell doors slam open with a loud clang! that makes both their heads ring. Anya’s gaze snaps forward just as a body is thrown in front of her, the Thane standing at the door, the very picture of rage. The mage crawls forward, placing a hand on the shoulder of the woman that had been thrown in front of her, the pale green of her tattered uniform surprisingly familiar.

Inquisition.

Anya rolls her onto her back, brushing the woman’s red hair back. It takes a few moments, but Anya recognizes her—she’d made it a point to at least be familiar with the faces, if not the names, of as many people in the Inquisition as she could. “Scout Liana?”

Liana’s blue eyes are fluttering, dried blood down her chin and the side of her face, and she’s trying to speak before Anya shushes her, pulling the Scout’s head into her lap, reaching for her magic to heal the woman and growling when the lyrium chains stop her. Anya’s head whips up, anger blazing in her eyes. “What have you done to her?”

Thane Cullen’s hand is on his sword, face blank, but eyes stormy. “More of your Inquisition, I see. Would you like to tell me again how they’re not involved in the deaths of my people? There were six sneaking about our woods.”

“Six?” Dorian asks, clutching the bars between the cells, struggling to maintain his focus on the Avvar man. “What did you do to the others?”

“Dead. Three escaped injured, but it is unlikely they'll last the night in the Frostbacks, injured as they are.” He sounds almost smug—And the anger running through Anya’s veins is almost enough for her to reach her magic. Almost, but not completely. The Thane leaves without another word.

“Anya, bring her here.” Dorian urges her closer, and she does her best to move closer to the bars, Scout Liana having enough presence of mind to help her along before collapsing against her with a pained huff. “Liana? Liana, what happened?”

“We were... Scout Harding asked us to look for the Herald... when you didn’t show up at Highever.” Liana murmurs, eyes trying to focus on Dorian but becoming hazier by the second. “We were... were ambushed... by the Avvar.”

“Liana, focus on me.” Anya strokes Liana’s red strands back, and her gaze flits back to meet Anya’s. Liana’s only young, and it’s easily visible to Anya now—she’s young, and scared. Whatever the Avvar have done has terrified her. “Tell me.”

“They think we killed their kin. They killed Scouts Lin... and Denna. Scout Jinora, and the soldiers Rylen sent... were injured, and they escaped.” Anya strokes her hair, and Liana’s eyes close. “I’m sorry, Herald, we failed you.”

“No, Scout Liana, you’ve made me proud. Rest a while.” Anya murmurs, and her eyes meet Dorian’s in a worried look.


 “Viscount Trevelyan, what are you doing here?” Scout Noor is unsure how to react to the angry young Viscount’s presence. She’s only met the Herald once, but she can see minor resemblances between them. The aquiline noses, the full lips, almond eyes—but that’s where the similarities end. The Herald’s fade-green eyes are nothing like the dark emerald that the young Viscount has. Where she is all alabaster skin and snowy hair, he is darkened by the sun, hair almost black and shaved at the sides.

And he’s currently glaring at her.

“What do you know about my cousin’s disappearance?” He is blunt and to the point, and While Scout Noor assumes Lead Scout Harding had told Viscount Trevelyan, she doesn’t think that Harding would have anticipated the Viscount would secure passage on the fastest ship to Highever and be there within three days. In fact, she doesn’t believe Scout Harding would have anticipated that Viscount Trevelyan would have even left the Free Marches.

“ Sulcher’s Pass, Ser. We’ve just received word from our scouts in Skyhold. They were attacked by Avvar just before the Pass. We believe that they are behind the Herald’s disappearance.” Scout Noor isn’t sure she should be sharing the information, but she highly doubts Viscount Trevelyan would take ‘no’ for an answer. He nods at the information, fists clenching by his sides.

“I need your fastest mount and supplies, I’ll be leaving on their trail in an hour.” He turns to leave, but Noor speaks up, dark skinned fingers wringing together.

“Ser, a good deal of our scouts and soldiers have been injured or killed on their path, are you sure you should be going alone?” Technically, she has no way of controlling his actions, nor any official rights to tell him what to do, but she can suggest reinforcements. “Some of my scouts could come with you.”

“No. I’ll get there faster alone. Have that mount ready for me in an hour.”


 “My Lady, the Herald has been captured by the Avvar. She made a deal with them to help find who was killing their people, but was sabotaged when Magister Pavus reanimated one of the Avvar hunters.” The commander kneels before the ornate throne, head bowed. "The boy told them it was the Inquisition. The Red Lion Thane has kept them locked up within the hold for almost a week and a half, now."

Nails tap against the armrest of the throne, a soft hum leaving her lips in thought.

“Unfortunate, but we can still work with this. It is in our favour that the boy accused the Inquisition. Double the attacks against the Avvar, we need to push this war. Her absence means nothing, the Inquisition will still be blamed for these attacks. Their disbanding will be forced, by Orlais and Ferelden. We wipe out the remaining barbarians, we take the rest of the land. It’s simple.” She falls silent, eyes narrowing at the still-kneeling Commander. “Well? Organize the next series of attacks. Once Red Lion Hold is defeated, the others will be easy prey.”

“As you wish, my Lady.” Commander Kirena stands, bows, and leaves the pristine hall at once, barking at his subordinates to bring him the stolen Inquisition uniform and prepare to meet their contact for information on the next Avvar hunt schedule. 

They had another ambush to plan.

Chapter Text

“Did I ever tell you how much I love storms?”

The cells they’re in are under the open sky, as opposed to an enclosed prison, and Anya can feel the storm brewing. She’s less alert than she even was before, almost in a dream state; magus are not supposed to be disconnected from the Fade for so long. Leaning against the bars separating her cell from Dorian’s, Liana ever-vigilant at her side, she sighs wistfully.

“I can feel them brewing before there’s even a cloud in the sky. The air is thicker, the world somehow swells like the ocean just before the wave breaks, and holds there. I can feel the lightning beneath my skin, a thousand little points of energy that both excite and calm me.” She can’t feel them now of course, the lyrium threaded chains keeping her from that connection to the universe. She hadn’t noticed the storm rolling in until the thunder rumbled overhead. “And then the wave... breaks. And it feels amazing—Dorian, have you ever stood nude in a summer storm?”

It takes him a moment to respond, the absence of the Fade making it hard to concentrate. He swallows hard, trying to gather his wandering thoughts (skin tan like fine whiskey, cheekbones shaded, lips curl when he smiles... Rilienus...) before answering her question, tongue flicking out to wet dry and chapped lips. “Can’t say I have, dove.”

“I have.” A girlish little giggle leaves her lips, head tipped to the sky, eyes closed, lips parted, waiting for the wave to break and the storm to soak her through. “Ostwick Circle... It was on a cliff. When it stormed, the ocean rose up with a power so fierce... oh, but you should have seen it, Dorian, it was amazing to witness.” She leans in closer to the bars, murmuring ever so quietly now, as Liana tactfully tunes out the best friends conversation.

“The summer solstice of my nineteenth year, Dorian. I felt the storm coming with the moon before anyone had seen a cloud. I dressed in a simple robe, and escaped to a secluded clearing, just past the Circle walls. And then I disrobed and sat in wait for the storm. And when it came, Dorian, I’d never felt more at peace than when clothed in mud and water. I must have sat there for hours before the Templar found me.”

Dorian’s paying more attention to her story now, leaning his head on the bars, lips close to her ear to keep the conversation between them. “What did he do, stumbling upon a lovely young mage, naked in a storm?”

“I begged him, just a few more minutes. He was new to the circle. Nice. Alexei, his name was.” She hums, fingers tapping on the bars. “He stripped his armor and sat with me in his breeches. Said he could feel it too, the energy in the air, the pinpricks under his skin. Maybe he was a mage in another life.” He had been a nice boy, dark hair and skin, impossibly blue eyes gazing back at her as she’d sat up, mud patching her fair skin and white hair, pulled her knees to her chest and smiled at him, this Templar guard who had not condemned her oddity. It takes a moment to realise Dorian’s asked a question, the words slipping through as if from underwater.

“What did you do then, earthen goddess?”

“Gave him my maidenhead, of course.” She says it so matter-of-fact that Dorian, even in his barely-lucid state, bursts into a peal of laughter. It’s music to her ears. “Right there in the mud and the storm. He hadn’t even reacted when lightning leapt from my fingertips and lit a nearby shrub on fire. Too preoccupied. We were both down with influenza for a month.”

“Only you, dove, only you.” Dorian chuckles, fingers limply passing over her knuckles through the bars.

“Herald—“ They’re interrupted by Liana, who’s rising, now a week past since her capture, and she stands in a ready stance before Anya. She realises why when the cell door slams open once more, and Cullen stands there again. There’s a man in his grasp, wearing a tattered inquisition uniform (hadn’t they updated the uniform? Why on earth was this soldier still wearing the old one?), but oddly enough, he was not as badly injured as Liana had been. He’s thrown at the aforementioned’s feet, and Liana helps him up, though she seems weary. Cullen doesn’t speak, just bares his teeth before slamming the cell doors shut and leaving.

“What happened?” Liana asks the scout, though she seems unsure of the new arrival. He sits in the far corner of the cell, rigid as he stares at the three of them.

“Blasted Savages ambushed us while we were looking for the Herald. The others escaped, but I got knocked off the Maker-damnned Hart.” His accent is refined, eloquent. Educated in Orlais, Anya’d wager. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to rest, now.”

“Of course, Scout.” Anya lets out a sigh, eyes closing as her head tips back. Dorian’s already dozed off next to her.


 

Travelling towards Sulcher’s Pass had been a good week of hard riding for Sirius, only stopping to rest his mount when absolutely necessary. There had been no tracks, nothing of note, nothing to say that Anya had ever travelled this path.

It only made him ride all the harder—and when the mount became too exhausted to continue, he left it behind. The longer Anya—The Herald of Andraste, The Inquisitor—was missing, the bigger the chance of chaos descending on the remains of the Inquisition.

Look... There!

For the life of him, Sirius cannot figure out where the words are coming from, whispered on the wind as they are—but he feels compelled to turn his head to the right.

“Snakes in wolves' skin, they do not belong in that uniform, they took too much glee in skinning the wolves and slaughtering the lions, treachery, betrayal! They work for her, but she was her friend. Snake, slithering, sliding in the grass, fangs sinking into your ankles, the venom thickening your blood  before you can stop it, cut off the limb—danger!”

There is a group of Inquisition soldiers, sitting around a campfire.

No, don’t!”

Sirius ignores the warning floating about on the breeze, the sharp tug that clenches around his organs and warns of trouble, and continues on. He doesn’t bother masking his steps, nor slipping into the stealth his Talent affords him.

“Inquisition.” Sirius greets, his tone speaking of no nonsense. They must be searching for Anya as well—that they’d feel comfortable enough to stop for the night must mean they have some information. “Do you have any information on the Herald’s whereabouts?”

The response is not what he expects. The three soldiers, two women and a man, leap from their positions, hands flying to scabbards and quivers. Sirius holds out his  hands in a peace-keeping gesture, confusion writ across his face.

“At ease, soldiers. I am Viscount Sirius Trevelyan, cousin to Lady Anastasia Trevelyan, your Herald.” They do not relax at his words—if anything, they tense further. The woman with the bow, blonde hair braided back, glances at her fellows, before straightening up.

“Kill him. He is not part of her plans.”

His hands fly to the twin daggers on his back, but before he can unsheathe them, the blonde woman falls with a gurgle, her throat slit in a spray of blood. The distraction, though confusing, is enough for Sirius to let his Talent flow, rolling over him like a gentle mist and hiding him from sight.

His blade slits the throat of the other woman, and he slips around behind the back of the man, disarming him and placing his bloodied dagger to his throat, allowing his Talent to recede.

“You don’t work for the Herald.”

“Fuck the blasphemous bitch.” The soldier spits, “White haired freak never did anything for me.”  

Sirius growls, the dagger drawing blood. There’s an echo of his angry noise that rattles the trees, but he doesn’t flinch.

“Who do you work for? Tell me!” He snarls into the ear of the soldier, pressing the blade a slight bit harder.

“You’ll kill me anyway.” The soldier grunts, teeth bared. Sirius smirks, a chuckle leaving his lips, sinister and dark.

“Quite true.” He says, and the dagger glimmers in the firelight as it cuts through the soldier’s arm, creating a shallow cut that, quick as lightning, he empties a vial from his belt over. “But I can make it as painful or as quick as you would like. This poison will kill you within the hour, and you will die in agonising, brutal pain as your nervous system expands and contracts, your blood turns festerous and acidic, and eats you away from the inside out. Are you willing to tell me who you’re working for yet?”


 

It could have been minutes, it could have been hours, but Anya is roused by a shift of the lock around her wrist. Her lashes flutter, and her head lolls down to see Liana bent over her wrist with two metal pieces in the lock.

“Herald, that man, he is not of the Inquisition.” Liana’s voice is low, and she gives a small grunt of effort as the lock resists.

“I thought the uniform was wrong. We updated it, didn’t we?” She’s struggling to connect the dots, make her way through the haze of Lyrium suppression. “The green was wrong. Who does he work for?”

