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Unqualified

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Ellie winced as she tried to roll over in bed, a shiver running up her body as the sharp hardness of the floor dug into her hip. Distantly she thought that this was more evidence that it was time to get a mattress – as in an actual mattress. The floor wasn’t as comfortable as it had been in the past, and the cool relief it provided in the summer bit twice as hard during the winter. Floors were good like that.

Muttering a curse to herself she stopped trying to roll over, and shook her head instead. That was mistake number two. The dawning throb of pain, more than the cold surface of the stone, gave Ellie pause. She grimaced, a groggy, half-conscious groan escaping her lips before she began to shift in earnest. Her mind and body felt slow, weighted by a thick mental fog that gave her pause as she tried to sit up.

For a moment she thought her arms were tangled up in one of her many blankets. Blankets don’t clink. She tried to reach out for her water, the thick cotton feeling of thirst in her mouth didn’t make sense. The floor didn’t make sense. Clinking blankets definitely didn’t make sense.

In the back of her mind, and gut, there was a growing sense of dread that she couldn’t quite place. With a deep breath, she moved to push herself into a sitting position proper, and tried to ignore the sharp pang in her ribcage. That was mistake number three.

Normally by now she’d have opened her eyes, but something kept them shut. Instead she tried to take another deep, slow breath, and listened. On some level she knew opening her eyes would make whatever this was more real, and life experience had taught her that forcing too much reality too fast could be a bad thing.

Right now she wasn’t going to think about it. Nope. She wouldn’t allow herself to think about it. Stubbornness could go both ways, and Ellie was suddenly of the very strong opinion that right now thinking was a bad thing. So she listened.

Distantly she could hear the sound of voices above her. She couldn’t make out the words, but the tone carried through the.. stone? Is this place made entirely of stone? They sounded tense, potentially angry. Closer was the persistent dripping of water, which echoed more than it should have. There was the shuffle of boots against the ground, the clearing of throats. Movement. She wasn’t alone. To the right she heard heavy breathing, but it sounded pained more than heady.

Her stomach fluttered nervously, and she opened her eyes. Listening wasn’t helping much. At this point Ellie wasn’t sure what to expect, but she was still surprised. It took a few blinks for her vision to clear, the blurriness fading as her eyes widened in shock.

 Oh, there was stone all right. Along with a sconce. On the wall. With a torch. A lit torch.  There is a fucking torch. She froze, her mind reeling as she tried to process what her eyes were seeing.

That silent scream in the back of her mind went into overdrive, and she felt herself go distant and numb. She wasn’t entirely sure how long she stayed like that, frozen in a fear so uncomprehending that Lovecraft himself would approve, but she was distantly aware that one of the men along the walls had exited the room. While she couldn’t remember hearing his heavy footsteps climb up the stairs, she felt certain that he had.

What happened next was vague and confusing. There had been people, yelling, the silvery flash of steel and sword, pain, and darkness. Followed by the sharp and extremely unpleasant feeling of cold water on her face.

Spluttering Ellie’s eyes jerked open and she scrambled to stand, nearly tripping over her chains in the process. Her heart beat frantically in her chest, and her eyes darted wildly between the swords pointed at her, the men holding them, and the stern looking woman glaring at her with a bucket.

Oh. That was the current extent of Ellie’s thoughts on the subject. So far getting splashed with a bucket of water was the only thing that made sense, and she latched onto it. It was a wooden bucket – or would a more accurate term be pail? Is there a difference between a pail and a bucket? – with a rope handle and two strips of metal bands. There were some dents and scuff marks, so the bucket had seen better days. Distantly she wondered how long the average lifetime of a dungeon bucket was, then she remembered the swords. The bucket would have to wait.  

Eventually Ellie’s gaze flitted from the bucket to the woman holding it. From the look on the woman’s face, Ellie surmised that she had probably stared at the bucket long enough for her sanity to come into question. Well done, me. Very smooth.

“You are trying my patience, Mage.” The woman said through gritted teeth, her every word dripping with poorly withheld rage. “You will tell us what happened at the conclave. Now. Or my men will cut you down where you stand.”

It took Ellie a moment for the dark haired woman’s words to register, and her brow furrowed. She closed her eyes in a grimace and shook her head slowly, bringing up a hand to tentatively touch the side of her head. Her skull felt like it had been struck with a hammer, and the sticky mess of semi-congealed blood and hair her fingers found was less than comforting.

The stern woman was still looking at her, waiting for an answer, and the reality of Ellie’s situation began to dawn on her. “I – my apologies, uh, Lady..?” Ellie began, her voice felt fuzzy and rough, as if her tongue didn’t quite fit in her mouth. I probably have a nasty concussion. Stall for time.

Seeker Pentaghast.” The woman corrected with an impatient snap, and Ellie winced. She had no idea what a seeker was supposed to be.

She used the reply to look the woman over more carefully, noting the scar on her face, the quality of her armor, and the sharp features of her face. Ellie couldn’t help but swallow nervously at the splatters of ominously dark fluids that had dried on her plate.

“Seeker Pentaghast, right. I - sorry.” Ellie forced herself not to rush the words. Every second felt dangerously precious. “My-“ Her voice cracked and she stopped to take a deep breath, uncomfortably aware that thinking felt closer to swimming in soup. Ellie had trouble meeting the woman’s gaze, and it didn’t look like this Seeker woman was buying her bullshit. Fuck. When she spoke again, her voice wavered, weak and fearful. “Y-you said the conclave – that something happened?” She didn’t say what happened at the conclave. Ellie realized with a start, pieces beginning to click into place as her eyes widened. Her attention snapping back to Seeker Pentaghast and meeting the steely look in her eyes. “I – you think I did it? Whatever this thing is?”

Seeker Pentaghast’s eyes narrowed. Good Lord this woman was a giant. A furious, sword-wielding, beast woman that could probably saw off a man’s arm with nothing but the sharpness of her cheekbones. I am so fucked.

“The conclave was destroyed. I’m running out of patience for your games.” The Seeker nearly growled out, and Ellie gave a nervous glance to the swords aimed at her.

She felt like a cornered animal, and her eyes darted around the room, meeting each of the soldiers and seeing nothing but hate, anger, and… fear? The soldier stationed by the door was decidedly ignoring the scene. Then Ellie noticed the second woman.

Ellie went still as she locked eyes on the second woman there, and a chill went down her spine. It was the same feeling Ellie got when she’d run into predatory animals alone on trails. I didn’t even notice her. Where Seeker Pentaghast was heat and fury, this woman was cold and silence. She hesitated, but forced her attention away from the second woman. There was something unsettlingly familiar about her, but Ellie couldn’t put her finger on why.

She pushed the thought from her mind, and forced herself to look back at the angry one. “If it was destroyed – a-an attack – why would I let myself get caught?” Ellie tried to put on a brave face, but her voice was a traitor, and she could feel the tightness in her chest and throat that preceded tears.

“Everyone else is dead – your rebellion sought to eliminate the opposition!”

Ellie was officially lost. Just keep her talking. Conversation means not dying. “If this rebellion you’re speaking about was so- so desperate – which I know nothing about – and everyone is dead, then any survivors would be evidence of failure!” That’s how extremists work, right?

Seeker Pentaghast raised a gauntleted fist to strike, and Ellie tensed, raising her cuffed arms instinctively to try and shield herself. Only the hit didn’t come.

Seconds passed and Ellie blinked, daring to open her eyes. The second woman had put a hand on the Seeker’s shoulder, stilling the woman. Both of them now looking towards the hooded woman with some degree of confusion.

“You say your survival is a sign of failure, why?” The second woman asked, her words accented. Is she French? Now that she’d moved closer, Ellie could make out her pale complexion and red hair. Again there was that ping of familiarity that Ellie couldn’t quite place.

Seeker Pentaghast scowled, but lowered her hand. Once Ellie was sure it wasn’t going to fly up again she lowered her arms and straightened. “Uh-well, what I mean – w-well you said this conclave was destroyed, and-and everyone was dead. S-so if it was some sort of explosion, like a terrorist attack, whoever was behind it would have either been at the center of it, knowing they would die, or with a plan to be remote enough that their safety was ensured. right?”

The hooded woman’s eyes narrowed, and Seeker Pentaghast’s jaw twitched. When neither of them spoke, Ellie wrung her hands and pressed her point.

“Either way, it sounds like an act of extremists – who are usually willing to die for a cause. I – uh – I’m relatively unharmed, so I could not have been at the center of it. And-and if I had a hand in this.. I expect I would know more about this situation than I do.”

At some point during her little speech, Ellie’s gaze had drifted down to the floor. She was still wringing her hands, and noted how heavy the chains and bands of iron felt on her wrists. Her voice had been weak and hesitant, trembling along with the rest of her.

Looking back up Ellie flinched when they were both still watching her, and she wanted to shrink under the intensity of their searching eyes. Then Seeker Pentaghast and the second woman exchanged a glance, and the Seeker’s shoulders lowered a fraction of an inch with a frustrated huff.

“She doesn’t know anything.” The Seeker said, her fury now tinted with disappointment.

“I would have to agree.” The second woman replied, turning to leave.

Ellie clenched her jaw, but didn’t say anything. Yes, how fortunate for you that I’m not a bloody terrorist. Sorry I couldn’t satisfy.

Seeker Pentaghast made some motion with her hand and the soldiers moved away from her, sheathing their swords as they filed out of her cell before closing it. Ellie didn’t move, watching them leave on shaky legs. It wasn’t until the door slammed shut, and the relative silence of the dungeon returned, that she realized they’d acknowledged her lack of involvement and left her in the dungeon anyways.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Even she was surprised by her tone of indignation, “they can’t just leave me in here! Aren’t they supposed to let me out!?”

The guard by the door snorted, concealing it poorly with a cough. Asshole.

Chapter Text

The asshole guard at the door, Dillaine as it turned out, wasn’t actually half bad. One of the other guards made the mistake of addressing him by name in passing, and she latched onto it. Ellie still didn’t have half a clue what was going on, but she figured trying to endear herself to her captors wasn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately, her attempts at conversation fell flat. The guards as a whole ignored her in favor of watching whoever was in the cell adjacent.

More than anything she wanted to curl up on the cot and sleep, but sleep and head injuries were a bad combination. So Ellie remained standing, still wet from the Seeker’s dungeon bucket, trying to engage Dillaine in conversation. Why she singled him out over the other soldiers, Ellie wasn’t quite sure, but something about the others made her uneasy.

“So, uh, Dillaine, was it? …Was this the only-I mean, were there other explosions?” Her voice still shook, but now it was mostly due to cold more than nerves. Mostly.

Dillaine pretended to ignore her, but she knew he was listening. It was hard not to, when she was the only person down there speaking.

“What do you call somebody with no body and just a nose?” She paused, doing her best to grin without making half of her face hurt. She could practically hear the dungeon crickets. “Nobody knows!” Ellie tried to hold out her hands when she delivered the punch line, but the chain got in the way of that. “Eh? Anyone?” She glanced around at the other soldiers, and noticed that a few of their hands had moved to rest on their swords. That gave her pause, and she swallowed, her smile faltering.

“Uh.. get it, because no body.. nose?” She glanced nervously back at Dillaine, who was giving her a look that seemed to say ‘are you out of your mind’. Probably. Slowly she lowered her hands back to her sides, opting to stand there quietly like a good little prisoner. She didn’t trust herself to stay conscious sitting.

It was hard to tell how much time passed, but eventually Seeker Pentaghast and the other woman returned to the dungeon. She was ignored, save for a passing glance from the redhead. This time they were interested in the occupant of the other cell. The prisoner got a talk similar to Ellie’s, about how they were the only survivor, and that everyone was dead.

Exactly how many ‘only survivors’ are there? Ellie didn’t correct the scary women, as she enjoyed breathing. The other survivor also got hit with Seeker Pentaghast’s gauntlet, and the dungeon bucket stood at the ready, but unused. There was also talk about a breach, Dalish spies, some glowing mark, and needing the prisoner to fix it all. There was the sound of chains, and a yelp, before the group headed towards the door.

At the sight of the prisoner, Ellie’s jaw dropped. Holy fucking shit her hand is glowing – and she has prison tattoos. On. Her. Face. She didn’t even pretend not to stare wide-eyed at the woman, who looked about as shitty as Ellie felt. Most of the soldiers left with them through the door, and she had been so distracted that she hadn’t noticed much outside the glowing hand.

After that there wasn’t further excitement. Adrenaline gave way to exhaustion, and standing for so long had left her feet numb to the point that she was worried about her toes. Things still didn’t feel right, and her thoughts were sluggish, but eventually she’d have to sleep anyways.

Ellie moved gingerly to her prison slab, which had some straw and a threadbare blanket, and fell into an uneasy sleep.   

 


 

When Ellie awoke the guard had changed, and Dillaine #2 didn’t look as friendly. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but her questions remained unanswered. Everything still hurt, but some of the mental fog had lifted. Hopefully nothing permanent. When nothing came to pass, she slept more.

This time there were dreams – messes of uneasy color and hazy movement that eventually took shape. There was shouting, then her friend Sandy was there, asking Ellie what she thought about her most recent story idea.

“It’s Lavellan, but instead of Thedas, it’s Orange is the New Black, and she’s there instead of Alex – that way the prison vallaslin makes sense. And her and Piper can get it on.” Sandy said excitedly.

“Wait, what?” Ellie replied, looking up from an oversized tomb. “that doesn’t even make any- why would you do that!? I’m not reading that!”

“Pleaaaaaase? I’ll make it up to you, just hear me out!”

Ellie frowned, closing the tomb entitled ‘MAGIC’ in large, golden letters. “Fine.”

“Okay, so there’s a turf war between Mythal and Andruil..” Sandy begins, before the image dissolves into darkness with a bang.

Ellie jerked out of her sleep, and she bolted to her feet in a panic. Her heart was beating a mile a minute, and she looked around wild-eyed before registering where she was. For a brief moment, all the fear came rushing back. Right, the dungeon. I’m in a – I’m a prisoner, and there was a breach.

The bang that woke her had actually been closer to a clatter, and her the door to her cell had swung open. In front of her was Seeker Pentaghast, her expression tired. There was blood smeared on one of her cheeks, and her armor was dented and splattered with a mixture of dirt, snow, and black ichor.

Ellie opened her mouth, but words don’t come out. Seeker Pentaghast ignored her, stepping forward and grabbing one of her arms roughly before using a key to remove the shackles. Well it’s about damn time. Once her other wrists were freed, Ellie managed a quiet “Thank you”.

The Seeker eyed her for a second, before giving her a small nod. “Follow me.” Ellie couldn’t help but notice some of the edge had left her tone.

The woman still terrified her, but Ellie would take what she could get. She scurried out after the Seeker, trying not to wince as she moved. The sharp pain from earlier - was it yesterday? – had now become a stiff, deep ache. It left her feeling worse, if that was possible. Everything seemed to hurt more.

Seeker Pentaghast led her up a flight of stairs, and Ellie couldn’t do much beyond keep up.  She passed a corridor that seemed to lead out into some sort of religious room, before she was lead to a meeting room. Pentaghast stopped so suddenly that Ellie nearly walked right into her.

“This is the other Prisoner. The one seen with the Herald trying to save Divine Justinia.” Seeker Pentaghast said as she stepped aside.

Ellie wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but she certainly didn’t remember trying to save anyone. Swallowing, she looked around the room to find those gathered eyeing her.

 The first person she noticed was a midget with a crossbow, and she tried not to gawk when he gave her a wink. This is a circus. I’m in a circus. Then she noticed another man in plate with armor similar to the Seeker with fur around his collar. The familiar redhead was there as well, and she spoke up first.

“Do you have any idea as to whether she may have fallen out of the breach as well, Solas?” God, why is she so familiar? Wait.. Solas?

Ellie looked to the man – make that elf – named Solas, and blinked. The baldness made his ears prominent enough that he couldn’t be anything but an elf. And if he’s an elf… Her gaze flicked back to the midget. Aren’t dwarves supposed to have beards? Where the fuck am I? She looked over the rest of the faces, but there didn’t seem to be any other races like orcs or gnomes.

Up until now Ellie had intentionally given very little thought to where she was or how she’d gotten there. It had been a conscious effort not to think about it, and she’d half expected to just wake up at some point. Her internal monologues had joked at the idea of comas and interdimensional time travel, but now those jokes were beginning to sound less far-fetched. It was a thought that made her increasingly uneasy.

“I am unable to say for certain. It is possible.” Solas replied, the smooth cadence of his voice matching one she’d heard in the dungeons. Ellie had been so distracted by the glowing hand and facial tattoos that she hadn’t even noticed him.

“Word around Haven was that someone else was seen behind the Herald when she exited the breach.” The dwarf said.

 “Yes, a number of soldiers who witnessed it have speculated that it may have been Andraste herself.” The man with the fur added.

The Seeker turned to Ellie then, “did you fall out of the breach?”

Ellie looked at the Seeker and hesitated, glancing around the room. Her eyes lingering on the scary redhead of all people – as if she had the answer. The woman merely watched her, and Ellie resisted the urge to shudder before looking back at up at Pentaghast.

“I-I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what the breach is.” Ellie replied, surprised when her voice remained relatively steady.

“It is a tear in the veil.” Solas offered.

Ellie looked over at him, her brow furrowing. She glanced between Solas and the scary redhead, her eyes narrowing. Wait a minute… Solavellan? Then it clicked and Ellie’s eyes widened before her attention snapped back to Seeker Pentaghast.

Fuckfuckfuckfuck. Don’t look at them – they’re the smart ones. Am I an elf? Don’t touch your ears! Maybe they won’t notice. Wasn’t Leliana some kind of crazy nun assassin? And Solas some weird – get a hold of yourself Ellie! That’s absurd. You can’t just go into a video game – this is real life. Or.. not real life. This is something that may or may not be real life!

Seeker Pentaghast looked... concerned.

Think fast, think fast! “Hello, my name is Ellie.” Oh my god, this is how you die. No permanent brain damage my ass. Keep it up, maybe they’ll think you’re special. Who are you kidding, you are special.

For a moment Ellie thought the Seeker might try to hit her again, then Ellie realized the thinning of her lips and tensing of her jaw was more surprise than anger. Right, roll with it. Ellie looked to the rest of the others in the room, careful to neither avoid nor linger on Solas or Leliana.

It was impossible for her to tell what either of them were thinking, but with any luck they were just confused and the nun wouldn’t murder her. “You know, because I have a name.” Ellie’s voice didn’t crack, and she managed to speak without the same idiotic bravado that she’d used a sentence prior.

The first person to speak up was a tan, dark haired woman in a frilly golden dress. “My apologies Lady Ellie, I am Lady Josephine Montilyet. I am sure this experience has been trying for you, as it has for us all.”

Lady Ellie? Should have said Eleanor. I need a last name.. pinky out. Ellie tried to smile, but the attempt was strained. Trying to smile hurt. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance Lady Montilyet. I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“I am Commander Cullen Rutherford.” The man with the fur said, giving Ellie a slightly awkward smile. She couldn’t say she blamed him. This was the definition of awkward introductions.

The dwarf was up next. “Varric Tethras, storyteller and fellow prisoner.” He grinned, and Ellie could practically feel the Seeker glaring at him.

“I am Solas.” ‘If there are to be introductions’, hurr hurr… He even clasps his hands behind his back, who does that!?

Right, that only leaves.. “I am Leliana, Nightingale, and Left hand of the Divine.” At some level Ellie had hoped she was wrong. She wanted to believe the warm smile Leliana gave her, but Ellie knew she was supposed to be terrified.

“That’s fancy talk for Spymaster.” Varric volunteered, helpful as always.

“And I am Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, Right hand of the Divine.” Cassandra’s jaw clenched, and her tone made it very clear that her patience was wearing thin.

“So Ellie, did you fall out of the breach?” Varric asked, echoing the question Cassandra had asked.

Ellie looked back over to the dwarf. “No. It’s more likely I was pushed.”

That earned her a smile from Varric, and a scowl from the she-bear Seeker. She didn’t dare look to see what the others thought.  

“Uh, if that’s everything I would like to see a healer.” Ellie paused, then looked over to Josephine. “And perhaps a bath, if that isn’t too much to ask.”

“Very well, I will have a guard escort you-“ Cassandra began, but Ellie cut her off.

Again, Ellie looked to Leliana first, “why do I need an escort?” Then she gave her best attempt at a sharp gaze as her attention shifted to Cassandra. “Am I still a prisoner?”

Yes, poke the mamma bear with a stick. “No, it is merely a precaution.” Cassandra’s tone was warning, and whatever kindness Ellie had managed to coax out of her had fled.

“If I am not a prisoner, then I do not require a guard.”

“Listen here, mage,” Cassandra nearly growled, “the safety of Haven and its people is paramount. I will not risk an abomination by allowing apostates to run freely through the town.”

Ellie was struck dumb for a moment and just stared at Cassandra. Wait, she called me that before, back in the dungeons. It had been one of the first things the Seeker said, but the words hadn’t registered. I have magic? The fleeting excitement Ellie felt was quickly drowned out by the realization of what having magic meant in Thedas.

When Ellie played Origins, she was fairly certain that she’d started out as an elf in a Circle. There was a ritual, and if the mage failed or made the wrong person angry they ended up lobotomized. Every time a mage slept they could get possessed by demons, and she was pretty sure Sandy used to write about a mage named Anders who got possessed and murdered everyone.

Commander Cullen cleared his throat, and looked stuck somewhere between apologetic and stern. “While stabilizing the breach has helped ease tensions, many of the inhabitants are still on edge. They would feel safer...“

Nope, she wasn’t having it. Ellie was too afraid that if she gave them this now, her autonomy wouldn’t be returned to her easily. Deep breath. “Absolutely not.” Now Cullen looked angry, too.

“I beg your pardon?” He snapped back.

Ellie looked between Cullen and Cassandra, her words far braver than she felt. “I said absolutely not. The average individual can’t even tell. Unless I begin casting spells, all your nervous citizens will be none the wiser.”

Cassandra opened her mouth to argue, and Ellie spoke louder. She knew she didn’t have any real understanding of what it was like to be a mage or true minority – at least not like this. In her life there had only been a handful of scenarios that could even begin to qualify, but she remembered every last one of them.  Ellie remembered how unnerving it was the first time she experienced hate from a stranger, all because they thought she was a lesbian. That single experience stuck with her to this day, and it was nothing compared to the years of fear and hate the mages here had to deal with. Not even close. It sucked.

“I have been nothing but cooperative - even under threat of death – and not once have I tried to hurt anyone. All that allowing a Templar to follow me around does is reinforce the idea that I might explode at any given moment – it’s absurd!” Ellie wasn’t sure when her fists had clenched, but pulling up old memories of situations that she’d experienced helped lend genuine, believable anger to her argument.

She took a deep breath, and was amazed that Cassandra hadn’t interrupted her. When Ellie put up a finger to let her finish through her pause, however, it went ignored. Oh well, close enough.

“Your cooperation was not optional. Neither is this.”

Ellie half expected Solas to make a quip, or throw her a bone, or something, but he remained silent on the subject. “Then perhaps a compromise, Lady Seeker?”

Cassandra’s eyes narrowed, but she gave a curt nod as if to say ‘out with it’.

“If you have a spymaster, and I am already a person of interest, I expect she will have people watching me anyways. Could you simply assuage your concerns with their reports? In return I will agree to spend a portion of my day,” Ellie paused, briefly glancing at Cassandra’s armor. “if you have many wounded, perhaps I could help there?”

Cassandra’s eyebrows raised, and her demeanor shifted noticeably. “You are a healer?”

I should have just started with that. “Not with magic, but yes.”

“Very well.”

She could feel Leliana’s eyes burning into her skull, but Ellie wasn’t up for looking. When Cassandra didn’t say anything further, Ellie gave the others a quick glance and took a step towards the door. When nobody made a move to stop her she said a quick goodbye before leaving. Josephine Montilyet caught Ellie’s eye on the way out and gave her a smile – at least somebody was pleased.

 

Chapter Text

It took Ellie a wrong turn or two to find her way out of the church, and the chaos that met her outside only aggravated her fraying nerves. The bright glare of snow didn’t help, and her eyes stung after so much time spent indoors. Also shoes. There was snow, and Ellie was barefoot. The rest of her outfit, from the sweat pants up to the sports bra and t-shirt, indicated running clothes, so she should have had shoes. Did some asshole steal my shoes?

