Chapter 1: Lupus in Fabula
All in all, you’d expect the wise to be wiser
Fallen from grace, all and all I guess
We should have known better
Her feet hurt.
Her lungs are burning.
She feels like there are shards of ice lodged in her chest.
Behind her, she hears the noise of a man larger than her tearing through the trees.
She nearly rolls her ankle on the uneven stones beneath her feet. Stumbling, she doesn’t stop even though there’s a bubble of confused hysteria lodged in her throat now. Why is there a road here?
Unimportant. She keeps running.
There, a short ways ahead of her, is a tunnel. Its mouth is gaping blackness, at odds with the lush green of the forest around it. The hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She feels her stomach clench tightly.
Every part of her being is screaming: Don’t go in there.
The logical, smart part of her says don’t go in there, that’s where white people in horror movies go to die or get possessed by some horrible demonic entity. It’s the start to so many terrible movies. The problem is that her options are: white people in a horror movie bad or… her breath hitches. No.
Into the creepy, dark, dank-ass tunnel it is.
She sprints towards it, feeling light-headed and winded already. She’s in abysmal shape.
Her footsteps echo loudly in the tunnel, the flat soles making horrible slapping noises. Her breath, also, has a horrible rasping noise to it as it carries down the tunnel. There’s no way to miss that she’s in here.
Oh god, if anyone is listening, help. Please. Please.
The tunnel is pitch black. The light from where she entered it only extends in a few measly metres. If there’s anything on the ground, she’ll probably trip and break her neck.
He will catch her.
There’s a scream lodged in her throat. She doesn’t have the breath for it. Her head is pounding. Her vision would be going woozy at the edges if it wasn’t so dark. There’s bile burning at the back of her throat.
She doesn’t have much left in her.
She is going to die.
If he catches her, at least she’ll have the pleasure of knowing that she’ll vomit all over him. Right before she passes out. It’s not a pleasant thought, but that’s something, right? Maybe he’ll be so angry that he’ll just kill her.
It’s a thought that flits in and out.
I don’t want to die.
Her foot catches on something. It might have been a pop can. It gives under her with a rolling crack. She rolls her ankle.
Her throat burns. She can’t even make a noise.
She catches herself on the wall, skirt tearing and she can hear the rip over her thundering heart and gasping breath.
I don’t want to die!
She manages to keep running. She has to. She will run until she collapses, until there is nothing left in her.
Someone help me! Anyone! Please!
There’s a sound like glass shattering. Like a grenade going off, some part of her brain thinks. Only it’s in an enclosed space and it echoes, nearly deafening her. Her ears won’t stop ringing.
It feels like there’s a thousand tiny hands grabbing at her, dragging her forwards.
Her breathing has taken on that high-pitched keening that she distantly recognizes as the start of hyperventilating. Not now, not now. She can’t panic now. Panic means dying and she doesn’t want to die.
Something glows faintly around her feet, swirling about her ankles like a sickly green mist. Like someone broke open a glow stick and dumped it in a fog machine. It swirls around her legs, the grip of the invisible hands on her becoming tighter.
The mist is solidifying.
The glow is getting brighter, burning a vivid acid green.
She tries to stumble back, to get away. This can’t be happening!
She can’t escape.
Whatever has grabbed her, it holds tightly to her and jerks her forward.
She thought that she’d hit the floor. She doesn’t.
Nothing she could have expected happens.
The ground tears itself open in front of her as she falls. It doesn’t open into a yawning black abyss or fiery lava, the way that caverns do in the movies.
All of it is tinted that same sickly bright acid green.
Instead, the tear opens into something. Her arms windmill through the air, trying to slow her fall because there is a part in her hindbrain that’s shrieking dire warnings at her that she does not belong there.
She can’t do anything, though, because she’s falling. There is nothing to grab as she falls.
The light opens, pulsing bright and she squeezes her eyes shut, throwing her arms over her face to block it out. She can feel it as it wraps around her, pulling her deeper into the tear. All she can do is fall.
So she does.
Falling into it is like passing through a bubble. She knows the moment that she leaves the tunnel, because the way behind her closes with a popping sensation. The momentum that carried her through slows and, soon, she’s hovering in the air.
She rights herself, just enough so that she’s floating vertically instead of horizontally. Glancing down, she can see what might be ground.
It reminds her a little of the Badlands. The desolate scenery with its hoodoos and coulees, only here there’s no touch of vegetation; there’s nothing but dark, damp looking rock stretching as far as she can see.
And the sky is tinted a sickly shade of green.
For a moment, she hovers there before she slowly begins to descend towards the ground. It’s almost leisurely, the way she does, and it’s not under her own power at all.
Something – or someone – is willing her down.
Her breathing is still coming too fast and too high. She remembers how to calm it, sucks in a breath as deep as she can, holds it for a count, and then lets it go at the same. In and out, count in her head, let herself breath.
Vomiting is still a very real possibility. The bile’s burning at the back of her throat and she can only swallow it back so many times.
It’s after she passes through a noxious cloud that she spots it.
Huge, shadowy and black – it seems to be made up more of tendrils of darkness than actual flesh and blood, but the shape of it’s unmistakable. She has seen it too many times.
Before her, what has obviously pulled her in, is a great, large wolf.
There’s a scream lodged somewhere in her throat.
It has three eyes.
All three of its brightly glowing eyes are fixed onto her. Her heart, barely having calmed itself, ratchets its beat back up and makes a valiant effort at vacating her chest cavity through her throat. Instinctively, she tries to back away, to escape, but that just makes her tumble around uselessly in midair.
She continues her slow descent towards it.
The wolf does not open its jaws, waiting for her to drop in. No, instead it waits until she floats at eye level. Her body stops there, simply hovering in the air once again – like she’s underwater, she thinks, because her hair and clothing sort of float around her.
When the wolf stares at her, she feels something brush over her. It reminds her of the way that her dad wraps his arm around her shoulders and pulls her into an embrace. It feels like that, only there isn’t anything there, just a solid presence about her.
“You’re safe. I will not let you come to harm.”