“I don’t know, Your Worship.” She’s still struggling with the lock, one eye on the sleeping imposter, the other picking at the mechanisms. “I heard you talking before, forgive me, but what you said about the storms... one is coming, and you’ll be able to break yourself and Magister Pavus out, find out who seeks to tear your work down.”

The lock clicks open, and Anya can feel the Fade through the Veil once more—it’s overwhelming, the way it moves through her, making her aware of the world around her once more in sharp clarity, as if looking through a seeing glass. Liana’s helping her rid herself of the chains, and she’s aware of the droplets of rain pouring over her, soaking her clothes through, thunder rumbling overhead. The lightning prickles under her skin, and she lets loose a breath.

“Hey, Lowlander! What are you doing? Aemon! The Lowlander’s escaping!”

Aldrich’s yell wakes the sleeping imposter with a start, Dorian’s head tipping to the side—but he can do little more than watch. There’s the sound of commotion from outside the cells, but Anya pays it no mind. Her right hand flies out, and purple lightning sparks erupt from her fingertips, weaving and threading and wrapping around the imposter’s throat.

“You are no soldier of mine.” She snarls, alert and angry for the first time in almost three weeks. She can feel the Fade, roiling and angry as her emotions, wrapping around her, the static in the air fuelling her power further. “You are attacking the Avvar. Why? On whose orders? And why in the uniform of my people?”

The man laughs, despite the chain of lightning weaving around his body, threatening to close in on him. He spits out an Orlesian curse at her, eyes glowing with rage. “You fucking harlot.”

The lightning arcs, leaving a fresh, open wound across his cheek that makes him shriek in agony. She’s vaguely aware of Liana standing behind her, pulling Dorian to stand through the bars, of Avvar standing at the cell door, but not opening it, nor doing anything to stop her. “Tell me!

“Waaa-... war with the Avvar.” He heaves out, shuddering with the aftershocks of the lightning that slithers down his spine. “She wants to cause... cause war, with the Avvar. Tear down your reputation. Orlais and Ferelden... they won’t stand for it. She’ll take your place.”

“Who. Is. She?” The lightning chains tighten, leaving red burn marks as they lick his skin. He whimpers in pain, and she snarls.

“Please, she’ll kill me—“

“I’ll kill you too. Tell me.”

“Please, please...” Snotty tears run down his face, and her hand clenches into a fist, barely a scant breath of space between his skin and the purple chains. “Madame—“


 

“--De Fer, Madame De Fer, Madame Vivienne, Maker damn you—“ The imposter screeches in agony, his skin blistered and red. The name is only vaguely familiar to Sirius, the woman having been mentioned in his cousin’s letters.

“And where is my cousin?” Sirius is content to sit on the fallen tree and watch this man die in slow, agonising pain until he learns who has his cousin. He writhes in the snow, turning it pink as blood soaks through his clothes.

“R-Red Lion hold-ah- th-they think she ord-guh-ordered the attacks.” Blood drips down his chin now, his movements weakening. “Wuh-West of here, two d-day’s journey, please, please, kill me, kill me, kill-

The blood splatters the snow in an artful, sizzling spray. Sirius wipes his dagger on the headless body as he begins his march to the west.


 

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not, I swear!”

“Vivienne was my friend!” Anya’s heart is cold, her stomach a flurry of deep sick, fist shaking, lightning chains spitting angrier and arcing higher.

“Madame De Fer, I swear it, I swear to you, she wants to take your place, I’m just a soldier, I don’t, I don’t know, please—“

His words are cut off in a garbled choke, as her fist clenches in a sharp motion, the chains sliding through his body as easy as a warm knife through butter. Her hand drops, unconcerned with the blood that drips down her skin, and turns to the cell door.

Cullen is standing at the open door, silent, unreadable, but hand on his sword, ready to cut her down should she attack. Branson stands to his left, Delrin his right, Aemon flinching and cowering behind them. Delrin seems aghast at what he’s just seen, pieces of burnt flesh and bone littering the cell floor, but Branson is as silent and stoic as ever, a constant presence by his brother’s side.

Anya turns to face them, prim and proper, polite as though she’d stepped in front of a royal court. In a sign of peacekeeping, she drops to her knees, hand waving for Liana and Dorian to do the same, though she doesn’t look at them—doesn’t want to know what they think, of this information, and of what she’d just done.

“Lord Thane of Red Lion Hold, I believe I have discovered who is behind the deaths of your people. They are enemy to you, and to me. She is dangerous, a political creature that will not spare the lives of even the smallest of children of your clan. I would discuss terms of an alliance to stop her before she can. Should you wish not to, I will remain in your prisoner. My only request is that Dorian and Liana be allowed to take leave and alert the right authorities and courts of Madame de Fer’s treachery.”

For all her voice is even and refined, tears streak her cheeks, mixing with the rain, heart sinking heavily as her head bows. Vivienne had been her friend—a companion, she had helped her, taught her to play the Game, to hold herself like a leader. Her shoulders slump, head remaining down, trying to focus on the storm, letting the rain wash over her, the cold calming, static and lightning converging to warm her from the inside out. Have courage, a voice whispers affectionately, and her head snaps up when a warm hand encloses around hers.

Fade-green meets molten amber, not as hard they had once been. His hand is calloused and rough, the damp of the rain sliding their palms along each other, fingers gentle but firm. His hand lingers for the briefest moment, before he lets go, only to unclasp the fur cape from his shoulders and wrap it around her own.

“My Lady, I believe it is time we spoke in private.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you, Mia.”

Anya’s hand wraps around the warm, steaming mug of tea as she sits on the floor by the hearth. She still has Cullen’s damp cloak around her, drying blood streaked with raindrops and teartracks dirtying her face. Her head aches, and she's finding it difficult to focus, though she is determined to try.
Liana and Dorian hadn’t looked any better than her, last she’d seen them being taken to clean up after being reassured Anya would be fine herself to talk to the Thane and then bathe. The leader in question sits opposite her, legs folded under him, elbows resting on his knees, fingers interlocked in front of his lips as he waits in contemplative silence for Anya to take a sip of the warm tea.

Mia sits quietly behind her brother, concerned gaze on the mage. She’s hoping that she won’t have another attack like in the bath-house, but considering the circumstances, it seems likely. It’s why she insisted be there when Cullen questions her.
The mage in question seems steady as ever, now. The only signs of her previous break the streaks in the dirt and blood on her cheeks. She lifts the mug to her lips with a steady hand, taking a sip that slides warm and spicy down her throat. A soft hum leaves her, and she burrows herself further into the warm fur Cullen had wrapped around her shoulders. The scent of it was comforting; almost like cinnamon, mixed with the smells of the forest, the crispness of the Frostbacks and something unidentifiably... masculine. She supposed it was Cullen’s scent.

She finds it rather comforting.

“Who is she?” Cullen finally speaks, gentle but firm, nothing at all like the forceful questioning he’d spat at her before. Her thumb traces the detailing of the clay mug, alien eyes down at the tea swirling inside it. She’s trying to gather her thoughts and put them forth in an even, unshakable tone.

“Vivienne was First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle of Magi, and Court Enchanter to the Empress of Orlais. There she met Duke Bastien de Ghislain, and became an open mistress of sorts to him.” Having her magic within reach again, Anya conjures up the prosthetic arm, using it to hold the mug of tea while the other tugs the furs closer around her. “We met at one of her parties in Orlais, and she asked to be a part of the Inquisition. I let her. We needed all the help we could get.”

“To defeat the Darkspawn would-be God.” Mia murmurs, and Anya nods her head. Her fingers clench in the fur, a soft sigh leaving her lips.

“I never approved her opinions on the mage-templar crisis. She believed everything should be as it was before, mages imprisoned in Circles, not allowed titles, nor a family. It would allow for mages to continue to be made Tranquil—“ Her knuckles turn white at the thought of the process, breath leaving her shakily. Cullen and Mia look confused at the term, and while she’s gathering herself, it is Cullen that asks the question.

“Tranquil?” He tests out the word, the strangeness of it and the flash of fear he notices in Anya’s eyes leaving a bad taste in his mouth.

“It’s a process to suppress the connection to the Fade for a mage permanently. It leaves them... empty. They become little more than a pawn on a chessboard.” Anya shakes her head, eyes locking onto the fire and refusing to look anywhere else. “It is a horrible, despicable rite. The continued existence of the circles as they were meant the continued existence of magi abuse, and she was happy to keep it that way. But we needed her expertise within the courts to gain favour and manpower. She even became a friend.”
She takes another sip of the tea, her hand shaking a slight bit more now. A larger gulp follows, near scalding her tongue, but she pays it no mind, focusing her thoughts.

“When Leliana became Divine, Vivienne wasn’t happy. She left, and we got information that she was building her own Circle. But I didn’t think she would do something like this.” She switches hands holding the mug now, dropping the prosthetic limb and watching as it shimmers out of existence. “I can send Liana to the Inquisition with this information. Cassandra, Rylen, Harding and Rainier will forward all correspondence about Vivienne’s actions to us here. We can come up with a plan to take her down together.”

Anya feels as though she’s been talking for hours, though it has only been mere minutes. Cullen is still quiet and contemplative, the red tattoo on his chest almost dancing in the firelight. Finally, he takes a deep breath, letting it out in long exhale. He is as quiet and stoic as ever, a flickering of emotions moving too fast across his eyes for the white haired mage to get a read on him before he stands, graceful and light on his feet despite his height and the sheer amount of muscle. Anya stands too, slightly more clumsy with her one hand clutch the tea, head spinning from the lack of nourishment and the cold that has seeped into her bones from the rain. The fur slips from her shoulders, but Cullen waves it off when she makes to pick it up.

“I accept your alliance, my Lady. This is something neither of us can do alone.” Cullen says, lips a firm line, hands stiff by his side.

Anya tries to respond, but her head hasn’t stopped spinning. They’re asking her something, but it sounds as though she is underwater. Her whole frame is shaking from exhaustion and cold, and yet she feels too hot, too tight. The mug slips through her fingers, shattering on impact and spilling the tea all over the rug they’d been sitting on.

"Oh dear, I’m so sorry.” Anya’s voice is breathy and airy, eyes fixated on the patch of damp she’s just caused—before her eyes roll back into her head and she crumples where she stands.

Before the world goes black, she’s vaguely aware of her name being called before being cradled in a pair of warm, strong arms, and the scent of crisp, cool cinnamon.


The Avvar are almost obnoxiously loud, traipsing around the woods. Sirius rolls his eyes following them as he bounces on light, silent feet from branch to branch in the treetops. They’re laughing—at least, two of them are. The dark skinned warrior is vigilant and alert, eyes flicking around as they make their way back to the Avvar hold as night falls.

It’s a shame he doesn’t look up.

Sirius is impressed by the sheer size of the Hold. Correspondence and information in the imposters' camp had hinted at it being one of the larger Avvar clans, but it was still quite a sight to absorb—though it seems quite under-populated, for all it’s glory. It’d be the imposters’ doing, if all that blood on the trees was to be believed. Let’s just hope Anya’s blood wasn’t mixed in with it.

There’s a blonde-haired woman at the edge of the Hold, collecting elfroot and putting it into a basket nestled into the crook of her elbow.

“Maker forgive me.” Sirius murmurs, allowing his Talent to roll over him as he drops stealthily to the ground. The woman doesn’t notice, in a hurry as she uproots the elfroot stalks, bare hands muddied with dirt. His dagger makes the slightest noise as it slips from his sheath, but she bolts upright immediately. Her hand goes to the dagger on her waist—but he’s quicker, sliding around behind her, free hand taking the dagger from hers almost without effort, his own blade to her neck.

“Easy now, love. You speak Common?” He drops his Talent, tucking her dagger into his belt as she nods shakily. “Excellent. Got a name?”

“R-Rosalie.” She sounds young, basket clutched tight in her grip. He wonders who’s dying so that she refuses to drop the elfroot even in the face of death.

“Pretty name. There were two travellers captured by your people almost a month ago. You’re going to take me to the girl.” It’s not a request. She gasps a little, knuckles white around the basket.

“Please, don’t—I can take you to her. She’s in my brother’s care, he’s the Thane, please don’t kill me.” She pleads, taking trembling steps towards the Hold. The first soldier who sees her stands to arms, but she wards him off with the shake of her head. “She’s no longer our prisoner, please, Ser-“

“Rosalie, did you get that elfroot—“ The man who speaks sounds nothing like the Avvar, and certainly doesn’t look like one either. Olive skin, a moustache so elegantly cared for, staff on his back, though his eyes speak of worry. He holds his hands out in a calming gesture, eyes on the rogue. “—What’s this, dear one? A guest?”

“He’s looking for Anya—“

“—You know my cousin?” Sirius interrupts, fist tightening around his blade, and Rosalie whimpers. The man takes a few hesitant steps forward, hands still out in an attempt at harmlessness.

“Sirius, I presume? I’m Dorian, I was travelling with Anya. Why don’t you put that blade down and I can take you to her? We need Rosie in one piece, I’m afraid her brother has a short temper.” His tone is flippant, but the slight tightening around his eyes show he’s not requesting.

