Solas is a fool, but he waits. For the first few days after their… encounter, he simply tries to feel for her presence in the Fade, just to be sure, wondering if his heart will try to seek him out. If she does, she never makes it close. That likely should have been expected, though, now that the mark has been removed. She is no mage, let alone a dreamer. The power to consciously manipulate the Fade has likely been taken from her as well.
It is for the best. The woman all of Thedas knows as the Inquisitor did not achieve her status simply by grace of happenstance. Weak willed she is not, and now all that determination will be directed into tracking him down. This road will be long and hard for them both. Let her not waste her nights chasing him as well. Let her keep her hope as long as she can.
Despite the distance Solas wishes to put between them, it seems his own will now falters frequently. Seeing her again had- The first week passes with him searching for a sign of her in the fade but finding nothing. The second week, he recruits a few curious spirits to assist. If she truly dreams, they will be less likely to disrupt than he. But they find only echoes of her, places in the Fade that reflect the impact she has made on this world already, that will likely linger long after she and her world are gone.
The third week he searches with greater intent, doubt and worry clawing their way through him, enough to attract their spirit counterparts. The spell, the removal of the mark, should have removed it completely, severed along with a portion of her arm that was unfortunately beyond saving.
And if it hadn’t? If he had miscalculated, missed some inconspicuous little tendril that had advanced beyond the rest? Even without the source it would grow. It would consume her. Kill- No. His remaining agents at the Exalted Council had seen her return. Worse for wear, but alive and without any illuminated parts.
Yet still she eludes him. His agents now bring no word, his friends in the fade search while he cannot and find nothing. She must live, but there is no trace of her existence.
Solas takes to wandering the areas of the Fade most closely connected to Skyhold and some of the Inquisition camps that have essentially built themselves into settlements. Officially, the Inquisition may have disbanded, but he is under no delusions that they have done anything but go to ground. And perhaps if he cannot find her in her own dreams, he may at least find the barest scrap of a sign in those of her followers.
Dreams are dreams however, and the Fade is susceptible to their influence. Everything is subjective, so there is no way to be sure. His heart-
His heart has not entered the Fade in nearly four weeks. As long as she is- It can only mean she is not sleeping. Four weeks. While he has witnessed her taking on fortresses after days with barely a nap, she remains mortal. And surely no mortal, no matter how determined, can last so long without rest.
Midway through the fourth week, he ceases his search. Solas cannot find her on his own, but there are others he can find that may be able and willing to help.
“Sorrow sinking, spreading as you bare secrets then steal them back. You made me forget so I wouldn’t tell.”
“You hurt her.”
“It was necessary.”
“Not to her. Waiting, wishing, wondering why. What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t he trust me? You want her to stop you, but you won’t let her. Hurting, hiding, hoping she hunts. But how can she hunt you if you’re hunting her?”
Cole is bright here, halfway between his own spirit form and the body he’d copied for himself outside of the Fade. There is no hiding his presence and no need to do so. This is his true form as far as Solas is concerned, and also what will likely let him survive what is to come, without the weight of humanity tying him to the waking world. Perhaps the child of stone had been correct and Cole could have been happy as a human, but Solas is grateful to his heart for choosing to preserve this wonder.
“Do you know where she is?” he asks.
Cole studies him for a moment, working through Solas’s thoughts in silence, a skill learned in the Inquisition. How else has his friend changed? Is it for the better? He can only hope.
“Yes,” Cole says at length, and Solas can feel a tension he didn’t know he had release. “She’s different, though, distant, dissonant. She’s not the sun anymore. Now, it’s… trying to see through stone that keeps slipping away. I can’t feel her very well, except- fear, fatigue- You’re afraid, too.”
“I am. She has not entered the fade in some time. It can only be hurting her. I would ask your assistance in this matter. You need not bring her to me, simply escort her to the Fade tonight. I would rather she did not harm herself avoiding the Fade or myself.”
“Yes,” Cole agrees, looking through Solas more than at him. “I see the path you made. She is my friend. I will help.” And then he is gone.
Solas is a fool, but he waits.
