“Have you...is she...”
“Is there any news?” he sighs.
“It has been a year, my lord, and still...nothing,” Abelas replied, his disappointment and sadden sympathy for the man’s palpable pain evident in every syllable, as he dropped his eyes from the aging form slumped over a cluttered old desk.
“Our agents report no sightings. No whispers. Tarasyl’an Te’las remains empty; as it has for the last three years.”
He remembers that day with full clarity. The moment when she stood before him in agonizing pain, dying from his own magic, and called him by his real name. The torment in her eyes. The shuttering of her breath. The wavering of her resolve. And the love dripping from her lips, as she trusted him with her very own truth as he, in turn, gave her the answers she sought with a heavy heart.
His final betrayal.
“Friends forgotten and lost to their own designs across the whole of Thedas. And nothing of her. There has been no communication or even a sign that they still design to oppose you. They are living their lives...as you once advised her to do so.”
“And Dorian?” If anyone would know...Pavus would.
“The Magister, her friend, he too searches. His distress is evident. Even he does not know where she has gone.”
She swore she would save him from his path.
“Var lath vir suledin.”
She swore their love would endure.
“She could not have just disappeared, Abelas!” he grinds out through clenched teeth, as every muscle in his back tenses.
Abelas suspects there is a reason for her disappearance. He speculates the truth may be something far worse than what the solemn man believes or would want to hear. He knows he should not ask. To voice such a thing would be unworthy of his friend’s dearest sorrow, but the possibility is likely, and at a time like this, he must try to be the voice of reason.
He takes a breath, praying that his voice does not fail him.
“Perhaps she is...” Dead. He chokes back the words; his determination faltering in an instant; knowing the pain it would cause, feeling it just as sharply as the twisting dagger of regret buried in his friend’s heart. “She could have...given up?”
His disdain is immediate, his fist pounding onto the unforgiving wood before him.
“Ir abelas, ma’falon.” he sighs. “I did not mean...”
A certainty and a hope whispered ever so softly after a constrained and heartbroken pause.
“I know she does.”
“How can you be so certain?” Abelas questions, trying to make sense of the man’s strange confidence in such a statement.
He does not answer.
“The Fade?” he tries again.
He has sensed her.
“Will you not follow? Can you not hunt her? Track your heart’s prey and try to find her through dreams?”
“I...can’t,” he breathed. “I’ve tried.”
“Guilt. Gilded and Glistening. Guarded. Alone. Lonely. But...Better this way. Simple. Hiding in the dark. A place of Pride. His Pride. A place of Sorrow. Her sorrows. Hurting. Hiding the hurt, but barely. Memories. Restrained in the waking. Unhindered in the dark. Too much. But constant.” came a soft, monotone voice from a deep shadow in the corner of the room. “A comfort, and a curse.”
“Cole...” the tortured man whispers, ever so quietly, not needing to even look.
“Her heart... her Vhenan... ma’fen... ma’nehn... ma’vhenan’ara.” the spirit whispers the words of her heart, the words so cruelly taken from her before they could fall from her lips in truth and confession.
“Solas...no...Solace. His smile. His laugh. His joy. His heart. The scent of old books, of ink, of elfroot and paint, of sunshine and the winter’s chill... Words. Echo. His..., not hers. Ar lath ma, Vhenan.” the spirit adds, as the source of the flurry of words steps gingerly into the moonlight filtering through the room’s lone window. Its face shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat, eyes closed. “She sighs. Ar lath ma, bellanaris. ma’vhenan. The only one. None before him. None after. Her only.”
“Cole, please,” he whispers with trembling lips. His pain, his regret, and the inner thoughts of her heart and mind are just too much. Since his betrayal, they have always been too much.
He tries to rise, to gain some modicum of composure, but his heart and his body will not listen. He is weak, far too weak than he should be with Mythal lurking within the shadows of his magic, and yet he is and he does not know how to fight it.
“She does not fear the wolf. She accepts. She welcomes. With open arms and open heart.” Cole sighs. For it must be said. A promise, he must keep. “She wants to be hunted. To hunt. To be held. To be loved. To be safe in his arms. To be taken. To wear his mark. To stand at his side.”
“To defend. To protect. To love him. Bellanaris.”
“To guide, and be guided. Ma ghilana, Vhenan. Bellanaris.”
Cole turns to him. He need not see to know the spirit’s eyes are upon him, but the compulsion to seek out compassion’s telling eyes, that see him and through him, faintly echoes within his heart a second before Cole utters his next breath.
He collapses onto the stone floor beneath his feet, his strength of will and his resolve vanishing the instant that word falls pointedly into the room.
“But she can’t. Won’t. Gone. But lingers. Still. Longing.” Cole adds, clearing his throat.
“We come to her,” he informs, to seemingly no one and everyone. “Where she wallows. Spirits. Love, Peace, Wisdom, Joy, Hope, Compassion; to help the hurt, to stop the blood, to mend the wound caused by Pride. His...and...Hers. Halani. Revas. Her soul pleads. But she will not listen. It will stay. Must hold on. Must.”
“Cole.” he chokes out. “Please...”
“It hurts but the hurt means more. The pain is real. Means he was real. Not a dream. Not the Fade. Not the Beyond... Not a lie. Never a lie! It makes her real. What she endured. What she saw. What she’d done. It was real. All of it.”
“It had to be. If not, what was I fighting for?”