She blinks. The wolf just talked.
It had to be the wolf.
The wolf can talk.
What the shit.
Her head starts spinning again. None of this is real. This cannot be happening. She must be hallucinating. It’s not real. It’s not real.
She’s hit with another wave of safe. It hits her hard, wraps around her tightly, and pushes out all the fear and panic until all she can focus on and feel is that feeling of safety.
The wolf is still watching her. Its eyes glow white-blue, standing out against the pitch black of its fur. The outline of it shifts constantly, as though it’s made up of shadows themselves, and it’s incredibly distracting to watch. However, it’s oddly… comforting.
“I heard you. I heard you crying for help. You are safe now.”
“Compassion is rare. You will be safe. I will keep you safe.”
Other words echo in that sentence: “Saved you. Fear. I don’t want to be alone. Do not let me die alone.”
“Who… who are you?”
Her voice cracks, sounding incredibly weak, small and pathetic in the face of this huge beast.
The wolf stares at her; stares straight through her. That’s how it feels.
“I am… I am…”
Whatever the wolf is, it’s what is controlling her, because it brings her closer. She can smell it, feel the warmth and power of it. She’s never smelt a wolf before, but the scent is… similar to a dog's. Except there’s a little more to it. Like the forest after a rainstorm, like the air after a lightning strike, and something sharp and, well, dangerous.
“I do not matter. You do. You are safe now, Compassion.”
Compassion. The wolf says it like it’s a name, as though it’s supposed to encompass all that she is.
She opens her mouth, to correct it because that isn’t her name. But she can’t.
There’s a crack in the air, something sharp and the feeling of safety surrounding her cracks along the edges.
Not safe, not safe, not safe…
Instinctively, she curls herself into a ball. Make herself as small as possible, and she’s not as appealing a target. Though she hardly would be, next to the giant wolf.
The wolf howls, loud and mournful.
Its teeth are as long as she is tall, wide and pointed. It could tear her apart with ease, if it so desired.
But it doesn’t.
From behind the shelter of her knees, she can see lightning crackle around them. She blinks, stares, pulse rushing loudly in her ears as the very world around them trembles. It flickers, in and out, staying in focus for a moment, before fading out again. All in flashes of bright green.
She can see stone walls. Stone walls climbing upwards and the wolf flickers between its monstrous, three-eyed form and that of a man, lying asleep on a cot in a flooded cell, paler than her brother, and there’s more but she can’t – because that is red lyrium and red lyrium does not exist.
The wolf howls again. The image vanishes, replaced again by the strange distorted landscape that looks familiar and alien to her at the same time.
She squeezes her eyes closed. This is not real. This cannot be happening.
She feels the wet heat of the wolf’s mouth, the rough brush of its tongue against her shins. Her eyes fly open, she catches sight of huge white teeth closing around her like prison bars. No, no no no. It thrums in time to the pounding of her heart.
The wolf has her in its mouth. But it does not swallow.
“Compassion… I will protect you. You will survive. You will be safe.”
Pain flares along her skin. Each nerve burning like she jumped into a pot of boiling water. Her skin feels like it’s being peeled off, inch by inch. Brain screaming, This cannot be happening. She can’t process the pain; there’s too much, she is stretched too thin.
When the pain becomes too much, overloading her brain, and she passes into unconsciousness, she’s hit by a very belated, incredibly stupid revelation.
The Dread Wolf has taken her.
Chapter 2: To Hell and Back
There but for the grace of God go I
Her arrival should have been with a bang and a crash.
At least, she thinks that’s how it should’ve happened. Something so life shattering should come with a large explosion.
That’s not how it goes.
Instead, it’s more of an explosion of green light behind her eyelids. All of her senses rushing back toward her in a wave of too much too much too soon no no no. Then she’s promptly dropped into knee deep water.
She shrieks. Her voice echoes, rings. The water is fucking cold.
Her torn skirt is completely soaked through and so is her thin shirt – which has gone absolutely see-through. Normally, she’d care about the fact that her bra is brightly shining through the fabric, but that’s the least of her concerns given the fact that she’s just been dropped straight into icy cold water.
Scrambling to her feet, she starts shivering violently. Part of her brain latches onto that, saying that she’s shivering and that’s good. Small blessings, she’ll take them. If there was somewhere dry she’d haul herself up there and curl into a ball, but all that’s in the cell with her is a tiny stone ledge that’s currently occupied.
She stares. Because at this point, she’d been about to convince herself that the fucking Dread Wolf was just a hallucination of her dying mind, but it’s not. If she wasn’t freezing her tits off, up to her knees in icy water, and barefoot, she’d probably be poking the fucking half-asleep elf on the ledge to make sure that he’s actually real.
There’s a loud hum in her ears. Like the drone of headphones with white noise. She squeezes her eyes closed, shakes her head, trying to work it out. That it goes nowhere is a big two-by-four to the chest that all of this is real. She isn’t hallucinating one part of it.
Cracking her eyes open, she looks around the cell. Not even a foot away from her is a glowing chunk of bright red crystal.
Holy fu – that is red lyrium. That’s red lyrium and she’s not stupid enough to fucking touch it to actually confirm that it’s real because that’s how you contract the fucking taint and turn into a statue of yourself. She’s not stupid enough to do that. And she hasn’t completely lost touch with her senses to think that touching it to convince herself it’s real is a good idea.
Even if she could convince herself that all of this is a dream, she still wouldn’t fucking touch the shit. She isn’t stupid.
Just the fact that it’s there, that she can hear the fucking ‘song’ of it is enough.
She gulps down oxygen, shaking violently. She’s far too cold and her head feels light – her toes, wiggling against the stone floor – have started to go completely numb. Given that she’s barefoot, with no idea when or where she lost her shoes, she’s not too keen on moving from the tiny little square foot of floor that she landed in. At least, she knows that where she’s standing is safe. Who knows what might be lurking under all that murky water?
Wedging her fingers into her armpits, she continues to violently shiver in her little corner of the cell and watches as the elf sharing her cell – fucking Solas – slowly wakes up.