For three more nights, as his closest agents begin expressing concern at his preoccupation, he waits. Hoping Cole is successful. Hoping-
In the end, her entrance to the Fade hits him as a punch to the face. Literally. He never sees the first hit coming. It doesn’t truly hurt, but there is a sting and an ache, like the memory of a wound. It is uncomfortable to say the least. Still, as she swings again, he allows her the second hit. She deserves that much. The third he stops, gripping her wrist before it can connect again.
So she kicks him instead..
“Vhenan, stop,” he orders, and is summarily ignored. “Ma lath, please.” Around them, the Fade shifts and swirls, mimicking a gale as it absorbs the emotions she radiates.
“Fuck your lath,” she hisses, twisting and jerking her arm back to escape his grip and follows through with another, wilder throw. He steps back, just out of reach, and her balance is thrown. She stumbles, listing left as she unconsciously tries to steady herself with an arm that he now sees isn’t there. Even here.
Solas watches as she falls to her knees, then her side, rolling to lay on her back and gasp for breath in a way she shouldn’t need. He can only assume she has forged herself from reality. The left arm is gone, though here it still bleeds slowly. She is wan, skin almost ashen and eyes ringed darkly. He waits for her to calm, but she doesn’t. Quicker and quicker the gasps come, devolving into hyperventilation. They are in the Fade. It is real, but it is not physical, and she knows this. He guided and observed as she learned to manipulate such surroundings. There is something wrong.
He will not touch her, even for comfort. Not now. He’s lost that right. But he crouches beside her and attempts to soothe her as best he can.
“This is the Fade, vhenan,” he reminds her calmly. “This air is superfluous, your physical body is safe and resting. Try to calm yourself. Breathe evenly.” This receives another, albeit half-hearted, attempted strike, but he is on her left, and her right arm cannot reach unless she turns, to which she does not seem inclined.
“Fuck you.” His heart’s voice is thick and rough and the gasps turn to something closer to sobs; heavy with anger and tears. Lightning cracks overhead. “Vhenan! How dare you call me that. You did this to me! You- you fucking bastard, you- was leaving me not enough?”
Of course, she has every right to be angry with him, but she also must understand. The arm was a necessary sacrifice to save the whole.
“Betraying me? Playing like you love me while plotting to destroy my world?”
“I swear to you, it is no act. Ar lath ma, truly, but your arm was a necessary-” A terse yell is his only warning before she hurls herself at him, tackles him down and starts swinging again. A barrier snaps into place as he attempts to block her.
“Fuck the arm! Fuck you! You turn my world upside down, take the life I had, take my faith, take my arm, my heart… Is that not enough for you, Fen’Harel? What more do you want from me?” his heart screams as she looms over him. It would be a simple matter to unbalance her, push her aside. He doesn’t.
“This is not about the arm,” he realizes.
“No, it’s- what part of “fuck the arm” did you not get? You- you-” She moves herself to sit beside him and barks out a sharp, bitter laugh. Anger visibly drains from her only to be replaced with despondence. The Fade winds quiet as she runs her hand across a tired face. She has never before seemed so small. “You don’t even know, do you? Of course not. You just keep doing what you think is best, and everyone else has to suffer the consequences.”
It stings, but he can say nothing in his own defense
“I can’t dream.”
The Fade freezes as Solas does. No. No, that can’t be. That would mean-
“You have not been-”
“Tranquil? No. Not yet at least. I sleep, but when I do it’s like- there’s just nothing. I wake up after a couple hours even more exhausted, and I don’t actually remember anything, but it feels like I went somewhere. Somewhere cold and dark. And every day the world seems to drift further and further away. Like all the colors are fading and nothing is actually real.”
Solas can almost hear Master Tethras’s “Well, shit,” and can’t help but concur.
“The mark tied itself to your own connection to the Fade,” he theorizes. “Thus, when I removed the mark, I also severed that connection. You can still enter the Fade, simply-”
“Not on my own. I got that. And I don’t think there’s anything “simple” about it.” Solas closes his eyes against the weight of yet another mistake and sighs.
“Ir abelas, vh- Inquisitor. Truly. It was not my intention-”
“Intentions don’t change consequences, vhenan.” She spits it like a curse, then heaves her own sigh, looks away, and the anger drains again. “I can’t do this Solas. I’m so tired and everything here feels so much now. I can’t- I can’t be near you.”