She was about to turn around and head back inside, when she spotted an elf pass by with bare feet. Well shit, it can’t be that bad. Perhaps it was the concussion talking, or sheer stubbornness, but Ellie decided she didn’t need shoes right now. Shoes could come later.

Haven was larger than she’d expected, and she was glad that there was supposed to be some conveniently empty cabin outside of town. Ellie wasn’t sure where it was – a lake? Maybe a river? She couldn’t remember if it was supposed to be for loggers. Still, it was better than trying to crash in one of the refugee tents.

And there were so many refugees. Ellie spent a good half hour wandering around before she considered asking for directions. I look like a zombie. I’ve literally been walking around, covered in dried blood, and nobody has said a word. Maybe the guard wasn’t such a bad idea.

Eventually Ellie managed to get directions from a startled looking elf, only to have an irritable man shove a red vial into her hand before waving her away. No wonder they need more healers. She eyed the vial suspiciously, then downed it before she had the chance reconsider. It tasted like bubblegum mixed with cilantro, which was beyond weird. And disgusting.  

At first Ellie didn’t notice a difference, but then she felt a slow warmth weaving its way out from her stomach. It seemed to settle where it was needed most, and one of her ribs nearly felt hot as the healing potion began to work. Her face and head also felt overly warm, and there was a popping sound in her ears. After a minute the sensation faded away, and the pain was more manageable. Everything still hurt, but breathing wasn’t a struggle and the swelling in her face seemed to have gone down significantly.

Her mind was another story. The potion hadn’t helped with that. While things felt clearer than they had prior to sleeping, thoughts were still slow and strangled instead of the rapid succession of ideas she’d grown accustomed to. Maybe it’s exhaustion – or shock. Moderate and more severe concussions take time. There’s memory loss, so I shouldn’t expect immediate improvement. She pushed the nagging thoughts and fears aside, unwilling to indulge the idea that something might truly be wrong. The smart thing to do would be to find a healer like Solas, and ask them to check, but the idea of someone poking around in her head was unsettling.

Magic was the great unknown, and Ellie wasn’t sure it was worth the risk. She didn’t know how it worked, or what spells could do. If they took a peak into her head and could see more than damage, even fragmented thoughts or memories, it could cause problems. Dangerous problems.

Like the guy who caused the breach. The name was there, in her head, even if she couldn’t remember who it was. She also knew that Solas would try to break up with the Lavellan, then rip her arm off and vanish. Then the inquisition would have to chase after him for the arm, unless the Inquisitor is strong enough to steal the magic from it first. Would that make her an Elvhenan- Elfhyen? Elfy.. elfen?.. thing.. like him?

She tried to remember more, but none of this had ever been important to her. This was all Sandy’s area of expertise and obsession, not hers. Sandy would know exactly what to do, and what to say. Ellie didn’t know shit. The only character she’d recognized was Leliana. Solas didn’t count, not really. She’d read about him, but only because Sandy had spent the past few years writing about humping the guy. Which, now that she’d seen him, was a little weird. Ellie couldn’t see the appeal. I mean, he’s bald. And old. Ew.

“Something on your mind, Ellie?” A familiar, but friendly voice asked. “You’re staring at that empty vial pretty hard.”

Ellie jumped and looked over to see Varric grinning up at her. “Varric, oh. Sorry – I just got lost in thought.” She shoved the empty vial into her pocket.

“Must be some pretty heavy ones.” He started walking, and waved for her to follow. She joined him without hesitation, but focused her gaze on the ground. Without the vial to fiddle with her fingers felt empty, and it took effort not to wring her hands.

“Uh, yeah… I guess. It’s just a lot to take in.” Ellie could feel him watching her, and she chewed on the inside of her cheek. “So, the other prisoner, with the glowing, they’re okay?”

“You mean Shade? I think she’ll be alright.” He hesitated, and she glanced over to see a brief flicker of concern pass over his face. “Stabilizing the breach took a lot out of her, but she’s tough. Just needs her rest.”

“That’s good. Not that her – I mean – I’m glad she’s okay. That she’s mostly okay. It’d be great if she were completely okay but some okay is better than none.” Ellie stumbled over her words, then sighed. I suck at this.

“Don’t worry, I know what you meant… Are you normally this jumpy?”

“No, not really. At least I don’t think so.”

“Well, once you get yourself cleaned up come and join me in the tavern. The drinks are on me.” Varric gave her a comforting smile and patted her arm. She was tall enough that he couldn’t quite reach Ellie’s shoulder.

“Thank you Varric.” She paused, looking at the door in front of her as Varric came to a stop. “Uh, where are we?”

“Ruffles asked me to track you down.”

“Ruffles?”

“Lady Josephine. Something about clothing and a bath.” Varric clarified, before shooing her through the door.

Ellie opened the door, pausing to flash him a smile that reached her eyes. “Thanks Varric.”

Josephine was writing at her desk, but quickly set the quill and ink aside when she looked up to see Ellie. Her large, poofy golden dress threatening to topple her chair when she stood. “There you are! I was beginning to worry. The water should still be warm, follow me.”

Everything about Josephine seemed to radiate warmth, and Ellie did her best to return the ambassador’s smile with an appreciative one of her own.  Gossip and social games weren’t things that Ellie enjoyed, and she hadn’t read enough about the character to know if Josephine’s warmth was genuine. This woman could be Littlefinger with breasts, and Ellie wouldn’t have a clue.

Josephine led Ellie down a hallway, “It didn’t seem appropriate earlier, but I was wondering if you had any relatives or close friends I should contact.”

“No, not that I can think of Lady Montilyet.” The confession seemed to startle Josephine, but she recovered quickly.

“Are you certain? With the events of the conclave I’m certain you should let someone know you’re safe. Is there not an aunt or cousin who will worry after you?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” Ellie cleared her throat, “I don’t have any family, and travel has left little opportunity to form friendships.” It wasn’t quite a lie, but it wasn’t true.

“And you travel alone?”

Ellie nodded, “generally, yes.” The smile she tried to give Josephine felt closer to a grimace, and her stomach knotted at the appraising look ‘Ruffles’ was now giving.

“There are seldom few who feel safe enough to pursue such endeavors.”  Oh shit..

“To be honest, in many ways I feel safer in the mountains than I do here.” Josephine was still eyeing her. “I can run fast, and bears don’t wield crossbows.”

The tension broke and Josephine chuckled, “A blessing we are all grateful for.”

She showed Ellie into a smaller room, with a privacy screen and large bathtub. “The clothing I set aside may be less suitable than I realized. I will have something more appropriate brought in.” Shit.

“I doubt that very much, Lady Montilyet. I’m sure whatever you’ve gathered is fine.”

“No, I insist. And please, call me Josephine.” Shit.

“Thank you, Josephine.” Ellie managed, and Josephine swept away from the room.

Getting the blood out of her hair was almost more trouble than it was worth. Her long, ash brown hair had always been a source of pride, but now she had half a mind to chop it all off. No wonder Solas is bald. This world is terrible enough that having to wash your hair is a legitimate reason to turn someone down. At least it was straight. If her hair was curly that would have been the end of it then and there.

The water had gone cold by the time she figured out an effective method of getting clean. It became a game of trying to rinse dirty skin with dirty water, and somehow persuading the dirtier bits to go away.  When she started to shiver, the game was up, and Ellie hopped out of the tub to towel off. Madness. A sort of leather hair wrap had been provided, and after a few tries Ellie managed to twist her ridiculously impractical mane into a secure bun. The goal was that it would stay in place while running for her life.

Then came the clothes. Shit. It was both what she’d hoped for, and dreaded. This is how I die. Whatever Josephine had initially set out had been replaced with actual clothing, meant for competent people. How she could even find this stuff, in a size that fit her, was terrifying in and of itself.

The breeches were leather, and a dark brown. From what she could tell, they went over the other layer that was sort of like pants but not. What she’d thought was a belt turned out to be for her breasts, and from there it was another 15 minutes before Ellie could figure out how, exactly, she was supposed to keep her tits in place.  Then there was the undershirt, which was easy enough. Followed by a real shirt made of a thick, heavy fabric. The color was somewhere around dark grey.

It was itchy, but it reminded her of the shirts she’d use while backpacking. So far it was the most familiar thing she’d seen since falling into this god-forsaken hellhole, and Ellie was surprised by how comforting it was. The jacket was also leather, but it had short sleeves for some reason. This place can’t even figure out how a jacket works – it’s no wonder the bloody sky is falling… I guess that’s why Leliana wears a cowl.

After buckling the straps of her confused not-jacket, she took a deep breath and sent out a silent prayer that she had managed to dress herself right. I swear to God, if the clothing is what fucks me I will explode. I will figure out how to use all my scary magic and just – boom. With my luck half this shit is on backwards, and I’ll spend the weekend in Leliana’s Guantanamo Bay.

The shoes were made of a more flexible leather than her not-jacket, which made even less sense. At least there were socks. There was also some sort of foot wrap she’d seen on a few of the elves, but she wasn’t even going to try and pull that one off. Why are there no pockets!? Fuck it, they can get stuffed in my boots.

By the end of it, dressing herself had taken nearly as long as her bath, and in many ways had been more frustrating than rotting in the dungeon. Being held at sword point was supposed to be trying – putting on pants wasn’t. The fact that something so simple was now hard, made the world real in a way that pain and terror couldn’t.

I need to have someone look at my head.

Ellie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and was about to exit the room when she noticed it: a staff. Josephine, you wonderful, horrible creature. Cassandra is going to throw a fit. Josephine was officially in Ellie’s good book. No wonder she was Ambassador.

The sight of it was as exciting as it was terrifying, and she found herself afraid of touching it. Will holding it make my magic more volatile? What if I’m not actually a mage, and they’re wrong? She glanced around furtively, before giving it a quick poke with her index finger. Nothing happened. It just felt like wood. Idiot, what were you expecting? She gave it another tap, this time with her hand. It’s not like it’s going to burn you. Again, nothing happened. You’re being paranoid. Another, longer tap. Still nothing.

Despite her relief, she frowned.

It’s a staff, aren’t I supposed to feel something?

If she left without the staff, Josephine would know something was up. You don’t have a choice, just grab the damn thing! And grab it she did.

Then she felt something.

Chapter Text

At first it was a light tug – as if some invisible cord running down the length of her arm had gone taut. It didn’t hurt, but the sensation wasn’t exactly pleasant. Then the invisible string began to stretch, and she could feel it twist into the staff. Ellie didn’t know any other way to describe the feeling, or how she knew what the cord was doing outside of her body. It was eerie.

Since it didn’t seem to be killing her, Ellie suppressed the urge to fling it across the room.

It reminded her of a snake, the way it – whatever this was – seemed to slither out of her. Then the feeling began to run beyond her shoulder and into her chest, webbing and crisscrossing as it branched the length of her body. Okay, fuck you Thedas, this is weird. Like seriously, Maker dude, what the Fuck?

The prickle as it ran up her neck reminded Ellie of static, and when it began to force its way through her skull the floor felt like it had been pulled out from under her. The sound of blood was loud in her ears, and for a second Ellie thought she was going to be sick. Then the ‘branches’ she felt, for lack of a better word, then went rigid. She could feel them cracking. It was like her capillaries had branched out of their own accord, and simultaneously shattered.

From the cracks invisible water seemed to leak, and the shattered pieces began to melt away as her insides were saturated. What Ellie guessed was ‘magic’ continued to flow, until there wasn’t any space left. She could feel it press against her skin, and when that didn’t work, it began to flow into the staff instead.

The small orange orb on its top began to glow, and she could feel it hum inside her skull. Then Ellie’s eyes went wide, trying to make it flow back before something exploded. No no no no! Back! Get out of there! Not in the staff!

It was like a seal had broken, and Ellie didn’t know how to turn off the faucet.

Some of the invisible cord was still there, and it tugged at her palm. Mentally telling the liquid magic to stop did nothing, and the tug grew more insistent. Asking nicely hadn’t worked, and in frustration she tugged back. That did something. The ‘cord’ feeling ran up her arm, and she shuddered before tugging harder. It was a struggle, but the leaking tapered until it finally stopped.

Pulling the rest of it out was harder. The magic didn’t seem to like being called back, and it continued to try and slither out of her metaphysical fingers. It’s like trying to grab water. Progress was slow, and the effort it took for her to siphon the energy out of her staff had her breaking a sweat. Finally, the hum in her mind subsided and the staff was empty. There has got to be a better way to do this.

Ellie continued to push and wrangle the energy until it felt contained. Until it felt ‘safe’. The effort of doing so took a physical toll, but the immediate danger had passed. Without any clocks Ellie didn’t know how long she’d been in the bath room at this point, but it was too long. She needed out.

Completely forgetting her bloodstained, disgusting clothes on the floor, Ellie fled. She wanted to put some distance between herself and the room before anything else could go wrong.

Prior to grabbing the staff Ellie didn’t feel great, but the bath had gone a long way towards helping her feel better. Getting clean and the unexpected familiarity of the grey shirt she’d been given had given her spirits considerably. Ignoring that she’d fled a bath room, and that she was currently speed walking down a hall in a state of semi-panic, Ellie almost felt like she was back to being herself.

Her psyche was on its way to recovery. Her body, on the other hand, now felt like it had been hit by a truck. Whatever happened with the staff had left her on shaking legs, and the nausea was only countered by how much everything hurt. As an added bonus, Ellie was also starting to feel light-headed.

The hallway was shorter than she remembered, and her desire to keep up appearances made it easier to soothe the fear bubbling up in her chest. Whatever emotional baggage she’d managed to pick up from a bathroom could wait. It isn’t like the bathroom is going to chase me down the hall. She could figure it out later. Right now survival was what mattered. Slowing her steps to slow, Ellie gave herself the few seconds she needed to calm down before stepping back out into Josephine’s office.

Josephine was back to writing away at her desk, and Ellie gave her an awkward smile. “I, uh, thank you for letting me get cleaned up. I’m sorry it took so long.”

“Think nothing of it.” Josephine said, looking up and giving Ellie a warm smile. The woman’s dark eyes flitted quickly over her and the outfit. Josephine’s brow creased, but it smoothed just as quickly as it had appeared. “It fits you better than I’d expected.”

“The staff or the clothes? Either way, I am in your debt.”  Well, look at you! That was almost cheeky.

“Both.” Josephine looked quite pleased with herself. For a brief moment the mask seemed to fall, and Ellie could see just how tired the woman was. Strained and stretched thin against and endless torrent of needs. The woman clearly adored frilly dresses and delicate things, but Ellie couldn’t help but admire the grace and composure Josephine maintained while navigating the clusterfuck that was currently Haven.

Then it was gone, and Josephine was back to being calm and radiant.

“Are you feeling alright?” Josephine asked, after a pause.

Ellie blinked and straightened before giving Josephine an embarrassed nod. She must have zoned out. “I’ll be fine. I just need to eat something, and I believe Varric owes me a beer.” Wait, when was the last time I ate something? She didn’t want to go to the tavern, but there had been more truth to her words than she’d realized.

“Well I shant keep you from him any longer.” Josephine replied, and Ellie could take a hint.

“Right” Ellie headed towards the door, grateful for the escape. Holy cannoli I am starving! How am I not dead from dehydration!? She’d grabbed the handle before remembering herself, and stopped to look back at Josephine. “I mean it. Thank you for your kindness, Josephine. I have little doubt that you put other ambassadors to shame.”

It was more heartfelt than Ellie had intended, but the words had left a warmth in her chest that was in sharp contrast to the cold that greeted her outside. Ellie couldn’t bring herself to care that Josephine had interrogated her with kindness. The woman had managed to outsmarted her, and had done so in a way that left Ellie feeling grateful for having been outsmarted.

Were Ellie actually some wandering mountain mage, she probably would have been convinced to stick around – at least for a while. Josephine had no way of knowing that Ellie had planned stay with the inquisition regardless, because she knew the stakes were higher than anyone here realized. She was here out of necessity, and there was a big difference between commitment and loyalty. Ellie couldn’t speak for the inquisition as a whole, but for now Josephine had earned the latter.

Glancing in the direction Varric had indicated before dropping her off, she frowned. The sun was low on the horizon, but if they were far enough north or south that could mean anything. Just how long was I in that bathroom for!? Her legs were still weak, and just standing there took more effort than Ellie wanted to admit. Right, to the tavern.

Outside it was colder than she’d remembered, by a lot. It was also louder. Sharper. Nothing a beer couldn’t fix. She knew drinking on an empty stomach, while dehydrated, was a terrible idea, but she was struggling to muster the energy needed for giving a shit.

To her relief, the tavern was nearby and easy to find. From the street she could smell food, and the muffled sounds of raucous conversation was a bit of a giveaway. Earlier when she’d walked around nobody paid her any mind, but now she was getting stares. At first Ellie thought it was because of her clothing, or the fact that she was no longer covered in filth. Then she realized it wasn’t about her – not really. It was that she was carrying a staff, and a staff meant she was a mage. Right, because a woman covered in blood isn’t alarming in the slightest.

It wasn’t like she was trying to put her mageyness on display, but from the looks of it the cat was out of the bag. Wasn’t this precisely what the Seeker and Commander wanted to avoid? Shit. Josephine, if you just screwed me over I swear… Ellie didn’t want to think about it. From the conversation earlier Ellie knew she’d have to prove herself, but miss frilly-ball-of-sunshine had fast-tracked it with a staff. She’s a god damned puppeteer. You didn’t have to take the staff, dumbass. You could have left it. What a mess.

Ellie was so lost in thought that she nearly walked into an exiting patron at the door, but managed to avoid a collision.

The warmth of bodies, food, and fire hit Ellie like a wall as she stepped inside. Some of the louder voices near the door went quiet, and she frowned when she caught one of them eyeing her. I walk around town covered in blood and nobody bats an eye, do it with a staff and everyone loses their mind.

She looked over and between the moving sea of people crammed into the building, wandering further into the open room as she tried to spot Varric. Ellie even went on her toes before she finally spotted the beardless wonder writing at a table in the corner.

“I believe you promised me a drink.” Ellie said playfully, and she set the staff down on the table before half falling into the chair next to him. When Varric looked up and did a double take, she couldn’t help but return his surprise with a weary, but genuine, smile.

He let out a soft whistle. “Not bad, Ellie. Keep it up and you might pass for living.” Ellie snorted.

“Damn, I was aiming for human.” She retorted. Ellie knew half of her face was mosaic of bruises, and she was too tired to care that a slow zombie would beat her in a footrace. Sitting down had helped with the lightheadedness, so at least she wasn’t going to pass out.

“Now, let’s not get hasty.” Varric teased back, a spark in his eyes. Then he turned to the woman behind the bar and called out, “Flissa, how about some food and two pints?”

“And water.” She muttered, resting her head on the table.

“And water.” Varric echoed.

Flissa gave him a nod, shouting something back that Ellie couldn’t make out over the rest of the noise.

He turned his attention back to Ellie and chuckled. “I didn’t know that bathing was such an ordeal. Was there a dragon in the tub?”

Ellie grimaced at him, trying not to smirk. “Only if my hair counts as a dragon.” With a sigh she pushed herself back upright.

“Bad hair day?” He asked innocently.

“You could say that. Thankfully,” she waved a hand in the direction of her hair, “the beast has been tamed.”

He laughed, and Flissa dropped off the drinks first. “Food’s still on the way.”

Varric grabbed his mug without preamble. “Thanks Flissa.” He gave her a wink, and she giggled before heading back behind the bar.

Ellie was at that point of thirst where she didn’t feel like drinking anything, and the first mouthful of water hurt to swallow.

“You don’t happen to know how long I was locked up for, do you?” Ellie asked.

“The Breach opened two days ago.”  Ellie was going to ask him if the Herald had woken up yet, but he asked his own question before she could. “So why didn’t Ruffles put you in ruffles?”

Ellie shrugged her shoulders and took another sip of water, and this time it went down easier. “Not sure.”

Varric didn’t look like he bought that for a second. “Now, don’t insult my intelligence. A getup like that has a story behind it.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, pursing her lips. Her reaction only seemed to amuse him further, and when he continued to wait for a response she took another sip of water. The final act of her failed rebellion. He smirked.

“Josephine decided a dress wouldn’t suit me.” He gave her a look as if to say ‘annnnd?’ Ellie rolled her eyes. “I’ve spent a lot of time travelling over mountains and through forests. Frills don’t work well for that sort of thing.” Technically, it wasn’t a lie.

The confession earned her a grin. “How did a nice lady like you end up scaling mountains?”

Ellie’s brow furrowed and she frowned. The truth was that she enjoyed it, but backpacking and hiking back home was a lot safer than here. She doubted that people in Thedas backpacked or learned survival skills recreationally. Surviving here didn’t sound very recreational. Then she remembered Varric was watching her, so she settled for another shrug. “I liked it?”

“You went around doing that sort of thing for fun?” His eyebrows rose with incredulity. “Does that mean you’ve spent time around the Dalish?”

Ellie shook her head. “No, I haven’t interacted with them. I just enjoyed the freedom of being alone.” She’d dragged Sandy on a trip once, but even their friendship was strained by day three. Sandy would join her for day hikes though, even though she wasn’t big on hiking. Ellie had always loved that about her. The rest of her friends wouldn’t indulge her strange fondness for exercise.

“You sound like Chuckles.” Varric stated after he’d eyed her for a moment.

Ellie was about to argue, but caught herself. She wasn’t supposed to know that Chuckles meant Baldy. “Chuckles?”

“Solas. Our other wilderness wandering hermit apostate.”

Ellie felt her heart fall into her stomach and she grimaced to hide whatever expression might have otherwise crossed her face. They weren’t anything alike, and the last thing she needed was people thinking she had things in common with him.

Solas was some weird, bazillion year old elf-god-shapeshifter prone to ripping off his girlfriend’s arm to steal back his power! That’s the very definition of maladjusted psychopath. He couldn’t even keep his dangerous, sky-exploding magic orb from ending up with an equally insane old magic guy, because he was too busy napping for a thousand years!

She’d opened her mouth to retort, but couldn’t figure out what to say. The very notion of it upset her more than it should have, and on top of that she wasn’t supposed to know anything about him. And what she did know, she’d have been happier not knowing.

“What makes-“ Ellie began, but stopped when Flissa interrupted with some bread and stew. Really, she’d have taken any opportunity to try and salvage the situation. “Thank you.”

Flissa smiled at her before looking at Varric and clearing her throat with a smirk. Varric paid her, and Ellie managed to get more water before the woman disappeared.

She didn’t wait before digging in, and the first mouthful had her thinking it was the best food she’d ever had. It wasn’t true, but any food was good food at this point. And it wasn’t bad. Pace yourself.

She glanced at Varric, then gave a double take when she realized he was watching her. Ellie froze as if she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. His eyes were crinkled and there was a small smile on his lips. Ellie’s brow furrowed in confusion as she tried to think what was so funny. Wait a minute... is that smugness? Is he smug? What does he have to be smug about!? He doesn’t even know anything!

Varric’s lip twitched.

He is! That smug motherfucker!

She huffed and shot him a scathing look, then went for her beer. It was beer time. This day had been so confusing she wasn’t even sure what she was mad about.

Chapter Text

Varric didn’t question her further, and the flow of information reversed.

The inquisitor was still unconscious, so she knew nothing major could have happened yet. Ellie was careful about what she asked, and most of the questions were about where everything in Haven was. When she asked about work, Varric told her to find the quartermaster, Threnn, and Ellie made a mental note to track him down tomorrow. Hopefully there was something she could do here for money. With all the refugees there had to be something. Ellie didn’t have a clue why there were refugees, but she was probably supposed to know that, so she didn’t ask.

Eventually things in the tavern began to slow down, and Ellie decided to call it. She thanked Varric again for the meal and booze, then grabbed her staff and headed back outside. Night had fallen, and the temperature had dropped along with the sun. It’s too dark to try and find the cabin. She walked back down the street the way she’d come, and the stables sounded like a good place to crash. Hay was a fantastic insulator. If it weren’t for the staff she’d have even considered open ground near a fire. Now that she’d been outed, both to herself and the town, it didn’t sound like a good idea. What about the Chantry? That was probably the best call.

She doubted that they’d allow her to sleep there, but they’d be able to point her in the right direction. The few people she passed along the way left her alone, and the effects of her last beer were starting to wear off. Pity. When the Chantry came into view, she didn’t want to go inside. People like the Commander and Seeker could be inside, and churches had always made her uncomfortable. The guards stationed in front of the doors didn’t help.