It’s probably the weirdest sensation ever. Because, on the one hand, it shouldn’t feel real – any of this – but the cold eating into her and the violent tremors wracking her assure that this is very much real.
Solas honestly looks twisted from the light thrown off the red lyrium. He looks sinister and closer to the Dread Wolf that she saw in the Fade – the one that pulled her here to begin with – than the plain apostate elf he pretends to be. His eyes have taken on a red glow of their own, likely from the lyrium’s corruption, and he just looks tired. Well, tired and not altogether there.
He blinks twice, staring at her. The good thing is that he doesn’t try to touch her. He just watches her. And that’s creepy enough as it is.
Her voice is lodged somewhere in her throat – probably in that huge aching lump that’s taken up residence there. She stays where she is, feeling the heat slowly leaching from her limbs, and stares at Solas.
“Compassion, you’re safe here. I will–”
A door slams open, making her jump, and cutting off whatever it was that Solas was about to say.
She flails backwards, falling against the bars of the cell. Her legs are shaking, from the exertion of before and the cold of now.
Her brain’s working ridiculously sluggishly, so it takes her a few moments too long to make the connection.
Solas is in a cell. There’s red lyrium in the cell. They’re both in a cell. There’s water practically up to her knees. The light outside of their cramped cell is flickering green. Green light means either a rift or veilfire. Probably veilfire, given the location. The crash of the door also fits into what she knows.
Redcliffe. That awful, horrible alternate future.
Shit. Shiiiiiiiit. Shitshitshitshitshitshit.
She looks up at the precise moment that the Herald of Andraste appears at the door to their cell. Her heart leaps up into her throat because before her is Jason Trevelyan and that should not be possible. She knows him, from the dark red of his hair, the warm brown of his skin, to the deep green of his eyes, to the fact that he’ll be named Inquisitor soon.
If she wasn’t so fucking cold and probably already well on her way to the joys of being in shock – if she isn’t already – she’d probably faint.
Fainting would be bad. She’d be nothing but dead weight then.
Her body’s operating itself practically on instinct, because her mind’s still running far too fast and through too many possibilities that it’s fucked off to its own little world. Sure, she’s still taking in everything around her, shivering from the cold, and probably capable of movement and speech if pressed, but nothing is quite connecting. Nothing about any of this should be real, but it is. Realizing it is? A lot more difficult.
She’s hunched over, hands shoved into her armpits, feeling more like an ice cube than a person, when Jason Trevelyan and the rest of his merry squad show up outside her and Solas’ dinky cell.
“Solas!” Jason says. Then, “Who–”
There’s a strangled, high-pitched noise stuck in the back of her throat and everyone is staring at her now. She stares right back at them, wide-eyed and trembling, probably looking like a half-dead, drowned deer caught in the headlights of a fucking semi.
“She came to me,” Solas replies, softly. He startles her because she hadn’t heard him move, but now he’s right beside her. “But that’s not important – not now, anyway. Much has happened since you disappeared.”
“N-not to be r-rude, b-but could w-we ha-have this t-t-talk la-later?!” She can’t even speak steadily and nearly bites off her tongue in the process. But fuck it, she’s cold and rapidly losing feeling in her feet.
The door of the cell creaks open, locked no longer. Solas slips out, thanking Varric who is obviously responsible for that. She, on the other hand, stays where she is because she’s still got no idea what’s lurking underneath all that water.
“Aren’t you coming? Varric asks.
She has to suck it up. Unfortunately, though, her legs have turned to jelly and one step is enough to have her pitching straight towards the water.
Her forward momentum comes to a jerking halt, the metal of Jason’s gauntlets digging into her bare arms. Maybe he knows instinctively that she’s not at all prepared to stand right now and that walking’s beyond her, because he sweeps her feet out from under her and pretty much carries her out of the cell.
“Do you frequently go frolicking through dungeons in your bare feet?” Varric quips.
She shakes her head. There’s a bubble of hysterical laughter lodged in her throat and if her blood wasn’t so occupied with keeping the rest of her warm, she’s pretty sure her cheeks would be flaming red by now. After all, she’s pretty sure that she just flashed the entire inner circle of the Inquisition her underwear.
Shit, this could have gone better. So much better.
But… even through his armor, Jason is warm and she’s still freezing from her dunk in the icy waters. She appreciates the warmth, but Jason probably has better things to do than carry her around the demon and Venatori infested Redcliffe Castle.
She can’t actually believe that she just thought that.
Everything is real. It’s happening to her of all people. It’s all real and she’s still trying to accept that.
She could be imagining all of it, but wild, vivid hallucinations haven’t ever been something that she’s experienced. And she kind of doubts that she had some sudden, completely random psychotic break from reality. Also, she’s pretty damn sure that hallucinations don’t work this way. It can’t be a dream, either, because everything is too clear, too focused; nothing is muddled or bizarrely out of focus. Plus, she never has fandom dreams.
The only conclusion, reasonably, she supposes is that everything is real. This is actually happening to her.
“You can’t carry her through the castle,” Bull says.
“Here, I’ll take her,” Dorian steps forward. “At least until we’re somewhere with more solid ground.”
“You’re sure?” Jason asks.
“She’ll be much safer with me than with you on the frontlines,” Dorian replies.
It takes her a moment to realize that Dorian’s removed his outer cloak and is holding it out to her. Even more so, she’s surprised that Jason doesn’t drop her as she’s bundled into it, before being helped onto Dorian’s back. The position reminds her of the piggybacks her dad gave her as a child.
It feels like she’s been shot in the chest.
She won’t ever see her dad again.
She bites her lip to stop the noise, instead tightening her grip around Dorian’s shoulders.
“You know, you’re exceptionally light for your size.”
She blinks, “H-huh?”
Dorian boosts her up on his back a little more, hands warm and callused against the underside of her thighs, “You’re remarkably tall; I would’ve expected you to be a bit heavier.”