That hurts, far more than it should given the distance he himself has tried to put between them. He cannot fault her, however, and will not contribute any more to her distress. It is probably for the best anyway.
“Ma nuvenin, vhenan. However, you have my word, I will find a solution to this. Give me three days time. Will you consent to allow Cole to bring you to me here at that time?”
She leans back, supported by her arm, and stares at the sky that is not. “You could just leave it,” she says. “Eventually I will either die or lose sight of the world entirely. Either way, it would cripple my people. That advantage could get you far before they managed to strike at you again.”
“No. That is not an option. I told you once, ma lath, my heart, losing you…”
“And what do you think is going to happen when you destroy my world, Fen’Harel?” Once again, he cannot say. “Fine. Three days. It’s not like I have many other options.”
He rises, but gestures her to stay when she goes to do the same. “I will leave, but you are here for tonight. Stay. Sleep well my heart.”
In Elvhenan, there had been many spells that dealt with accessing the Fade. Spells to help reenact memories, to visit areas some distance away, to give the less powerful more control. All spells that altered the connection between a person and the Fade, but none were designed to create a connection. Were he simply trying to transport her physically, it would be a relatively simple matter. Transporting one’s spirit, especially across the veil, is significantly more difficult.
The simplest solution would be to tie some constant object in the Fade to her dreaming self. Then she would be pulled to the object whenever she sleeps and her spirit is released. But there is only one constant in the Fade, and binding her to the Black City is not an option.
Even if it were a viable option to use a Fade object, as long as the object continued existing, there is a risk she would not be able to return to the waking world. Somehow, he will need to create a point that will exist in the Fade while she sleeps and disappear when it is time for her to wake. And even for the time it takes to summon her after appearing, anything left unattended in the Fade risks corrupting or being corrupted by the spirits and environment around it.
The first part will be tricky. Well, no, the first part is actually the simplest. The second part will be problematic. Spells cast in the Fade while asleep tend to wear off quickly, are strongly impacted by the environment about them and are tremendously difficult to transport across the veil intact. This isn’t the sort of thing he is very comfortable trusting to someone else, though.
Solas waits and knows himself a fool. The ways this could come back to bite him are numerous. It will largely be his risk, though, and he is willing to accept that for her. He owes his heart that much.
Thankfully, she doesn’t try to hit him this time, but her emotions, her desperate rage, crashes over the Fade like a tidal wave, tempered only by a touch of fondness and wonder when she looks at the spirit that accompanied her. The world is fading, she’d said. He imagines these feelings have been trapped, building, seething within her with no outlet. He reinforces the wards around them.
“She’s hard to find,” Cole tells him. “Even when she’s right there. Cracked, crippled, caught inside a cage except the cage is her. I’m sorry. I can’t bring her again.”
“I understand. If she accepts my solution, it should no longer be necessary. Thank you, my friend, for your help.” His heart grabs Cole’s hand before he can leave and grips it tight.
“Thank you,” she says softly, kindly, earnestly, and the spirit smiles, squeezes back, and disappears. She stares for a moment at the space left by his departure. “He’s beautiful here.”
“Yes,” Solas agrees. “Changed, no doubt, from when he last resided here, but perhaps greater for it. You are the one who allowed him to become what he is now, vhenan. That is something for which you should be proud.”
She scoffs, the wonder in her voice sours to bitterness. “Ha. And you, Solas? What has your pride wrought this time?”
“Nothing, I hope. It was regret and love that drove this endeavor. I have devised a solution I hope will you find bearable, if not acceptable. I will not force this upon you or accept any agreement before I have given you all the information I can offer.”
“There’s a new one,” she sneers. “Okay, fine. Hit me. What do I have to sacrifice this time?”
“No sacrifice.” He proffers a loop of cord, a necklace, with a familiar portion of wolf jaw bone tied at the bottom, and drops it in her hand when she eventually reaches out to take it, wide eyed.
She examines the pendant curiously, looking back and forth between it and the one still hanging about his neck. It has been some time since last he was graced with that look; since last he could admire that inquisitive mind at work. Their surroundings start taking a familiar, cylindrical shape. “You copied it?”
“Not precisely. It would be more accurate to say I grew it. I recreated it using a small piece of the original. In this way they are tied, to each other and yours, by proxy, to my soul.” Her head snaps up sharply.