Ellie avoided looking at them as she approached, and did her best to seem like she didn’t give a damn. They didn’t say anything, and she hadn’t expected them to, but she entered the building swiftly regardless. There were less people in the main room than she’d seen earlier, but there were still nuns shuffling around.

When she’d exited the Chantry after gaining her freedom, Ellie hadn’t paid much attention. Now she could see that most of the open space had been taken up by supplies, and what little space remained was clearly intended for worship. There was a statue of a woman, but Ellie couldn’t remember her name. She’d need to fix that. There were also a few bookshelves on one of the far walls, half buried behind boxes and bags.

She made it a few steps deeper into the building before one of the nearby nuns approached her. “Is there something you need?” The woman’s tone was tired, but polite.

Ellie almost managed a smile. “Yes, I was hoping someone would be able to tell me where I could sleep.”

“Were you not assigned a tent?”

“No. I didn’t have the opportunity to check with anyone until now.” At the annoyed look the woman gave her, Ellie added. “I’m happy to figure something out myself, but if everyone did that there would be chaos, so I thought to check first.”

The woman sighed, “very well,” then motioned Ellie to follow as she walked up to one of the other nuns. “Sister, do you know where late there might be space for a night arrival?”

Sister number two looked up from some sort of log in her hands, hesitating when she saw Ellie. They probably didn’t get many people who had managed to get a bath before a bedroll. There was also that whole mage thing.

“There are a few tents that should have space, but…” The second sister let her words taper off, because Ellie was the Elephant in the room.

“I wouldn’t wish for my sleeping to cause any undue duress.” Ellie stated dryly. The second sister winced. Oh for the love of-

“What about that mage tent?”

“I don’t think we can squeeze in another.”

Ellie wanted to interject and say she didn’t need the tent, just a roll, but that meant not having a place out of sight. She wanted the tent. The two started going back and forth, and the one who had been taking inventory went to get another ledger. By now she could have been in the stables, blissfully warm. The two women continued to bicker, and then one of them said something that caught Ellie’s attention. “…no, she can’t go there. That’s where the elves are.” Wait, what?

“I don’t mind a tent with elves.” Ellie said quickly, daring to hope it really could be that simple.

“Are you sure? They’re a little cramped compared to-“ The first Sister started, before Ellie interrupted her.

“Yes. It’s fine so long as there’s space for me.”

“Well, if you’re sure… I think there’s one from earlier today that isn’t full.” Sister two said.

“Just tell me how to get there – no wait, I’d need someone to show me. And a blanket. Or Bedroll. Whatever.”

“Very well, finish things up here Sister Rita,” the first Sister said, “I’ll show her where it is.” That actually surprised her. Ellie had expected them to find a soldier, but she wasn’t about to suggest it.

The first sister rummaged through a nearby room before reappearing with some sort of hide and a blanket. It was bare bones, but it was enough. Ellie took it and followed the Sister, whose name turned out to be Janis, out the door and down past the obvious tents to what was clearly the shitty side of the refugee camp. Some of the tents had holes, and the ground was muddy in places.

Her tent was clustered together with four others, all sharing a central fireplace. The few elves that were sitting around the fire stared at Ellie, as she was clearly committing some sort of human faux paus. I really need people to knock off this whole staring thing.

“Here we are, this one should have room.” Sister Janis said in that polite tone that let Ellie know she was glad to be rid of her. Ellie didn’t hold it against her.

“Thank you, Sister Janis.” Ellie replied quietly, stealing a glance back towards the fire. The trio of elves were still staring at her, and she really wished that she could remember that one elven swear Sandy liked to use about wolf dicks. Sister Janis didn’t stick around, and Ellie gave the staring elves a forced smile and short nod before heading into the tent.

There was, in fact, room inside the tent. It wasn’t much, and judging from an empty spot one of the elves by the fire slept in here. She did her best to be quiet, and a few of her sleeping tent-mates stirred, but she didn’t think she’d woken any of them in the time it took to set down her staff and roll out the hide. The short fur made her think it was from a deer or horse.

Ellie sat down and wrapped herself up in the blanket, then started to untie her boots before thinking better of it. It was harder to steal boots when they were still on feet. She ground wasn’t comfortable, and too much movement pissed her bruises off. It took her a minute to find a position that was warm enough and comfortable, but once she did sleep came within minutes.

She awoke to movement and rustling nearby, and grunted as the confusion from her sleep faded. During the night Ellie had rolled onto her side, and her whole body felt stiff. The sound of movement stopped, and she untangled herself enough to look at where the sound was coming from. It was one of the elves going through a bag, but he’d stopped when she woke up. He was a few years older than her judging by appearance, and was watching her nervously – unwilling to look her in the eyes. Always with the looking!

Ellie groaned, “Ugh, not you too – everyone keeps gawking at me like I’m going to devour their firstborn.” Her words were still thick with sleep, and half of them were mumbled. Now he just looked confused. “What time is it?”

“One bell, my Lady.” He replied.

Right, because they don’t have clocks, so the time of day is indicated by the bell tower. Sitting up was a slow and painful affair, and she fumbled while pulling the rest of her blanket off. “Yeah, well this lady needs to take a piss.” The words were out of her mouth before she realized it, and it was clear her word filter was still asleep. “Right, sorry. You didn’t need to know that. Um,” She scratched her head, and realized he seemed to be waiting for her to say something. Ellie wasn’t really sure what to make of it, so she ignored it. “Is it okay if I leave my staff here?”

He blinked, “Y-yes?“

Weird. “Awesome, Thanks!”

Ellie left the guy in the tent, found the latrines, then went to hunt down the Quartermaster, Threnn. She headed towards of the Chantry, since it was visible to the whole town, and from there she’d try to follow the directions Varric had provided. Along the way she smoothed out her clothing, as she had quite literally just rolled out of bed. Once she was satisfied she checked her hair, and was pleased that it had mostly remained it place. There were a few strands of hair that had fallen down to frame her face, and that was fine.

The only other thing of note was that her magic goop felt like it had expanded during the night. The way she’d wrapped it up had more-or-less held, but she’d have to figure out how to deal with it at some point today. When she’d find the time was a mystery, given that she’d said she’d help treat the injured. She’d figure it out.

The streets were busy, and people were talking to each other excitedly. In passing she heard mention of the Herald - which meant Lavellan woke up. A crowd had started to form in front of the chantry, and there were rows of soldiers outside.

“What happened?” Ellie asked a middle-aged woman nearby.

“The Herald of Andraste walked by, and an Inquisition was declared.” The excitement was clear in her voice.

Ellie didn’t have anything to say in response to that beyond a quick “thanks.” Back to the tent. If everyone was focused on that, then she should be able to step out of town unnoticed. There were a few elves milling about the area, and they also seemed excited. It made sense, considering Levallan was an elf.

Ducking into the tent, she found her staff where she’d left it, and snatched it off the ground. Word of the Herald and Inquisition was travelling fast, and people were distracted enough that they didn’t pay her much attention. Ellie wasn’t a huge people person, so the less unwanted attention the better.

Ellie wandered between buildings until the town was replaced with rocks and trees. Next, it was a matter of finding an open space where she could risk exploding with relative safety. After thirty minutes of searching, she found a clearing full of rock. It didn’t look like a quarry to her, so that must be somewhere else. Now it was time to cast magic.

Staff in hand, Ellie staggered her stance and… nothing happened. What, exactly, am I trying to do right now? What do I want to do with the magic once I get it out? Do I need to move or say anything for it to work?

If she weren’t so stubborn, Ellie would have gone to Solas for help. After what had happened the first time she’d grabbed her staff, not seeking a more experienced mage felt foolish. Keeping the invisible liquidy mass inside of her at bay was hard enough, and Ellie didn’t think she’d be able to put it back once it was out. Doing it the first time had cost her nearly every ounce of strength she had.

In a rare moment of wisdom, Ellie decided it might be better to start without the staff. She set it down a short distance away, then walked into the clearing. Turning her attention inwards, Ellie focused on the blob of magical ‘stuff’. She tried to use her mind and focus on gently loosening the thin barrier covering it, unweaving the layer she’d pushed it into.

The threads didn’t pull apart readily, and Ellie tried to use a little more strength. The energy began to seep through, dripping out and diffusing into her. Ellie smirked, then swore loudly as the barrier burst. The magic flooded her, sending a jolt as it slammed violently against her skin. It hurt. Not in a physical way, and the pain registered with the same confusing sense she used to understand there was anything there to begin with.

Her jaw clenched, and Ellie was distantly aware that she’d bit through the inside of her lip enough for it to bleed. The air around her crackled, and she could feel it hum around her angrily. Ellie was terrified. The energy needed out. It demanded it. Ellie wanted to scream, but she couldn’t even find the air to breathe. It was a torrent of unbridled fury roiling against the confines of her body.

She couldn’t contain this, and unless she did something fast it was going to tear her apart. She tried to raise a hand, but her fingers only twitched and spasmed. Thoughts of flames and willing them into existence fell upon deaf ears. The energy didn’t want to be fire, and it didn’t want to shake the ground when she tried to push it through her feet. 

The air cracked and popped as the turbulence within her increased, and she could hear a whisper call to her through the now-shattered space inside her. Whatever had broken, Ellie couldn’t replace. There was a whisper offering help, a way to make it stop, but her mind was fraying and she couldn’t form the words in her mind to respond. It was on the other end of the torrent and kept asking – pleading for her to let it help. ‘Let me in’ it seemed to say, but Ellie didn’t know how to. She didn’t see why she’d need to. There was nothing left between her and the other side. It should have been able to flow into her as easily as the energy now thrashing inside of her.

“I can’t.” It seemed to say. She didn’t hear the words, but knew they’d been said. It spoke using intent in the same alien way she felt the cord running up her arm. It was a second, different set of senses that allowed her to perceive the immaterial. 

Why not? Ellie asked, while everything continued to unravel.

She was beginning to tear, and the whisper wouldn’t save her. There wasn’t time, and the air was beginning to spark. I should have asked for help.

Spark. Not like fire. Electric. The effort of coherent thought was halting and awkward, but it clicked. Ellie didn’t know how or why, but the energy in her wasn’t goop – it was plasma. If this was magic, the fury and heat consuming her was lightning. Sandy loved lightning.

Ellie focused on trying to make an electrical current run up through her leg and out an arm, and the magic exploded into the world. She could feel it crackle as the light bounded, zigzagged, and jumped up her body before shooting out of her hand into the ground. The earth beneath her was alive as electricity branched and dissipated. It had worked, and she encouraged and coaxed it to persist. She was channeling magic, and there was a ton of it. Her ears ringing with the snap and hiss of the air around her.

The more she pushed, the stronger it got. Her leg was starting to ache, but she ignored the physical pain. It was nothing compared to the overwhelming sense of relief as the pressure ebbed – or the seductive thrill that came with power.

Ellie only stopped when the other end, the place the whisper and plasma had come from, stopped flowing and began to tug back. The electricity didn’t stop immediately, and Ellie could only guess that after channeling it for so long the energy didn’t want to stop. So Ellie yanked it shut, then collapsed onto the ground. Her chest heaved, and she coughed from the effort of propping herself up on her elbows.

She was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and after a few more deep breaths Ellie sat up. Looking down she’d half expected to find her clothing ruined, but it was only singed in a few spots. I guess the Maker doesn’t want mages running around naked. Good call. She was a little worried about her leg, and the pain running up her side, but everything still moved. At the very least she didn’t think she’d cooked herself.

There was still static in the air, but it was significantly smaller and less agitated. Inside the energy, mana, she corrected, was depleted and content. “Dios mio,” she muttered, climbing to her feet. “The gods must be crazy.”

Before she had the chance to do anything else ill-advised, Ellie went back for her staff and headed towards haven. She left behind a large circle of Lichtenberg lines that branched from the center. Lasting evidence of her folly.

Chapter Text

The frizz was real. The majority of Ellie’s walk back to Haven involved trying to flatten the new strands of hair that were sticking out in all directions. She’d tried experimenting with her little static bubble, but so far attempts had proved futile. Solas was going to take one look at her and realize she had no fucking clue how magic worked. Had she been a normal mage, and not an inter-dimensional frequent flier, it would have been beyond embarrassing. Who was she kidding, it was still embarrassing.

Don’t forget the brain damage.

Playing the fool had never been something she strived for, but she clearly excelled at it. Maybe she could be the loveable idiot mascot.

Haven was bustling with activity on her return, and Ellie loved it. The herald was awake, and suddenly nobody gave a damn that she was some leather-wearing weirdo with a staff. The glorious Herald of Andraste was up and ready to kiss babies and make the ladies swoon. Or, well, the men. Unless she’s into that.

After a few wrong turns, Ellie was able to locate Threnn – who turned out to be a woman. This entire time Ellie had imagined a heavy dude with tattoos, and she got a decent looking lady in a turban instead.

“Yes?” Threnn asked when she approached.

“Uh, hi! I was hoping I could get a job of some kind.” Ellie inwardly cringed, she practically radiated awkward. Honestly, she thought Threnn was a little intimidating.

“Sure thing, what’s your name?” She actually sounded pretty kind.

“Ellie.”

Threnn grabbed a book and shook her head. “You’ve already been assigned a job, but if you have a full name for payroll I’d appreciate it.” Say what? Threnn gave Ellie a small smile.

 “I do?”

“Yep, although I must admit it’s a little strange that you didn’t know that.” Threnn raised an eyebrow in question, and Ellie shrugged. “Lady Montilyet sent me a message ‘round an hour ago to put you on the Inquisition’s payroll. Said to give you half in advance.”

Ellie had to make a conscious effort not to frown. The nice clothing and staff had been one thing, but now Josephine was trying to give her payment for a job Ellie hadn’t agreed to. Sure, Ellie needed money, but accepting this would be like signing a blank contract. It didn’t feel right.

“Any chance I could borrow funds, decline the advance, then repay the debt once I’ve earned enough to do so? I’m not comfortable accepting an advance for a job I haven’t agreed to.”

Threnn nodded. “I don’t see why not. You want the advance amount?”

Ellie shook her head. “Half that.” It wasn’t like Ellie knew what the money here was worth. Threnn started filling out a separate form. She asked about Ellie having a surname a second time, and Ellie grinned.

“Eleanor Roosevelt.” Ellie had been waiting for an excuse to say it, hoping the surname would be unique. Her parents had named her after the First Lady, and this way anyone else from Earth might recognize it. Threnn asked her to spell it out.

“Roosevelt? You from the Free Marches, then?”

“Yeah, originally.” Ellie made a mental note to find out what the Free Marches was.

“You got a funny accent for a Free Marcher.”

“I mustn’t have spent much time there, then.” Finally, a verbal spar where Ellie wasn’t out of her league. “So, you’re the one with supplies, too. Right?”

Threnn nodded. “I am.”

“You don’t have something I could use to hold my staff, by any chance?” Carrying it around everywhere had gotten old, fast. “And how much for a pair of gloves? Oh, and a dagger!”

“Yeah, I think I have something around here somewhere… For the gloves, fingerless?”

“No, fingered. Something that isn’t too hard to climb with.” Ellie said, and Threnn gave her an odd look.

“You’re a little funny for a mage, aren’t you?” Well gee, thanks. Ellie scrunched her face up at Threnn’s remark.

“Having magic doesn’t make me good at it. I’m terrible.” She couldn’t help herself, and snorted.

“Uh huh.” Threnn sounded skeptical, and handed her a pair of gloves, dagger, and what looked like a back holster for the staff. Ellie gave her thanks, and Threnn handed her a bag of coins after deducting her purchases from the original borrowed amount.

Later she realized she’d forgotten to ask about a proper bedroll, but what she had in the elf tent was enough. There were other people in need of supplies, and Ellie already had so much it didn’t seem fair to ask.

Sleeping through half the day meant there were only a few hours of daylight left, so Ellie went to help out in the healer’s tent. There were more injured soldiers than she’d expected, and even with magic a few of the injuries were so bad that Ellie didn’t think they were going to make it.

Adan, the man she’d gotten a potion from earlier, was in and out, and she learned his bedside manner sucked for everyone – not just her. The man cared, but he was still an asshole. She’d had to argue with him over being allowed to change bandages, and he refused to assign her anything beyond cutting strips of linen. It was a waste of her talents, but she wasn’t planning to stay long and the bandages weren’t going to make themselves.

She lost track of time in the monotony of cutting endless sheets of white cloth, and didn’t realize she had company until Varric spoke up.

“There you are! I was starting to wonder if you’d run off.” Ellie jumped, then put the scissors down before she hurt herself.

“What makes you say that?” She scrunched her nose at the dwarf.

“Besides the obvious?” Varric chuckled. “You eaten yet? A few of us are meeting at the tavern and Shade wants to see the woman Andraste kicked out of the sky.”

Ellie nodded and got to her feet, taking a moment to tidy the table before heading out with Varric. “I thought I was pushed?”

“I don’t think the official story mentions you at all. Don’t take it personally.”

“It’s probably for the best.” Ellie didn’t want to interfere with the Inquisitor’s position or purpose – not that she could if she tried. The glowing hand made sure of that.

“You think so? In the memory we saw while trying to close the breach, you were there.” Varric was digging again.

“Well, you know more about that than I do.” Which was true.

Ellie redirected the conversation to Varric being a storyteller, and asked him about his books once he’d mentioned them. When he discovered she hadn’t read any of them, he offered to loan her a copy of Tale of the Champion. She took him up on the offer.

“I’ll make sure you get it before we head out.” Varric said, opening the door to the tavern.

“We? Are you going somewhere?” Ellie asked, following him inside. It was rowdier than yesterday, and packed. People were celebrating, and she could hear ‘Herald’ mentioned more than once.

“To the Hinterlands.” Varric answered.

They headed towards the back table, and once she’d pushed her way through the sea of patrons Ellie noticed Baldy and Lavellan were already seated at Varric’s table with bread and stew. Ellie hadn’t thought Solas would do the social thing, but maybe Lavellan had talked him into it. If so, that was a good sign. Solavellan. Ellie couldn’t hear what either were saying over the noise, but she was a little worried when she noticed the scowl on the Inquisitor’s face.

One shoulder check later and she’d reached the table alongside Varric. Despite the place being packed to bursting, nobody else had tried to sit down at the table. I guess their glorious Herald of Andraste is best admired from a safe distance. At least the scowl was good for something.

“Evening Shade, Chuckles.” Varric said, taking a seat.

Ellie followed Varric’s lead and sat down, giving Lavellan a sideways glance. Maybe it was the tattoos, but the way Lavellan watched her was unsettling. Not to mention predatory. No wonder the crazy wolf god likes her. Ellie wasn’t sure playing court jester would work here, and the intensity of her gaze was sobering enough that Ellie stuck to a polite smile.

“Hello Master Tethras, Ellie.” Solas replied, giving them a slight incline of his head.

Ellie nodded and planned to say hi back, if only to get the pleasantries out of the way, but Lavellan cut her off. Eyeing Varric, the pint sized Dalish elf levelled her spoon in Ellie’s direction. “So, this is the Shem from the fade?”

Ellie tried to keep her expression impassive, but her lip twitched in annoyance at the slur.

“The one and only, pushed by Andraste herself.” Varric made sure to emphasize the method of her supposed expulsion from the fade, which earned him a small smile until he ruined it. “My other favorite wilderness-wandering, hermit apostate.” God dammit, Varric!

Lavellan gave a derisive huff and lowered the threat of her spoon. “Does she offer unsolicited lectures as well?” Poor Baldy just can’t help himself.

“I don’t know. Do you, Ghost?” Varric asked Ellie, who raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeah that doesn’t fit. We’ll work on it.”

Ellie shook her head, and looked back to Lavellan. “Only if you want me to.” She was decidedly not looking at Solas.

“Oh?” Lavellan’s smirk looked more like a sneer. “What could I learn from a shem like you?” This time Ellie ignored the slur. Technically speaking, she was an alien.

What -could- I teach someone from Thedas? White girl yoga and how to make a cappuccino? It was a good question, and Ellie a moment to think about what she could actually offer this world. “A lot, I expect. Would you be willing to look past Dalish arrogance to learn from a horrible, nasty shem?” Yes Ellie, tease the angsty Herald. What could go wrong?

Lavellan scoffed, and Ellie was worried she may have touched a nerve. “The Dalish honor our ancestors, we seek out the old ways lost to the People after the fall of Arlathan.” It was the most Dalish thing Lavellan could have said. Ellie’s gaze flicked to Solas, curious to see if he reacted, but his face was a neutral mask. Then their eyes met. Wait a minute, why are you looking at ME!? Stop it!

She immediately returned her attention to Lavellan, distracted by the knowledge that mister crazy was watching her. “That doesn’t answer the question.” Ellie could have sworn that Lavellan nearly growled. If she kept that scowl up her face was going to get stuck. Then when she got immortal she’d be stuck scowling for all eternity.

Ellie withdrew her attention from little-miss-rage to try and find Flissa or a server. There was supposed to be food with dinner. She managed to make eye contact with a server after waving an arm, and demanded they bring her food. Varric added “and beer!” at the end, then held up two fingers.

Satisfied that she would, in fact, get to eat today, Ellie turned back to the table only for Solas to speak up. “And if the Herald were to look past her ‘Dalish arrogance’? What is one of the things you would teach her?”

She looked at him, doing her best to maintain her poker face. Ellie couldn’t tell if he was curious, backing up a fellow elf, or being difficult for the sake of it. Probably the latter. Ellie was going to need a strategy for future interaction. He was dangerous, and she couldn’t risk an emotionally unstable master of lies getting paranoid. Ellie was certain bad things would happen to her if he thought his cover was blown.

Ellie gave Lavellan another look, trying to remember if she was ever anything other than a mage. A rogue? Yeah, mage or rogue. “Tai chi, I guess.” She said with a shrug. Ellie didn’t have any business trying to teach Tai chi. She’d learned what she knew from looking out her kitchen window. Literally everything she knew on the subject was from watching, and eventually copying, the old Asian lady in the apartment below her.

“I see.” Was all Solas said in reply. Ugh. Zeno would love this guy.

“What’s that?” Lavellan asked, as Ellie and Varric were served chunks of meat, cheese, bread, and drink.

“It’s a series of slow and deliberate movements for the purpose of precision and control.” Ellie answered, distracted by the delight of a decent protein source.

“Blegh! Sounds boring.” Her face twisted up in disgust.

After that Ellie fell into silence, her focus now on eating. Varric and Lavellan discussed their upcoming trip to the Hinterlands, and she was surprised to learn they were leaving first thing in the morning. Eesh, being Herald sucks. And they’re going without horses, too. No wonder she’s prickly.

Ellie was nearly finished with her plate when Solas got to his feet. “I am going to retire early. I will see you both tomorrow.” He said, clearly referring to Varric and Lavellan.

“Do you have a moment, Solas? I wanted to discuss something with you.” She hadn’t wanted to ask, but Ellie needed to do this before Solas vanished off on some horrible adventure for weeks on end.

Solas’s brow creased at the question, and he considered her for a moment before his expression cleared. “Very well.”

Leaving a meal unfinished was a tragedy, but this was more important. Ellie stood up and gave Varric and Lavellan a smile. “Good luck out there.”

“Try not to get into too much trouble while I’m gone, Twisty.” Varric replied. She raised an eyebrow at the nickname, to which Varric smiled and gave a shrug. Lavellan scoffed. “Yep, that’s the one. Take it easy Chuckles.”

Ellie turned and headed out of the tavern with Solas. She could feel him watching her, and once they were outside they started walking in the direction of his cabin – or that was her best guess. When Ellie didn’t speak immediately, Solas took the initiative.

“What is it you wished to discuss?”

She hesitated, then got it over with. “I was wondering if you’d be willing to take a look at my head.” Ellie took care to make sure her tone didn’t betray how wary she was of making such a request.

“Your head?” Solas raised an eyebrow.

“My brain,” Ellie clarified, carefully. “When I hit the ground I must have hit my head hard, and I’m concerned that there may be lasting damage.”

He frowned, “I am not a healer.”

“But you can heal.” Ellie countered.

“Yes,” Solas began carefully, “but why ask me instead of a specialist?”