She sucks in a deep breath and can’t resist the urge to curl closer to Dorian. He’s warm and even though she’s still cold and wet, it helps. She blinks, it feels like a… bubble of warmth has settled around her. What the –
“As I said,” Solas says, “You will be safe, Co–”
“My name is Riley,” she replies. Solas called her ‘Compassion’ before and it’s starting to make a sickening amount of sense. No. No. She isn’t going to think about that now. No, definitely not. She shoves that realization aside, into a little box, and hauls it behind the immediate worries.
Like the fact that everyone around her is going to die.
She sucks in a shaky breath. She hadn’t thought about that.
Riley looks at Solas. His wild eyes, bloodshot now and with their eerie red glow, meet hers. Around him, there’s a hum of that same energy that she felt from the red lyrium in the cell. She looks away from Solas, to Vivienne a little ways ahead of them and Varric and Sera. At the forefront, she can see Cassandra, Iron Bull, and Blackwall. Each of them have that hum, a sort of flickering red aura that surrounds them.
Each of them, though they don’t know it, are tainted. The blight is spreading through them, corrupting them, and slowly turning them from flesh and blood to lyrium.
Her arms tighten around Dorian’s neck and she buries her face into the back of it. Her breath hitches and she chokes back a sob, her mouth moves soundlessly, You’re all going to die, you’re all going to die, you’re all going to die.
“Are you alright?” Dorian asks her, quietly.
Dorian can’t do much since he’s responsible for carrying her. Even though she isn’t unconscious, she’s still dead weight.
Her eyes burn, she stares at the back of his head, “... I don’t – no. I’m not. I’m really, really not. I can’t…”
“I can’t say that you’ll be fine–”
She squeezes her hands together, bumps her forehead against the back of Dorian’s gently, “We will be – I mean, you and Jason will. I don’t know about me. Everyone else… everyone else is going to die.”
That keeps running through her head: Everyone is going to die.
“That’s not actually reassuring to hear you say.”
Riley doesn’t really care, at that point, if she’s being comforting or not. It doesn’t matter. They’re going to die. She can’t save them. She can’t pull the corruption from them. She can’t reverse what’s been done. The only thing that can be done is to stop this future from ever coming to pass. She knows that much for certain.
Everything sort of passes for her in a very strange, disconnected blur. Riley hardly notices anything, not even Leliana asking about who the fuck she is really jolts her out of it.
All she does is raise her hand and give a little wave.
Everyone already thinks she’s lost it. That’s not very far off from the truth.
Riley doesn’t know if she’s still sane. She probably lost that in the crossover.
That’s if she ever had it to begin with.
Leliana scoffs, “Why bring her? Perhaps she is some creation of Alexius’.”
“She’s not a demon,” Solas replies. “She called out for help and that is what brought her here. We will keep her safe.”
“Why should we? There is nothing here. The Elder One has won. Nowhere is safe anymore.”
“She’ll come back with us,” Jason interrupts. “Right, Dorian?”
“We certainly can’t leave her here, when she’s in the midst of some sort of internal crisis. Not to mention, I doubt that the demons would leave her be for long.”
“M’fine,” she mutters. The exhaustion has already begun to settle in, her legs twitching slightly every now and again – the leftover burn from the exertion. Frankly, she’s drained – both physically and emotionally – and the result is that she just feels empty. Already, she’s poured out everything and there’s just nothing left to give.
“Pardon me for saying it, but you’re certainly not fine.”
Her fingers twitch, in what’s supposed to be a ‘whatever’ gesture but she doesn’t have the energy for that.
She wants a change of clothes, a warm bed, a bath, and to sleep for a solid ten hours. After that, she’ll try and cope with everything that’s happened to her. Maybe it’ll all turn out to be a dream. She’s certain that’s not the case, but there’s a part of her still clinging onto that vain little hope that if she just closes her eyes, she’ll wake up in her bed at home with her mom telling her that she needs to wake up because it’s two in the afternoon.
There’s a knot between her shoulder blades. She’s afraid. She’s alone. She wants to go home. Home, though, is in a completely different world who knows how far away.
Home is not a castle that’s slowly crumbling out from under them. Full of tears in reality that lead to the Fade – something that shouldn’t exist, but she’s been there herself – and with more demons than every circle of hell combined. Adding to that, she’s so tired, she’s drifting… No.
Riley squeezes her eyes closed, takes a deep breath and flexes her feet. The small amount of exertion makes her legs twitch worse, but it sends a jolt up her spine.
“Keep me talking… I can’t…” She swallows back the bile. Shit, she can feel the need to vomit but she can’t. It’ll slow them down. Her throat burns and her eyes water.
“Can’t what?” Sera interjects.
She blinks, stares at the blonde blob nearby that’s definitely Sera. Or, at least, a Sera-shaped one.
“Sleep.” She has to force herself to speak, since the words are molasses on her tongue. “M’probably hypo… hypothermic.”
Whatever magic that someone’s working – probably Solas, since he’s been shadowing Dorian like a hawk – is slowly warming her up, but that’s just making her feel sleepier. It’s gradual, though, which is good. Her mind dimly remembers not to warm her up too quickly, or else something bad happens. She’s not quite connecting all the dots.
She clears her throat, which turns into a hacking cough. “Hypothermic. Exposure? Dunno what you’d call it. Means I’m too cold.”
“So, what? You go to sleep, you die?”
Wrinkling her nose, Riley replies, “Something like that?”
“She is not going to die,” Solas cuts in. There’s a snap-crackle sound in the air, little arcs of bright red energy. “I will not allow it.”
“Whatever you’re doing, s’working,” Riley says. “Heat thing. I dunno. Magic?”
“I’m slowly warming the air around you, then controlling it so that it remains around you like a shield,” Solas replies. “In the simplest terms.”
She drops her head to Dorian’s shoulder, “Makes sense. S’all good.”
The slow return of warmth is helping, though she flinches away from the bright light when they emerge into the courtyard.
Her stomach jerks and she’d double over if Dorian wasn’t wearing her like a backpack. Her vision’s stopped blurring so badly that she can see clearly now, and above them is the Breach.
Holy fucking shit just seems too inadequate.