“I’m sorry, what? Your soul?”
“I had initially thought to make it a direct connection. This method, however, provides additional safeguards against abuse. A necessity I am sure you will understand.” He pulls out the desk chair and offers it to her. All at once, cognizance of their current setting strikes her and she recoils, retreats a few steps, until her back presses against the scaffolding. Overhead, agitated cawing echoes from nothing. “I can change it if you wish; take us elsewhere,” he offers, “but the Fade is reacting to your emotions, intense as they are, and will continue to do so in whatever way it can.”
A moment passes, and she shakes her head decisively. Shoulders square, she approaches the chair as one might an opponent in a duel. The cawing stops as she sits. “No. Let’s just get through this already.”
“As you wish.” He leans against the desk himself. “As I am the anchor of this spell, your state will be determined by my own. So long as I am asleep and wearing my pendant, yours will guide your dreaming self to its match. When I wake- There is a possibility you may remain in the Fade until you awaken on your own or slip into whatever state you have been entering when sleeping without assistance. It is far more likely that you will also awaken.”
“What if I take it off?”
“You will not enter the Fade. It will be as it has been since the mark was removed. I will have to bind your piece to your own spirit, but it will remain dormant without contact. This is why I chose to enchant both pieces; that, should you foolishly try to use this link against me, I may sever it. I do also suggest that you not let anyone try to tamper with it. Several spells have been added to prevent such a thing that will assuredly have unfortunate effects on any who attempts to remove them.”
His heart stares at the desk, the walls, anywhere but at him, and struggles to swallow. “So if I want to get any actual sleep ever again, I need to be prepared to see you every night.”
“Yes, though you need not stay with me. Once you have gained passage, you may explore as you wish. I will endeavor to be as inconspicuous and unimpeding as possible.”
“How do you intend to get this-” she shakes the necklace “-to me in the physical world? I can’t risk you knowing where I am.”
“There is no need for that. So long as you hold this and it is tied to you, it will return with you when you wake.”
“It’s the real- You’re actually here right now. Physically. That-” she cuts herself off at the sound of flapping wings. “Of course you are. Why not. So aside from having to depend on you sleeping at the same as me and going through a few emotionally devastating moments every night, what’s the catch?”
“The connection is not direct, but it is still a bond with my very being. So long as both pendants are active, even while awake, there may be some- bleedthrough of emotion.”
“You’ll know what I’m feeling?”
“Unlikely. This is, for most intents and purposes, a unidirectional link. The essence of my soul is cast out as a beacon. You are simply following the light. You may find me in the Fade, but I cannot do the same. It will only ever be strong enough to pull us together when I am in the Fade and sleep has loosened your physical body’s natural interference.”
Her laugh is cold, resigned. “I honestly don’t know if that’s better or worse. And of course I don’t have time to consider this because Cole can’t bring me again. It’s now or never.”
She does take some time, though, Fade shifting around her as she filters through her thoughts. Trees become cities become mountains become a void. This trial has demolished the control he taught her, but it is fascinating to watch nonetheless. It settles with them on a beach reminiscent of the Storm Coast, though the rainfall is gentler.
“Alright,” she acquiesces. “Cast your spell. What harm can possibly come from feeling the emotions of and having nightly meetings with the love of my life as he’s trying to destroy my world?”
Performing the spell takes several minutes, and as the bond grows stronger and stronger, the rain falls more heavily and almost disguises her tears. When it is complete, he breaks his vow to avoid contact to press a kiss to her forehead.
“Go,” she orders in a broken voice.
Two days later she returns, appearing before him, and he can see her shoulders relax. The look she gives him is hard to read, seeming to be caught somewhere between relief, anger, and affection. Cupping his jaw, she pulls him into a kiss. It is a little too hard, too tense, constrained, and quickly begins tasting of tears, but he will take whatever she is willing to give.
Solas is a fool, but he waits. Every night, though she won’t always come. It will be nearly two months before she can bring herself to look at him again. The Fade around them will darken and begin to rain over an unintended battlefield, the trees of the Emerald Graves sprouting up from too many bodies.
She will even be willing to touch him then, as they comfort each other over the loss of friends to the other’s cause.