Ellie didn’t bother beating around the bush. “Because it’s my brain, and you aren’t an idiot.” Her words were blunt, because it was true. The truth was that Ellie was pretty sure a fucking god would be able to do a better job than any other fucker in 100 miles. She also knew he valued intelligence, so she was hoping he’d give a damn. So far he was proving more reluctant than she’d expected.

“Very well.” He stopped walking and turned to face Ellie, lifting his hands. She stopped and glanced down when he took a small step closer. Ellie frowned slightly – she didn’t like him so close, and was left staring awkwardly at his chest.

His hands moved to press gently against the sides of her skull, hesitating a moment before making contact. “Try not to move.” He murmured, and Ellie could feel a cool current of energy begin to move slowly through the inside of her head.

Ellie remained still as she could, uncertain how long whatever Solas was doing would take. After about a minute of staring at his chest, the view was getting old and she risked a glance up towards his face. His eyes were closed, and up close it was hard to believe the guy was so freaking old.

“I said not to move.”

Startled, Ellie slammed her stupid eyelids shut. His eyes aren’t even open! How -are you reading my mind motherfucker!? Oh shit, wait if – don’t think about – uh, that thing! Stuff! Right! Weird shit, circles, spaghetti meatballs, ravioli, tortellini…. Ellie continued to mentally run through a list various pastas. When she couldn’t think of any more she switched to cookies. About halfway through a chain of Mexican food and random phrases in Spanish, Solas let go of her head.

She opened her eyes and looked up at him anxiously. His frown was back and his brow slightly furrowed. Ah shit… Solas clasped his hands behind him.

“Your… concerns were not without merit. It would have been better if you had come to me, or one of the healers, sooner. There are multiple contusions, but I will do what I can.” He paused, “attempting to mend some of the damage will take time. It will be easier to accomplish from my room.”

Ellie nodded, her expression pensive as she stepped to walk beside him.

They walked in silence for a few more minutes before Solas spoke up again. “I am surprised you have been functioning as well as you have. To the outside observer you appear relatively normal.”

She gave him a glance, but his expression was hard to read. There was no point in wild speculation. “Normal people are morons.” Ellie had expected news she wouldn’t like, but that didn’t make swallowing it any easier. “Will there be permanent damage?” If she ever found out he was lying as an excuse to poke around in her head, she’d skin him alive and turn his pelt into something embarrassing – like furry go-go boots or a ridiculous hat.

He glanced at her, hesitating before looking ahead again. “It is likely, yes.” He said delicately, “but nothing can be known for certain. It is impossible to say at this point.” Thanks a lot Andraste.

“I guess Andraste must have booted me from the fade headfirst.”

“That would be one interpretation.”

They walked the rest of the way in silence, which was perfectly fine with Ellie. His single room cabin was on the farther edge of town, and used a key to open the door before stepping inside. After she stepped inside, Solas waved a hand to light a few candles before closing the door.

The room was neat and orderly, free of the clutter and unnecessary accoutrements many people ended up with. He pulled the chair out from his desk and set it down in front of the bed. “Take a seat.” He didn’t indicate which seat to take, so she yanked the staff off her back and sat down on the bed. There was a slight height difference in surface heights, and her using the lower one would be easier for him. It also looked more comfortable.

 “How long will this take?”

Solas sat down across from her. “It is difficult to say. I estimate no more than 30 minutes. It depends on how readily your body accepts the magic, and how much I am able to do. Which, admittedly, is little. Head injuries are not something easily treated. Ultimately, it will still require time to determine lasting damage.”

“I’ll have to thank Seeker Pentaghast for knocking me unconscious with a pre-existing head injury. I’m sure the punch to my face and letting my head smack the ground proved an invaluable method for seeking truth.” Ellie remarked dryly.

Solas’s lips thinned, but he didn’t comment on her snark. “Again, please try not to move.” She nodded and closed her eyes, then began to mentally count upwards from one. Just in case. A moment later she felt the gentle touch of his hands on the sides of her head, and the familiar cool brush of magic inside her head. This time, however, it seemed to focus on specific areas. Ellie was somewhere around 4,000 when he finished.

By the time he was done, Ellie was eager to put some distance between herself and him. She was grateful, yes, but spending extended periods of time around Solas was the opposite of what she wanted. He seemed to be of a similar mind, and Ellie was out the door after little more than saying thank you. She knew there was an elfy way to say it, but the words escaped her and she couldn’t guess the pronunciation.

Chapter Text

 

The night was still young, but Ellie headed back to her tent. Her leg still ached from earlier, and the way her pants seemed to stick in places made her question her previous assertion that playing with magic had been a bloodless affair. When she reached the circle of elf tents, Ellie noticed there were more people milling about than she’d seen previously. A number of them were eating or chatting by the warmth of the central fire.

She recognized a few faces, like the man who had gawked at her this morning. When they noticed her, most of the completely foreign faces either stared at her or looked to one of the other elves – as if they’d have an explanation. One of the men from her first night started whispering something to the man next to him, and the women were giving her wary, confused looks. Scratch that, all of them looked confused. If this gets much worse they’re liable to hurt themselves. I hope they learn how to comprehend me sleeping in a tent. For their own sake.

Ellie knew she wasn’t being entirely fair, and yeah, they all looked a bit downtrodden with haggard clothing and tired eyes – but that wasn’t the point. As she reached her tent flap she slowed and glanced around all of them, watching her. Shit Thedas, you creepy! “Uh.. hi.” Diplomacy couldn’t hurt.

There were more elft to elf glances, before one of the elves she recognized approached her. Why does this feel like an intervention? He cleared his throat and motioned her to follow him to the other side of the tent, and away from prying eyes. As if every single one of them wasn’t going to listen in anyways.  

He cleared his throat, “My Lady, we understand that you were directed here by a Chantry Sister – and we mean no disrespect my Lady – but-” he dropped his voice quieter, “-that is one of the men’s tents.” Ellie stared at him.

WOW CHANTRY SISTERS, WOW.

She felt foolish, and the telltale heat in her face meant it was showing. Way to keep it classy! Now, personally, Ellie didn’t give a shit if there were guys in the tent, but she could see how a human lady in a tent full of male elves would send the wrong message.

The poor elf still looked nervous, despite his brave face, and she could only imagine the group trying to figure out how to approach the weird lady in fancy clothes. From what she’d seen in passing, most elves were treated like second class citizens by humans. She snorted. It was so absurd, that she had to laugh – if for nothing more than to try and ease some of their tension.

“That explains so much – is there a less manly tent you could refer me to?” Ellie asked, caught somewhere between an apologetic smile and smirk.

“Ah,” he hesitated, and Ellie hoped relations between races weren’t so bad that she got kicked out. Not that she’d stay if her presence upset them, but they seemed more chill. “You would want to stay here?”

I would ‘want’ to go home without a traumatic brain injury. In truth, Ellie had given very little thought to what she wanted since arriving. Her wants felt distant and unimportant compared to all the other shit going on. “Yes,” And Ellie was surprised to find that she meant it. “Even with the staring, I get the impression that you’re less likely to run screaming for your lives if I stand up too quickly.”

Some of the frustration Ellie felt crept into her voice, and she knew she wasn’t being fair. Not that anything in this place was fair to begin with, but it wasn’t this guy’s fault that she was pissed at the Seeker and all of existence. The sleepiness and pain weren’t helping.

“We mean no disrespect,” the elf started, he was still speaking quietly. “We are just surprised that someone of your status would wish to associate with us.”

Ellie didn’t drop her smile, but the expression went tight and her eyes narrowed slightly. “Because I am a mage?”

The elf blinked, horrified. “No! No, m’lady- we – I -” Ellie wasn’t accustomed to her being pissy having such an exaggerated effect on people, and it gave her pause. “-I only meant because you were a noble.”

I’m an idiot. Things didn’t work the same here, and Ellie needed to understand that. Feudalism, classism, and slavery were all alive and well in Thedas. She didn’t care that ignoring the status quo could bring her trouble, but staying here could also cause the elves problems. They thought she was someone who mattered, and they wouldn’t kick her out because they didn’t believe they could. What upset her more was that she had no way of knowing how much the presumption of her nobility had already aided her. Everyone had just accepted that she was a noble – expected it even. It didn’t make any sense.

She took a slow, deep breath and sighed, actually looking at the elf in front of her. They were a person too, after all. “I am sorry, I do not wish to cause any trouble. It’s… been a long time since I’ve had to worry about that sort of thing.” Right, because I’ve -never- had to worry about it before! The elf’s shoulders relaxed some. She could feel the beginnings of a headache starting behind her eyes. Fantastic. “Uh, what’s your name?”

“Gelen, my Lady.”

“Right, Gelen. Please just call me Ellie. Drop the ‘Lady’ stuff.” She paused, and realized that her mouth had slipped into a small frown at some point. Now whispering, she asked, “why did you presume I was a noble?”

He looked confused again. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Humor me. Is it the clothes?”

Gelen gave her an odd look and shook his head. “You carry yourself like one.” What the heck does that mean? Ellie would have to unravel that mystery of the universe later.

Shaking the thought from her head she refocused on the present, licking her lips as she tried to think. “Tomorrow I’ll find somewhere else. For tonight, though, if it’s alright, I really just want to sleep.” As if he’d say no.

He nodded, “thank you for being so understanding.”

“Don’t mention it.” She tried not to feel guilty. It’s only for one night.

The conversation was over as far as she was concerned, so Ellie gave Galen a small nod before stepping around him. How am I any better than the humans here, if I’m already taking advantage of them? If anything, this was worse. She knew better, and didn’t have the excuse of ignorance or upbringing. It made her sick. Stop thinking about it.

When she walked back around the corner of the tent, Ellie didn’t look up to meet the wary gazes of the other elves gathered around the fire. She didn’t have the stomach for it. Instead, she immediately ducked into the tent. The deer hide and blanket hadn’t been touched, and Ellie removed her staff, holster, and not-jacket before sitting down. The staff holder was going to take some getting used to, but it was better than having to carry the damned thing around in her hand.

Unlacing the boot on her left foot enough to remove it took time. She’d been able to loosen and tug off the other one, but whatever she’d done to her left leg didn’t tolerate rough handling. The more she undid the lacing, the more her lower leg started to hurt. Maybe I managed to cook myself after all. Taking off medieval clothing was just as bad as putting it on.

She’d forgotten about the foot wraps, which were shoved into her discarded boots. They’d likely be forgotten all over again. Maybe I could give them to Galen? She sure didn’t know what to do with them. Josephine had seemed very thoughtful in what she’d given Ellie, and Ellie wondered if she was somehow failing a test for not doing something with them. You’re overthinking this. At least she was thinking.

The leather pants that went over her other pants came off next, and she hoped if anyone came inside that they wouldn’t panic from her only wearing a single pair of pants. She knew it was silly, given that half of the people out there were nearly in rags, but Ellie had stopped trying to predict behavior for now. Back home a nun would explode before sticking a lady in a tent full of dudes. From here on out all bets were off.

After rolling up her pant leg, Ellie tried to remove her sock – only to find it snagged or was sticky in places. It was dark, so she couldn’t see much with only the light that flickered in from the tent flaps. I need a flashlight. Or lantern? Oil lamp. Thedas would have that, right? A few minutes of poking at her leg later, and Ellie remembered she was a mage.

Playing with magic had gone so well the first two times, doing it a third time could only lead to great things. All she had to do was figure out how to cast a simple light spell – how hard could that be? Back in the bathroom of horrors she’d made her staff glow no problem! Ellie chewed her lip and considered the possibility of consequences for all of five seconds before grabbing her staff and positioning the small orb on the ground near her leg. She urged some of her magic goop into the staff, and it reluctantly obeyed. Just like a lightbulb or flashlight. That’s what I want. Electricity and light should be best friends.

Ellie wasn’t actually sure how picky magic was, or how much theory mattered. This, and the place it came from weren’t real. They were a part of unreality, and thus far her magic had strong opinions about what it wanted to be. She tried to give - imbue, she thought, just to feel fancy – the idea and nature of a constant, steady light source. Ellie didn’t actually know much about electricity, but she did her best using what little she knew from history and documentaries on Edison and Tesla’s catfighting.

The orb on her staff was orange, but when it began to glow, the light it gave off was reminiscent of a fluorescent lightbulb. It was faint at first, and Ellie glanced around to check for panic. When nobody started screaming, she encouraged the glow brighter – but only as much as absolutely necessary. Again, she waited to see if there were signs of panic, before slowly letting go of the staff.

Since her mana (she preferred the term ‘goop’) wasn’t trapped or bottled up, Ellie hoped that leaving extra goop in the staff to power the light, like a battery, would work. The moment she let go of the staff, and the cord that ran from her into it withdrew, the orb dimmed. It didn’t immediately go out or explode, but it was slowly and steadily dimming. When she put her hand to the staff, using that weird cord sensation to try and see what was happening, the light steadily returned.

From what she could discern, the mana was still there, but it had diminished in the time she wasn’t in the staff there with it. That meant it was still doing its job, but for some reason maintaining the light was more energy intensive when she wasn’t hovering over it. It didn’t make any sense for her. This was the sort of thing that Sandy would know, and Ellie felt a pang in her chest. She forced her attention back to the task at hand - away from dangerous things like feelings. Maybe I could just… leave the cord there? Would that work? Would it even make sense? If she were a good little mage, she’d have set up a process to test her theories, taken notes, and followed basic scientific theory. That could come once she learned how to use a quill. For now, it was flying blind and smashing buttons at random. Excitedly.

You’re worse than a two year old.

 When Ellie tried to remove her hand without the cord, it complained. It tightened and threatened to break, and she had to constantly stop and try to make it adjust. The mana wasn’t burning as fast with the addition of the cord, but it was still being consumed more readily than if she were in physical contact.

She was still trying to work with it, and was making some progress when she was interrupted by a startled, vaguely familiar voice. “My Lady, w-what happened?!” Ellie jumped. Her attention immediately shifted to the speaker, and the cord broke. The half still connected to her snapped back into her arm, and she repressed a shudder at the horrible wriggling sensation it left. Weirder still, she could still feel the other, now broken, piece of cord in the staff.

It took her a moment to place him, her mind uncomfortably split between him and the broken off cord. She could still feel the staff through the cord, but it felt broken and frayed. Jarring would be a good description for the experience. For a brief moment, Ellie worried that the broken piece of cord would be there forever – struck with the terrifying thought that she’d be stuck with a part of herself in a stick for eternity.

“I- what?” Ellie managed, the definition of distracted. It was the elf from this morning, she realized. The one that looked a little older than her. The broken cord began to fray and unravel, bits of it beginning to flake off and disintegrate, as she felt the ‘her’ in the staff begin to distort and fade. She was split between relief and alarm, unsure if she’d accidentally just murdered a piece of herself.

“Your leg, my Lady!” Oh right, her leg. Ellie had forgotten about that. She broke her gaze from the concerned face and glanced down at her leg. The piece of cord was still dying in the staff, and she noted that her goop was still working as though the cord hadn’t broken. Interesting. Then Ellie registered what the light on her staff had so kindly illuminated.

She’d been right the first time. The damage had been blood-free. From the part of her leg that she could see, angry red lines, like the ones Ellie left in the clearing, had been burned into her skin. Fresh, raw, and irritated, they’d began to weep plasma and tried to blister. The nerve endings were toasted, so she hadn’t noticed, and the blisters popped – hence the sticking. She had cooked her leg, but not in the way she’d expected. Even worse, Ellie knew it wasn’t just her skin, but her leg. Her -whole- leg. Bones, muscle, everything. Her eyes widened in dawning horror. Tendons, ligaments, cartilage. They’ll scar. They’re already scarred.

Ellie’s throat constricted and she blinked rapidly, unwilling to start crying now. Not now. Forcing a swallow, she looked back up at the elf and motioned him over with a hand. Her staff was still glowing, but if it bothered him, she didn’t show it.

The elf stayed out of her personal space until she rolled her eyes and started to whisper. Then he caught on. Ellie kept her voice as quiet as she could. “How hard is it to get healing potions? Without anyone knowing.”

At her words, his expression shifted from concern to something more guarded. It wasn’t quite fear, although that was definitely still there. Ellie wasn’t sure if that feeling ever left elves – at least not from what she’d seen. Other than Lavellan and Solas, most of the elves seemed scared of everything.  

“It’s possible.” He said eventually, matching her in whisper. Ellie wished he’d at least look at her face, even if she’d given up on eye contact.

“If I gave you money, would you be able to buy some?”

He shook his head. A girl could dream. “All requisitioned, my Lady.”

“Ellie.” She corrected without thinking.

“Ellie.” He was uncomfortable using her name, and it showed.

She didn’t want to go to Adan for this. They’d see it as proof that she was a liability. Dangerous. You are dangerous. That’s not the point. Ellie bit her lip, and hated herself for what she was about to ask. As if she hadn’t already taken advantage of elves enough today. You don’t have a choice. She tried to justify it, but it was a lie. There’s always a choice, dumbass.

“If I asked you, would you be able to get them?” Monster.

“I can try.” Ellie didn’t know what was worse: that he didn’t look surprised when she asked, or that it didn’t bother him that she had. “How many do you need?”

All of them. A truckload. “Two.” Last time the potion seemed to focus on the more severe injuries. She hoped it would this time, too. She also hoped it would be enough. When Ellie tried to think back to that day, things were blurry. What if your memory is damaged?

He nodded, his brow furrowed. “Wait here.” Where would I go?

She gave him a nod back, before he stood up and left. Ellie noted that he didn’t rush out, or look particularly nervous or hurried. That one knew how to lie. So why the fuck is he doing it for you? He could bring the Templars. There’s nothing stopping him. He could be one of Leliana’s. Or someone else’s.

Ellie waited, and the cord finished dissolving as the last dregs of awareness in her staff faded. Once it was gone, the orb dimmed. After a few minutes, the light died completely. Her most recent foray into magic had left her with questions, and she was grateful for the distraction. It gave her something to focus on instead of her worries.

The obvious, simple thing would have been shoving enough mana into the staff that it could stay bright without touch. She’d realized that from the start, but the idea of using that much had chaffed. Lightbulbs barely consumed any electricity at all, so she didn’t see why her magic should be any different.

The elf re-entered the tent around an hour later. Ellie didn’t know how long stealing usually took, so she wasn’t sure if she should be impressed or not. You don’t know if he stole them. All you asked for was a result, not a method. She put a hand on the staff for some light, crudely shoving mana into it.  

He offered three out to her, instead of just two. Her curiosity was officially piqued. “What’s your name?” Ellie asked, accepting the vials and opening one.

“Lin.” He answered. Ellie eyed the red liquid, then downed the first vial with a grimace.

“Why three?” She waited for it to start working. Ellie wasn’t whispering, but she still spoke quietly.

Lin shrugged. “Thought it might help more.”

“Why help in the first place?” Ellie felt the familiar spread of warmth as the potion started working, the heat increasing as it began to pull into her leg.

He looked sheepish, and more uncomfortable. “Habit.”

It was another instance where Ellie felt like she should have understood, but didn’t. The explanation didn’t make sense to her, but she figured it would make sense later. “Well, thank you.” Ellie stifled a yawn and started to move her things to the side so she could sleep. When she picked up her money pouch she blinked. “Oh, here let me –” Ellie opened it and went to grab a few coins, which reminded her that she needed to learn the value of coins. She didn’t have much left, but that was okay. Grabbing a few of the silver ones, she tried to give it to him.

The elf clearly hadn’t been expecting that, and his eyes widened. “I- I don’t need – I can’t take that.” I must be overpaying.

“Please, just take it.” Ellie tried pressing them into his hands, and his fingers fumbled around before reluctantly accepting the coins. “I insist.”

Lin protested, but she wouldn’t have any of it. He could give it to the others if it bothered him that much, and she told him that. Eventually he relented and headed back out to the fire.

A second potion later and Ellie’s leg was still aching, but the pattern of lines were reddish-purple instead of bright and angry. She considered using the third potion, but decided to stick to her original plan and save it for later. At this rate, she was going to need it.

When it was finally time to sleep, Ellie was out so fast that she didn’t remember closing her eyes.

Chapter Text

Sandy groaned loudly as they rounded the trail to yet another set of steps. “This is the worst thing you have ever talked me into Ells.”

Ellie had to smile. They were a few hours in, and Sandy was still talking. “Keep it up and your tongue will fall off before your feet.”

“Ha ha, very funny.” Sandy replied dryly, rolling her eyes. “As if I don’t have an ulterior motive.”

“Oh?” Ellie gave her friend a glance, “what horrors will befall me this time?” She could hear Sandy begin to pant as they climbed up the flight of steps, but she refused to stop talking. At least the woman was dedicated.

“I will regale you with my most recent literary venture. It will be an epic for the ages.” Sandy said dramatically, pausing every few words to breathe.

“So yet another idea? Do you plan to actually write it this time?”

“I have you for three days, and I will not let this opportunity go to waste! This time, it’s a modern setting where the pantheon is a powerful crime syndicate run by Mythal-“

At the mention of Mythal, Ellie groaned loudly. “Sandy, is this another one of your Fen Harold stories?”

Fen’Harel! Honestly woman, do you ever pay any attention!?”

“Not if I can help it.” She snorted. “So what, Harold is a bodyguard, and you’re some innocent soul swept up into a life of crime after unwittingly ending up with a stolen emerald?”

“His name isn’t Harold! And it isn’t me, it’s Lavellan! It has to be Lavellan. She’s his vhenan.” As usual, Sandy spoke about the subject as if she were an expert in the field. “She’s the only one that can make him feel, Ellie. How can you not understand that!? It’s a heated passion that stretches beyond time – he can’t not love her. How can you be so ignorant!”

“If you switch over to elvish I’m going to hit you,” Ellie warned her teasingly, Ellie’s brow furrowed and she frowned. Something about this was wrong. Off. There was a sinking feeling in her chest, but she shook it off.

One of Sandy’s ears flicked in annoyance, and she gave a little huff. “Ir abelas, Ells.” She got a smack on the arm from Ellie for that. “So back to my story! Andruil has discovered a new form of the popular street drug Lyrium, and is pushing to begin production. The rest of the Arlathan cartel is backing her, except for the top bitch Mythal and Fen’Harel…”

Wait a minute... Ellie’s eyes narrowed, and she tuned out Sandy’s endless chatter. Sandy isn’t an elf! Why does she have their ears!? That sinking feeling was back, and she looked around with a growing sense of dread. The more she thought about it, the less sense it made. Ellie couldn’t remember starting this hike, and the one she’d been on with Sandy wasn’t in the Colorado mountains. None of this was real, which meant, what? Ellie stopped walking, ignoring the heat of the sun and the feeling of earth beneath her feet.

When Ellie looked up to the sky, instead of a sun it was night, and all the stars were wrong. The moons were glowing green, and Ellie glanced back at Sandy. I’d been in Haven, going to sleep. This was a dream. Ellie had never dreamed like this before, and her already shaken understanding of reality was taking another hit. This is the fade.

The fade didn’t look like she’d expected. It wasn’t supposed to feel real or have substance – it was supposed to be weird and full of mist. And demons. Don’t forget the Demons. She didn’t like it. Ellie didn’t want the fade pretending it was home. Copying the places from her memories wasn’t right. All it did was remind her of what she had lost, and Ellie didn’t want to be reminded.

Ellie looked back up the trail and saw that Sandy had stopped walking and gone still, and the dread in her stomach flared. Was Sandy a Demon? She didn’t know how to tell. Ellie swallowed.

“So, uh, Sandy… how about them Lakers?” Woman, are you – how is -that- the logical way to greet a potential demon!?

Sandy didn’t respond, and Ellie glanced around. She was very much ready to wake up now.  This was like a bad Asian horror movie, and Sandy was now the little girl in the hallway that won’t turn around. Ellie shuddered, then took a step back.

 

-

 

Ellie woke up several hours later with her face half-covered in drool. Very sexy, Ellie. Groggily, she wiped off her face and looked around. Nobody else was in the tent, and from the noise and light filtering through the cracks she determined it was, once again, later in the day.

Her leg was still sore, but overall it looked much better – which was good, because she was going to go for a walk. She doubted the wisdom of it, but Ellie hadn’t had any exercise since falling into this nightmare. After so much work on earth, getting out of shape wasn’t an option. She left her second layer of pants and not-jacket behind, wishing she could just head out in her undershirt.