“Is she okay?” Sirius asks shortly, allowing the blade to drop. Rosalie bolts, ducking behind Dorian and one of the other warriors. Dorian’s winning smile fades, and Sirius' hand tightens around his blade again.

"Truthfully, no. We had a rough start with the Avvar, and she's been out in the cold and the rain for near three weeks. When we finally came to an agreement and understanding, the chill had already set in." Dorian's still got his hands out as he steps forward, a mere foot away from Sirius now. "She fainted with a fever a few days ago, and has yet to wake up. Rosalie and I will take you to her, but I need you to put that dagger away, yes?"

Anya's sick. That's why Rosalie refused to let go of the elfroot. It was for my cousin. I almost murdered the person who could save her. I would've condemned her to death in vengeance had Dorian not been where he was. Sirius feels ill at the thought, and quick as a flash, he tucks his blade away, not noticing the way that Dorian's shoulders drop as he relaxes. He turns to Rosalie, bows low with a closed fist crossed over his heart. She watches quietly, still standing behind the warrior, holding her basket like it were the only thing protecting her.

"My lady, I apologise." He takes the dagger from his belt, the one he'd slipped out of her hand, and offers it hilt-first. "Anya is the only family that truly matters to me, but it doesn't justify my actions."

Hesitantly, Rosalie takes the dagger, sheathing it on her waist again and eyeing Sirius up before, finally, nodding in acceptance of his apology. The rogue straightens up, turning back to Dorian with a determined glint in emerald eyes.

"Take me to my cousin."

Chapter Text

“Anya, darling, do be careful!”

  That’s her mother’s voice, isn’t it? Anya looks down from her perch, head tilting to the side at the sight of her mother, sitting on a checkered blanket with her father. They looked exactly as they did when she left for the circle, Templars flanking her.

A tree. She’s sitting in a tree. The fingers of one hand clutch a handful of flowers, the other wrapped around a branch. Anya looks around, something dark fluttering in the corner of her vision. The flowers fall from her hand and she reaches up to catch the shadow—only to realise it is her own hair; not the snowy strands but the thick, inky curls she’d had prior to her magic manifesting.

She looks down at the ground again, and suddenly, she seems too far up in the air. She can feel the treetop swaying, brambles tugging at her dress, fingers clutching as tight as she can to the trunk.

“Mother!” She calls in fear, but they don’t appear to be listening. There is a little boy with a mop of inky curls who looks up at her curiously, but ignores her plight to gain aid. Sirius.

“Sirius! Sirius, help me!” She blinks, and suddenly they’re gone, and she’s alone in the tree top. She screams in despair, eyes screwing shut as she clutches the branch, flimsy and paper thin in her grip, and fire erupts from her fingertips, licking up her arms, setting the tree top alight.


 

“S-sirius—mother, please!”

Anya thrashes again, and Branson holds her legs down once more as Mia tries to brace her shoulders against the cot and brush a cool washcloth over the Lowlander’s forehead. Her cheeks are flushed pink, tears streaming from eyes screwed shut, her hair sticking to her forehead where the strands escaped the braided knot Mia had put her hair in to keep it from becoming a problem while the mage slept through her illness.

“She’s getting worse.” Mia mutters, and Branson’s eyes meet hers in silent response. “Where in the seven hells is Rosalie with that elfroot?”

Almost as soon as Mia said it, the door to the cabin flies open, and Dorian is quick to move aside. He’s followed by another man, dressed in Lowlander leathers, and though he is darker in colour, it is easy to see the similarities to the mage Mia’s tending to. His face contorts into unbridled rage at seeing the two holding her down, and his hand inches toward the dagger on his back.

“What. Are you doing. To my cousin?” He snarls out, but before Mia can answer, Dorian is placing a hand on his shoulder, brow furrowed.

“She’s been having fits and nightmares since the fever hit. We have to hold her down so she doesn’t hurt herself.” He explains, and the man relaxes, almost minutely. He says nothing else, stalking past the two Avvar and seating himself by Anya’s head as she cries out Sirius! Once more.

The washcloth Mia had discarded he snaps up, gently wiping at her forehead and murmuring to her. “Easy now, little dove. I’m here, I’m here. Shh, love, shh. You’re safe; I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

“Sirius—“ the name is a whimper now, her struggles losing their fight, and he reaches over to take her hand.

“I’m here, little dove.” Little by little, she relaxes, as he murmurs soothingly to her, wiping the cool cloth over her face, thumb stroking the back of her hand. Soon enough, she’s sleeping peacefully, and he sighs.

“You call her dove too?” Dorian’s settled quietly on the other side of Anya’s cot, readjusting the blanket with gentle fingers. Sirius doesn’t lift his eyes from Anya’s prone form, but his lips quirk up the slightest.

“She’s pale and pretty as a dove. Peaceful as one when she wants to be, but she had a tendency to fly when startled.” A soft sound, almost a laugh. Neither man has noticed the Avvar have slipped away. “I suppose that changed when she walked out of the Fade. I haven’t seen her since she was in the Circle.”

“Quite a while, then.” Dorian falls silent, passing a clean cloth to Sirius, taking the now-warm rag from him with a quiet nod. “After spending  so long by her side, it was hard to be away when I was called back home. She’s quite the ray of sunshine, your cousin. I’m a better person for being near her.”

He’s not quite sure why he’s speaking so freely to this stranger—though Anya speaks highly of her cousin, Dorian is never usually one to wear his heart on his sleeve. Perhaps he has heard Anya speak so often of Sirius, Dorian himself feels like he knows the man as well as she.

“She has that effect on people. Everyone but our family could see it.” Anya whimpers again, and Sirius hushes her gently, wiping her forehead with the damp rag again. “They hated her for her magic, could never see how good a person she was.”

“A mistake they’ve surely come to regret.” Dorian murmurs. Sirius finally looks up at the Northerner, clearly ready to settle in by his cousin’s side and never leave.

“Tell me what happened. Start from the beginning.”


 

“We have to go! We have to help her!”

Sera’s face twists up in disgust, shaking off Cole’s hand on her shoulder. “Leggo’a me, weirdy. Can’t go nowhere when you’re yapping without tellin’ me what about.”

“The Herald! We have to help her; she saw the snake in the grass!” Cole seems frantic, distressed, ever since his sudden appearance in the Jenny’s den. A sight Sera was none too happy to see—but as soon as the boy mentions Inky, Sera sits up ramrod straight.

“Whatchoo on about, ghosty? Tell me in normal people words! S’wrong with Inky? What snake you on about?” If she weren’t so weary about coming into contact with him, she’d have grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him by now.

“She was taken— but she’s safe now, he’s with her, they know about the snake, but she’s going to need our help. We need The Iron Bull.” Cole pauses a moment, tilting his head at the Jenny. “Bring Widdle’s gift.”

“Stay outta my head, weirdy!” A shoe comes flying in the boy’s direction, but he’s already out the door.

Sera grumbles to herself, dumb weird fade weirdys, piss, shitbuckets, are you hearin’ this, ghosty? Pisspot, pissface. Where’s Widdle? As she goes about searching the den for Dagna.


 

There are voices around her—each has a different accent, some speaking in Common, others in Avvar, one that sounds startlingly close to the Kirkwall-Ostwick mishmash inflection Sirius had picked up.

What on Thedas was going on? She remembers coming to an agreement with Thane Cullen. Spilling her tea. Nothing.

A small sound reaches her ears, and everything falls silent.

“Are you awake, dove?” The alarmingly familiar Kirkwall-Ostwick inflection sounds again, and slowly, Anya realises she is the one who made the noise. A hand grasps hers, scarred and calloused, thumb running over the back of her palm gently. “C’mon, dove, open your eyes, let me see those beautiful eyes.”

Sluggishly, slowly, her eyelids flutter open, only to drop shut quicker than they parted at the light that floods in. There’s a soft curse from somewhere by her head, and the sound of movement, before the light filtering through her lids dims.  Another moment passes, a soft whoosh of breath leaving her lips, and she tries again.

Everything comes into focus slowly. The windows had been covered, presumably by Dorian, resettling to her left, looking worse for wear and exhausted, though seemingly ecstatic to see her eyes open. Mia and Cullen are at the end of the cot, a relieved smile on the former’s face, an unreadable expression on the latter’s.

But Anya’s eyes are drawn to the man on her right, clutching her hand, smile bright against the darker tone of his face. Eyes shaped like hers, though a different shade of green. A nose that prior to it’s many breaks, shared her structure. The inky curls they’d both been blessed with, though hers had turned a stark shade of white, his remained, carefully shaved at the sides and styled back ever so neatly.

“Sirius—“ Her voice breaks on the word, throat dry from disuse, and she coughs. Instantly, Dorian, Sirius and Mia jump into action, scrambling to find her a mug of water and helping her sit up. No sooner does she drain the mug does she put it aside and throw herself into the arms of her cousin. Her one good hand clutches tight to his shirt, hardly believing he is before her.

He responds in kind, drawing her into his lap like he’d done when he visited her in the Circle, arms a steel band around her, a silent vow to protect his cousin—protect the woman that is closer than his cousin; his sister—kissing her hair and holding her as the tears stream silently down her cheeks, hidden in the safety of his shirt.

“Easy, dove, easy, I’ve got you.” He murmurs, eyes flicking up to the watching three. Mia has a warm smile on her face, the Avvar Thane stoic as ever, and Dorian’s half-grin is encouraging. “Might I have a moment alone with my cousin, please?”

“Of course, take all the time you need.” Mia answers even as Cullen’s mouth opens, and the Thane doesn’t get much time to say anything else as he’s shooed out by his older sister. Dorian lingers only a moment, before standing.

“I shall be just outside. Let me know if she needs anything.” The offer is met by a grateful nod, and the Tevinter leaves, shutting the door behind him. Sirius pulls back the slightest, brushing back the loose strands of her hair with a grin.

“Hello there, dove.” His teasing tone is met with a watery giggle, but as she lifts her eyes to his, he freezes at the unnatural green of them. The colour is far too close to the tear in the sky for him to pass it off as a natural colour fade of the iris, and he takes a moment to sit back and examine her properly for the first time.

Now that she’s sat up, the blankets have fallen to her waist. Mia had dressed her in a sleeveless tunic to keep her cool, and his eyes flick fro m hers to the missing limb, the angry scars criss-crossing the joint where her forearm should be attached. The other scars that litter her arms and her collarbone, nicks and cuts almost faint on her face. He feels a flash of anger that he barely manages to tamp down, especially once he realises Anya has dropped her head, meek and shy under his scrutiny.

Sirius takes a deep breath, before taking his cousin in his arms once more. “Oh, dove, what’ve they done to you?” He murmurs, and she lets out a sharp breath, near to shaking against him. He doesn’t mean the Avvar, and she knows this.

He means the whole of Thedas. Everyone who put their faith in her as Andraste’s Herald. Everyone who relied on her to save the world and she did—time and time again, but at the cost of many lives in her stead, the cost of her limbs, of her health.

His hand runs soothingly up and down her back, and he kisses her forehead again. “It’s okay, dove. Let it out, I’ve got you.”

Chapter Text

“Sera!”

Bull!”

“Sera!”

“Oright, shut it. Ghosty says we gotta help Inky. Somethin’ about snakes.” Nose wrinkles, and she holds out the wrapped package with a loud huff. “Also, Widdle don’t trust me to get this to Inky without losin’ or breakin’ it, so she made me promise t’give it to you.”

The Iron Bull grins amusedly. Yes, this was worth coming back to the Southerners for. People like Sera, joyous and loud and foul mouthed. He’ll admit the circumstances aren’t the best; after Cole’s visit, he’d immediately sent a raven to the Seeker, as well as his remaining few contacts. Someone’s launching attacks against the natives of the Frostbacks under the name of the Inquisition, a very grotesque smear campaign. It’s the first time his contacts haven’t been able to identify an enemy.

He accepts the package, surprisingly gentle as he places it in his pack—if Dagna made Sera promise to give it to him for safekeeping, it was important. “She was captured by Avvar. They think she’s behind attacks on their people.”

“What? I mean, yeah, she attacked that one tribe, but that’s ‘cause they  took our people. So we took ‘em back. And then there was that one with the goat. Done, right? They still hung up on that?” Sera’s nose crinkles, and Bull reads it for what it is; she’s already itching to shoot something. An offense against her friend is an offence against her.

“I’ll explain it on the way, Sera.”


 

“There. Just how you like it.” Sirius is not ashamed to admit that braiding is among one of his finer talents. Anya hums happily from her place on the floor between his legs, hand running over the intricately braided knot that holds the majority of her hair back, loose strands gracing her face, the rest trailing down her back.

“This is the only reason I missed you.” She teases, leaning her head against his knee. He raises his eyebrows, only half-sure she’s joking. “Dorian’s limited to ponytails and basic knots.”

“My excellence with hair involves the finest barber’s blades and facial hair, of which you have none.” Dorian, from his corner of the hut, tone primly petulant at her criticism.

“My ability to do your hair as you love it is the only reason you missed me, little dove?” Sirius asks, grinning down at her when she tips her head back to look at him. Her eyes gleam mischief, and he rolls his eyes. “Come on, dove, up you get. The Avvar await.”