Seeing it like this, not on the screen of her TV, is much much different. It roars above them, having completely consumed the sky in sickly shades of glowing green. Her hair sways in a breeze and, for one terrifying moment, she’s being pulled upwards. She tightens her grip, curls closer to Dorian and his warmth.
“Fucking Christ,” Riley mutters. “It’s huge.”
“I’ve forgotten what the sky looks like,” Blackwall comments.
There’s no shades of blue, the sun completely blotted out. The only light is what the Breach itself provides. It’s a twisted mimicry of the sun, brightest at the centre, fading towards the edges. But all of it is that same sickly shade of acid green.
“‘Fucking Christ’?” Dorian echoes.
“Figure of speech,” she replies. Getting into a discussion on Christian theology versus Andrastianism is not the conversation she wants to have when she’s holding back vomit and in the sleepy feeling of shedding her status as a human popsicle.
“We do not have time for this,” Leliana says. “The Elder One has won. We need to move.”
Liked you better when you weren’t such a bitter asshole, Riley thinks. She keeps that to herself, though, because having Leliana turn her into a pincushion really doesn’t appeal to her. Instead, she slumps against Dorian’s back and listens to their banter as they fight their way through the courtyard, closing rifts as they go.
Dorian comments on the shard door, and Riley wonders if it’s maybe one of the ones from the Forbidden Oasis. After all, that’s where all those fucking annoying ass shards she spent hours gathering came in handy, so it makes sense, right? She’s too out of it to care, exhausted not just in body but in mind too.
She went from running for her life, certain that she was going to die – horribly and brutally, a knife in the chest – to being pulled into the Fade by the Dread Wolf himself. And then she was dropped into Thedas. Or, well, an alternate future of Thedas. It’s far, far too much to take in all at once, and Riley thinks that she’ll likely lose it if she thinks too hard about it.
Riley follows the banter between the party members, trying to blink away the exhaustion. Sleep would be good. Sleep would be great, actually, but she’ll have to strip herself out of her still damp and filthy clothes before then.
No one really pays any mind to her, aside from Solas or Dorian occasionally giving her a verbal prod to make sure that she’s still awake. Even though they have her name, Solas continues to refer to her as Compassion. He must be further gone than she thought – though, she doesn’t actually know for sure, since she’s never actually brought Solas along for In Hushed Whispers.
“Put me down,” she mumbles into Dorian’s neck. “You’ll… fight. I’ll get out of the way.”
“What are you–”
“I’ll take her,” Solas replies. He eases her into his arms from Dorian’s back and he’s deceptively strong for his rather lanky figure.
Of course, the movement is very jarring for her. Her stomach jerks and she scrambles out of Solas’ arms, hits the floor hard – scrapes her hands and knees – and very promptly vomits whatever was left in her stomach onto the floor.
She heaves and heaves, until there’s nothing to bring up. Her eyes water, she’s panting, and her lungs burn. Her throat feels like it’s on fire and she still gags, but there’s nothing left to bring up – not even bile.
Then, she curls up on herself, arms around her legs, and faces away from the vomit. Riley squeezes her eyes shut, and tries to ignore the sound of combat going on not far from her. There’s a throbbing in her head, in time to the beat of her heart.
Solas hunches down next to her, an arm around her shoulders, and he murmurs quietly to her. Not in a language she knows, but she understands what he’s saying – the sentiment, the emotions of it at least. He speaks to her of safety, of protection, of assurance. That no matter what is to come – or happen – that she will be fine.
She ignores that this is the first time that he’s touched her. Her skin feels hot under his touch, like there’s a buzz of something under her skin.
The silence rings much louder than the fighting did.
Solas helps her to her feet, supports her as they rejoin the others.
Her legs feel wobbly under her, but she’s able to hobble along. She still has to lean heavily on Solas for support, though, since the world’s swimming at little at its edges and the ground feels rather like it’s bucking up beneath her. Luckily, there’s nothing left for her to bring up. But her throat still burns from it and her mouth tastes like bile.
Her breathing is heavy, ragged, and she feels light-headed. Panic attack incoming, she thinks.
She hears the conversation going on between the members of the party, but it sounds hollow and tinny to her ears. It’s only distantly that she notices that Solas surrenders her to Jason, who wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her close to his side.
He asks her something – she thinks he’s asking if she’s alright, to which she nods her head – and he gives her a comforting little squeeze. Then, he’s turning to Dorian, saying something else that she doesn’t catch.
The portal is only opened when her legs have started to shake again, her breathing coming in a high whine that she only dimly registers as coming from her. She hears shrieks of demons, Dorian yelling at Jason that they have to go, a pained noise that belongs to Leliana and she can’t look. She can’t look to see who was dragged back in, to see Leliana die.
She doesn’t even fight when she’s hurled into the portal.
It’s nothing like the other trips through the Fade she’s taken. No. This is like being squeezed through a tube, all of her being compressed and stretched too thinly and then, with a loud noise and rush of air, she’s falling through the air again.
Pain registers. She fell on something. Someone. Her face is mashed up against a breastplate, which digs into her cheek, and she latches onto the edge of it. It takes more energy than she has to look up.
“Milady?! Are you–”
The stress catches up. Her breathing is too fast and shallow. Her legs give out and her eyes roll into the back of her head. After that, it’s nothing but blissful darkness.
Chapter 3: A Brave New World
It’s a brave new world
From the last to the first
Riley thinks that this is what it feels like to be hungover.
She’s never been knockout, blackout drunk before in her life. The closest she’s ever gotten is moderately tipsy. And if this is what a hangover’s like, she’s damn pleased that this is the first time she’s experiencing it.
Her head’s throbbing, like Optimus Prime used it as a stage for tap dancing. Every single joint aches like she’s been wrung out like a towel and her mouth and throat feel like she’s been gargling with a glass of the Sahara. There’s also the lingering taste of bile, which triggers her gag reflex. Except that there isn’t anything to bring back up, so she dry heaves before curling into a ball of ow that fucking hurts ow ow ow and starts hacking.
For too many blinks, her vision is a blurry disaster. It’s full of coloured blobs that she can only guess at. The coughing fit subsides slowly, but her vision takes a longer to adjust.