“What they had...have...was...is real. She clings to the last vestiges of it. His voice. His words. His touch. Her heart. Ma’vhenan. She doesn’t want to forget. She will never forget.”
“Regret regrets nothing. Belief believed nothing. Hope, hoped for nothing. But...Everything.” he adds mutedly. “Despair. Despairs the loss. Peace? No peace without him. Grip. Grasping. Clutching at the pain. Begs. Begging.”
“Don’t go, Vhenan.”
“Let me help you.”
"I would not have you see what I become...”
“You don’t have to be alone.”
“Bleeds. Bleeding. But never letting go. Never letting go. Never again.”
Abelas watches as Cole steps gently across the room, coming to a stop beside his distraught and regret riddled friend.
“He hurts.” Cole breathes out as he places his hand upon the man’s shoulder and notices that his friend is trying to hide the pain quietly falling down his cheeks. “He knows. His pride had never been his own. It was her. Fated to be her. Always her. He would take it back. Find another way. Take back the... Chance squandered by fear. By doubt. Ruined. In Ruins. Must find a way. Must find the path. Must. Must.”
“Another way. He knows now. He was never meant to hunt alone. Her love was a gift. Precious. Rare. A gift freely given. A gift for an old fool, from an old soul. Foolish. Unknowing. Unseeing. Blind. Blinded by the truth. By Pride. By disbelief. Guilt. By the inevitable. But now he sees. She was his and he was hers. He would have it back.”
“But he can’t...”
“Voices seek only to help, to bring the calm, to protect. But she won’t listen. He feels her. Has her scent. Knows her magic like his very own. Hunts her. Tracks her like Halla prints in the falling of fine snow on a mountaintop. It is an echo. Soft. Sweet. And a little silly. Her laugh. That beautiful laugh. Full of kindness, understanding, love, and the innocence he stole.”
“But it is muffled. Like a dragon’s roar vibrating through deep, storm-filled waters. Hindered. Haunted. Haunting. Caught. Captured. A barrier. Barring. Shutting him out. A Prison. The wings of a great dragon. Wrapping. Swaddling. Cradling. Hiding what he wants. You will not harm her –the magic sings- We will not let you. He tries to cross. To push through. The magic pushes back. Will not bend. Will not break...He must get to her. He must free her. Bring her back. Tell her that he finally understands. Has found a way. That he will try. For her.”
“But he...Cannot. The magic is too strong. It smells of her. Vibrates with her spirit. Calls to his heart with her beautiful voice. It is not hers, yet it is. Too strong for her. He cannot get through. No matter how hard he tries. Why can he not get through? Why will it not bend? Why will it not break? Why will it not yield? Not to the heart of Fen’Harel. Not to the might of his magic. Not even to the will of Mythal?”
“He cannot get through. He cannot enter. None can enter. Not even him. Especially not him. Never him.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Well...” the broken man finally answers. “I suspect...It is protecting her, somehow. Though I don’t know how.”
“It’s...shielding her somehow. That’s why I haven’t been able to find her after all this time. In the waking, it seems to mask her scent. Hides her heart, her feelings, and her thoughts. There is no compulsion, no bond to call upon, no magic of Mythal that can cut through the protection. In the Fade, it locks her away in seclusion.”
“A prison.” Cole supplied.
“The magic is begging to wane, or perhaps it’s her strength. Her ability to endure. I do not know.” he continued, with a deep sigh, wiping his cheeks yet refusing to show his face. “But I managed to sense her for the first time last night.”
“What Cole says is true, however. The fade barrier I encountered is unlike any magic I have ever come across. It will not bend to my will, nor will it answer to the will of Mythal, and no spell at my disposal can harm it.”
“The Well...” Abelas gasps. “It has become tainted, then.”
“I suspect you may be right my friend. Perhaps even before she took its power.” the man replies, drawing his face towards the ceiling yet seeing nothing. “Though neither of us sensed it at the time. It is possible, should our assumptions be true, that it was not the well itself but perhaps one of the final additions to its knowledge that made it so. Like a monster looming the dark, waiting only to show itself to the Well’s next host.”
“No.” answered Cole knowingly. “The Voices are pure...It is not a corruption...”
“Then what is it, Cole? You know something, don’t you?”
“The Well is protecting her.”
“From what?” he pleads.
“I...do not know.”
For a moment Cole closes his eyes and concentrates.
“It...They are angry.” he breathes. “Something has happened. Something she has done. Years ago.”
“The Voices called out to her, begging her to stop. But she didn’t listen. Not knowing. Never knowing. Never understanding. She took...something. Something she wasn’t meant to have. Something insignificant. Something small. Tiny. Never to be missed. Temple in the sand. A trinket. A trifle. Silver. Black. Ancient. Dark. Corrupted. Something that...puts her in terrible danger.”
“What is it, Cole? What did she take?” Abelas asks.
“I am sorry, Sorrow. I...do not know. I cannot see. It hides. Hidden.”
“What do I do?”
“You must keep trying,” Cole advises. Crouching down to look her wolf in the eyes. “Seek the place of Pride in the daylight, and the place of sorrows in the darkness.”
He stands, searches the man’s face with his eyes, and with a telling and frustrated sigh slams his hand down on the ancient map spread out across the dusty old desk.
“Seek the place of Pride,” he repeats.
The wolf stands, fear and curiosity swimming within him. As Abelas joins him, their eyes fall to the map and a small gasp echoes throughout the room as their minds settle on two words.