She makes a face as if to complain, but accepts the help up. She’s still not at peak strength after the bout of illness, but she doesn’t have time to rest; she just needs to lean on Dorian and Sirius a little more than usual.

“Alright, princess, time to get rugged up.” Dorian takes too much pleasure in dangling the fur-lined Avvar clothing at her, and she makes a face. “Now, now, I am usually all for fashion, but in this case, health wins out, and know your cousin has agreed to hold you down while I put this hideous thing on you.”

Sirius nods, mock-grim, tugging at her nightgown in warning. Anya knows when she’s outnumbered, allows Sirius to carefully lower her to the bed. There’s no shame in having her cousin help her out- until he freezes and swears quietly under his breath as she strips to her breastband and underwear.

“Dove, what—“ He sounds grief-stricken, eyes roaming the scars that ravage her skin, years of fighting and being hit by demons and Templars, dragons and Darkspawn. Her own magic eating her alive. Everyone asking her for favours and help, putting her on a pedestal—and when she falls and gets hurt they take no notice. At once he’s angry again; at the people of Thedas, at every enemy she’s faced, at the damned Maker for putting his cousin-the closest he has to a sister through this. He can’t stop staring, though he knows he should, even as she shrinks in on herself under the scrutiny.

“Enough staring, handsome, go and see where we’re to meet the Thane.” Dorian breaks the silence easily, popping the clean tunic over Anya’s head, allowing her to thread her good arm through while he helps her with the other. Sirius breaks out of his reverie, noting the way she avoids his gaze as Dorian helps her into the thick leggings, and realises his staring must have made her uncomfortable. He says nothing, nodding quietly and slipping out of the hut without another word.

“I suppose I should be used to the staring.” Anya says after a quiet moment as Dorian takes over lacing her boots where her weak fingers fumble. He pats her knee as he straightens, holding out the fur-lined cloak for her to slip her arms into, figuring out the complicated ties after a moment of confusion.

“Hush now, he was just startled. Your scars are nothing to be ashamed of.” He steps back, allowing her to tug up the fur-lined hood over her hair as he rolls up and pins the empty sleeve.

“Easier said than done.” Anya nuzzles into the warmth of the hood while Dorian holds out the glove for her to slide her fingers into, takes a step back, crooking one eyebrow before repressing a smile and hiding it behind his hand. Anya has no doubt she looks ridiculous.

“Well, it’s warm, at least.” He slips his own cloak over his shoulders, the style of the Avvar as it drapes over his shoulders, fur lining the collar, looking at odds with the clothes he salvaged from his saddle bag but somehow working in a way only Dorian could make it work. “Let’s go meet that handsome Avvar lord, shall we?”


 

“I never truly apologised for how I behaved when I arrived in your hold at first.” Sirius is absently sharpening one of his daggers, perched on one of the crates in what he assumes is a war room of some kind. The Thane and his siblings stand around a table, waiting for Dorian and Anya to arrive. The one he’d frightened and held hostage upon first arriving—Rosalie—has already gotten over her fear of him, and had been plying him with questions until her brother had walked in. The Thane stays quiet, sensing there’s more to the sentiment. “I was told my cousin—my sister was being held prisoner. The information had been right when I’d received it, for the most part.”

“You already apologised to me, Sirius, it’s quite alright.” Rosalie says kindly. “You had no way to know she was sick. We took good care of her.”

“Which brings me to my next point.” Sirius allows his Talent to flow over him, speeding him across the room. The dagger he’d been sharpening is pressed to Cullen’s throat, a move that has his siblings reaching for their own weapons in response, though the Thane himself is still. “You let her get too close to death. If you ever put her through something like that again, you’ll die slowly and painfully by my blade, am I understood?”

The Thane’s expression is unreadable for a few moments, though he raises a hand to tell his siblings to stand down. Eventually he speaks, voice low and surprisingly calm. “I understand. We have an alliance now. The enemy of my enemy is my friend; I have no intention to let her die when someone is besmirching her name by killing my people.”

Sirius hesitates a moment, before putting away his blade with a firm nod. Just in time, as the door opens, and in walks Dorian, Anya leaning heavily against her best friend. He can only imagine the anger she’d greet him with if she found out he had threatened the Thane, potentially endangering the new alliance, had the Thane not understood Sirius’ position. He retreats back to the crate he’d been perched on as Dorian lowers Anya into a chair by the table, retreating back to stand next to the rogue.


 

“Anya, good to see you up and about.” Mia speaks first, cutting the tension with a cheerful smile, placing a hand on her shoulder. The Herald responds in kind, and Cullen’s eyes follow the movement of her hand as she brings it to her lips, tugging her glove off with her teeth to place it on her lap, bare hand pulling the fur-lined hood back.

He’ll admit she looks adorable bundled up in the thickest clothes common among his people. Amber gaze follows the intricate braids holding her white-blonde hair back, skin still pink with the last vestiges of fever, eyes overwhelmingly green. He sees the strength she’d claimed when they first met.

“How do we find this Madame de Fer?” He asks, looking to her for direction as she stares at the map on the table, fingers of her good hand tracing the lines of the Frostbacks. “You’ve known her for three, four years? You’d know her habits.”

“Clearly, I didn’t know her as well as I thought.” The bitterness in her voice is hard to hide, and Dorian is quick to move closer, pressing a reassuring hand against her shoulder. “Vivienne’s greatest weapon is that she’s a political creature. That is why we recruited her in the fight against Corypheus, that she’d help with the politics of bringing new armies into the fray. Even so, she was widely unpredictable in her actions. I don’t have the sources and resources here. I’d like to send Scout Liana back to Skyhold, escorted with some of your warriors. With the information in the hands of my advisors, we’ll have a location on Vivienne much faster.”

Dazed as she is with the after-effects of the sickness, she’s in a clear enough mind to talk strategy with the Thane. He ponders the strategy, thoughtful, before nodding. “Delrin and Branson can escort your Scout to the Skyhold’s edge, but I’d have them back rather than sending them into your hold.”

“That’s fair. I will write letters to each of my advisors with the situation at hand and directions for contacting me with what they find.” She pauses, head cocking to the side. “How will they contact me?”

“We could allow messenger envoys into the hold.” Mia suggests, though guarded. “Parties of three, any soldiers must remain in camps outside the Hold. We’ve accepted an alliance with you but too many lowlanders wandering our camp will make our people nervous.”

“A sound agreement.” Anya hums. There’s not much else they can do without the information, and Cullen nods, stranding straight. The impressive tattoos that mark his body gleam in the light of the lanterns, and he extends a hand to Anya. She blinks in surprise, and Dorian’s hand tightens on her shoulder.

“I ask that you walk the hold with me. A private conversation, if you will.” The request is quiet, though there is something in his eyes that speaks of a troubled mind, something he wishes to discuss away from the ears of his siblings and her over protective brothers.

“Anya...” Sirius steps forward, jaw clenching, head shaking minutely. Her eyebrows raise, a quiet communication. I’ll be fine. She doesn’t bother with her glove, pulling the hood back up over her head and accepting his hand. He seems to understand she’s still not yet at full strength, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, leading her out into the hold.

Chapter Text

Anya’s quiet as she follows on beside him, bare fingers tucked into the crook of his arm. His skin feels warm beneath hers, and despite the way she’s rugged up against the Frostbacks’ cold, he seems as comfortable as ever, bare-chested with his familiar red cloak over his shoulders, thick leathers and boots swathing his legs. Cullen walks slow, aware of her still-weak state, showing around the basic layout of the Hold.  He points out each section as they pass, but he still has that distant look in his eyes, like there’s something else on his mind.

It’s not until they come in front of the cabin they’d held their first meeting in, when he’d let her free of the cage, that he seems to focus. He pushes open the door silently, standing aside to let her in first. Anya takes closer note of the details this time; all Avvar homes are decorated with furs, but the ones in this home are almost... luxurious. Deep reds and browns that sit over cushioned benches. Had this been Orlais, the equivalent would be the decadent silks that adorn the Winter Palace—except this place has what Val Royeaux always seems to lack, at least to her eyes. There are a child’s toys strewn across the floor, cloaks thrown over the back of chairs and boots by the door, signs of family, of personality that soaks into the very walls and oozes a warmth the Winter Palace could never hope to achieve. Cullen captures her attention with a gesture towards the seat as he hangs his cloak on a hook by the door, and she settles herself upon it while he stokes the dying fire, adding another log—most likely for her benefit than his.

He can’t help watching her as she loosens the ties on the coat Mia had provided her with, deft pale fingers of one hand moving fast. He’d seen the wounds that had marred the stump of her left arm, the newness of them, and yet she uses her one hand as gracefully and expertly as she would two. There’s never any fumbling or struggling as she shrugs her shoulder out of the coat, allowing it to slide down her good arm before tugging off the pinned sleeve that had hid her other arm.

“How did you lose the arm?” Cullen asks curiously, though gentle, but she flinches at the question, almost curling around the missing limb. It occurs to him too late that Lowlanders don’t view battle wounds the same way, especially on their women, and from what he recalls, the mages are or were treated little better than dirt. He sits on the floor with his back to the hearth, knees bent, elbows resting on the top of them. The warmth from the fire makes his back tingle, but he doesn’t move, keeping his eyes on the pale Lowlander. “It’s only... recent, isn’t it?”

“Is this what you asked me away to talk about?” Her voice sounds sharp and harsh in the warm little cabin, and she very nearly regrets taking the coat off, though the warmth from the fire is much more effective. “Missing limbs?”

Cullen surprises her, chuckling and shaking his head. “No, but I’m curious. We don’t have the same... taint?” He hesitates over the word, trying to figure out the right translation from his language to hers. “That your people do when it comes to injuries.”

“Taint?” Anya asks, confused, but not unwilling to listen. His brow furrows, trying to translate the words better. Instead, when he speaks, he speaks in his own tongue, recalling her understanding for it.

Lowlanders associate scars and wounds and missing parts as failure or shame, especially on your women. To us they are signs of bravery and strength and they will instil fear into the heart of your enemies; you have been through worse and survived, how will what they put in your way deter you from your quest?” Anya’s so fascinated by the deep melodic cadence of his native tongue that it takes her an extra moment to translate what he’s saying, grateful to have the excuse of lingering illness for the time it takes her to respond. Her cheeks flush, and she fidgets with the hem of her tunic, looking away from the whiskey of his gaze. Unbidden, Dorian’s words come floating back to her; I think he’s rather handsome, and she lets out a little sigh, pushing away the thought as she focuses on the situation at hand.

“I didn’t lose it in some battle. The magic that helped me seal the Breach and control the rifts—the tears in the Lady—and defeat Corypheus was killing me. A... friend... took the magic, but the damage was done. The only way to keep me alive was to cut off the limb.” It’s a vague description of events, but she can still feel his gaze on her.

Survived worse. I am lucky to have you as an ally.” Anya is surprised by him again, incredulous as she looks up at him, respect writ across his face before it falls, and in its place, shame. “I wished to apologise for how you were treated, especially at my own hand.

This must be the real reason, she realises, that he’d wanted to speak away from everyone else. She stays silent, allowing him to talk, more comfortable in his own tongue, watching his shoulders hunch forward, as though making himself smaller. “Our clan has not had good dealings with Lowlanders in the past, but I should not have taken that out on you without reasonable evidence. I should not have held you hostage to begin with. I allowed my prejudices control. It will not happen again.

His voice is genuine and sincerely apologetic, guilty. Anya finds she has already forgiven him, though she might not agree with his actions. When she speaks, she speaks in his tongue, ensuring he understands. “I forgive you. I do not agree with what you did, and I can say that if our situations were reversed and you found yourself in Skyhold against your will, I would not have treated you as harshly as you did Dorian and myself. But I understand your position and suspicions, and for that I forgive you.”

Cullen is almost disbelieving as she talks, unable to understand the ease with which she’d forgiven him and admonished him in the same breath. But he will not question it. He places a fist over his heart and bows his head in thanks. They sit quietly for a moment, soaking up the heat from the hearth, reeling in the weight of their conversation, before the door crashes open and a slightly dishevelled Sirius barges in.

“Dove, do come quickly. Dorian says something called an Iron Bull has arrived? The elf with him won’t calm down until she sees you.”

Elf? Sera. What on Thedas were Bull and Sera doing here? There is excitement in the thought, but outward, only bemused exasperation as she stands. Cullen holds out the coat for her to slip into once more, and she doesn’t bother with the laces, accepting his outstretched arm to lean against as they head for the door.

“I hope you don’t mind a few more of my most trusted visiting.” She murmurs as they make slowly towards the cacophony.

“As long as they are merely visiting. You remember what Mia said.” He pauses, lips twitching in an attempt to hide a grin. “Though I am curious. What is an Iron Bull?”

Chapter Text

“Orite, y’moist dung faces, you got five seconds to get the Inquisitor out here, or I unleash the bees!”

“Is that an Iron Bull?” Cullen sounds almost amused as he helps Anya along to the front gates of the hold, uncomplaining of the way her fingertips dig into his arm for help along the path as Sirius leads ahead. She snorts out a laugh, steps stumbling as she follows his lead. A smile absently rises to his face at the sound of her laughter, the genuine amusement and joy in it entrancing.