There was also the matter of a new sleeping spot, and she remembered the empty cabin that was supposed to exist somewhere outside of Haven. Thus the beginning of her day was spent walking around in search of a cabin that didn’t exist. Maybe it had at one point, but she sure as fuck couldn’t find it. After an hour of weird looks from soldiers, she decided to call it. The soreness in her leg was beginning to get worse, and pushing it further was a bad idea.

Since the cabin was a bust, Ellie went to find Threnn. It was stupid, but Ellie liked her place as human in the elf tent. She wasn’t looking forward to being moved back to the human side - it meant sharing her space with humans. You mean like you? You’re human too, numskull. Ellie was having an identity crisis. Without knowing how she got here, why she was here, or if earth humans were the same, Ellie didn’t know what to think of herself as.

For her own sanity, Ellie had decided that Thedas was real, because if it wasn’t she was insane. Crazy could do a lot of things, but she doubted it could make her creative enough to pull off something this complex. Then, if Thedas was real, how was she living the events of a video game that predicted all this? If this one was different, then how was it different? If magic could exist in one reality, why didn’t it exist in hers? What if it did? She made herself stop the ‘what if’ train. Nothing good could come of it for now.

For the here and now, Ellie’s current dilemma was a matter of how she identified herself relative to the rest of Thedas. She wasn’t sure if there was a right or wrong answer, only that she couldn’t relate to the people here in the same way they did to each other. This wasn’t her world, not really. Ellie was a transplant, and there would always be a divide between herself and those around her.

It was why being called a shem pissed her off so much, and why she didn’t want to be put with the other humans. They’d expect her to be like them, and she wasn’t. She didn’t want to be. With the other races there was already an expectation of being different, and that expectation allowed her to be herself. Ellie recognized that it was convoluted and backwards, but it was also honest. The only thing being around humans did, was remind her of all that she’d lost. 

Now that you’re done being dramatic, Threnn just asked you a question.

Ellie blinked, and realized she’d managed to autopilot all the way up to the quartermaster. “Uh, sorry? I was lost in thought.”

“I asked if you needed something, Lady Roosevelt.” Threnn had raised an eyebrow, but looked more amused than annoyed. Don’t laugh. That’s your name now. You picked it.

“Oh, right! And please, just Ellie. Uh, I was hoping I could get assigned some sort of housing. I forgot to ask last time I was here.” Ellie managed a straight face, and resisted the urge to give herself the title ‘First Lady’.

Threnn looked like she really wanted to ask what, exactly, Ellie has been doing for sleep without a tent or room. “Well, we can’t have that. I’ll be just a moment, Ellie.” Threnn indicated for her to wait, and once Ellie gave a nod, the quartermaster walked a short distance and began speaking to a nearby elf. The elf nodded, then scurried off. Threnn walked back over to Ellie. “It’s small, and lacks many of the accommodations typical of your station, but it’s all Haven has to offer.” Holy shit, being nobility rocks.

The elf from earlier returned and handed Threnn a key, which she accepted with thanks before offering it to Ellie. Pfft, not going to use my title to my advantage. As if I’d decline a bed… I’m so fucked when they realize I’m full of shit.

“I- thank you. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting this.” Ellie wouldn’t have to share a tent. From the look of it, she’d have a room. To herself.

“A small number of rooms are reserved for such purposes.” Threnn answered. Right, but why am I one of those purposes? Oh yeah, I’m a Lady.

She got directions from Threnn, who she thanked again, before hurrying off to find this glorious den of privacy. When she found it, and door opened to reveal a small room with a bed, table, and water pail, Ellie made a quick, delighted squeal. Threnn hadn’t been kidding about the size – she’d seen walk in closets that were bigger – but Ellie didn’t care. She had a room, with a bed.

Ellie grabbed the pail and went to fill it with snow, then ran off to grab the items she’d left in her elf tent. The bed had included blankets, so she wouldn’t need the hide or thin blanket Sister Janis had given her. Ellie grabbed her things, then rushed back to her room. Praise the Maker! ..I can’t believe I just said that.

After lighting one of the candles provided on the small table for light, Ellie closed and locked the door. The room had no real windows, so waking up in the dark would take getting used to. Now that she was alone, Ellie promptly stripped. This was her first opportunity to see the extent of damage on her leg, and the state of her in general. In the bathroom, Ellie was so out of it that she hadn’t even thought to check her face in a mirror. Her grey eyes could be neon green and she’d be none the wiser.

Now that she was thinking about it, there were definitely little things about her that would stand out to anyone who looked. Her teeth, for one. Normal people did not have such straight, white teeth without being an American. Even with all her tea and coffee drinking, they were not Thedan teeth. There was also the tiny detail of having gotten laser hair removal for her armpits. And the permanent eyeliner. The more Ellie thought about it, the more she felt like a product of her era. She was suddenly very grateful that she’d never gotten any real tattoos.

Then there was the matter of her left leg. It was better than she’d expected. The scarring ran up the outside of her leg from the side of her heel, and it branched into smaller lines halfway up her calf. By mid-thigh most of the branches had finished. The area she’d seen last night had been the worst of it, and didn’t represent the rest. Once the scar tissue healed and went white, it might even look cool. As far as unintended leg maiming went.

Ellie didn’t pay much attention to the bruises, and pulled her clothing back on. For now she accepted that general movement hurt, and that she looked like someone who lost a fight with a blender.

She hadn’t been cold during her run, so Ellie stuck to the single pair of pants, boots, undershirt, and the long sleeve grey mountain shirt. The leather wasn’t necessary inside town. Once she was ready for public viewing, Ellie headed out towards Josephine. It was time to find out if she had a job.

The door that lead into Josephine’s office was easy to find, and Ellie was pleased to see she was getting better at navigating the town. Once inside, she heard the telltale scratching of a quill on parchment. A few steps later and Josephine came into view. The dark haired woman didn’t look up immediately, taking the time to finish the sentence she was working on before looking up. At the sight of Ellie, she smiled.

“Ellie, I was wondering when I might see you again.”

Her smile was infectious, and Ellie couldn’t help but return it. “Hello, Josephine. I hope I’m not interrupting?”

“Not at all,” Josephine returned her quill to its holder, and closed her ink vial. “I am overdue for a break. Would you care to join me for lunch?” Say no, Ellie. It’s a trap. You know it’s a trap.

“I’d love to.” Ellie replied, walking happily into the lion’s den. Traitor.

Merveilleux, I’ll inform the kitchens. Please, take a seat.” Josephine motioned to a circular table at the far end of the room large enough to comfortably fit two. The navy tablecloth was overlaid with a white doily pattern, which was in line with Josephine’s love of frills.

The French came as a surprise to Ellie, and she wondered if Spanish was also a language here. “Merci,” she replied.

Josephine beamed, “Parlez-vous Orlais?”

“ Non, désolé. I only know a few words.Ellie replied. What’s an Orlais?

“You pronounce it well.” Josephine covered her disappointment with a smile, and ducked away to inform the kitchens. Or to tell someone to, judging from how little time it took her to return. Ellie had hardly sat down before Josephine returned.

“Lunch should arrive shortly.” Josephine said brightly, joining Ellie at the table. “Do you speak any languages other than the common tongue?”

Ellie spoke a little Spanish, but she had no idea what to call it if French was ‘Orlais’. The language might not exist here. ”Hablo un poco?”

“You speak Rivaini?” Josephine’s eyebrows raised slightly, “once again you surprise me.”

She’s trying to butter me up. “Only a little. I wouldn’t consider myself fluent.”

Josephine waved her hand. “No, no, it makes sense. Did you spend much of time there?”

“I have never been one to linger.” Ellie went for the safe option. Without knowing the world, or the politics outside of elfy god drama, partial truths and evasive answers would be best. Too many lies and she’d end up stuck in her own web.

A servant entered the room carrying a large silver tea tray, and Ellie was saved from Josephine pressing her further. The servant was an elf, of course, and she struggled under the size and weight of the human-sized tray. It made little sense that the tray would be human sized, when elves were the ones most likely to be carrying them. If humans were supposed to be so superior to the elves, it would make more sense to accommodate their ‘inferiorities’ instead of exemplifying them. Yes, because mankind is known for its rationality. She thought dryly, as if she was one to talk.

“Thank you,” Ellie said it without thinking once the elf had finished unloading the tray, and the woman blushed so badly her ears went red. Ellie blinked, no shit, so that really is a thing?

Josephine had more grace in her thanks, and hadn’t stared when the servant turned into a tomato. Unlike somebody. “Yes, thank you Harea.”

The elf, Harea, nodded. She muttered a quick, “yer welcome, m’ladies,” before walking quickly out of the room. This is going to take some getting used to. Should I have not said thanks??

Some of Ellie’s confusion at the reaction must have shown on her face, because Josephine, ever smiling, spoke up. “I do not think she was expecting to receive any attention. You are the first guest I’ve had to thank her.”

Ellie couldn’t help it, she gawped. “Well, that’s just rude!” Some of her earthling was showing, along with her ignorance. She’d been raised to always say thank you to the staff at restaurants and even the drive thru at McDonald’s.

Josephine laughed, “not everyone shares that belief.” She paused, pouring herself and Ellie a cup before setting the teapot down. Ellie noted that Josephine didn’t share her opinion one way or the other.

She was supposed to be a Lady, and tea with fancy people meant games. Josephine wasn’t a friend, and Ellie needed to remember that. “Treating the people who serve you poorly is a good way to end up poor.” Or headless.

“Wise words.”

“I pity the fool.” God bless, Mr. T. God bless.

Josephine asked how Ellie had been settling into Haven, and Ellie replied with general answers that meant little beyond ‘it’s alright’.  The food arrived a short time later, and this time when Ellie thanked Harea, the tiny woman’s ears only went pink. This ear thing is hilarious. I wonder what it would take to make Solas turn into a tomato? An apocalypse, probably.

At least all the luncheons and brunches Ellie’s mother had dragged her to were good for something, and Ellie held her own well enough in conversation that even she might buy her own nonsense.

“So, what is it you came to see me about?” Josephine asked eventually. A good thing, too, as Ellie had forgotten to ask entirely. “Or was this a social visit?” Yes, the wilderness woman could wield table manners. She’d done the impossible.

Ellie began to apologize for having forgotten, but stopped herself and got to the point. “When I went to see Threnn the other day to inquire about work, she said I’d already been given a job. One that came with an advance. I don’t recall agreeing to anything, so I wanted to know what sort of work I’d been given, exactly.”

“From what I understand, you were with our Herald of Andraste during the events that lead to the death of Divine Justinia. While the Herald may bear the mark, you took more immediate action in trying to save the late Divine. The inner circle does not know why you have been given to us, unlike our Herald, but after much debate it was decided that you are also here by divine providence.”

Ellie wanted to argue, but she had a hard time justifying it when she, herself, believed her being here had to be an act of god. Or, at the very least, something powerful enough to be mistaken for one. Ellie had never been the religious type, but she wasn’t about to mock a major religion. From what she knew on earth, that rarely went well.

“I.. see.” You hear that, Sandy? I’ve been chosen by the gods! “And if I wished to leave?”

“You are welcome to, although I will try my best to persuade you otherwise. The inquisition needs people like you.” Josephine replied, and Ellie inwardly cursed the woman’s impossible smile. Exactly what kind of person do you think I am?

Ellie took a deep breath, “what does this job entail?”

“Leliana believes you may serve the inquisition best as an advisor on the arcane.” Wait, seriously?

“That sounds like a terrible idea.” Ellie blurted out immediately, then she quickly tried to recover. “I would defer to Solas on such matters. He is far more knowledgeable in matters of the arcane.”

“Yes, we have already taken him under advisement. His expert knowledge of the veil saved the Herald’s life.” Only because his magical shit threatened it in the first place. And he’s a god. “Did the two of you first meet during your travels?”

The question took Ellie by surprise, and she shook her head. “Sorry? No, I’d never met him prior to the breach.”

“But you recognized him,” Josephine countered. “Leliana as well.” Shit. Ellie had hoped that her obvious recognition had gone unnoticed. In retrospect, it wasn’t particularly subtle. If Josephine picked up on it, Leliana and Solas would have, too. Well… I bet that was weird. People you don’t know shouldn’t recognize you.

“I was also suffering head trauma, and confused.” She needed to get this conversation back on track. “I’m to serve as an advisor, then? I’ll get restless staying in one place.”

“Which is why you will be a scout, instead.” Josephine said, taking a sip of her tea. “Apart from yourself and Solas, the few mages we have in haven are accustomed to life in the Circle. They lack the necessary experience and training to handle themselves in combat.”

And there it was. Ever since she’d unwittingly admitted to travelling alone, she’d known this was coming. They thought she knew how to take care of herself well enough to be trusted in combat. Work as an EMT in college prepared her for the gore, but Ellie had never taken a life. She didn’t even know how to hunt, but admitting that brought the rest of her story into question. Either she could wing it, and risk getting herself and others killed, or correct Josephine and get caught in a lie.

Ellie forced a smile. “That sounds preferable, thank you.” You’re going to get someone killed, all because of your ego. She never said she was perfect.

The remainder of lunch was spent with Josephine briefly summarizing details related to her role as a scout of the Inquisition. Ellie absorbed most of it, like that her superior was someone named Harding, but a good chunk of her attention had gone towards acting like someone accustomed to the realities of… whatever horrible things she’d have run into travelling Thedas.

Once lunch had finished, Ellie thanked Josephine for the meal and booked it. Not literally, of course, but she needed to think. Josephine had informed Ellie that Harding was currently in the Hinterlands, helping the Herald clear out mages and templars who had taken to terrorizing the countryside. That was when Ellie learned that there had been a freaking war going on between mages and templars. She was probably the only mage in all of Thedas who hadn’t known.

When she reached the healers tent, Ellie found herself on poultice making duty again. She didn’t complain. Ellie sat down and began cutting strips of linen, welcoming the opportunity to think. From what Josephine said, it didn’t sound like she’d be expected to do anything until the Herald returned. That gave her time, but she didn’t know how much. Lavellan could get back in a few days, or a few weeks. Heck, it could even be months. Ellie didn’t know why they’d gone in the first place, so trying to predict when they’d return was a wasted effort.

I need to treat this like they’ll return tomorrow, but without losing my head. If I panic my cover is blown.

Ellie was left alone to her scissors and linen at the little table, and without distractions she managed to come up with a battle plan. Priority one was learning how to weaponize her magic, and restoring her dexterity. Nearly dying had weakened her, and she needed to be able to put distance between herself and scary men with swords in a fight. Priority two was academic. She needed to find a map and star chart, then memorize both well enough to be believable. Then, to help complete the lie, she’d use the forest to practice hunting wildlife. If she could creep up on animals, then she could sneak up on people. At least, that was the idea.

When the bell tower rang to signal five o’clock, Ellie abandoned the table. She had little interest in the busy work, and Adan constantly snipping at patients and healers made her want to throw a brick at his head. She knew he cared, but still.

Chapter Text

 

Waiting and patience have never been Ellie’s strengths, and fighting the urge to run off into the woods and play with magic took considerable effort. She wanted to -do- something. Josephine had unwittingly lit a fire under her ass, and Ellie needed to do everything she could to become the lie.

Unfortunately, that meant she’d be playing the part of woodsy apostate, while learning to be one. Immediately running out of town to make shit explode would be something of a giveaway. A normal, not panicking, Ellie would head to the tavern for dinner. I need the protein anyways. Along the way, she noticed a few people whisper as she passed, and Ellie reasoned that even without her staff some people must have recognized her. To be truly invisible, I’d have to shrink a foot and grow ears.

Early evening had drawn a few people inside, but the tavern was almost empty compared to a few hours from now. She’d started to head towards the back of the room, to the table Varric had claimed, when Flissa called out to her.

“Hey, mage girl!” It was one way to get her attention, along with the attention of everyone else in the bar. Gee, thanks Fliss’. Ellie tried not to be angry. The tone and grin on the bartender’s face when Ellie looked up made it clear that she hadn’t called Ellie out as a spooky apostate on purpose. What does apostate even mean? The word gets thrown around all over the place. Is it just for free mages?

“I’m Ellie, by the way.” She said, putting on her social face as she changed direction to join Flissa at the bar. “What’s up?”

“Right. Pleased to meet ya, Ellie.” Flissa set down a rag in her hands and reached behind the bar. Ellie raised an eyebrow – she had no idea what was going on. Then Flissa set a book on the bar with an unceremonious thud, and Ellie realized it must have been the book Varric promised to lend her. Tilting her head, she was able to read the title ‘Tale of the Champion’, along with the author: Varric Tethras. “Varric asked me to give this to ya’.”

Ellie’s face lit up, “yes, I was hoping to read it. Thank you Flissa.” Even if it was nonsense fiction, reading something from this world would help her understand the people in it, and Ellie needed all the help she could get.

“No problem, so long as you order something. This ain’t a courier service.” Flissa said brusquely, and Ellie looked up from the book in time to see Flissa give her a small wink.  

“Oh, right – of course!” Ellie picked up the book, not trusting herself to remember it otherwise, “Whatever’s meant for dinner is fine. Along with a beer and some water, please.”

“Alright, pay up before one of these louts,” Flissa waved an arm towards the other patrons, “starts to think this is a charity.” Ellie smile grew less forced, and she fumbled with her coin pouch before paying up. “I’ll bring it out to you,” Flissa said, taking the coins.

“Thanks,” Ellie replied, leaving Flissa to get her dinner and take another order or two.

 Nobody was at Varric’s table, and Ellie set book down before sliding into the chair that allowed her to keep her back to the wall. Her powers of observation needed work, and she startled easily. At least with her back to a wall Ellie had a chance to notice someone approach her. With any luck, like you have any, Ellie would be left alone to read and eat.

Nobody had tried to accost her so far, but she had also been seated with the scary folks. Ellie realized with a start that they really were scary. Even Varric, who had been friendly, had probably killed more people than most war veterans back home. Death in Thedas, from what little she knew of the place, was so common that Josephine hadn’t even batted an eye when Ellie said she had no one.

Wait a minute… Ellie pulled the book in front of her, and opened it, not seeing the words. Trying to fake competence in combat was already a monumental task, but actually killing people, then trying to play it off like she’d done it before, was a whole different matter entirely. You know, most people would be more concerned about the whole ‘killing people’ part. She’d never claimed to be a killer, but she had let Josephine believe Ellie wasn’t unfamiliar with combat. There was an unspoken expectation that Ellie wouldn’t hesitate taking a life. You could always run. You aren’t cut out for this. The only problem was that she didn’t have anywhere to run to.

For now, I’ll stick to the plan. If I kill enough innocent woodland creatures, then people should come more easily. Ellie was suddenly very uncomfortable with herself, and how honest that sarcastic quip had been. Killing wasn’t something that should be taken lightly, or treated like any other task. Her thoughts were walking a very fine line, with very real ethical and moral implications. If I do this. Kill for the sake of practicing killing… using necessity as the justification for my actions… Ellie wasn’t sure she wanted to follow that trail of thought.

It was logical, yes, but with enough logic anything could be justified. It was one of the reasons she hated chess so much – it glorified the cold and calculated, while being paraded under the guise of intelligence. She shuddered. It wasn’t worth thinking about or dwelling on. Thinking about it would only make her feel conflicted. You should be conflicted. She should be – Ellie knew better. Knowing and doing are two different things. No, there was no point in thinking about it further.

“Last I checked, you turn the pages to read.” Flissa teased, setting a bowl of stew down on the table, followed by a slab of bread and cheese. The drinks came next.

Ellie snorted, pulling herself away from her thoughts. “Is that what I’ve been doing wrong? I knew I was missing something.”

“Something on your mind?” Flissa asked.

Ellie shook her head. “Nothing important.”

“That was a pretty serious expression for ’nothing’.”

“Metaphysical implications of the breach.” Ellie scrunched up her face to hide a smirk.

“Yikes! Well, I’ll leave you to it then. That’s above my paygrade.” Flissa said, quickly removing herself from the area with a parting, “good luck.”

Ellie loved that word. Metaphysics. It was so pretentious, and its definition so broad, that she could throw it in almost anywhere and get away with it. The context hardly mattered. It was an excellent way to make people go away, or drop a subject. On the rare occasions she was called on her nonsense and word abuse, it sucked, but the risk was worth it. 

Free of nosy questions, and in the company of food, Ellie turned ‘Tale of the Champion’ to the first chapter and began to read while eating.

 She noticed very quickly that there were some differences between what she thought she knew, and what had happened. For one, Hawk wasn’t a mage. Nor did it look like sound like he’d be fucking Anders. Whenever she’d read about a male Hawke, that guy was always fucking Anders. Or Anders was fucking Fenris. Maybe here it’s Hawke fucking Fenris? Her impression of the second game, at least through Sandy, was that there was a lot of man-loving. For a place stuck in the middle ages, Thedas was very down with dudes going down on other dudes.

By seventh bell Ellie’s dinner was long finished, and she forced herself to close the book. The events were supposed to be true, but she was inclined to believe Varric’s version was closer to a dramatic retelling. Downing the warm remains of her beer with a grimace, Ellie stood and turned to leave. She didn’t get far.

“Issit true what they’s sayin’?” A man asked with a sneer. Judging by the smell, he’d already had a few too many drinks. Ellie hadn’t payed attention to the tavern while her nose was buried in a book, and now that she looked around the place had filled considerably.

Ellie looked back at the man, frowning slightly. “I beg your pardon?” Whoever ‘they’ was, they could be saying a lot of different things. From the look of this guy, whatever they were saying wasn’t friendly.

“That you’s a rabbit fucker?” Eh?

Ellie didn’t have the slightest clue where a rumor like that would come from. People ate rabbits, they didn’t fuck them. “Right.. I think you might want to ease up on the drinks there, buddy.” Someone nearby snorted, and Ellie stepped around the belligerent drunk. The man shoulder checked Ellie as she passed, but he didn’t stop her.  Rude.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he said, his words were loud enough that a few people nearby had taken notice. “I’s heard yeh sleeps wif a whole tent of ‘em. Thatr yer’s so des- des- desthperate to get ‘em in ‘er holes that they take turns.” Wait a minute – seriously!? Ellie looked back at him, dumbfounded. She didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry, and ended up scoffing. Oh, for pete’s sake..

She kept walking towards the door, unable to wrap her mind around the absurdity. People couldn’t possibly believe something like that, right? Her bravado faltered, and Ellie picked up the pace before there could be another grand declaration from the slurring dumbass. Heat was beginning to rise in her cheeks, and she didn’t risk looking at anyone on the way out. It had been much easier to laugh in the face of potential backlash when there hadn’t been any. And over something so minor, too.

Under the embarrassment and disbelief, there was an undercurrent of anger. Up to that point, her day had gone relatively well – all things considered. Ellie stepped out of the tavern without looking back, and headed towards her room. She had been planning to drop by the elf tents after dinner, just to visit, but after the drunk’s words she decided against it. This world was too stupid for her to deal with at the moment.

Once she reached her door, Ellie fished the key out of her coin pouch, unlocked the door, then stepped inside. It only took her stumbling around in the dark, and smashing her foot into a table leg, for her to find a candle. After lighting it with a small zap from her fingers, a feat she was quite pleased with herself over, she kicked the door shut with a foot and was left with sweet, glorious privacy. After that it was a quick matter of removing her shoes and superfluous layers of clothing. And the breast band - that thing was gone.

Angry and embarrassed, Ellie expected to lay in bed awake for a while – regardless of how tired she was. She’d attributed the ease and speed at which she fell asleep to the strain of her injuries, but there were also the possibilities of unwitting exhaustion and stress. Regardless of the cause, Ellie was out within minutes of going to bed.

-

“Are you the only person I’m ever going to dream about?” She asked Sandy, noticing a pattern. This time they were inside a Starbucks, and had been discussing the merits of 24 hour diners when Ellie realized she was dreaming. Her mood still wasn’t great, but it had improved.

Sandy stopped mid-sentence and scowled. “Don’t ask me, this is your head.”

Ellie scoffed, and was about to point out that she wasn’t creative enough, when the scene changed. Once she realized she was dreaming, the shifts were always disorienting. “Ugh, stop that!” Now they were by a lake, and Sandy had taken the form of Lavellan. 

“Don’t look at me, sugar tits.” Lavellan said, using Sandy’s voice. “It isn’t my fault. You don’t want the right things.” I don’t want the – what does that even mean!? Ugh this place is terrible! “It should have been her, you know. Not you. You don’t belong here.” Lavellan was still using Sandy’s voice.