Riley’s first thought is: What the fuck am I doing in a fucking castle?
It’s followed quickly by: You fucking moron.
She feels sleep stupid as she pushes herself up into a sitting position with trembling arms. Her entire body is aching, feeling as though she’s been hit by a bus.
That… is actually not too far from the truth. It hits her again that this is not a dream. It’s all real, because she couldn’t imagine the feel of sheets against her skin, the smell of a roaring fire, and that smell that seems to be unique to old stone work.
It hits her then that she’s only in her birthday suit. Someone’s stripped her down and she clutches the sheet to her chest like some virgin in an old movie. Course, then she realizes that it’s pointless, because there’s no one else in the room besides her. Well, at least she’s got privacy to have her little breakdown.
She swallows back the panic, but she’s trembling violently – not from the cold, but the sheer weight of the realization that’s now crushing down on her. Before, in that… future, the shock of everything kept the knowledge from sinking in. But now, here and alone in what has to be Redcliffe Castle, she has the time and space to realize that she’s not on Earth any longer.
Holy fucking shit on a tit, I’m in Thedas. All of this is actually fucking real.
When Riley stumbles out of the bed, her legs won’t support her weight and she crumples to the ground in a heap. She starts shaking so badly that she curls up there, wrapping her arms around herself, no care at all to the chill of the room, and makes a sound that she honestly didn’t know that she could make.
The grief hits her. The realization that she’s not on Earth, her world is gone, and nothing will be the same again.
She can’t go home now.
The physical ache is nothing to the gaping maw that’s torn itself open inside of her. Probably where her heart is.
It burns inside of her, rushes through her veins. The ache of seeing her parents, her little brother, her friends, all their faces flashing through her head. And knowing that she will not see them again. That they will think her dead.
It hurts. It hurts. I want it to stop. Please make it stop.
Riley loses track of time as she lies there, curled up on the carpeted stone floor, alternating between crying and a muffled keening noise. She bites into the skin of her arm to stop the noise, rocking back and forth, body trembling violently. Time’s probably passing, but she’s unaware of it; her entire world has just fucking collapsed in on itself and the room could be on fire for all the fucks she gives.
Of course, she can’t stay on the damn floor forever, as much as she might want to.
The cold seeps in enough that she drags herself to her feet, though she has to lean heavily on the bed for support. Wiping at her eyes proves useless, because they’re still red, swollen, and itchy from the crying – though all the tears have dried up now, she couldn’t cry anymore even if she tried.
No, instead a terrifying and familiar sensation of numbness is seeping through her being. She’s more like a doll, in that moment, one of those wind-up ones that only has a fixed set of motions. And that’s what she goes through, the motions.
Across from the bed is a large, carved stone fireplace, in which is a roaring fire. In front of that is a large wooden basin, filled with water. It might have been hot earlier, but when she finally stumble-walks her way over to it, the water is tepid at best. Still, it’s better than nothing, and Riley climbs in without thought.
There’s a scrubber of some kind along with a bar of soap. Riley doesn’t particularly care about where any of it came from or what it’s made of, she mindlessly scrubs herself until her skin turns pink and the water muddies.
Her hair is a mass of tangles, takes her long minutes to work them all out before she can run the comb she found through it. She washes it out, finds what looks to be shampoo – or whatever the Thedas equivalent is – and scrubs her hair thoroughly, twice. By the time she’s done, her hair feels silky smooth between her fingers and her skin’s flushed from all her scrubbing. The water’s also turned a disgusting shade of brown.
Once she’s satisfied that she’s sparkling clean, she climbs out of the tub and dries herself off with the linen towels that someone’s been kind enough to leave her. They’re not as fluffy or nice as – but no, she cuts the thought off. She tucks away the thoughts, back into the box, and shoves it aside.
She doesn’t want to think about home. About what she’s lost.
Wandering about the room, Riley finds little to remark upon about it. Obviously, it’s a guest room of some kind, because there’s very little actually in it. It has a bed, a low dressing table and chair, the tub, and some tapestries that Riley thinks might be some depiction of Ferelden lore. And there, sitting innocuously on top of the dressing table, is her bag.
There’s a flutter of laughter in her throat, but it comes out sounding more like a choked sob. Of all the stupid fucking things to survive the entire trip, it would have to be her bag.
It’s got the familiar blue-purple-pink chevrons, battered though now, and there’s water stains on it, but she’d know her backpack anywhere. Part of her is relieved, because here is something that’s hers, but on the other, she’s shocked that it actually made the entire trip with her; that it wasn’t just discarded to the side as being unimportant.
Running through a mental checklist of what she packed, Riley knows that it’s not much. She’d packed her laptop and most of her stuff in her carry-on, rolling suitcase. Her backpack’s got a small stash of books in it, along with the majority of what she likes to call her knitting essentials. It’s nothing to write home about, certainly nothing that would be of value in Thedas, but still full of things that are hers.
Small comfort, but she’ll take what she can get.
She’s fiddling with the zipper to the front pocket, which is being frustratingly stubborn, when someone knocks loudly on the door.
“Come in,” she calls out.
“Good, you’re awake.”
Riley does a double-take because Cassandra motherfucking Pentaghast has just waltzed right into her room.
Alright, so she didn’t waltz and Riley thinks that Cassandra would make one of her near-patented Disgusted Noises if she voiced that thought, but that doesn’t change the fact that she strolled into Riley’s little room without any sort of preamble.
“The Herald has said that you are to be leaving with us,” Cassandra says. She has, Riley notices now, an armful of clothes and a heavy looking fur-lined cloak slung over one shoulder. “You’re fortunate that it took the mages some time to gather themselves to make ready for travel, given that you’ve been unconscious since… your sudden appearance.”
Riley’s still staring, though she closes her mouth with a click.
She clears her throat, hopes to high heaven that her voice won’t sound like she gargled rocks, and says, “I’m going with the Inquisition, then?”
She failed miserably. She sounds completely wrecked.