“That is most definitely not an Iron Bull. That’s a Sera.” She grins, near dragging him along the path in her eagerness.

Bees unleashing!” And oh, Anya knows Sera isn’t bluffing where she can see her, standing at the front gate, tongue sticking out as she lines up her shot. If she can get there before Sera can unleash the bees, perhaps it won’t jeopardise her fragile alliance. She lets go of Cullen’s arm, throwing her energy into a Fade Step to make it to the gate. The effort required is a bit of a struggle after being ill, but she pushes her all into it, the world blurring around her in a crackle of blue lightning.

“Sera, no— Oops!” Throwing all her energy into the Fade Step gets her to the front gate, but she also overshoots the mark by a little bit; in fact, she misses the mark entirely, crashing into the Red Jenny and going down in the dirt in a flailing pile of limbs with an oof! Somehow in the confusion, Sera’s managed to keep a tight hold on the jar; it’s angrily buzzing tenants still trapped within.

What the shittin’, flyin’ fu—“ Sera’s cursing is honestly music to her ears, though perhaps when it was at a lower volume, and not right next to her ear. The curse is cut off mid-word, followed by a joyous cackle, the clatter of a jar rolling away, and two lithely-muscled arms wrapping around her. “—Ain’t much of a rescue f’ya don’t let me bee everyone!”

“Not a rescue, an alliance.” The voice of the compassionate sounds almost exasperated, as though it wasn’t the first time Cole had explained this to Sera. Anya is surprised to hear it, looking up at the fair young man, though a small smile graces his thin lips. “It is good to see you, Herald.”

“Alright, trouble, up you get.” And there’s the third and final newcomer, The Iron Bull grabbing them both by the scruff and setting them right. Even in the snow of the Frostbacks, he seems as content as the Avvar to wander bare chested, and to anyone else, he’d be an imposing figure, but all she can see is more members of her family.


 

A Qunari in his hold.

Cullen doesn’t know what to make of this, watching as his people warily give the Qunari, the elf, and the quiet blonde boy a wide berth as they trail along, Sirius with a firm arm of support around his cousin’s waist. The elf is loudly recounting tales, accompanied by grandiose gesticulation and more than a fair few crude words. Anya laughs at the tales, hand grabbing at the elf—Sera—to keep her from veering off the beaten path to the guest housing the Lowlanders have made their temporary homes. Anya has relaxed, comfortable with those around her, her friends, her family, laughing in a way he had yet to be the cause of.

“She’s not mad at you.”

The voice is quiet by his side, and Cullen is startled to note the quiet boy with the wide hat by his side. What had Anya called him? Cole?

“She’s still bright, even without the Anchor. Anchoring, she is the anchor, keeps everyone from drifting too far out to sea—she is not mad at you for what you did.” He continues, eyes fixed firmly on Anya. “You are the lion, the protector, she understands, ever understanding, but not enough, she didn’t understand the snake in the grass, should’ve seen the snake in the grass, but no-one knew, how could they know? The snake hid, hiding, a slippery, sly monster hidden in peacock’s feather—Wait.

The words send pin-pricks down his spine, and he freezes in place as the boy whirls on him, eyes the colour of grey snow in the dusk light holding the Avvar in place. “There is a snake here.


 “An’ then, fat an’ grotty as ‘e was, the big ponce wobbles over, all five chins waggin’—“

“Hey, Anya, I think Cole’s doing his weird mind soup thing on your Thane.” The Iron Bull interrupts a pouting Sera’s story smoothly, nodding back over his shoulder, where Cullen had been tailing the group.

“He’s not my Th—“ The protest dies on her lips as she turns to see Cole speaking—rambling—with Cullen, noting the tense set of the Avvar’s shoulders. Oh no.

“Cole!” Lingering sickness or no, she’s quick to pull away from Sirius and cross the few steps to where the Compassionate stares up at the Thane from under the brim of his hat. “Cole, would you mind walking with Sera and Bull, please?”

It takes a moment, but eventually, the boy moves silently forward, and after a moment, Cullen schools his expression into the stoic mask of the leader he’d worn so often during their first weeks. Still, he is ever gentle as he offers her his arm for support, strides shortened so she can match easily.

A few beats of silence pass, and then –

“Cole is...” She struggles for the words, lips pursing in a moue as she scrambles for an explanation. “... He started as a Spirit of Compassion. He came through to our world from the Fade to help a dying mage named Cole, and when he could not, instead of twisting the Spirit into a Demon, he became the boy Cole. He... well, he has described it as hearing the hurt, and he helps where he can. The side effect is he can pretty much read minds, and unfortunately has to be reminded that someone might not want what they are thinking to be said aloud. But I promise you, he is not an Abomination.”

The word is said with such vehemence that Cullen looks down at the mage in surprise, and a slight tinge of amusement. He hadn’t understood half of what she’d said, though the Spirit of Compassion she’d described sounded an awful lot like one of the Hold gods the Augur conversed with.

“He has done nothing abominable so far.” Cullen notes with amusement, nodding absently to a passing hunter. Anya frowns, fingertips tightening on his arm.

“Do you... You’ve never heard of Abominations?” She asks, disbelieving,

“If you have a different definition, I suppose not.”

No more can be said, as Aemon runs towards the group, slightly out of breath as he thumps a fist over his heart and bows to his Thane.

“Thane! Huff, huff, there has, huff, been another attack!”

Chapter Text

The clearing is dark, thick with the cover of trees that filter in light in small doses, but even without the bouncing balls of witchlight Dorian and Anya conjure, the grotesque, the cruelty of what has happened is clear to see.

“This will not stand.” Cullen growls as he kneels beside one of the boys, fingertips gently sliding unseeing eyes shut. The three boys were barely into adulthood, no doubt having snuck out to the falls. It became an unofficial rite of passage, the Thane himself having even partaken as an adolescent.

“De Fer’s soldiers take pride in their work, I’ll give them that.” Sirius’ words are toneless as he pries the spear out of the chest of one of the boys, tossing it aside, gently laying out the boy beside his friends.

“This cannot go on any longer.” Anya murmurs, kneeling beside Cullen, a hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry—this is—“

“—Not your fault.” His voice is gruff as he stands, her hand slipping off his shoulder. “Delrin, to the Hold for men to carry our boys home.”

“They are home.” Cole’s voice is a quiet whisper on the wind, kneeling by the third boy, hands loose by his side before he takes the dagger holding the boy to the ground by the throat. “They will dance about the fires though the flames will never burn, the drums will never tire, the love they hold... never ends.”


 

“Herald!” The reactions of the Avvar as the Iron Bull lumbers towards her are almost comical, even the burliest warriors dancing out of the way of the giant Qunari. “I got somethin’ for ya. Sera’s ruckus made me forget about it.”

Branson, an ever silent presence by her side as she walks about the hold, tenses beside her, but Anya relaxes as the Iron Bull comes to a stop in front of her, head craning back to smile up at him as he presents a wrapped package with a flourish.

“A gift?” Anya laughs, taking the package with a bright grin. “But your presence is surely enough of a present.”

“That’s true, actually.” He chuffs a laugh, one finger tapping the head of the Herald. “The gift is from Dagna. She didn’t trust Sera to get it to you in one piece.”

Anya’s curiosity keeps her from pursuing the conversation any further, and she summons the emerald prosthetic, balancing the gift as she tears into the envelope tied to the package. Her eyes flick back and forth over Dagna’s curling script, emotions roiling as she comprehends the words.

Herald,

Thought this might help. You expend too much mana trying to keep your Fade-Arm (that’s what we’re calling it, right?) in place when you’re in situations when you need your magic. You’re going to need Dorian to help you activate the enchantment runes. We’ve had some of the magi at Skyhold try enchanting earlier versions to work, and while it did while unattached, we’re not sure how it’ll work on you. Dammit, maybe I should come with Sera.

No, no, I trust her to get this to you in one piece.

... Maybe I should tell her to give it to Bull. Just to be safe.

Anyway, good luck! This is what Dorian needs to do to activate the runes.

 

Her eyes run over the letter more than once, first in confusion, then in disbelief, then, excitement.

“Bull... do you know what this is?” She asks, needing confirmation that she wasn’t imagining it. This couldn’t be.

“Uh... No?” The Qunari’s brow raises as tears of joy well up in Anya’s eyes. “Should I?”

“Where’s Dorian?”

“Last I saw, with the Thane and your cousin—Anya?”

The Qunari exchanges a glance with Branson, brows raised in silent surprise before both follow the Herald as she tears through the hold, a blur of white.


 

“Dorian! Dorian! Dagna did it!” Conversation halts as Anya stumbles into the cabin, Thane, Mage and Rogue in surprise as Anya practically shoves the letter under Dorian’s nose. “Read it!”

“Easy goes it, dove, his eyes aren’t in that delightful facial hair of his.” Sirius chuckles as Dorian takes the letter, skimming through it—only to go back and read it again, eyes widening.

“Have you opened it yet?” The Tevinter asks, clearing space on the table for Anya to place the package down.

“Not yet.”


 

Cullen watches silently, Branson falling into place beside him as the three Lowlanders converse rapidly, almost too fast to keep up.

“What is it?” He murmurs to his brother, who shrugs, hands moving through the motions of the words.

[the] bull gave [it] to her. Said [it was] from D-A-G-N-A ?

“Well, open it!” Dorian urges, drawing the attention of the Avvar back. He watches as the snowy Lowlander, practically vibrating with excitement as she sets the package on the table, shaking fingers tugging at the string holding the hide together.

Cullen is not sure what he is looking at, at first. Leather straps, lined with fur, are the first to tumble out of the package. A glint of metal catches in the light, drawing his eyes to the dark—hand?

If he had to guess, he would assume it was made out of Everite, from the forearm to the fingertips. The hand reminds him of a marionette’s, balls of metal becoming the joints of the fingers and wrist. Embedded in the metal are runes, none that he recognizes, but they seem to be exciting the Lowlander mages.

“What is it?” Cullen finds himself asking, curious. Anya starts, and as she turns to him, her cheeks become pink with embarrassment. If she was being honest, she’d forgotten he was there.

If he was being honest, the childlike excitement in her eyes and the pink in her cheeks endeared her to him.

“It’s a gift. If it works right, it’ll... act as an arm without needing to devote concentration to making sure it remains so.” She’s breathless with excitement, and his eyes widen slightly. A working prosthetic made out of metal—that would be a sight.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Sirius nudges her with a smile. “Let’s get it working.”

“—oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt—it can wait—‘

“Lowlander.” The tone is firm, but light, and when Anya’s head whips around to Cullen, he looses a small smile. “It can’t wait.”

A loud clap echoes as Dorian rubs his hands together, tugging at the laces on Anya’s cloak. “Come on, then, off with this and your shirt.”

The words hang thick in the silence, Sirius glaring at Dorian while subtlety placing himself between his cousin and the Thane, tips of her ears and her neck flushing at the implication. “Perhaps we should give her some privacy.”

“No, it’s quite alright. Help me, will you?” Anya’s voice is quiet, working off her cloak and tugging at her loose tunic.

“Bran, wait outside.” Cullen murmurs quietly in his native tongue. The look his brother shoots him is one of askance. “Please.”

Another moment passes, and Branson shrugs, stepping outside, closing the door behind him.

Cullen turns back just as Anya’s tunic hits the floor, and he can’t help but stare as Sirius and Dorian work to fit the straps to her arm.

She is an expanse of snowy skin, albeit snow that has been trodden on and marked many times. Scars of all manner litter her skin, thickest around her severed arm. There’s a large one, an angry pink scar that wraps around her back and left ribs, trailing across her stomach.

It looks remarkably like the scars caused by whips—and inwardly, he hopes that wasn’t what caused such an injury.

“How does it feel?” Sirius tightens the last strap and steps back, critical eye watching as she shrugs her shoulders, rolling them in circles.

“A little awkward—I’m not used to the weight. I’ll get used to it.” She shrugs again, almost vibrating with excitement as she turns to Dorian. “Ready when you are.”

The elegant Tevinter grins. “Darling, I was born ready.”

His fingers move over the arm, a soft umber glow emanating and wrapping around the prosthetic where it connects to the Lowlander’s arm. He murmurs under his breath, a soft incantation as he holds her arm with one hand, the prosthesis with another.

With a final, quiet Iungeres, he pulls back, a frown tugging at his lips. “That was underwhelming.”

“Did it work?” Sirius asks, eyes flicking between both of them. “Can you wiggle the fingers?”

“I can try-ah!

Her scream of agony echoes throughout the small cabin as she drops to her knees, clutching the prosthesis.

Chapter Text

“You let them gather?

Vivienne’s nails click loudly, a repetitive ti-ti-ti-tick against her staff as she stares down at the small handful of soldiers in stolen inquisition uniforms.

“That is what you’re telling me, is it not? You allowed a Qunari, an Elf, an abomination, and a rogue Bann to slip through your fingers to the Inquisitor, where she is now rallying the forces of the Avvar and communicating with her viziers at Skyhold. Please, stop me if I’m speaking incorrectly.”