The words struck a nerve. As if I need a reminder. “Aren’t spirits supposed to be helpful, and demons supposed to be” Ellie waved a hand around vaguely, “impatient?”

“I can’t lull you into a false sense of security with impatience.” Sandy-Lavellan countered.

“You can’t when you tell me about it, either!” Whatever this thing was, it was starting to drive her nuts. Last night hadn’t gone much better. “What are you? Aren’t you supposed to tell me?”

Sandy-Levallan pretended to consider it, before smirking. “Nah.”

“Go away.”

“No.”

Ellie huffed, giving Sandy-Lavellan a pointed look. “I’m ignoring you now.”

“Aww, don’t be like that Shemmy! Shem, Shem, Shemeroo!” One of Ellie’s eyelids twitched.

The ignoring strategy had sort of worked last night, so she gave it another shot. Without another word, Ellie turned around and closed her eyes. You are the Worst. Mage. Ever.

“Yeah, you are pretty terrible at it.”

“Oh, shut up!” Ellie snapped, then she facepalmed. So much for ignoring. “Aren’t demons supposed to be scary? Like, rage, and stuff?” She still wasn’t sure what to make of dreaming here. It was too different, and the confusing conversations with Sandy-Lavellan didn’t help.

“You don’t have enough of it, so they go somewhere else. Because you S-U-C-K.”

Ellie grumbled, “Don’t you have someone better to go and-“ Annoyance? Was this a demon of motherfucking annoyance? Was that even a thing? Ellie had to admit, Sandy could be pretty annoying when she wanted to be.

“Close, but nope!” The demon said from behind her. “Don’t worry about it, you and me can be buddies forever!” Oh my god I hate you.

“Wait, why isn’t something more dangerous here?” Ellie turned around to face Sandy-Lavellan, “Don’t demons like to bother mages, or something?”

Sandy-Lavellan tilted her head slightly. “They were interested, at first. Very interested. Then you didn’t know how to let Fear in. They lost interest.” Sandy-Lavellan smirked, “they want out more.”

Ellie frowned. “I don’t remember talking to Fear. Only you’ve been here.”

“When you tried to blow up. Fear was there. He thought he could get in, but he couldn’t. Possessed. You really are terrible at this. Your undershirt was on backwards, you know.” Incompetence? Wait… possessed? Is she saying I’m already fucking possessed!? Wouldn’t I notice??

-

When Ellie woke up in the morning, she did not feel relaxed or well-rested. She felt frustrated. It didn’t matter if the demon was right or not, she didn’t know how to fix her confusion surrounding all things magic any more than she knew how to make a demon leave her alone. What kind of idiot can’t even tell if they’re possessed!? Whatever that thing was, it had gotten under her skin. To make matters worse, the only person who might help wasn’t around. Said help was also a psycho nutjob Ellie wanted nothing to do with. There are other mages here, you know. Maybe they would help? Others have self-taught, there’s no reason you can’t.

The truth was that Ellie knew Solas lied so damned much, she figured he was less likely to give a flying fuck about other people lying too. Plus, he probably already knew she didn’t know shit. A god seemed like the kind of person who would have a decent bullshit detector – even if their own life choices trend towards idiotic. As if yours don’t.

Grumbling, Ellie pushed the covers off and cursed at how cold it was. After nearly putting her shoes on before her pants, she remembered how clothing worked and woke up enough to dress properly. Her long hair had come undone during the night and was also trending towards disaster. After a few minutes spent trying to brush knots out with her fingers, Ellie gave up and braided it. I need a brush. The braid was then twisted up into a bun. Or significantly less hair.

Look on the bright side! Today you only feel like you were run over by a golf cart. That’s leagues better than the semi-truck. Soon it can be one of those small, Barbie convertibles for five-year-olds.

Seven bells rang before Ellie was out the door, which was a solid hour and a half later than she wanted. Given the troubling nature of her dream time, she tried not to be too hard on herself. It was still close enough to dawn that the eerie early-morning light hadn’t completely vanished with the arrival of sunlight, so she wasn’t too behind schedule. Without further ado, Ellie whisked herself away to the forest as inconspicuously as a mage with a staff could.

Thus began her training montage.

By the end of the first week, Ellie was fairly certain that she was fucked. She had improved, for sure, but there were obvious things missing. Like a basic understanding of how the world worked. Half the time she tried to cast anything more complex than shooting lightning bolts, it felt like her goop got all tangled up in saran wrap. Okay, so she wasn’t fucked, but she was having problems.

With enough mana, Ellie could brute force through the magic-impeding saran wrap, but there had to be an easier way; and the further away she tried to make something appear, the more saran wrap she got tangled up in. On some level, she knew she was looking at this wrong. She was looking at it like an earthling, where magic didn’t exist. That, or she was trying too hard not to think about how she thought she should be, and it was fucking with her. Maybe I should try casting drunk… No. That’s a terrible idea. Well, maybe. It couldn’t hurt. You did write most of your college essays halfway into a bottle.

Unlike the stories Sandy had forced Ellie into reading, magic felt much closer to calculus than interpretive dance. Movement did seem to help, though. She’d even tried to do some moves similar to what she’d seen in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but stopped after she accidentally made a ball of fire explode in her face. It had taken her the rest of the morning to figure out how she’d managed fire instead of lightning, and she still didn’t know how to light candles with the wave of her hand.

Hunting hadn’t gone much better, and the first time she’d seen the strange, naked rabbit-armadillo creatures that seemed common, Ellie had thought the animal was diseased. Stupid, scary, and diseased. Ellie didn’t know if these things were the ‘nugs’, but she hated them. She couldn’t even kill them for hunting practice, as they never moved until she got close. Then, once she was a few feet away, the little fuckers would spring up and lunge at her face. It was like Satan himself had suddenly possessed the damn things, and they did it every single time.

On top of that, she still didn’t have a map, know what country she was in, or have a clue if there was a North Star. Stargazing wasn’t an option, because there was a giant green hole in the sky blocking her view. Right, it’s a tear in the veil, and the veil is that thing between the world and the fade. In fact, the only thing that seemed to be going right was her physical training – she even had a favorite tree branch for pullups.

There was also the increasingly problematic matter of sleep, where her time in the fade was starting to wear on her. The demon continued to show up when she slept, and usually took the form of Sandy to do it. Ellie’s only respite was when demon Sandy decided there was someone more interesting or fun to torment. She wasn’t even sure if it was a demon, either. It didn’t seem to go for the emotional extremes she thought demons liked. Not that she was complaining. If Ellie had to deal with something actually dangerous she’d be dead by now.

Tonight, unfortunately, was not a night where demon Sandy was absent. It, or she, Ellie didn’t know if demons had genders, showed up halfway through Ellie’s dream.

“You can use magic here, you know.” Sandy’s voice spoke up from behind her.

The demon had been absent off-and-on the past two nights, and its sudden re-appearance made Ellie jump. “God dammit, don’t do that!” She said, spinning around to find a figure that was very much not Sandy shaped.

“Shut up, I’m helping.” Yeah, and I’m fucking Santa Clause. Mrs. Clause joins in on special occasions. Tonight, Sandy’s face belonged to Leliana; which was about as creepy as when the accursed thing used Solas’s voice, of all things, in Sandy’s body.

“Pfft, why would you help me? All you try to do is drive me insane.”

“Up the wall.” The demon agreed, grinning. It was not an expression that belonged anywhere near Leliana’s face. “If you begin to despair, then I don’t get what I want. I could show you.”

“What, ‘let me in?’” Ellie asked it, mockingly. Then she frowned. “As if you would teach me anything. Teachers are supposed to be helpful. Which you aren’t.”

“True, but you think you’re really bad at it. You probably are. I’ll get what I want anyways.”

Ellie didn’t bother trying to argue. The thing could read her mind. “How would practicing here help when I’m awake? This is a dream.”

The demon gave Ellie a deadpan look. “You’re in the fade. It’s where you draw ‘goop’ from.”

“Yeah, but the rules won’t be the same.”

“There are no rules. Rules are no rules.” Sandy was starting to get impatient, “less logic, more will. You are bad at this with magic, but good at it with yourself.”

That made even less sense than the first statement.

She was feeling like an idiot again. It hadn’t even occurred to her to practice magic here. The only thing she’d ever read about happening here was Solas talking to wisdom, Solas and Lavellan fucking, or them kissing, or prancing through forests together. Usually it was kissing. Then Solas would freak out and run away like a bitch.

Ellie let out a huff, then sat down on the ground, trying to think – which was hard when she also wanted to hit demon Sandy in the head with a shovel. The first time she’d been out in the woods, will had been a factor, but she hadn’t been able to do anything until she realized her goop wanted to be lightning. Can goop, mana, even have wants? Does it have its own will? How would will fix the saran wrap-

“Worst. Mage. Ever.” The demon said suddenly, interrupting her train of thought with its usual loud and blunt manner of speaking.

Ellie glared at it, “I swear to fucking god, one of these days I am going to-“ She stopped, recognizing the now familiar feeling in her gut just before waking up. Oh, you asshole! You timed this on purpose!!

“Bye, bye.” The demon grinned, and Ellie woke up cursing. Again.

-

She flung back her sheets, then started yanking her clothing on. As if it were just a matter of not thinking, and I’m just not willing hard enough. I’m willing plenty hard!

 She could always tell when the demon got to her more than it should have, and not just because she woke up angry. On mornings like this, Ellie knew she’d find herself very tired later in the day. That -thing- not only delighted in aggravating her, but seemed to thrive off it. How, exactly, she was supposed to make a demon stop doing demon things, Ellie had no idea.

For the hell of it, Ellie glared in the direction of her candle and gave a dramatic whoosh of her arm. It was an exaggerated mimicry of what she’d seen Solas do, and in her half-awake frustration she shoved far too much mana behind it.

The candle exploded.

“Oh, motherfucker!” Ellie had been swearing a lot lately.

It wasn’t the best start to a day, and she stomped towards the forest, staff in hand, like an angry bear. Or the Seeker. Exercise had always been a good way for her to calm down, and she wasted little time trying to break a sweat once she’d reached the clearing. If that failed, then the rest of her morning could be spent doing tai-chi and white girl yoga.

Once she’d managed to calm down, her thoughts inevitably returned to the night’s dream – or fade – or whatever it was. If Ellie had learned anything over the past week about Demon Sandy, it was that she was direct, albeit sometimes aggressive, with what it said and did. Although Ellie hadn’t asked for help, she probably needed it if a demon was offering it. Or seemed to be offering it. It could be a trick, but Ellie couldn’t see where the trick in it would be. Despite the infuriating timing, and constant button pushing, Ellie genuinely believed it was trying to be helpful. At least in this instance, it was.

It had complimented her too. Sort of. Compliment is a stretch, honey. Still, for a demon it isn’t that bad. Just.. really, really annoying. Ellie continued to mull over the conversation, and not-Sandy’s words, as she went through morning exercises. Halfway through a set of pushups, it finally clicked. She had been doing it wrong, just not in the way she’d thought she was. Ellie snorted, I got help from a demon. Mum, if you could see me now.

When it finally came time to practice her magic, Ellie focused less on what she thought she should do and more on what she could want and believe. It turned out to be a much-needed breakthrough. Progress was still slow, but the fade, and what Ellie could only guess was the veil, responded more readily. It turns out there were different ways to will something, and she’d been defaulting to the wrong one. Ellie wasn’t even sure how it made sense to her, or that it did - but it was working, so she’d take it.

Now if only I could fix my reputation as a rabid elf-orgy enthusiast. Hah, like that will ever happen.

You’re getting side tracked. The lightning she’d been trying to manipulate into a spike was scattering, and a few seconds away from blowing up in her face. A quick attempt to regain control did nothing, and she released it in the direction of the large rock she’d deemed ‘Sir Target Practice the Third’. The lightning arched wildly towards its target, then smashed into the ground a foot short. Of all the magical goop in the land, I got the goop that was difficult.   

Trying to do more complicated shapes was a poor use of her time, considering she still needed to work on basic things like aiming. Grimacing, she looked up towards the sky and tried to guess the time of day. The sun looked a little past midway, which meant she’d gone over her intended allotment. At least she’d be able to get more practice tonight. Depending on how casting went in the fade, if it really could translate to the real world, she might be able to dedicate more of her waking hours towards other things.

A few days later after morning practice, Ellie had just finished a quick lunch and was on her way to the healing tent when first bell rang. It was an hour earlier than she’d thought, and, on impulse, she decided to put her thrilling bandage duty off for an hour and head to the chantry instead.

 As much as Ellie loathed the place, it had bookshelves with books. Reading ‘Tale of the Champion’ had helped her learn about Kirkwall and the Free Marches, and why Templars scared the shit out of her, but it hadn’t told her much about where she was right now. It also hadn’t included a map.  

Nobody paid her much mind when she stepped inside, thanks in part to it being a normal time of day. Unlike the last time, when you got sent off to the land of manly elves. Ellie had avoided the place after her encounter with Sisters Janis and Rita – not that she had any fond memories of it to begin with.

Crossing the room to the nearest bookshelf, she began to skim over titles. Most of them meant little to her, as they related to things within Thedas that she knew nothing about. Sandy, you should have written less nonsense. Knowing Solas’s fondness for frilly cakes does not help me. At all. She picked one off the shelf at random, and began to read the page it opened to.

…before taking her place at the Maker’s side, his bride Andraste..’ Bla bla bla something about singing, ‘Maferath bound his wife’s hands…. Put to death’ Sounds like they needed a divorce.

She put the book back on the shelf and grabbed another one. This one was mostly hymns. The third book was also religious, but contained history of the faith. History through a tinted lens was better than nothing, and Ellie leaned against the shelf as she began reading in earnest. The more she read, the less she liked how the chantry approached magic. From the sound of it, they looked at it as a curse instead of a gift. Yes, it was dangerous, but so were swords and bb guns. If they didn’t have magic to kill each other with, people would have invented something else.

“Lady Roosevelt,” A serious voice spoke up. When Ellie didn’t respond, they repeated themselves. Oh right, that’s me.

Ellie looked up from her impromptu Bible study to find a frustrated looking Templar. “Uh, y-yes?” After reading about what happened in Kirkwall, it took her considerable effort not to tense at the sight of their emblem. Honestly, she should have felt him this close to her. It was like trying to snuggle a bathtub full of spiders. That and they drink blood. Ew.

“You were not in the healer’s tent.” He stated.

Her brow furrowed. “Okay, so…what?”

“There was… concern regarding your disappearance.” The Templar said carefully. You mean the fun police don’t like it when the dangerous mage isn’t promptly wasting her time in the healing tent?

She held up the book, “I had a little time for reading, it isn’t like I’m on assignment. Why, what time is it?”

He looked a little uncomfortable, “Nearly third bell. We have been... unable to locate you.”

“Well gold star for you, ya found me! I was in the chantry the whole time!” One of these days she was going to take another gauntlet to the face. The templar’s eyes narrowed, and Ellie cleared her throat. “My apologies, I lost track of time.” Note to self: hide from the church... in the church. In their defense, the shelf was buried behind crates and bags. The Templar would have needed to specifically look around them to have seen her. It had been an unintentionally exceptional hiding spot.

This wasn’t worth getting in a fight over, and when the Templar motioned for her to join him in the direction of the healer’s tent, Ellie returned the book to its shelf and went along quietly. Only they didn’t go to the healer’s tent with the grouchy alchemist – they headed towards the training grounds. Ah, shit…

Commander Rutherford was in discussion with a few of his men, and she was headed straight towards him. Again, there was the urge to turn around and book it. She hadn’t spoken to the Commander once since her release, and she wasn’t interested in starting now. As they approached, the Commander glanced over one of the men’s shoulders and spotted her. Their eyes locked for the briefest of moments, and he immediately waved his men away. He does not look pleased.

“Where did you find her?” Rutherford asked the Templar, as if she wasn’t standing right there. Rude!

“Ah, in the Chantry, Sir.” Well, at least I was ‘found’ somewhere that made it awkward for them, too.

The Commander clearly hadn’t been expecting that in response, and he blinked, giving Ellie a glance. “I.. see. Very well, thank you. You’re dismissed.” Then he turned his attention to her, speaking coolly. “You can be difficult to find, Lady Roosevelt.”

She gave him a sheepish smile, “only by accident. I lost track of time reading and normally would have been in the healers tent, but it was only one bell so…” Ellie stopped trying as her explanation grew more awkward under his glare. “Uh, sorry. It won’t happen again.” That seemed to mollify him.

“We have received word back from the Crossroads, and pockets of resistance leftover from the Mage-Templar War are worse than anticipated. They are terrorizing the countryside, and without official Chantry support we belief it best if the Inquisition presents itself as a solution to ongoing conflict.” Cullen began, watching her as he spoke. “Therefore, we have decided to send you, along with one of our more experienced Templars, with a small group of reinforcements to help bring order to the area.”

Wait, what? Ellie’s eyes widened. No! No, no, no no no no – I can’t! You can’t send me off to go killing people, yet! She wasn’t ready for that, and she knew it. I can hardly hit stationary targets! I’m ranked as a Novice Nug Hunter. You were supposed to give me time to level up, that isn’t how the plan is supposed to work!

Ellie’s mouth had gone dry, and she had to swallow to make her words work again. “You want me to travel with a Templar? Why would I agree to that!?”

“I can understand your reluctance, but there will be others accompanying you. He would not take any action against you unless it was deemed necessary.” There it was again, that word: necessary.

“Do you expect me to take comfort in that? Half the Templars in Haven are looking for an excuse when I walk past them.” It was an exaggeration, but Ellie still remembered how making a joke, while shackled, in a prison cell, had half the dungeon ready to draw their swords. They were also scared, as their pope had just exploded and the sky was falling. Shush. Details.

“I trust his judgement, along with the judgement of those accompanying you both.”

“Yes, but try to understand that I don’t. I know none of these people any better than I know you. What you’re asking for…” Ellie ran a hand over her head - it was a gesture she often made when stressed.

“Are you refusing?” The Commander challenged, “do you not wish to aid the Inquisition?”

She glared at him. It wasn’t even close to a fair question. Say yes. Refuse. Run. “No, I’m not.” Why would you say that!? Are you out of your mind!? “Please note my reservations.” There was nothing friendly about the smile she gave him.

Rutherford eyed her, then gave curt nod. “Noted.” You could cut the tension with a knife. “You leave tomorrow at dawn. Be prepared to walk long distances.” Bitch, I am the queen of long distances.

Ellie nodded, “If that is all, I will take my leave.”  

“It is. You are dismissed, Lady Roosevelt.” Commander Rutherford hesitated before adding, “and thank you.”

Her brow furrowed at that last bit, “Uh, you’re welcome, Commander.” Awkward.

Chapter Text

With a couple hours left until her usual dining hour, Ellie left the Commander to go find Threnn. Now that she had officially accepted the job, and was leaving to go get herself killed, Ellie figured she ought to collect on her salary while she could.

After a little searching, Ellie was able to find the Quartermaster inside one the buildings that had been repurposed for supplies. Threnn was seated at a desk, quill in hand as she looked between various inventory logs and ledgers.

“Hey Threnn, got a moment?” Ellie asked, cringing when her voice wavered.

Threnn looked up and nodded, “Ellie, right? What can I do for you?”

“Ah – uh, I’m leaving for the Hinterlands and need supplies for travel. Also, I’d like to take you up on that salary advance I declined earlier. Now that I’ve accepted the job.” She walked further into the room, and was still a little intimidated by Threnn. Maybe it’s the shoulder pads.

“Yes, of course,” Threnn pulled out a form and began to scribble down information. “What will you be needing?”

“A pack appropriate for foot travel, that can work with my staff, if possible. As well as a belt with pouches, possibly additional leather for armor, two waterskin, all-weather bedroll, food kit, waterproof pack covering, tarp or tent, a thread and needle, some twine, a cowl, whetstone, rations, one pair of socks, soap, and a small tin of grease.” She counted off the items on her fingers, trying to think if she’d forgotten anything. “Oh! And if you have it, I’d love a mirror and comb.”

Threnn continued writing the listed items after Ellie had stopped speaking, then looked it over. “You’ll need to go to Seggrit for the mirror, I’m afraid. Can’t do more than a single waterskin, either.” She clicked her tongue, looking over the list a second time. “Packs are waxed to deal with rain. We only got one kind of bedroll meant for travel, but it should hold up. Never heard of a tarp, so I can’t help you there. Hmm..” She looked up at Ellie, “you said additional leather for armor – what do you have right now?”

“A second, outer layer I can wear over my pants – it’s pretty light; and a sturdier short-sleeved leather vest. I don’t have anything to protect my forearms, and the vest around low waist. If that matters.” Ellie indicated with a hand.”

“We have some longer leather gloves for the arms, if you don’t mind having a second pair. I can’t offer you bracers. I can give you some guards to help cover your shins and knees. Sound good?”

Ellie nodded, giving Threnn a weak smile. It was more than she’d let herself hope for. “That sounds great, thank you.”

Threnn went to go gather the items, and Ellie stood there wordlessly until they’d been rounded up. The Quartermaster had stuffed everything into the pack, save for the remainder of her advance, before offering it out to Ellie. “There you go. Should be everything other than what I mentioned.”

“Yes, thanks again.” She took the pack and hoisted it over a shoulder. “You said I could buy the hand mirror from someone?”

“Yeah, Seggrit. He charges premium, but I think he has a few mirrors.”

“Where can I find find him?”

“He has a stall set up down the hill. Blond skinny fella.”

Ellie was pretty sure she knew who Threnn was talking about, and she nodded again. “Alright. Thank you again, Threnn.“

“Yep, now all you gotta do is come back in one piece.” Threnn had meant it playfully, assuming, like everyone else, that she wasn’t a complete fraud. The smile on Ellie’s face grew strained.

“No problem, if anyone gets close I just blow them up.” She tried to joke back, but the delivery was a little weak. Threnn didn’t comment, however, for which Ellie was grateful.

She gave Threnn a wave goodbye, before heading back down the hill in search of Seggrit. It didn’t take her long to find him, and he was arguing with a refugee over the price of shoes.

“You can’t expect us to go around barefoot – people have lost their homes and you’re asking double the normal price!” The man, a refugee judging from his haggard appearance, snapped at Seggrit. “I refuse to pay such a ridiculous sum!”

“Then you don’t get shoes! Supply and demand. It costs extra to get items safely through a war zone – I’m just covering overhead.” Seggrit retorted, crossing his arms.

Ellie waited off to the side while they bickered, until the man wanting shoes stormed off in a huff. She couldn’t say she’d been impressed by either of them, but Seggrit was the obvious opportunist. Threnn had said as much. The outraged potential customer was still nearby when Seggrit turned his attention to Ellie, his hands clasped in front of him in a weak show of humility and servitude.

“How may I be of service, my Lady? Perhaps a new sword? I have fine steel crafted by the expert tradesmen of Val Royeaux.” Seggrit opened, already trying to hawk goods.

“Not interested,” Ellie said bluntly, giving him an unconvincing smile. “A pocket or travel mirror – how much?”

“Ah, yes, of course –“ He moved quickly behind a table of items and pulled out a tray of small hand mirrors. “For a beautiful woman, such as yourself, I’m sure I will have something suited to your tastes.”

Ellie rolled her eyes, smirking as she pointed to one of the more pretentious looking mirrors framed in colored glass. “How much?”

“You have an excellent eye, my Lady! This piece was crafted by Madame Dieugere, and can be yours for a mere 15 silver!” Eesh, he’s worse than a used car salesman.

“And this one?” Ellie pointed to the most straight forward, simple, steel-backed pocket mirror he had.

Seggrit’s smile faltered, but he recovered quickly. “A most durable design. For you? A steal at 10 silver.”

“Five.” She knew she was still overpaying, and likely would be regardless. Ellie didn’t know what was considered expensive in Thedas.

“Nine.”

“I won’t go a copper over seven, and that’s still too much. Take it, or leave it.”

Seggrit scowled, even though she was pretty sure he’d still made a huge profit. “Very well,” all pretense of schmoozing gone as he held out a palm. “Pay up and take it.”

Ellie snorted, “ever the gentleman I see. Be careful or the peasants might revolt.” She paid him and picked up the mirror. “Thank you, Seggrit.”

“You’re very welcome, my Lady.” Seggrit grumbled back.

Considering he’d still come out on top, Ellie didn’t think he had much to be grumpy about.