Cassandra dumps the arm load of clothing on the bed, then turns her full attention to Riley, “You are. Given your… circumstances, it was agreed that it would be best if you came with us. The Tevinter mage and the Hera – Jason were most insistent.”
She almost wants to laugh. It sounds hysterical as it lodges in her throat, “Yeah, I kind of figured.”
“Are you…” Cassandra hesitates, then wraps an arm around Riley’s shoulders, “I may not know what you have been through or what you have seen, but you are not alone now. It will be alright.”
Her breath hitches in her throat, catching, and it takes all her willpower not to start sobbing all over again because Cassandra, for all her faith and that kindness that she hides, has no idea what Riley has lost. Her knees wobble and she sags against her, hiccuping, but managing to hold herself together. More or less.
Cassandra smells like leather, sweat, and something that reminds her of the sweet and spicy tea that her mother loved so much. It’s… immensely comforting and Riley has to resist the urge to curl closer to it. No creeping on a Hand of the Divine, thank you very much.
“Grief is… always the most painful when it’s fresh,” Cassandra says. “In time, it fades – little by little, though it never really goes away. We are always mourning those we’ve lost, you simply learn to live with it a little more each day.”
All she can do is nod, because there’s something hot and sharp lodged in her throat. Or, at least, that’s what it feels like.
Cassandra’s kind enough to hold her until the burning behind her eyes lessens and the trembling in her limbs stops. The bath has helped with the redness in her face, but her eyes are probably still bloodshot. At the very least, she no longer looks like she took a tumble through a dumpster and she’s gotten rid of that charming scent of wet dog.
Giving her shoulder a final squeeze, Cassandra steps back and gestures to the pile of clothing she brought with her, “It was short notice, but I managed to find some clothes that will hopefully fit you. Yours were washed, but I’m afraid that they’re beyond saving.”
Riley laughs, the sound not so hysterical now, but still rather breathy. Still, she’s touched that they’d take the effort, and says, “Thank you.”
“It will be a long, cold ride to Haven from Redcliffe,” Cassandra warns. “I hope you know how to ride.”
Riley nods, “Yeah, I learned when I was younger. Been awhile since I last did, though.”
“I will leave you to dress, then,” Cassandra says. “If you need assistance, I will be outside. Once you’re ready, we will join the others in the courtyard.”
“Right. Um, thank you. Again.”
“It is no trouble.”
The door closes behind Cassandra with a loud clacking noise. It sounds nothing like the familiar clicks of doorknobs back home, but at least it’s a good warning sign. She’ll have to get used to the noises. Riley eyes the door for a second longer, noting that if she ever got pissed enough, she could always slam one and it would make a truly impressive noise.
But that’s a stupid and childish thought to have, so she tucks it away. For now, at least, she’s got to sort through the logistics of dressing and praying to whatever forces are out there that she’ll find something that fits.
Riley noticed it before, beside Cassandra, that she’s got at least a good two or three inches on her. She’s not entirely sure what she’s going to do with that information, though, but if Cassandra’s in anyway considered tall for her gender, then Riley’s got her beat. That could cause a problem.
In the pile of clothes, Riley manages to locate her thankfully now clean and dry underwear and bra. She sniffs them, relieved that the stench of wet dog’s gone. Dropping the towel, she pulls on her underwear and shrugs into her bra, immensely grateful for them because Riley’s definitely not up for the task of trying to find support for her boobs in Thedas garments. Now that she thinks about it, she’ll probably have to relegate herself to the corset life.
Aside from her unmentionables, Riley finds her own clothes. Her skirt, shockingly, is still in one piece, though the hem of it is badly frayed. On the other hand, her shirt – once a pretty, very pale pink – is a complete lost cause, even with the recent washing. It’s clearly torn beyond all salvation, the decorative lacing across the bust has come loose and hangs sadly down.
Unwilling to part with them, Riley rolls them up tightly, crosses to her backpack, and shoves them in on top. There’s barely enough room for them, but she manages.
Now, she thinks, time to handle the hurdle of Thedas fashion.
The leggings, she thinks, are probably a man’s. They’re a few inches too long on her, but that’ll be fine because they just bunch up around the ankles. The dull grey colour is perfectly acceptable in her mind – better to blend in than stand out – and they go just as well with the off-cream colour of the tunic that was included.
While the leggings fit well enough, the first tunic is a disaster, because it doesn’t actually fit her boobs. So, Riley sets that one aside and reaches for the other. The second one’s off shoulder, with laces up the front of it. That one fits her, though she has to undo the laces on it and redo them much looser in order to accommodate her bust.
Examining the last few garments, Riley distantly remembers that the one sturdy-looking garment is a type of corset called a waist-cincher. Weird, the details that she remembers. It laces up in the front, though, and Riley finds that it’s a godsend in keeping the leggings in place once she’s got it on. She’s probably not got it laced tight enough, but it fits her snugly enough and she’s not feeling light-headed or anything, so she guesses that she’s done it right.
The cloak that Cassandra gave her hits her at about her hips, but it’s warm. The inside of it is lined in dark grey fur and it’s got a hood. She’s in love with the damn thing already.
There’s also a nice pair of leather, fur-lined gloves to go with the ensemble. She’s rather impressed how everything seems to match and wonders if that’s Vivienne’s handiwork she’s benefitting from. Riley’s not going to complain, though, because she’s dressed, the clothes are dry and fit well enough, and they don’t smell. Anything more than that is a really nice bonus, in her mind.
Still, she folds up the tunic drapes it over one arm, and collects her backpack. It’s too awkward to sling it over her shoulder, so she just carries it by one of the straps.
Cassandra is, as she said, waiting outside the room.
The butterflies are back in her stomach as she follows Cassandra down through the castle. Servants, she guesses, quietly direct them through the corridors, bowing to Cassandra as they go. Riley, though, can’t help but look around and try to absorb as much as she can because actually seeing Redcliffe Castle up close and in person is so much different than on her screen.
She wants to stop at one point and admire the large painting that she’s ninety-fucking-percent-sure is of the coronation of King Alistair Theirin and his queen, Miriella Cousland. But nope, she has to double her pace in order to keep up with Cassandra.