When no answer is forthcoming from the meek group before her, Vivienne makes a slight, dignified noise of disgust, and her staff twirls so fast it becomes a blur of icy-blue, the soldiers barely having time to scream before they’re frozen in place.

Vivienne turns to the map of the Frostbacks on the table, annotated in her own delicate script, and one carefully manicured nail dances over it, lips pursed in a moue of thought before tapping one particular area.

“This one. I want a second wave here.”


 

“No no no, don't touch it!” Dorian just barely manages to hold Sirius back, away from where Anya kneels, sucking in sharp breaths through her teeth.

“What do you mean, don’t touch it?! Get it off her!” The Marcher shrugs off Dorian's hands, and the latter sighs. Keen eyed, Dorian had noticed that, despite the obvious pain the other mage was in, the everite fingers clenched and curled, just as the flesh and blood hand does. By the Maker's saggy blue balls, we did it! Now, what’s causing the pain...?

“Listen to me, handsome, Dagna wouldn’t have offered it as an option if it weren't safe.” Dorian explains, kneeling next to Anya as he reads over Dagna's letter again, artful schematics of the arm littered about the pages. “Darling, how does it hurt? What are you feeling?”

Anya sucks another breath, sharp and harsh. “Like... burning. Where it was... Where it was cut. Like I'm being--"

“—branded?” Anya nods, and without skipping a beat, Dorian flips through the schematics provided, a little aha! leaving his lips as he discovers the source. “Ingenious, really. Quite like how the lever will only turn a catapult if it has the right gears... I must congratulate Dagna, this is fine work--"

“Tevinter...” The low rumble startles all three Lowlanders, who would later (shamefully and somewhat surprisingly) admit they had forgotten the presence of the mountainous Thane. His arms are crossed tight over his chest, almost apprehensive in stance. “Fix the problem.”

“Right! Easy enough.” A sharp crack of static energy accompanies the snap of Dorian's lithe fingers, and the ragged sound that escapes Anya as her body sags against his is a sigh of relief. “Better, amicus?”

“What would I do without you, Dorian?” She murmurs absentmindedly, the new hand raising in the light in front of her. She watches in awe, when she imagines wiggling the fingers of her left hand, and the everite before her wiggles too.

“Something undoubtedly silly, I suppose.” Dorian pats her shoulder. “You felt like you were being branded because that's what was happening. A fire rune, at the very top, acting as sort of a conduit. Without the mark, the arm won’t work. Dagna seemed to neglect to mention that the fire rune would need to be doused manually.”

“It works...” The awe is easy to read in her tone, as the fingers wiggle and curl, the wrist turns and twists, an excited giggle passing her lips. “It works!”


 

Too lost in their excitement, the Lowlanders barely notice the Avvar Thane slipping out the door. Branson waits dutifully outside for his brother, eyebrows raised at the odd expression on Cullen's face.

[did] it work [?]

“Lowland magic is... incredible.” Cullen offers lowly, by way of explanation. Branson snorts, hands moving through the motions.

[are you] sure it was just [the] magic that [was] incredible [?] [you] can-not stop looking [at] her—

“What are you talking about?” The sentence his brother signs has the ghost of teasing, but Cullen can see the tightness in his eyes. Their family has the best understanding of the Hold what happens when they let outsiders in.

[she] sure is pretty.

A beat of stillness, quiet passing between brothers.

Be careful.


 

“This is—it’s incredible!”

The camp the Iron Bull, Sera and Cole have set up outside the Hold is similar to the outposts Anya had once set up all over the South, during her treks as Herald and Inquisitor. The mage raises the everite hand, fingers twirling nimbly, snowflakes shimmering into existence and dancing merrily between her fingertips.

“Yes, dove, come sit down and eat something.” Sirius tugs on the other hand, the movement jostling Anya, snowflakes puffing out of existence as he pulls her down to sit alongside him. Her mouth opens to protest, and he promptly shoves a hunk of bread between her lips to muffle the protest. His smirk is pure mischief as she glares, but reluctantly chews.

“Sweet Maker, you must teach me how to do that.” Dorian sits on Anya’s other side, leaning over her to speak to her cousin. “I’d think she was swooning at my charming words and magnificent profile—only to discover she hadn’t eaten for three days!”

“She still forgets to eat, then?” Sirius leans over too, and the sound of offence Anya makes is either not noticed by the two leaning over her or muffled by the stale bread she attempts to chew.

“Five sovereigns those two do the do before the month ends.” Sera mutters to the Iron Bull, nodding at where Sirius and Dorian lean over a disgruntled Anya, talking to one another, faces a bare hand’s length apart. The Iron Bull holds out a large hand, and Sera slaps her smaller one into his, cackling.

It paints a strange picture-- a Qunari and an Elf laughing away in front of a fire; a pale boy cross legged in front of them, smiling absently with his head cocked, as though listening to something far away; a mage sandwiched between her cousin and best friend as they tease her and joke to each other – an Avvar Hold not even a half-hour’s walk away.

It’s almost too calm.

Suddenly, Cole’s head shoots up, and it’s not long after that he’s surging to his feet suddenly, silencing the chatter about the camp.

“The wolves in the lionskins, the snakes in the grass—they’re trying to bite the legs that don’t see!” The odd rambling sounds vaguely familiar to Sirius, though he can’t quite place where from.

“Woss’e sayin’?” Sera wrinkles her nose as Cole’s head whips around, before he focuses on a spot, not far off into the trees, pale eyes narrowing under the brim of his hat.

“Cole, what is it?” Anya asks, rising to her feet as well, eyes following his gaze.

“The heart of ice—her pawns are coming.”

It takes but a heartbeat for the words to make sense as Cole darts off in the direction he’d been staring, the group leaping into action.

“Sirius, to the Hold. Alert the Thane, tell him to have his warriors check any openings into the Hold.” Sera, the Iron Bull and Dorian don’t need to be told what to do; already falling into a formation as well known as the back of their hands behind their Herald, staves, bows, axe at the ready. Sirius looks as if he’s ready to argue for but a moment, before he nods and takes off in the opposite direction.

The party needs no words as they follow Cole’s path into the woods, a shimmering shwing heralding the Knight-Enchanter’s sword that appears loose in Anya’s left hand, the right twirling her staff out of its brace.


 

They wear Inquisition uniforms, and it makes Anya bare her teeth in a silent growl. Cole has waited for them, silent as he moves about the darkened forest. A quick headcount shows there are twenty of Vivienne’s men; a strategic mix of trained swordsmen, warriors, rogues and mages.

Sera’s light on her feet, barely rustling the leaves as she swings herself up onto the branches of a tree, quietly nocking an arrow and awaiting to unleash carnage, a maniacal grin painting her lips.

The Iron Bull lowers himself, eyes glowing red as the Reaver seeps in, fingers clenching and flexing around the grip.

Cole tilts his head, eyes boring into Anya for mere moments before he nods, shimmering out of existence without a sound.

“After you, dear one.” Dorian barely breathes, dark smoke rising up from the ground and wrapping around his fingertips. Anya’s eyes run over her companions, to the fraudulent Inquisition before her. There is one woman, issuing orders to her men with stoic, short commands.

“Take her alive.”

The words are all Anya says, everite fingertips clenching around the hilt of her sword as she gathers her mana, a prickling in the air the only warning before she falls into a Fade-Step, momentum driving her blade through the chest of a warrior with his back to her. His chest-plate holds up about as well as a wet scroll would against a butter knife, and there’s an almost morbidly comedic moment as he looks down at the blade in his chest, shimmering and gold yet unstained by the blood that now spreads along his chest at an alarming rate. He looks back to his shocked comrades before he falls, revealing the sweetly smiling Herald, strange eyes glowing green.

“Those uniforms don’t belong to you, soldiers.”

Sera’s cackle accompanies the Iron Bull’s war cry as hell breaks loose.

Chapter Text

“Cole, Dorian, sweep the area. I don’t want any stragglers getting back to Vivienne. Sera, see if they’ve got any letters, plans, anything their packs that could be useful.”

“Can I keep the shiny bits?” Sera’s already patting down the fallen soldiers, pocketing the odd trinket here and there.

“I suppose so.” Anya nods, and Sera gives a gleeful cackle, continuing on with vigour. Bull’s standing next to the Commander, where she kneels, bloody and arrogant and wrapped in lightening chains, spitting purple sparks that make her flinch. It barely takes any effort for Anya to keep the chains in check. “They'll not be needing it where they've gone.”

“Whatcha waitin’ for then?” The false soldier spits at Anya. The white-haired mage raises an eyebrow, tucking her staff back into its brace on her back.

“Patience is a virtue, imposter.”


Cullen’s not sure what he expected to see when he and four of his warriors burst into the clearing, led by Sirius. He expects the battle to still be ongoing, but when Cullen pulls his mount to a stop, he finds the battle already over.

The clearing is littered with bodies, the blonde elf flitting through and rifling through their pockets. Only one remains alive, wrapped in the same purple chains he’d seen Anya use in the Hold’s cage previously, the Qunari standing watch.

“Sirius, please finish securing the perimeter with Dorian and Cole.” Anya has her hand clasped behind her back. She’s splattered with blood but none of it appears to be her own. There’s a quiet, simmering rage that hits him like a wall as he nears her, almost makes him want to take a step back.

“Delrin.” Cullen says quietly, waving a hand at the forest edge. Delrin nods in understanding, rallying the four other warriors to assist with the perimeter check.

“Thought you’d like to be here for the interrogation, Thane.” Anya says, and Cullen nods in thanks. The Iron Bull steps back as Anya steps forward, everite fist clenching, the chains around the imposter commander tightening ever so. “Now, you’re going to tell me everything. Starting with Vivienne’s next target.”

Aw, Maker – I dunno, orite? Lemme go!”

“Wrong answer.” Anya’s fingers twitch, and the glowing chains slice through the left hand of the imposter, her screams echoing throughout the woods. Cullen watches, unreadable, hand ready on his blade. The fingers tumble to the ground, blood spraying.

“I’d advise you not to lie again, Lowlander. This one’s proven to be ruthless before.” He says, casually, though loud enough to be heard over the pained cries of the soldier at their mercy.

Maker’s fuckin’ tits – She said you were a monster – shit—”

“Don’t care. You have ten seconds to become useful before you are not worth the air you’re drawing. Shall I count them for you?” The Herald kneels, holding up her hands. Five fingers of flesh and bone, five of stone. “Ten. Nine. Eight—”

She counts the numbers on her fingers, and with each finger against her palm, the chains tighten, drawing blood and singing flesh.

“—Six. Five. Four –”

“Sh—SHIT, ORITE! Orite—” The soldier whimpers, “Quarter day's ride east, s'another savage camp. There's a second attack there.”

“Grey-Claw Hold.” Cullen murmurs when Anya looks at him, questioning. “When?”

“I-I dunno, I don't--" A scream cuts her words as Anya's fingers twitch, and a lightning chain arcs, taking the soldier's right eye in a flash of sizzling violet.

“What did I say about lying?” Anya queries, voice deathly calm.


 

“Dorian. All okay?” Sirius steps easily through the undergrowth, the light steps of a rogue towards the mage as he lowers his staff.

“Under control, Sirius. We've sensed no stragglers.” Dorian slides his staff into it's brace with the ease and practice of someone who had been doing it his whole life. “Is Anya questioning our imposter?”

“I would assume so. Shall we go see?”

Dorian hesitates, and Sirius' eyes track him as he does. Perhaps he does not care for interrogations? Maybe the Avvar Thane is merciless. Before Sirius can backtrack on his question, Dorian nods, turning to the boy with the large hat that Sirius had only just noticed standing off to the side. “Cole, will you be accompanying us?”

“No.” The boy says gravely, lips turned down in a discomfited frown. “The light of the Anchor darkens with each question asked. The light does not warm me.” He pauses, looking away. “I don't like the screams.”

“That's fine, Cole. Wait here, I'll call you when it is done.” Dorian smiles reassuringly, but it doesn't reach his eyes as he and Sirius begin walking back towards the clearing.

“What did he mean, the light of the Anchor?” Sirius asks, holding a low hanging branch out of the way for the mage to duck under.

“I believe he's referring to Anya's ... spirit.” Dorian doesn’t meet his eyes. “He’s called her the light or the Anchor a few times.”

“If the Avvar is doing the questioning, what does that have to do with Anya?”

“It doesn’t. He is not the one doing the questioning.”

They step into the clearing as purple lightning snaps, the air thick with static. With it, a pained whimper and a spray of blood.

“What did I say about lying?”

Sirius freezes, unable to comprehend that the eerily calm voice belongs to his cousin. It couldn’t be.

And yet there she stands, tall and proud over the prisoner. She's splattered in a good deal more blood than she had been when he left, though it clearly belongs to the wounded prisoner.

“I—I—”

You...?” Anya questions as though asking a disobedient child, brow cocked. “Come now, we've not got all night.”

“In the m-mornin'. De Fer wanted it in the duh-daylight. So they'd see the uniforms. Kn-know without a doubt.”