-

Dinner came and went without anything of note occurring. She’d dropped her pack off at her room before grabbing what had been a very, very large and early dinner. Falling asleep still happened easily, and she could always use the extra hours for practice in the Fade – even if it meant enduring her little demon friend. Honestly, she was starting to get used to its shenanigans. Ellie suspected that, with enough time, it wouldn’t be able to get the response it wanted.

It took her a few tries, but she was able to light her candle from a distance after dinner, as well as heat the pail of snow she’d collected with a flame. Considering she’d been as mundane as a slab of cement a month ago, and was trying to teach herself in a completely different world, Ellie thought she was doing pretty well for herself. Her panic and frustration, and the utter mess that was her trying to use magic each morning, wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t backed herself into such a dangerous corner. It wasn’t fast enough, or good enough, because Ellie was trying to make up for years in a matter of days. 

Lighting a candle, and pulling off lukewarm water for a final sponge bath and shampoo before hitting the road, were accomplishments she should be proud of.

Well, now that my mood is a complete 180 from what it has been… not exactly sure how my impending doom would make me more level-headed.

Ellie wanted to wash her clothing, too, but she didn’t trust herself to try and dry them. They’d just have to stay gross. The general layer of grime, and complete lack of deodorant, left everything smelling funky anyways. Once everything else that she could think of was done, Ellie double checked and packed her bag. The bedroll was the heaviest part, but she had so few other belongings that the overall weight ended up on the light end.

Finally, she climbed into bed, allowing herself to experience the fear bubbling up inside her. She was scared, and she didn’t want to kill people. Don’t think about it. Ellie made a mental note to wake up at 5 bells, then pulled the blankets up and went to sleep.  

-

That night in the fade, demon Sandy appeared very quickly. “You are very loud this time.”

Ellie hadn’t said anything yet, and she frowned at the demon. “I have a lot on my mind.”

“You do.” It agreed, it’s face contorting into a frown of its own. “There isn’t any room left.”

I guess I’m not feeling enough of... whatever it is that it likes? Exasperation? Frustration?

Ellie turned her attention away from it and to her magic. To say casting was easier in the fade would be an understatement. Here there was no wall between what could and couldn’t be, and she didn’t have to worry about complication or consequence. She hadn’t understood it right away, but now the magic resonated inside of her along the same current running through fade. Now when she was here, she was starting to feel it instinctively. Where there used to be nothing, Ellie was beginning to hear magic hum in the air and move between her fingers. In the fade, it saturated everything. It felt right.

“You said casting shouldn’t be too different between here and the-Thedas, right?” Ellie asked, most of her attention on trying to create a barrier. She could get it up, but maintaining and evenly distributing the effect was more difficult. “Uh, demon?”

She broke her concentration and glanced around, but the demon had gone elsewhere. After night upon night of constant pestering, Ellie felt strangely alone in the silence of her own company.

-

Ellie woke the next morning with her nerves a tense and jumbled mess, and she didn’t think. Thinking made things worse. Getting dressed, Ellie looked around her little room and realized that literally everything she owned in this world was going with her. The notion was bittersweet, but also freeing. With so little, there was nothing keeping her here if she decided not to come back. She was only doing this because the fate of the world relied on it. On Solavellan. It’s what Sandy would do. From what she’d seen of Lavellan, Thedas needed all the help it could get. With Ellie in her friend’s place, she had to at least try.

Grabbing her pack, Ellie pulled it over her shoulder and headed out. It took a little maneuvering to make the holster for her staff work while wearing a travel pack, but she managed. Outside the sun hadn’t begun to break over the horizon, and the morning air was still tinted the ethereal blue that let the world know it wasn’t time to wake up. Most of the fires she passed had burned low, and the soft crunch of her footsteps were all that interrupted the blanket of silence.

As she reached the front gate to the town, Ellie was surprised to find Rutherford there with four people she assumed she’d be travelling with. Her and the Commander exchanged a nod of acknowledgement as she approached the group, and the circles under his eyes hadn’t gone unnoticed. Did he even sleep?

The four with packs, three men and a woman, were mostly in the same armor. The woman and two of the men were human, and all wearing half plate. The other man, an elf, was in medium leathers. None of them set off her Templar detector, so the group was still waiting on at least one other person. She came to a stop near the four, and they all took a moment to eye her and vice versa.

“Roe will be taking lead,” Rutherford said to Ellie, indicating the other woman with messy blonde hair. “You are expected to follow her orders until you are able to meet with the Lead Scout Harding.” When Ellie didn’t argue, he looked over to Roe, now indicating Ellie. “This is the apostate, Lady Roosevelt. She claims extensive travel experience, and I am told she will not have difficulty keeping pace.” Of course - the only person to question my story is skeptical about the one thing that’s actually true.

Ellie gave the group a polite smile, “please, Ellie is fine.”

“I’m Bruin,” the human male said. His appearance contrasted the fairer skin of the woman, Roe. Where she was pale and freckled, Bruin was all tan skin and black hair.

“Emmory,” the other soldier said, the tight brown curls of hair on his head was his most noticeable feature.

“Soven.” The elf’s was soft spoken, but clear. His appearance was the least distinctive: average height, medium-brown hair, and hazel eyes. When Ellie had been told she’d be working as a scout, someone like Soven was what she’d imagined: pointy weapons and light feet. If he wasn’t a rogue, she no longer knew what a rogue was.

The sun was starting to peak over the mountains, and Ellie stifled a yawn. She was about to ask about how many others would be joining, when she heard the sound of footsteps and turned to see the Templar. Naturally, the guy was in enough metal to supply a tomato soup factory. The Commander is probably here to make sure we play nice, Ellie realized.

“And, this is Templar Hargrove.” Rutherford said, and Ellie put her smile face on.

“You can call me Ellie.” Once he was nearly to the group, Ellie took a step forward and offered her hand for a shake. She wasn’t normally big on touch, but here making a show of civility mattered. Especially when everything she’d read indicated Templars were specialized mage-killers.

Hargrove was slow on the uptake, but he shook her hand without issue. “Well met, Lady Ellie.” He replied, his voice deep and rough. Touching him gave her hand the feeling of crawling spiders, and she was glad Hargrove didn’t let the contact linger.

Ellie looked between the Commander and Hargrove, before speaking. In this instance she wasn’t trying to be a bitch, it was a matter of personal safety. “Just so we’re all on the same page, Hargrove and I are to be working together. He is not guarding, babysitting, protecting, or otherwise here to keep an eye on me, correct?” The question was directed at the Commander, but she was doing her best to keep an eye on both of them.

Rutherford stiffened, “you are both working to further the goals of the Inquisition towards sealing the Breach. He will take no action against you without cause.” This shit again.

“Is your Templar working with me, together, as equals under the Inquisition in a unified front, or not?” Unfair questions could go both ways.

“Yes, you are working together.” He conceded the point to her, not that Ellie was keeping track (they were 2-2).

As for what Hargrove thought of the discussion, Ellie didn’t have a clue. The man was like Fort Knox – she wasn’t even sure if he had expressions.

“Don’t waste time,” Rutherford said, his attention directed back at Roe. “Harding lost a number of her scouts to a mage ambush, and Mother Giselle can’t be moved safely until the area is more secure. Send a raven once you’ve arrived.”

Roe seemed to know what the Commander was talking about. In fact, as she looked around, they all did. Was there a memo I didn’t get? Why the hell don’t people tell me anything!? Surely she wasn’t that forgettable, at least she hoped she wasn’t. At the very least, she’d want to be a footnote in the credits if she died out here.

“Yes Commander, Sir.” Roe replied, then she looked at the group. “Alright, lets head out.” Roe was nearly as short as the elf, but she made up for it with her commanding voice.

Ellie’s heart thudded in her chest as they exited through the gates and began to head Southeast. It was really happening. She was leaving Haven for life-threatening peril in the unknown. She felt a surge of adrenaline that had nothing to do with fear. Ellie was excited. She couldn’t help it. Underneath all the fear and very real risk that she’d be dead within a week, the idea of her, a complete nobody, setting out on a grand adventure was thrilling. You realize in game you’re a red shirt, right? You’re one of the nameless NPCs that falls over dead. The thought was sobering.

This isn’t a game, Ellie. Don’t start treating it like one.

She fell into step alongside the Templar, and both kept a nice gap of space between them. For the first few hours it was almost like a silent game – she’d slow her pace and try to get him to walk in front of her, but he’d slow down with her. Then he’d try to make her walk in front of him doing the same thing. It went back and forth, with neither willing to show the other one their back.

It was silly on multiple levels, considering they were supposed to be on the same side. Ellie hadn’t even had negative experiences to justify her bias – her mistrust was based, almost entirely, on what she’d read about magic in the chantry, and the annulment of the circle in Kirkwall. Reading about Hawke siding with the Templars, and Varric going along with it by extension, had made her sick to her stomach. Wrong didn’t begin to cover it.

“When you two are done flirting, do you think we could get a move on?” Emmory said from behind her and Hargrove, breaking the companionable silence. “I promise not to let the other one do anything nefarious.”

 Roe snorted, looking over her shoulder. “Is that what the slowdown is?”

“You should see ‘em, Roe. Can’t stop playing Mage-Templar footsie.” Emmory said with a smirk.

Ellie had the decency to look abashed, while Hargrove remained an emotionless tin can. It was actually sort of impressive.

“I just thought it was a funny way to pass the time,” Ellie muttered. It really had been childish. 

“What do you think the odds are for who slips up first?” Emmory called up towards the front where the others were.

“Four to one the Mage slips up first.” Bruin spoke up, looking around at the group. “Who’s betting on who?”

“I’ll put a silver on our arcane friend.” Emmory piped up.

“Very well, a silver on the Templar for me then.” Roe added, and her tired tone implied random bets and odds were a common occurrence.

“And you, Soven? Who will it be?” Bruin’s voice lacked the playfulness of Emmory and Roe. Even now, with bets over who would walk in front of who first, he sounded serious.

The elf walking alongside Bruin looked over his shoulder at her and the Templar. Well, at their feet. It reminded Ellie a little of Lin, but without the awkwardness and uncertainty. Soven observed their steps for a few seconds each, then glanced at Bruin. “The Templar will win.”  

Emmory groaned, “how can you tell?”

“The mage does it for amusement. The Templar is serious.” Soven answered over his shoulder.

Ellie scrunched her face and gave Hargrove a sideways glance.

“Is that true?” Emmory asked, looking between her and Mr. Stoneface.

“Well it was, but I’m not sure how to feel about it now.” Ellie said bluntly.

The other four clearly knew each other, and Ellie was glad that they didn’t appear to have any obvious bias.

The group fell back into silence, and Ellie didn’t start anymore foot games. For the time being, Hargrove and her seemed to have a silent understanding to keep pace with the other. And, without the nonsense, the party’s pace quickened.

Around noon they broke for a quick lunch, and Ellie found a log to sit on and stretch out her legs. She paid special attention to her left foot, which had begun to ache dully over the past hour. It still wasn’t fully healed, and in truth Ellie wasn’t sure if it ever would be.

“We don’t have to worry too much about running into trouble until we’re out of the mountains. After that, the risk of altercations will increase as we head South. From tomorrow onward we’ll travel in a 2x3 formation. I don’t mind if people move around, but in general I do not want the mage or Templar up front.” Roe started, pausing only to take a bite of dried meat or flatbread. “From what I understand, the chances of us reaching Redcliff without running into rogue groups is low. Once we’re near, I’ll expect everyone to be on alert for trouble. Understood?”

There were murmurs and nods of assent, and Ellie nodded along with them. She ignored the lump of uneasiness that began to form in her stomach.

When it was time to hit the road, everyone grouped in three pairs automatically. Emmory had headed up to the front with Roe, and they began chatting animatedly while the rest of the group was busy being stoic. Ellie was still walking next to Hargrove, and Bruin took the rear alongside Soven.

Honestly, Ellie didn’t mind the silence. She had hiked and backpacked alone often enough that the quiet was more familiar to her than the chatter. Since she was supposed to be some hermit anyways, at least she knew her lack of conversation fit with her guise.

When the sun began to sink low in the sky, Roe called a halt once they’d found a decent spot off the road to make camp. During the course of the day, the dull pain in her ankle and foot had gotten worse. It didn’t hurt enough to slow her down or cause her to limp, but she knew by tomorrow night it would be a different story. She still had the third healing potion Lin had given her, but Ellie had hoped to save it for an emergency – like if she was bleeding out.

Everyone took up different duties for setting up camp, and Ellie volunteered to handle the fire. Considering she could use magic, it didn’t make sense for other people to fuss around with flint and tinder. She knew how to clear a space and make a pit. It was something she’d done a million times.

Once she’d found tinder, and set up the gathered wood in a way that would stay lit, Ellie crouched down and focused on pulling her mana into heat and flame. With people around, Ellie was more careful than she was on her own – she didn’t want to muck it up the first time.

A small ball of fire bloomed to life in the center of the sticks, and she continued to feed mana into it until she was certain the fire would hold on its own. Ellie couldn’t help but smile. I did it, and nothing exploded.

“Huh, so you really know the outside and stuff, then?” Emmory spoke up from over her shoulder, and Ellie gave a start. It was as if everyone in Thedas knew how and when to sneak up on her. She needed to give everyone bells or something.

She looked over her shoulder, only to find Emmory very much invading her personal space. He was practically looming, and Ellie instinctively leaned away from him to create a more comfortable distance. “Uh, yeah, I guess. Is.. there something wrong with that?” Since she was still crouched, when that didn’t create enough space she did something close to a crouched sideways shuffle.

He shook his head. “I was just skeptical s’all. You don’t look like someone who lived in a forest.”

“Ah, I, uh.. have you met many people who do?” She asked after a remembering that conversations required both people to participate. This was awkward.

“Not many, no. But the ones I have usually look a bit more… wild.”

She gave him a tight smile and straightened, “I see. Well, all sorts of people can decide to keep themselves at a distance from civilization.” Ellie looked around for the bucket one of them had tied to their bag, then excused herself to fill it with snow once she spotted it.

Emmory volunteered to prepare the dinner, and Ellie grabbed a rock near the fire to sit on. When watch was brought up, Ellie asked for last watch, which she was given.

Then Hargrove spoke up, his voice graveled and strained. She was starting to think his face really might be damaged if his voice was anything to go by. “Will you be placing any wards of alarm, as well?” At his question, Roe glanced over at her, curious.

She chewed the inside of her cheek, unsure of how to answer. Ellie didn’t know if she could fake it or not – and if he’d somehow know if she had. “I could… try, but I have never done it. “ Hopefully honesty was the best policy, for once. At the look of alarm that crossed over Hargrove’s face, at least the part of it that moved, she may have been better off lying. “I am self-taught, and never saw any need.” A solo apostate, alone, in the woods, who didn’t think there was any need for a spell of alarm… yeah, that’s totally believable. Not.

“You are possessed, an abomination!” Hargrove had tensed, his hand going to his sword. He didn’t attempt to draw the weapon, however. Yet.

Ellie raised her palms up in front of her, crossing them back and forth. “No! No, no no – I’m not, honest! I don’t’ have any problems with demons, they leave me alone!” Well, that isn’t entirely true.

The soldiers and rogue just remained where they’d been standing or seated, watching with a mixture of confusion, alarm, and wariness. “Without wards, you are unprotected in the fade! There is nothing to stop them!”

Now Ellie was just confused, her face twisted as she tried to understand how -that- was supposed to make sense. “No I’m not – I mean, they can’t do it unless you let them take your free will.” At least, that was her current theory for why Fear’s attempts fell flat. You know, ignoring the possibility that she was, in fact, possessed and oblivious to it. Considering she was here in the first place, Ellie wasn’t going to take it off the table of possibilities. “Like, and if they get into your head you can just blow them up!” You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

“What, and we’re just supposed to – supposed to trust that you aren’t consumed by a creature of evil?” Hargrove blustered, and Ellie was surprised he hadn’t actually tried anything yet. Not that she was complaining.

“I mean, yes? I don’t know! I have to trust you not to attack me, shouldn’t that go both ways? Besides - Fear couldn’t get in, and the others have left me alone since. Don’t ask me why, it isn’t like I’ve sought them out for discussion!”

The templar’s eyes narrowed, and Ellie silently thanked Rutherford for being true to his word. “You have withstood an attempted possession, then? Like a Harrowing?”

Ellie didn’t really understand what the Harrowing was, outside it being an excuse to lobotomize mages if they messed up. “I don’t know – I’m not a circle mage. It isn’t like any demon can just walk up and kidnap you. You have to have enough an emotion or vulnerability to what they want - so they can exploit it. That’s my understanding of it.” My confused, completely uninformed understanding based off of a week getting pissed off at a demon.

“And when you are vulnerable? What’s to stop them? What makes you so certain that you won’t succumb to save yourself?”

“I don’t know, because I have a choice? I have faith in my ability not to fall over and just give up the second I hit a wall? Just because something is easy, that doesn’t mean it’s desirable. “ Ellie snapped at him, “if you’re so curious go ask the spirit expert.”

Hargrove had been afraid, but as he settled down Ellie just got angry. It was not fun to be treated like a potentially rabid dog, where you can see the question in another person’s eyes about whether or not you need to be put down. The Templar was still stiff, his jaw clenched, but he was trying to de-escalate the situation. She still didn’t like it. She wasn’t something to be de-escalated. She was a freaking person.

“Very well, I will -trust-,” the word seemed to grate against him, “that you are not a current threat.” His hand tensed as it moved slowly away from his sword. “I have seen many who do -not- resist.”

Ellie could see the perky grin on demon Sandy’s face when she went to bed, as she now had a strong suspicion that she had what it wanted again. She took a slow, deep breath. “From what little I have seen, you treat someone like they are dangerous and incapable of being anything other than a monster. It’s hardly a wonder that some end up a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

They glared at each other, and Roe decided to take charge of the situation. “Right, Emmory, how’s dinner coming along?”

He looked down, “uh, burning! Time to eat up!”

The dinner was only a little burnt. It was hard to mess up beans. She was angry at Hargrove, and the rest of the night was tense, but they left each other alone. Ellie went to sleep early, grabbing some snow before heading into the tent her and Roe shared. Inside she carefully removed her boot, and used an elven foot wrap to compress the swelling. Then she wrapped the area in a handkerchief and put the snow over it. Rest, compression, and ice. It was close enough.

Then, once she was ready for bed, Ellie fell into her sleeping roll and was out like a light.

Chapter Text

 

At the end of the third day, Ellie’s lower leg was in agony. Not limping or favoring her right foot had taken considerable effort, but she didn’t think anyone other than Soven noticed. Starting tomorrow things would be more dangerous, and she would be a greater liability than she was already. It was bad enough that the group was counting on her to be capable in combat – she couldn’t be crippled on top of it.

Pulling the healing potion from one of the small pouches at her side, Ellie turned it over in her fingers. Such a tiny vial of red liquid could be the difference between life and death. It was invaluable to her, and Ellie was wasting it on her stupid foot. This had not been how she’d wanted this potion to be used. Ideally it wouldn’t get used at all. Uncorking it, Ellie put the vial to her lips and downed half its contents.

The taste was as terrible and strange as she remembered – cilantro and bubblegum. Firmly recorking the glass tube, Ellie returned it to her pouch and waited. The warmth was weak compared to the way a full dose had felt, and she started to worry that not taking all of it would somehow mess it up. The heat spread slowly to her leg, and she sat down on her bedroll.

 It was still early in the night, but Ellie had snuck into the tent she shared with Roe while the others were distracted by Emmory’s incessant chatter. Dinner was finished, and her waterskin was already refilled, so she didn’t have any reason to head back out. Maybe I can turn in early? Compared to the rest of them, Ellie was already some early-to-bed anomaly. A little earlier shouldn’t make much difference.

Removing her boots, she let the magic continue to work. The pain ebbed with the heat, as if the potion was burning it out of her, until she was left with a tender, but much improved, foot. Now find a way for it to hold up another three days. That would require the other half of her potion on day two, if the first half of their trek was anything to go by.

Ellie sighed and took a sip of water, then let her mind wander. It didn’t take long for her thoughts to drift to the fade, where she could practice her magic without creepy Templar stares. If she’d drifted off, it had only been for a few minutes, and her eyes snapped open at the sound of her name.

“Ellie! Hey, Ellie - Are you asleep in there? You can’t go to bed yet, the sun isn’t completely set!” It was Emmory, raising his voice enough to carry into the tent.

She grumbled as she got to her feet, then headed back out towards the fire. It felt like a waste of time when she could be practicing, but they couldn’t understand that. Instead she gave Emmory a smirk and rejoined them by the fire. “And here I was hoping I could race the sun to sleep.”

Roe scoffed, “you’d win. I’ve never seen someone so good at falling asleep.”

“Was there a reason you called me from my solitude, Emmory? Or did you just miss me too much?” Ellie could feel the templar’s eyes on her, but he didn’t say anything. In general they gave each other distance, and neither one of them wanted to risk upsetting the unstable truce they’d formed.   

“Sorry, I only have eyes for Roe.” Emmory smirked, and Roe rolled her eyes. “You have plenty of practice being a recluse, is company really that unbearable?”

“The only thing unbearable is that monster on your head pretending to be hair.” Ellie teased back. Outside of necessity and banter, usually with Emmory, she had been silent. Whenever the others made attempts to bring her into conversations with substance, Ellie tried to avoid them. She didn’t know enough about Thedas. She still didn’t know what country she was in.

He made a quip back, then Roe cut in to say something in reply. Eventually conversation turned away from her, and she was left to listen in peace. Every so often she’d catch herself glancing at the sky, and thinking about how weird it was to see two moons instead of one. Thedas didn’t have the light pollution of the city, and Ellie noted that there was no stream of stars to indicate the milky way. It was a reminder of just how far from home she was.

“What about you, Ellie? Have any stories?” Bruin had been the one to ask, and Ellie looked down from the stars to rejoin planet Thedas. She’d only been half-paying attention to the conversation, but Hargrove had just finished a short story about a demon-infested lumber mill. He’d kept it brief. Like her, he didn’t talk much.

“What kind of story?” She asked, trying to think of things that could translate to this world.

Bruin shrugged, “anything. Like something you ran into in the forest.”

“Or what you were doing before you joined the inquisition.” Emmory added.

She frowned, thinking. It wasn’t like she’d gone out battling demons or setting bears on fire – or whatever it was that they thought an apostate got up to. The only thing you know about this place is Mr. Crazypants. “Well… I know a lot of old stories.” All of Earth’s stories. She couldn’t tell those stories, though. Crazypants it is, then.

Ellie didn’t remember Sandy’s fanfiction that well, but a lot of it was about elven gods and how magical Arlathan was. Andruil and Mythal came up a bunch, too. But, at the end of the day, it was always about Fen’Harold and Lavellan. She took a deep breath, then started to speak.

“In the Pantheon, the huntress Andruil took many lovers. Once she made up her mind, she was ruthless in her pursuit until she captured her ‘prey’. But, for all her cunning, she could never get the wolf Fen’Harel into her bed.” Hunters fucking wolves. Yep, that’s normal. “So she devised a trap, to trick the trickster. In her forest-“

“Wait, the Pantheon?” Roe asked, her brow furrowing.

“Uh, yeah.” What were they called? Ehlven? Elvhen? There’s a stupid ‘h’ in there somewhere.. “Ehlvhen gods.” Ellie tried to both pronounce and not pronounce the ‘h’s. It was bad enough that she’d remembered useless fluff elvish, but couldn’t remember the basic shit.

“Were you raised by the Dalish?” Emmory asked after a second, and Ellie gave him a bemused look. Why does everyone keep asking me that!? How is me knowing how to build a fire the confusing part of my backstory!?!?

“No.” She could see the question forming, and added, “I’ve always avoided them.”

“Why pick a story about the Creators, then?” Soven asked, and his tone held an undercurrent of accusation. She looked over at him, only to find him watching her with a slight frown. Wait, why are -you- mad at me? What am I doing wrong!? I’m sorry my best friend only had me read her crazy elf-god smut!

“Uh-well, I just thought – thought that it would be easier to use a story where people might already know the names? I’m- I have other stories with other names, but these are better remembered.” Ellie fumbled over the words.

“Are they all about elves, your stories?” Soven pressed, and she wasn’t sure what point he was trying to make.

“No, why would they be?” She said with frustration, crossing her arms. “I’m perfectly happy not to say anything at all.” Real mature, me.