Cassandra wasn’t joking that they were ready to go.
Stepping out into the courtyard, Riley throws up a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. It takes a while, but her eyes adjust quickly to the bright light of outside compared to the flickering light of torches and occasional window of the castle’s interior.
The entirety of the courtyard is full of people milling about and horses. There’s horses everywhere.
Mentally, she smacks herself in the head. Of course there’s horses everywhere, primary mode of transportation and all that. Riley, perhaps wisely, sticks as close to Cassandra as would be considered polite and tries to make herself appear as small as possible. Appearing small fails pretty miserably, because Riley quickly realizes that she stands at least a good half-a-head taller or more than the women she sees.
Fuck. Shit. She’d been tall before, now she’s just a fucking giantess among human ladies. She’d not pass muster with qunari women, but they’re in a league of their own.
Riley recognizes few of the mages. She spots the ones that she encountered when she played the game, going through In Hushed Whispers, and she can see Fiona directing her people here and there. But the vast majority of them? She doesn’t recognize them at all, but there’s a fairly good number of both humans and elves among their number.
The spare tunic she had brought with her that didn’t fit, Cassandra takes from her and hands to an Inquisition scout, Riley thinks, with a nod and word of thanks. Then, she gestures for Riley to keep following her through the crowd.
Two steps later, Riley realizes where she’s being taken.
She spots Bull first, which is easy considering that he stands a good head and shoulders above everyone else. The horns are also a dead giveaway. Beside him, she spots the rest of what will soon become the Inquisition’s inner circle.
These are the people she will be riding with.
Her stomach nearly drops out of her gut. Shit shit and fucking shit. She’s so fucking screwed. But she doesn’t keep walking, feet going onto autopilot as she trails after Cassandra.
Standing a little ways apart from the others, Riley spots Dorian, who is in what looks to be deep conversation with – oh.
“Wait,” Riley says, and stops. “I just–” she gestures towards Dorian and Felix, “Give me a moment?”
“What would you–?”
But Riley pivots quickly, stepping around Cassandra and jogging over to where Dorian and Felix are. They’re far enough away from the main body of the inner circle that there’s some privacy to their conversation, though it stops dead when Felix notices her.
He greets her with a small smile, “Hello, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”
“No,” Riley says. Her stomach is churning wildly and it’s a very good thing that she hasn’t eaten, because she’d probably just bring it all back up all over Felix’s boots and that would just be a terrific first impression, now wouldn’t it?
“Ah, well Riley this is–”
“Felix, yes I know,” Riley replies. She’s being a rude little shit and she knows it, but this is important and if she can make a difference, she will. She could save Felix. Sort of. “I’m – alright, frankly I don’t actually matter, but Dorian cares about you and you’re an actual nice person, so I’m gonna tell you something and what you do with that knowledge is up to you, but I hope that you’ll make the choice I’m offering.”
“If you go to Amaranthine, go to Vigil’s Keep. There, you’ll want to talk with the seneschal and no one else,” Riley explains. Her words tumble out quickly but she’s beyond giving a fuck at this point, “Tell him that you want to join the Grey Wardens. Either he can induct you or he’ll give you directions to a place known as Soldier’s Peak. That should be where the Ferelden Wardens have gathered; the Warden-Constable there would be named Nathaniel, if you have to go. It won’t be a cure, but it will buy you time until there is one. Possibly.”
Felix is staring at her, mouth a little ways agape, and so is Dorian.
“How do you…?”
“Possibly?” Dorian asks. “What do you mean by ‘possibly’? Possibly there will be a cure? Or possibly as in it might buy him time?”
“Possibly buy him some time,” Riley replies. “The Joining it – becoming a Warden doesn’t cure the taint, but it… it can postpone the effects of it. Look, whether or not you choose to do this is up to you – there’s still a chance that you’ll die. Or there’s a chance that it will buy you enough time for a cure to be found.”
Felix stares at her, still a little shocked, “Why would you offer me this? I’ve accepted my fate.”
“Because you’re a good person, Felix. And there are not enough of those in the world.” She smiles and it’s probably a little sad or it might just make her like crazier than she already is, “Besides, someone needs to kick the Magisterium into gear. Might as well be you.”
There’s still that churning in her gut, nerves and anxiety working to make her wonder if this is such a good idea. But she’d never be able to live with herself if she didn’t at least try. If she has all this foreknowledge and does nothing with it, than what’s the point? She’s got the chance, she’ll do whatever she can and must.
“Still, it’s your choice,” Riley says. “I’m giving you the chance to make one. Whatever you do with what I tell you, is up to you. I can hope that you’ll, you know, listen to me and take it, but I can’t force you to do anything that you don’t want to.”
To that, Felix actually does crack a smile, “I’m sure that Dorian can tell you, there’s not a lot that will stop me from doing something I want to.”
“You always did like trouble,” Dorian replies, a small little grin tugging at his lips. “And you would drag me into it, I recall.”
Felix claps a hand to her shoulder, meets her eyes, and smiles, “Thank you, my lady. Whatever decision I make, you will always have my thanks. And… well, I suppose that House Alexius will always be in your debt, then.”
Riley blinks, stares, as Felix takes her hand, and blurts, “Can I come see Minrathous then?”
Both Felix and Dorian break into laughter.
“You know, you’re the first southerner I’ve met who is interested in seeing the Imperium at all.”
Riley shoots a look at Dorian, “But… it’s Minrathous. Why wouldn’t I want to see it? And I’m not a southerner. I don’t talk like I was raised inside a barn.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask you what you mean by that.”
Riley flaps her hand at Dorian, “Not important, though if you want to know I’ll explain it to you later. But I’d like you to consider it, Felix, at least.”
It’s not much, Riley thinks as Felix mounts his horse – and he mounts it awkwardly, he clearly has only maybe recently learned to ride – but it’s something. A start, maybe. Even with Dorian’s eyes boring into the side of her head, with the promise of picking at her brain later because how the fuck does she know this shit she should not know this shit what, at the very least she’s not alone.
And, maybe, she can make a difference.