“If we leave now, we'd make it just in time.” Cullen leans over to Anya, murmuring quietly. “We have a strong bond with Grey-Claw. If they know we learned of this and did not warn them, we'd have another war to fight.”

Anya considers the words. Nods. Turns back to the prisoner. “May the Maker judge your sins with more mercy than I would.”

Her hands twirl, carving a graceful arc over her head that gathers purple and black lightning, that with a sharp gesture, convalesces around the everite fist and out her pointed fingers, spearing through the heart of the prisoner. With the smell of burnt flesh in the air, the body thumps to the ground.

“Excellent work, my Lady.” The Thane rumbles, and Anya, panting with the exertion of working the lightning, the fight, sweat and blood dripping down her fair skin, smiles.

Sirius thinks he may be sick.

“Are you alright?” Dorian's hand presses to his shoulder, shaking him out of his state. Sirius almost flinches away, but the concern in Dorian's face eases him.

“Tell me one thing, Pavus. No lies.” Sirius speaks after a beat, low as not to be heard by his cousin and the Thane, planning their attack in the dirt not ten paces away, the Qunari and the Elf discussing her spoils, the Avvar warriors and the quiet Spirit. “What she just did. Was that... blood magic?”

“You're joking.” Dorian laughs, though the look on his face changes at whatever he sees in Sirius'. There's a glimmer of hardened disappointment in the Tevinter's face. “You're not. She'd be very upset that you would think that.”

“What I just saw looked an awful lot like blood magic.”

“What you saw, was a very powerful connection to the Fade, a very talented Knight-Enchanter wielding her element with the assistance of a powerful conduit that has been all but welded to her bones.” Dorian says, sharp, eyes flashing. “She would never use blood magic, even if her life depended on it.”

Sirius still isn't convinced, though he doesn't get a chance to argue further as Dorian walks away, to stand by Anya's side.

It was a position Sirius had filled once.

There's something ugly that fills him, like jealousy. Anya had been his dove. She'd trusted him, relied on him. They'd survived... immense trials and tribulations together. And she'd all but replaced him with this Vint.

Sirius tamps it down as Anya whistles, a fluttering, sweet twitter, and rallies around her, as do Sera, the Iron Bull and Cole. “Cullen, Graham, Angus and us five will ride out now. Delrin and the other warriors will return to the Hold, lock it down and increase their patrols. We don't want any of Vivienne’s filth getting in.”

The whistle had summoned her Red Hart from camp, along with the mounts for her friends. Sirius swings up onto his steed silently, trying not to show the mad whirl of emotions that roil through him as the Bull wraps his massive hands around Anya's waist, fingertips almost touching, and lifts her onto the Hart easily. She giggles –giggles! Covered in blood and bits and she is elated, smiling. It fills Sirius with something ugly -- something like disgust. He tamps down on it -- for this is his cousin, his sister. No matter the jealousy that fills him at the sight of the Tevinter falling easily to her right hand side, he would not think of her the same as her mother had, with contempt and disgust as she sent her off to the Circle.

“Let's go!”


The Lowland party and the three Highland warriors ride swift and in silence, save for the rhythmic thump of hooves on dirt ground. Anya and Cullen lead the way, Hart and Stallion at an equal pace. The blood has dried on Anya's skin, her clothes, in her hair. This was the Inquisitor the gossip mills of Orlais and the Free Marches had not seen. This was the Inquisitor that had stared down a would-be God and told him that he could not have Thedas, that had protected all people no matter the cost.

Inwardly, Anya can't help but relish in the battles. Having a purpose again. Idle puttering following the defeat of Corypheus had left her feeling lost. Not anymore. She had a goal and a clear enemy, and she would prevail. There was no room for failure.

They stop only once, to water their mounts and take a small break from the thundering pace. Sirius had been watching Anya with a guarded expression in silence since the first battleground, but when she'd raised a questioning brow at him, he merely shook his head, a gesture of his she knew as don't worry, leading his horse to the small lake they'd stopped at. She resolves to talk to him about it after, cupping her hands and dipping them in the water. Anya almost washes the dried blood from her face, but catches herself at last minute, the water slipping through her fingers. Let them see me bathed in the blood of their brethren, let them fear me.

She sees Cullen nod in approval at her decision, having seen her hesitation. He himself cuts a fearsome figure, with the splashes of red on golden skin, the tattoos twisting this way and that as though they were alive, crimson snakes of the deadliest kind. The red cloak that flutters behind him as he heaves himself up on his mount might as well be a splash of blood against the snow of the Frostbacks.

Together, they would take down Vivienne’s men, and Vivienne herself.

Anya quietly mulls over her thoughts in the ride to Grey-Claw Hold. When she’d first heard Madame De Fer’s name drop from the first imposter’s lips, she’d been in denial. Surely Vivienne did not despise her that much for selecting Leliana for Divine, for the dissolution of the Circles. In the Circles’ place would rise schools and colleges. Mages would be taught to use their power, rather than to leash it. There would be benefits for all—could Vivienne not see that? Was the thought so repelling that she had risen, a challenger against her?

Perhaps there could be redemption. Perhaps she could have persuaded her, Anya had so thought, until the list of slain Avvar grew. Until each Avvar killed lessened in age, until she began ordering for the deaths of children who had done nothing but been born into a highland home.

Now, Anya knew, now, Vivienne is beyond redemption. As are those that follow her.

And as Cole abruptly changes their direction, softly urging his steed in the path to a clearing of soldiers preparing to mount an attack in the light of dawn, Anya knows she will show no mercy.

Chapter Text

The battle is swift, with both Avvar and true Inquisition working side by side.

Cullen sends one of his men to the Hold, with instructions to seek the Thane and inform him immediately of the intruders. Dorian’s fireballs whizz through the air as Sirius and Cole’s daggers slash, crimson sizzling over the snow. The Iron Bull’s battle axe is strong enough to tear limbs in one giant heave, and Sera’s arrows fly expertly, not a single one without a target.

Cullen and Anya end up back to back in the battle. He’s left his cloak with their mounts, bare chested in spite of the snow. The carmine of the tattoos that dance on his chest as he moves mix with the blood that sprays from the swing of his sword, his body a canvas coated in reds. He is fierce in battle, and Anya much prefers him as her ally.

She fills the gaps in his guard, as he does hers, with her Knight Enchanter’s sword. The blood that had dried in their trip to Grey-Claw has been added to, streaks of scarlet and crimson creating a counterpart artwork to Cullen’s. Her staff remains strapped to her back, the Everite of her prosthetic arm acting as a conduit for her magic. Purple strikes of lightning spear from her fingertips, alternating with the occasional blue-green of healing.

At the peak of the battle, warriors spill from the gate of the Hold. A warrior with orange cropped hair and stubble roars into the battle, sword slashing through the nearest enemy. The slate grey tattoos on his bare chest give him away as Thane, but Anya’s eyes are drawn briefly to the dark-haired woman that enters the battle beside him, daggers glinting in the dawn light. The tattoos that march along the Thane’s chest also crawl along the shoulders of this woman, dipping into the fur of her cropped tunic and peeking out on her bared midriff. She is familiar to Anya, but she has no chance to further pursue where she knows her from as another brave soul attempts to cut her down.

Her momentary distraction proves to be fatal – or would have been, had Cullen not thrust his shield-arm in front of her, catching the longbar blade with only a huff of exertion, getting the attention of their opponent and creating an opening for Anya to thrust her blade up between their adversary’s ribs and into her heart. Cullen brings his arm down as Anya’s sword flickers out of existence, only to return a moment later, easier than attempting to dislodge it from their now-fallen opponent.

“Thanks.”

“Pay a little more attention, Lowlander,” Cullen says, turning back to the battle, and though his face is covered in as much blood as hers, she swears she saw his lip tick upward, “I’m not done with you yet.”

Was that—is he…?

Focus!

The last body falls to the Iron Bull’s blade, and the silence is almost deafening. Everyone is breathing hard as weapons are sheathed and magic flickers out, as Cullen’s and the new Thane’s warriors gather, Anya’s party too, and the Thane and the woman pick their way through the bodies.

“Cullen. Appreciate the warning, glad you made it on time.” The Thane says, the two grasping wrists as they near in the Avvar approximation of a handshake.

“As am I, Alistair. I’d have felt responsible if your Hold was harmed in any way.” Cullen responds with a relieved grin. He looks almost boyish, and Anya is almost taken aback by how young he looks. Alistair turns, hazel eyes inquisitive as he takes in Anya’s bloodied appearance.

“Following my lead, then, brother?” He asks Cullen suggestively, and before Anya can question what he means, the dark-haired woman speaks.

“I thought you looked familiar!” The accent is shockingly Fereldan amongst the Avvar. It’s not quite as thick as Sera’s street-Denerim, and though there are hints of it on certain words, it’s clear she is a high-born. “Herald of Andraste, Inquisitor Anastasia Trevelyan. You made quite the impression at Halamshiral – though I suppose you don’t remember me. You were, er, otherwise occupied. Redecorating the place with the De Chalons’ girl’s body, and then yelling at the Empress and her friends. Lovely work, that.”

Sera and Bull snicker in the background, Dorian smothering his laugh with a cough. Anya’s cheeks flame – it had been an awful mess of a night. She’d been frustrated, surrounded by people who pretended the brewing war hadn’t existed, and in the heat of the moment, after exposing Florianne in front of the nobility of Orlais, she’d thrown care to the wind – “at least justice will be swift,” – and plunged her dagger into Florianne’s heart, addressing Celene as if nothing had happened as her cousin’s body thumped to the marble amongst gasps of horror. She’d then proceeded to yell at Gaspard, Briala and Celene on the balcony until she was blue in the face and they agreed to work together for the good of Orlais.

Though the argument had been muffled from the contained crowd by the thick glass doors, Josephine had not been amused when Anya’d stormed back into the hall, flustered and dishevelled from the night’s events and from dealing with stuck-up Orlesians.

“It’s was… not my finest moment. I apologise, I do not remember you.” Anya says politely, and the woman laughs.

“I wouldn’t expect you to. Freya. Previously Cousland, of Highever.” She reaches out, grasping Anya’s wrist the same as the men had. Anya grasps hers back, slightly clumsy and unused to the gesture. “This oaf is my husband, Alistair, Thane of Grey-Claw Hold.”

Following in my lead, brother?  

Now Anya understood, and she flushed at the implication.

“I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.” Anya exchanges the greeting gesture with Alistair as he pulls Freya to his side, and once he lets go, she surreptitiously puts a foot of space between herself and Cullen. “Madame De Fer, an Orlesian Mage, has been parading her armies in the uniform of mine, slaughtering Avvar and letting me take the fall for it. I hope we can work together to put an end to this before any more blood is shed. Thane Cullen has already allied Red-Lion, and I hope we can come to some sort of arrangement in the same vein.”

“And if we don’t?” Freya seems wary, raising a brow.

“I’ll respect your wishes. My people – my true soldiers – will patrol the surrounding areas for any of Vivienne’s soldiers and will quash any threats to your Hold, but I will not expect anything in return.” It’s a bold move, pledging resources for no return alliance, but she hopes it will come across that she is not trying to conquer the Avvar people – merely defeat an evil. Freya is sizing her up as Alistair watches on in amusement, and Anya holds her steely blue gaze. Finally, Freya breaks their stare, though Anya is unable to read her expression enough to gauge what she’s thinking.

“Well, we can talk about it once you’ve all cleaned up and joined us for a meal, hmm?” Alistair says, looking them both up and down pointedly, before nodding to the gathering of Avvar warriors from both clans and the Lowland party. “Will everyone be joining us?”

“No, I’ll be sending some of my party back to Red Lion. Excuse me a moment.” Anya gestures for her motley crew to follow as she moves off to the side, leaving Cullen to converse with his Grey-Claw counterpart.

“Dorian, Sirius, you’ll be staying here with myself and Cullen. Sera, Cole, Bull, return to Red-Lion. Clean up, rest, have a meal, and be on guard. I know Cullen will have patrols of his own, but I want an extra layer of protection.” Anya lays out their plan, dragging her lower lip through her teeth as she thinks. “Sera, did you –”

“Look through their stuff, take the shinies? ‘Course I did!” Sera tugs out one of her pockets, and Anya can briefly see the sparkle of coin and jewellery. “Gonna make a right profit off’a this stuff. I got the boring stuff for you, too.”

She waves a stack of papers, letters and journals about before dropping them into Anya’s hands, skipping off to find her mount.

“We’ll go get our horses, then. Come on, Trevelyan.” Dorian sets off in the same direction, Sirius oddly quiet as he follows, glancing back at Anya with an unreadable expression only once.

“The Grey Lady shines like the moons, and the Grey Man is her sunlight. The Red Lion follows you. You are safe here.” Cole’s lips lift in a very small smile, before he follows the others, steps making almost no sound at all. Anya whistles, and her Hart prances into view a moment later, and from her satchel, Anya pulls the documents found in the aftermath of the first battle.

“Bull, I’m trusting you with the most important task.” The big Qunari nods, ready as always for her instructions.

“What do you need me to do, boss?”

“I need all of these to get back to Harding. Go through them, if you can, pick out anything of importance, any leads your contacts or Sera’s can follow, and then get it all to Harding and Cass, important or no. I want no stone unturned, and we can’t risk these falling into the wrong hands. Have someone you trust deliver them, and if you can’t get anyone, deliver them yourself. If there’s any chance we can get a leg up on Vivienne, I need it as soon as possible.” Anya hands the documents to him, and he grins, easy and reassuring as always.

“No sweat, boss. It’ll be done.” He whistles, his own steed trotting into view, and he places the documents securely in his satchel. The Iron Bull turns to swing himself up, and then pauses. “Hey, boss?”

Anya, who’d taken the reins of her Hart to lead him to the waiting Avvar, turns back with a raised eyebrow, questioning.

“Be careful, around these Avvar. We don’t know who we can trust yet. I’m still not forgivin’ ‘em for what they did when you first ended up here.” He leans down, presses his forehead against hers, a gesture she’s come to know as one he does for those he considers family. She’s seen the gesture exchanged with Krem and the rest of the Chargers, and even Sera. “Also, talk to your cousin. He’s feeling left out.”

“I will.” Anya presses back, before pulling away and grabbing the reins of her Hart again. “To all of the above. Take care, Bull.”

Chapter Text

“Don’t worry, these springs are for the Thane only. The men are next door, we’ve got this all to ourselves.” Freya had stripped and slid into the steaming water with a soft sigh as soon as they’d stepped into the mountainside cave. Light filters in from holes in the cavern roof, dancing across the water and casting reflections on the stone, enough light that they’ve no need for torches. “And toss your clothes away, I’ll have clean ones brought in.”

“Thank you, Freya.” Anya follows her instructions, slipping out of the bloodied clothing and laying them neatly to the side, undoing the braided knot of her hair, careful with the stone fingers to not tug too hard. After a moment’s hesitation and a glance at Freya (otherwise occupied rinsing blood out of her own hair), Anya unstraps the prosthetic and lays it close by the spring.

The moment it leaves her skin, it becomes as lifeless as any other stone. Her body feels lighter again, still unused to the weight of the arm. She would have to see if Dagna could make it lightweight, when she returned to Skyhold. The rune on the stump of her arm still stings, and so she exerts a small bit of healing magic to soothe it, before sliding into the water with Freya.

It is just as warm as the springs at Red-Lion, relaxing on her muscles from the two battles and the hard rides. They sit in silence, save for the rippling of water as both women clean themselves of the morning’s exertions.

“You’ve had quite the run with the Avvar, hmm?” Freya asks eventually, sitting back in the water, unashamed of her nudity, and rightfully so, Anya thinks. Powerful muscle in a lean frame, the body of a well-trained rogue. The tattoos Anya had noticed earlier continue over her left breast, across her abdomen, and around the curve of her right hip. When she’d stood to retrieve a washcloth from behind her, the slate swirls of the tribal tattoo continued their dance across her back, and wound around her left leg, disappearing under the water and presumably, to her ankle.

Idly, Anya wonders if Cullen’s tattoos follow the same path – but she catches that thought and pushes it away before it can turn her cheeks pink.

“Don’t worry, Grey-Claw won’t treat you as horridly as Red-Lion did at the start.” Freya’s teasing tone brings Anya’s attention back to the now, and Anya raises a brow, summoning her glowing Fade-arm, dipping her head back into the water and running her fingers through it to coax out the red stains of blood from the white strands.

“And what do you know of how I was treated?”

Freya snorts. “Cullen sent to Alistair for advice on what to do with you, the silly sod.” She shakes her head, droplets of condensed steam landing back in the water. “We told him to try and capture one of your “soldiers”, throw them in with you and see how you react.”

Scout Liana and the unnamed fraud she’d sliced through. They’d both been tests.

“That’s… well, it worked, and proved I was telling the truth.” Anya says, though a little unsure. “Thank you, I guess?”

Freya tosses her head back and laughs. “Welcome, little mage.”

“How did you end up… here?” Anya asks after a moment, unsure if the question is rude or not. “It can’t have been that long ago, if you were at Halamshiral.”

Freya smiles, trailing her fingers through water before sliding off the stone seat, wading through the water to help Anya with her hair. Her hands are gentle as she loosens knots and coaxes the pink of stained blood from the snow strands.

“Highever is under my brother’s rule, after an attempted takeover that killed my whole family. Once those responsible faced justice, and once the Blight was over, there was nothing left for me there. So I travelled.” Freya reaches over, grabs a towel from the stack beside the spring, wrapping Anya’s hair before doing the same for her own. “As far and wide as I could.”

“It wasn’t long after Halamshiral, actually. Demons were falling from the sky, and I was just trying to make it out of the Frostbacks alive. When one knocked me from my horse, an Avvar warrior on a hunt with his men came to my rescue before I could be sliced through.”

“Alistair?” Anya asks, and Freya smiles.

“Alistair.” She relaxes back against the stone beside Anya, trailing her fingers through the water. “My leg had been trampled by my horse, and arm sliced through by a demon. He brought me back to Grey-Claw, had me healed up by one of his mages. He was curious about Lowlanders – though he got all nervous when around me. It was rather adorable. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Anya smiles absently, sliding a little further down on the smooth stone seat so her aching shoulders are submerged. Her Fade-Arm gives an eerie glow under the water, reminds her too much of the waters at Crestwood, and she lets go of the magic, watching the light fade. “So you really left it? Your life in the Lowlands?”

Freya watches her with a smile that strikes Anya as curious, as though she were trying to figure out a highly amusing puzzle. “There wasn’t much for me to leave behind. I write to my brother now and again, but I’m happier here. I figure I gave enough to the Lowlands, during the Blight. I fought a Usurper, and in the battle at Denerim. Saw the Grey Warden on her way to fight the Archdemon, but I never made it past Fort Drakon. Don’t I deserve to be happy, after all of that? And if that happiness is here with Alistair, why shouldn’t I take it?”

I figure I gave enough… Don’t I deserve to be happy? Why shouldn’t I take it?

The words leave an odd feeling in Anya’s stomach. Words she’d repeated to herself time and time again, as she gave her sweat, blood, bone, flesh and tears to people who were still ungrateful and vicious – and here was someone who had said those words, willed them into existence, and found her happiness.

“I suppose… I—” Anya can’t quiet her mind; what had been a cheerful conversation now weighing heavily on her shoulders. “Excuse me, I’m feeling a little dizzy.”

“That’d be the steam.” Freya stands, one hand on Anya’s arm, holding her steady as she helps her out of the spring. Anya stands there, droplets of water rolling off scarred, pale skin and echoing as they splash onto the stone at her feet as Freya seeks out a dry towel for her, wrapping one around Anya’s shoulders, the other around her own torso. “Give me a moment, I’ll send for someone with some clothes for you.” 

Anya dries herself off. Re-attaches the everite prosthetic as she waits, flexing fingers made of stone and metal as the words ring in her ears.

I figure I gave enough. Don’t I deserve to be happy?


There’s a clear divide in the men’s spring, though a sub-conscious one it may be. Where Alistair and Cullen take one side of the spring, conversing quietly in their own tongue, Dorian and Sirius slide into the water wordlessly on the other side.

Dorian had been studiously silent around Sirius since the aftermath of the first battle, though granted, there hadn’t been many down periods between then and now. Still, the moments they’d been in proximity with each other had left the air feeling thick with disappointment and tension.

Watching Dorian out of the corner of his eye, Sirius notices his eyes keep darting towards the entrance of the spring, as though expecting someone to come running in.

“What is it, Pavus? You’re twitchier than a nug during hunting season.” Sirius speaks lowly, turning towards the mage. “You think we’ve walked into a trap of some kind?”

Dorian huffs a half-hearted laugh, finally dipping his hands into the water and pouring it back over his hair. Sirius is almost taken aback by how striking Dorian’s profile is—it’s one he would expect to be carved in marble, or perhaps bronze, displayed in the finest of Thedosian galleries. He’s so occupied with his thoughts he almost misses Dorian’s words.

“No, I don’t think we’ve walked into a trap.” He opens his eyes, and Sirius quickly busies himself with scrubbing the dried blood from his own face. “I’m merely concerned for Anya. Last time I left her alone with an Avvar in a bathhouse, the weight of her journey became too much, and she fell into the chaotic depths of her mind for a brief spell. I was sought out by Cullen’s sister to calm the storm and keep her afloat—figuratively speaking.”

Sirius’ stomach twists, with a multitude of emotions. First and foremost, concern for his cousin, his sister. If it had Dorian worried, surely he should be worried, too. And she’d shed enough blood today to fill a small pond; it had to be weighing on her.

The second emotion is guilt; guilt that he didn’t know that about her, that he hadn’t been there through her trying times to support her, so she never fell into the chaotic depths of her mind, as Dorian had so poetically put it. That he hadn’t thought to be concerned about her as the Thane’s wife had led her away from them.

The third emotion was that ugly, roiling jealousy. Dorian was certain, certain, that if Anya did indeed fall to the tumultuous whirl of thoughts in her mind, that he would be the one they called to calm her. Not Sirius. Not her cousin, her brother, her blood relative, but a Vint Magister.

“I doubt she would. She’s stronger than you think.” Sirius answers instead, words clipped and cold. Dorian raises a brow, but says nothing for a moment, running a wash-cloth across his chest.

“Even the strong can have weak moments, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. She has a lot resting on her. I’d be worried if she didn’t react.” Dorian’s words are stilted, a slight lilt of confusion under his tone, as though he can’t piece together why it is Sirius is reacting so. Sirius says nothing, cleaning off his skin, rubbing so hard a pink flush warms his colouring. “Are you okay, Sirius? You seem… off.”

Off?” Sirius lets out a harsh bark of laughter that echoes around the small spring, and the quietly conversing Avvar pause to look curiously over at the two Lowlanders. “I’m perfectly fine. You can leave my cousin and I alone now.”

“I beg your pardon?” Dorian asks lowly, surprised, with a hint of warning in his undertone that flames Sirius’ blood. “You, I will gladly leave alone. I have not left Anya alone for almost five years now, and I never will. I care for her as I would a sister, and I’ll not leave her to face this enemy, or any, alone.”

“I’m here now, you don’t need to be. So leave my sister alone.”

The words spit out before he can stop them, and Dorian’s eyes widen, but before he can say anything, Sirius has lifted himself from the water, unable to calm the storm of his mind, wrapping a towel around his waist and drying himself with short, sharp movements. Dorian frowns, making a mental note to speak with Anya about her cousin’s behaviour as he smiles apologetically at the curious Avvar.


“Anya, my dove, how are you feeling?” Dorian asks as he sits cross-legged by the hearth, looking for all the world comfortable in the everknit trousers and cotton shirt he’d been given to wear. She herself was in a similar style of clothing, though her trousers appeared to be made from darkened samite instead. Freya was close in size, at least, though the sleeves of the tunic had been rolled up to her forearms to keep from sliding down over her hands. She assumed Sirius had been dressed similarly, but had not yet seen him – Dorian had said he had gone for a walk beyond the Hold.

“Human again.” Anya smiles, hands wrapped around a cup of steaming tea as wood crackles on the fire. Dorian nods in agreement, leaning back on his palms. “And you?”

“I’m not fond of this running from battle to battle without sleep, but we’re doing good here.” He returns her smile, but it’s quick to slip off. “I think you need to talk to your cousin.”

“Bull said the same.” Anya lifts her cup to her lips, blowing the steam away and taking a sip, letting the warmth slide down her throat. “I’m not sure why, though. Did something happen?”

Feeling rather like a tattle-tale in school, Dorian regales the events of their conversations, both after the first battle at Red-Claw and in the springs. Anya’s face hardens, and it comes as a surprise to Dorian when she speaks.

“I cannot believe he was so rude to you, Dorian. After everything you’ve done for me, for us. I’ll be speaking with him about this, believe me.” She stands, pacing before the fire, and Dorian lifts his mug from the floor beside him for fear she’ll kick it over.

“My dear, perhaps don’t go in, magic blazing.” As much as it pains Dorian to say it, especially after their heated conversations of the day, he’d sorted through Sirius’ words in his head. Jealousy had been the conclusion. Jealousy that, in Dorian’s humble opinion, Anya had grown to rely on him as her second, over Sirius. “He’s probably… just getting used to how you are now.”

“It’s no excuse.” Anya seems distraught over this, kneels before Dorian. “Dorian, I sincerely apologise for his behaviour. You are my closest friend, practically my brother. No matter what Sirius has said, I’d never want you to leave my side.”

“I know, my dove,” Dorian takes her hand in the one not holding his mug, thumb running over the back of her hand, “I know. You are the sister I never knew I wanted, and no-one could make me leave your side. But he is also your brother, and while we are used to this world of madness, he is not.”

“Oh, if only you knew the kind of madness he’s used to.” Dorian doesn’t think the muttered words are meant for him, and so he doesn’t comment on them. Instead, he smiles reassuringly at her, levering himself upright and in the direction of the bedroom with a small yawn.

“I’m sure it’ll all be fine, my darling.”

Anya stands before the fireplace, watching him go, arms folded and a conflicted expression on her face.

Will it?