Nobody said anything for a few moments, then Hargrove, of all people, speaks up. “Well, what happens?”

“Uh,” she hesitated before uncrossing her arms, easing her shoulders. “In her forest Andruil had authority over all who hunt. She had given Fen’Harel permission to hunt any game he pleased, but she did not tell him that the Halla were not prey to be hunted. When Fen’Harel went to hunt, she waited for him to make the mistake of hunting the only thing in her forest that was forbidden.” Ellie didn’t even know what a Halla was supposed to be. It sounded like an antelope.

“One night in the forest Fen’Harel caught the scent of a Halla, and killed it. Andruil captured the wolf, tying him to a pole outside her tent. As punishment for harming one of the Halla, she told Fen’Harel that he would serve in her bed for a year – one day for every year he’d denied her.”

“However, before Andruil could say or do more, one of the dark ones arrived at her camp. He had been looking for Fen’Harel, wishing to kill him. Andruil refused to give him Fen’Harel, and so they began to fight. It was an even battle, but Fen’Harel called out to the dark one. The wolf told the dark one of a weakness in Andruil’s armor, and the dark one stabbed her.”

“Andruil fell to the ground. With the dark one victorious, Fen’Harel argued that the dark one owed him a favor for helping him win the fight, and therefore couldn’t kill him. The dark one began to argue, and didn’t notice Andruil begin to move. With the last of her strength, Andruil notched one of her golden arrows in her bow, and shot the dark one. Then he, too, fell to the ground.”

“Both mortally wounded, the two gods fell into a deep sleep to heal their injuries. While they slept, Fen’Harel chewed through the ropes that bound him, and fled.”

Ellie bit the inside of her cheek once she’d finished, and glanced at the group. She had spoken nearly as much in those few minutes as the past three days combined. “So, uh, yeah. Don’t tie up wolves with rope.” Yes, that’s clearly the moral of the story.

“That and don’t turn your back on the enemy.” Roe scoffed, “so you know a lot of stories like that?”

“Not about the elf gods, but I know a handful of legends and stories.”

“What’s the weirdest one you know?” Emmory asked, waggling his eyebrows.

Ellie didn’t even have to think about it. “The one where a god named Loki transforms into a mare, then gets impregnated by a giant's stallion. All so he could give birth to his father’s eight-legged warhorse.” There were a lot of really weird stories, but that was the one she always found weirdest.

Emmory snorted, “why would a horse need eight legs?” That.. that isn’t the weird part. I give up.

Roe shared a story next, and Ellie stayed to half-listen about how, as a little girl, she accidently let a wild ram run loose through her local chantry. Once Roe’s story was finished, Ellie stood and excused herself to go sleep. Maybe it was from the potion earlier, but she really was feeling tired.

This time they let her go without hassle, and sleep took her within minutes of lying down.

-

They’d moved into the trees a few meters off the road to break for lunch the following day, and Ellie could tell from how the others were acting that something was up. For all her supposed expertise, she was so wet behind the ears she was drowning. She did her best to copy them – to pretend she’d noticed whatever it was they had. From the furtive glances some of the others had given her, she didn’t think she was doing a very good job. Trying to pick out what didn’t belong in the scenery was impossible - Ellie didn’t know what was supposed to be normal in the first place.

Nobody seemed willing to wander far, and the party grouped closely together against an outcrop of rocks. Sitting down on one of the rocks next to Bruin, she reached into her bag and dug out more flatbread and dried meat. She also pulled out a small pouch of dried fruit. Ellie didn’t know if the fruit here was the same, but the orange, leathery chunks resembled peaches and apricots.

They sat in silence, and the dried fruit was tough and tarter than the sugar-encrusted stuff back home. Ellie wasn’t sure if it was a peach or apricot, either. The taste and texture was similar, but somewhere between an apricot and an apple. Applecot? Apricle?

“After lunch, I want Ellie and Soven in back. Emmory and I will be in the front, which leaves Bruin and Hargrove in the middle.” At Roe’s words, Ellie choked on the piece of dried fruit she’d been in the process of swallowing. The coughing and gasping for breath that followed left Ellie’s face red, and tears in her eyes. The others were looking at her in alarm. Smooth.

“I’m okay,” she managed to croak, giving Roe and unconvincing thumbs up. “Wrong hole.” Her smile ended up closer to a grimace, and she took a gulp of water before coughing more.

Roe, Emmory, and Bruin looked concerned at her near-death by food. Hargrave was unreadable, due to whatever damage that kept parts of his face from moving. Soven was the only one who was looking at Roe in alarm, instead of Ellie.

 “You cannot be serious.” Soven said to Roe, once Ellie had stopped spluttering, his tone incredulous. Death by dried fruit was not the way she wanted to go. “The mage should be in the middle – those most vulnerable and inexperienced belong in the center.” Hargrove grunted in agreement. Even with their unspoken live-and-let-live agreement, there was no way Hargrove would like the idea of her behind him for hours on end.

Roe looked at Soven, and her demeanor and tone shifted to something distinctly authoritative. “I’ve been briefed on her background, and have my reasons.”

Hargrove cleared his throat, which created a sound reminiscent of rocks in a blender. “And I trust your reasoning. I’m sure he, like myself, is simply curious.” Privately, Ellie was pretty damned curious too.

“In most circumstances, I would have Ellie centrally located,” Roe said, giving Soven a nod, “but I know I’m not the only one who has noticed how at ease she is.” Wait, WHAT? No, oh god no. Roe had mistaken Ellie’s incompetence for competence.

She looked around the group in mounting horror as Bruin and Emmory nodded with a murmur of agreement. Even Hargrove seemed to be considering their woefully misguided leader’s words. No, Hargrove, not you, too! Ellie thought desperately, mortified that her utter obliviousness had been mistaken for expertise. I’ve doomed us all.

“Don’t look so surprised, Ellie.” Roe added, with a small smile. Ellie felt a growing sense of dread blossom at the pit of her stomach, and her mouth had gone suddenly dry. Please, don’t look at me like that. Don’t smile. I don’t deserve it. “I know you tried to hide it, but I’ve never seen someone so at home outside the safety of civilization.” This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. It’s a nightmare. You must be in the Fade. Please, wake up! It was a desperate thought that went unanswered. Ellie couldn’t understand how this had happened – why the world would play such a sick joke.  

“When the road began to showing signs of skirmishes, it’s like you look past them.” Roe continued, and Ellie couldn’t look her in the eyes. “You seem more afraid for us, than yourself.”

She could have corrected Roe – admitted her ignorance and given them a chance to save themselves, but she didn’t. Doing so would have meant exposing herself as a fraud. Desperate for somebody to see through her, Ellie looked over at Soven. He was the sharp one. Surely he, of all people, would recognize her for the deceptive coward she was.

Soven’s attention had been on Roe, but when Ellie looked at him, it shifted over to her. His expression was guarded, but she could see the tension in his jaw. For one uncomfortable moment their eyes met, and Ellie felt her heart sink. He isn’t going to say anything. Any truths would have to come from her.

That would never happen.

They finished eating, and Ellie took her new place in the back alongside Soven. Guilt gnawed at the back of her mind, a constant reminder that their deaths would be her fault. You have to do something. Ellie spent the first hour back on the road trying to keep an eye out with the others, but she knew it was a wasted effort.

All Ellie could do was blow shit up. Then make yourself a weapon. She wasn’t sure if it would work, but with nothing actively jumping out in front of them it couldn’t hurt to try. Closing her eyes, Ellie turned her focus to her mana, and the space that wasn’t there between herself and the other side. The fade. Slowly, she began to pull. After consecutive days of only using magic to make campfires, Ellie’s goop had already grown in size considerably. Every time she returned from the fade, there was more of it.

Even the static that was always in the air around her had grown. It made the air around her tactile, and the sensation was disorienting to the point of nausea whenever she accidently gave it any attention.

“What are you doing?” Sevon whispered, his voice so low Ellie nearly missed it.

She scowled. “Preparing.” Ellie muttered the words through a clenched jaw, finding the magic half of her current task exponentially more difficult while trying to carry a conversation. When there was no immediate reply, she refocused on trying to see if she could slowly amass mana without the fade beginning to pull back. Nothing like an arms race.

Ellie had started to relax back into her task, when Soven whispered again. His timing made her want to zap him. “Is something nearby?” Fuck if I know!

“It will be easier for me to speak once I’m finished.” Her reply came out strained, just a little more.

Whether or not Soven said anything in reply, Ellie didn’t know. She’d stopped listening. With a little work, she was able to encourage a steady trickle of mana to continuously flow without the Fade pulling back. As long as she didn’t allow it to build up to dangerous levels, she should be okay. Walking, talking, ticking time bomb.

Ellie opened her eyes, and the ground was not in the right place. Stop that! Walking is supposed to be easier with your eyes open, Thedas! It reminded her of when she’d first grabbed her staff, and when she’d unwrapped her mana for the first time in the clearing. The ground began to rise up, reading to punch her in the face as her feet faltered, but a rough grip on her upper arm steadied her.

It took her a few stumbled steps, and a great deal of blinking, before she regained her balance. At some point she’d regained her footing, and once the world swam back into focus Ellie saw Soven watching her. “I- sorry. ‘ve- I’m fine.” She did not sound very convincing. “Uh, thank you. You can let go of me now.” He didn’t let go, which was a shame because his grip hurt.

“What were you doing?” Soven demanded, and she could hear the tension in his voice. Oh, you know, speaking to demons, validating fears, the usual.

“I was… adjusting my connection to the fade.” Ellie hoped that made sense, because she hadn’t known what she was doing in the first place. It must have been a good enough answer, because he let go of her. That’s going to leave a mark.

“Everything alright?” Roe asked, not bothering to look over her shoulder.

“Yes.” Soven replied calmly. Roe didn’t ask anything further, and the elf didn’t volunteer more. If they’d noticed her stumbling around like a drunk and dizzy idiot, they didn’t comment on it. Hargrove did give her a lingering glance, but he, too, returned his attention to the woods and road.

Soven didn’t say anything else to her, but she could feel him keeping an eye on her. Well, she thought she could. The static of the air had her hair prickling up regardless. None of the others seemed aware of it, either – not even the Templar. Up until now she’d believed the change was physical, but if it was she’d have expected someone to say something.

The road curved more, and they were rounding yet another bend when Ellie heard a shout off to her right. Someone, she thinks it was Roe, shouted before drawing her sword, and Ellie’s eyes widened. She saw the others move, and told herself to follow them as the world around her exploded into chaos.

Move, Ellie! Move! Her body caught up to her brain, and she moved. Breaking into a run, Ellie felt a sudden burst of heat and turned only to see a ball of fire explode where she’d been standing a second ago. Oh shit. There was shouting all around her, and Ellie ducked just in time to avoid a boulder hurling through the air. It smashed into pieces near Emmory, who swore as fragments of rock ricocheted off his breastplate. Oh shit.

The air crackled, and Ellie began to pull on her mana – only remembering to draw her staff when she saw a mage dart from behind a rock with a staff of his own in hand. It was an ambush, and there was so much energy in the air that she could feel it in her teeth. Ellie looked around wildly, and heard a desperate, pained shriek as the air around her faltered.

The mage was on the ground, screaming as Hargrove approached with his sword drawn. The templar’s other hand outstretched as he disrupted ripped away whatever mana the mage tried to pull. The mage shouted something, but it was cut short as Ellie watched Hargrove swing his sword down into the man’s neck. Oh shit.

Hargrove hadn’t even hesitated, and when he turned to shout something Ellie could see the mage’s blood splattered across his chest and face. She didn’t hear what he yelled, and was only distantly aware of Roe shouting something in reply. A shield. Ellie tried to use some of the mana she’d pulled to form a barrier over herself, and her magic hissed and popped at her angrily. The resulting barrier was a weak and uneven mess. It doesn’t want to protect. You are a weapon. Destroy.

She wasn’t sure if the thoughts were hers, or the magic’s, but Ellie obeyed. She pulled the plasma out into the world, and the familiar sight lightning snapped and burnt the air around her. Hargrove had turned to swing his sword at another man – this one had a sword and shield. Wait, a Templar? But where-

She didn’t finish the thought. Ellie felt the echo of a void rise up behind her, and the hum of magic began to stutter and flicker out. The mana and power between her fingers was getting torn apart, and it hurt. She spun around and discharged what remained of the spell, only to find him nearly upon her.

Even she couldn’t miss from only a few feet away, and his movements faltered as he let out a roar of anger and pain. Ellie tried to move away, to shrink. His eyes were wild and lost – and Ellie felt the world slow down as he swung his sword.

The force of the blow knocked her back, and the barrier shattered. It had hit the staff, and her arm. Am I bleeding? There was more pain, so she must be. The Templar raised his arm for another swing, and Ellie saw him sneer. This is insane. Stumbling over her own feet she narrowly avoided the blade and desperately tried to pull on her mana. The hum skipped, so she pulled deeper. It wasn’t working. Ellie swallowed. Am I going to die? She felt something in her brain snap, and she grit her teeth. She wasn’t ready to die yet.

No. Fuck this. Ellie spun the end of her staff up and tried to smash it into the Templar’s face.

Ellie wasn’t sure who was more surprised when it actually hit, and she stared at him stupidly when he recoiled in pain – effectively wasting the precious seconds her impulsive act had bought. Well done. The Templar spit onto the ground and went for her again, weapon raised. She tensed, trying to ready herself, only for him to get cut down a moment later by Bruin. It happened so quickly – she hadn’t even seen him run up to help. Bruin gave her a short nod and said something, but all Ellie could hear was the sound of her blood in her ears. She nodded back, and that seemed to be good enough.

After the light faded from the enemy templar’s eyes, she felt the hum return in a nauseating rush. Ellie looked around, hardly processing the fighting on all sides. There was a strangled shout, and she spun to see Hargrove on the ground. The enemy Templar was still on his feet, and Ellie also saw the unmoving body of a second mage next to where Hargrove had fallen onto his back. What in the-

The other Templar swung, and Hargrave blocked the blow with his sword. He was on the defensive. She looked for the others, and was able to locate everyone but Soven. They were all focused on their own opponents. Even Bruin had managed to re-enter the fray next to Roe. Looking back to the pair of Templars, Ellie ran towards them, and was about to summon lightning to help Hargrove when she hesitated. You could let him die. She could even fry them both. It would be easy.

Hargrove made a struggling noise, and looked around frantically after barely fending off the other templar’s most recent attack. He saw her. He saw her standing there, able to help, and doing nothing. Now he knows. You can’t help him now. Her grip on the staff tightened, and everything about this felt wrong. If she helped him, he’d always know – always wonder if she was going to let him die. Or he’ll know that I chose to help.

Ellie wasn’t sure what kind of person she was, but not doing something was just as bad as killing him herself. It didn’t matter how terrible the Templars were. Hargrove shouted something, and she saw a spray of red as he dropped his sword. Fuck fuck fuck! There wasn’t time – she’d wasted it debating whether or not she was going to let a man die. Way to go. What is wrong with you!?

She didn’t remember running forward, only grabbing as much energy as she could – too much – and sending it at the Templar. There wasn’t any shout or scream when it hit, and the Templar didn’t go flying or explode. He seized. Jerking and twitching as the air filled with the acrid stench of burning hair and charred flesh. There was a pause before his sword clattered to the ground, followed by the man crumpling to the ground. She could see the smoke rising off his body. Don’t think about it.

When Ellie looked down at Hargrave, she tried to ignore the look of surprise. The shame and guilt could come later. He was alive, and that’s what mattered. Looking down at his arm, she saw the vibrant red of oxygenated blood gushing from his arm. It meant a severed artery. She knew that. She muttered something – most likely apologies – and dug out the half-filled vial of red liquid. If she hadn’t hesitated, he wouldn’t have been hurt. This was her fault.

He said something, but her ears were still ringing from the crack of her lightning to hear him. Uncorking the tiny vial, Ellie practically shoved the liquid down his throat. Hargrove gave up trying to speak, and swallowed. Her hand half inside of his mouth probably helped with the not-speaking.

Crouched next to him, Ellie’s attention was on his arm. It wasn’t until she saw the flow of blood stop that she looked around. The fight was winding down, but the others were still finishing off the remaining Templars. Ellie still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, but the air tasted like metal, and there was blood everywhere. Now assured that Hargrove wasn’t going to die on her, she headed towards Roe. At the very least she needed to put on a show of doing something – despite having remained stationary and gawping like a fish for the majority of the fight.

Channeling her remaining mana, Ellie was able to use enough lightning to stun the Templar Roe was fighting. It gave Roe the opening she needed, and Ellie watched her thrust her sword between a gap in the Templar’s armor. The man began coughing up blood, and when Roe removed her sword he fell to the ground. By then, the others had managed to kill the remaining Templars. With the fighting finally over, Roe looked around.

“Is everyone alright?” Roe asked, and her brow furrowed with concern when she saw Hargrove.

Their templar had gotten to his feet and was walking to rejoin the group. Ellie gave him a guilty glance, and she winced when she saw him looking straight at her. His jaw tensed, and for a split-second Ellie thought he was going to tell Roe what had happened. “I am fine. Ellie gave me a healing potion.”

“What about you? Is your arm fine, then?” It took Ellie a moment to realize Roe was addressing her.

“What? My arm?” She looked away from Hargrove distractedly, then down at her arm. “Oh.” Her body was still coursing with enough adrenaline to pick up a truck, and she hadn’t noticed that her right sleeve was now soaked with blood. “Well, shit.”

“Can you heal it?” Roe asked, and Ellie shook her head.

“I can suture it, though.” At the uncomprehending looks on their faces, Ellie tried again. “Uh, sow it closed.”

Soven, much to his apparent annoyance, got assigned to helping her stitch her arm up while the others burned the bodies. Ellie wasn’t sure what his deal was – she was just glad he helped hold the wound shut and didn’t let go or ask if she was okay constantly. If anything, he just wanted her to hurry it up.

In fact, nobody was in any way phased at the idea of her doing her own stitches. She’d been hoping it might have been at least a little impressive. In another world, like, say, Earth, sowing your own arm up would at least get you a little street cred. But not Thedas. Nope. In Thedas you might as well get laughed out of the psycho adventuring party if you weren’t up for something as trivial as self-operation without anesthetic.

Once the bodies had been burned, and injuries poultice’d, they were back on the road and in formation as if they hadn’t just killed a bunch of people. Nine people, to be exact. They even walked later than usual – to make up for lost time spent burning corpses. Rambo would feel right at home. Ellie didn’t have the words, so she just went along with it like they’d just been on a gorram picnic. The trauma could come later, because right now was clearly the time for insane levels of machismo. Her, angry? Naw.  

It wasn’t until later that night, when she woke up and saw the Roe’s dark outline shaking, that Ellie realized the alarmingly utilitarian approach was from shock. Focusing on their destination and progress was how they were coping. Meanwhile Ellie had focused on pretending she was a completely unphased badass in an 80’s action movie, because she was supposed to be used to this. Hey, whatever works.

“Are you alright?” Ellie whispered to Roe from her bedroll, doing her best to sound caring.

Roe froze, and Ellie heard her sniff. When she spoke, the words were muffled, and Ellie realized Roe had her back to her. “I-uh, yeah. I’m sorry for waking you.” Her voice was tight, wavering in a way that betrayed her attempted bravado. She had definitely been crying.

Ellie felt awkward. I shouldn’t have said anything. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“I just – I hate killing. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but the look in their eyes… and then the stillness.”

“No, it should bother you. Death should never be an easy thing. A life lost is one that can’t be replaced. When killing doesn’t bother you, that’s when you should start to worry.” Ellie knew exactly what Roe was talking about. She had seen plenty of people die on the way to the hospital, and many more who were already gone when she got to the scene.

There was a pause, and Ellie heard Roe turn in her bedroll to face her. “Does it still bother you?”

“Yes.”

Roe was silent for a time, and Ellie was starting to think she might have fallen asleep when she spoke up again. “Can I ask what happened?”

“You can ask. Doesn’t mean I’ll answer.” Ellie had no idea what Roe was on about.

“Well, how did you end up the way you are?”

Ellie’s brow furrowed, “you mean becoming a mage?”

“No,” Roe choked back a laugh or a sob – Ellie wasn’t sure which. “After what happened today, you were like Hargrove. Only he’s older. You’re so young…” Wait, young? Do humans here age differently? Ellie was beginning to wonder if Roe had any observational skills whatsoever. Roe might even be blind. That or Ellie had become a master of deception, and forgotten to fill herself in.

“Exactly how old do you think I am?”

“You can’t be over 20, right?” Ellie was glad for the darkness, because no amount of deceptive prowess could have masked the look of surprise on Ellie’s face.

“That… is not even close.”

 “Oh.” Roe replied, and this time Ellie thinks the sound she made was a giggle. “You must find me silly.”  

“Yes,” Ellie admitted, “a little.”

Roe didn’t say anything after that, and after a long while Ellie could hear the soft, rhythmic breathing that meant she’d fallen asleep. Ellie listened to the forest, staring up from her bedroll at the tent above her in silence. I killed someone. For the first time since arriving in Thedas, Ellie was unable to sleep.

Chapter Text

Ellie sat on a log, and prayed nothing would try and kill them while she covered the last watch of the night. There was the rustle of movement in a tent, followed shortly after by footsteps. Ellie turned her head expecting to see Roe, Emmory, or even Soven. She hadn’t expected Hargrove.

After what happened during the fight two days ago, she’d dared to hope that the Templar wouldn’t feel the urge to ‘discuss’ the tiny detail of her nearly letting him die. Because if someone almost got me killed, I’d totally sweep it under the rug and forget about it. Ellie watched him approach warily, and she sure as fuck wasn’t going to be the first one to speak.

“I wanted to thank you.” Hargrove said, after a long stretch of silence had passed between them. Ibegyourpardon?

That.. wasn’t what she’d been expecting. “For what?” Ellie glanced at the tents, almost wishing one of the others would pop out and rescue her.

“For doing the right thing in the end.” Hargrove’s face twitched, but the thing didn’t work right so Ellie had no way of knowing what it meant.

She pursed her lips, eyeing him hard. “Then I suppose I should do the same,” Ellie said slowly. “Thank you for choosing not to kill me. In the end.” Did you seriously just poke the grumpy old Templar with a stick? She didn’t have the right.

Hargrove’s eyes narrowed a fraction of an inch. “It is not the same.”

“You’re right, it isn’t.” Okay, are you going anywhere with this? She wasn’t.

Hargrove’s nostril’s flared, “I will inform the Commander that I believe you reliable, in spite of your shortcomings. I will, however, still inform him of your questionable morals.”

Ellie narrowed her eyes right back, speaking coolly. “Yes, because nearly drawing a sword on me, refusing to show me your back, and accusing me of being an abomination couldn’t possibly give me reason to think I might be better off with you dead. All I had to do was not lift a finger, and I’d never have to worry about you deciding to execute me again. How did it feel to be on the other side? To know your life was in the hands of someone who might think you dying was ‘for the best’?”

He clenched his jaw, and Ellie knew they were never going to see eye to eye on this. “I don’t have the power to cook a man alive in seconds. A demon possessing me wouldn’t have the power to raze a village.”

“That isn’t the point,” Ellie snapped at him. “Don’t thank me in one breath, then condemn me the next.”

“You cannot get angry over being treated as dangerous – it is a templar’s duty to protect and defend the people from the scourge of magic.”

“At the end of the day I’m still a person, and I can get angry over whatever I want. Your Templars were just as eager to kill you as the mages were to kill me.”

Their voices had slowly risen from quiet bickering, “Look, mage-“ Hargrove cut himself off, made that horrible throat clearing sound, and returned to a determinately quieter volume. “Ellie. Will you not allow us to move past this? See reason.”

She scoffed, then grimaced at the hard, angry look in his eyes. It’s time to play nice. “Fine.”

“Then you understand?” Seriously, one day Ellie was going to ask him what happened to his vocal chords and face. People were supposed to look maimed when they sounded like that.

Ellie grit her teeth. “No, and I won’t. We don’t have to agree or find common ground, Hargrove. You believe my very nature a curse – that isn’t something people move past. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“That is one way to see things.”

“We’re frenemies. Friend-Enemies. Two people with every reason to be opposed, who instead work together.”

“Then we are at an impasse.”

Ellie wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake, violently. “I prefer the term compromise.”

Hargrove was quiet for a time, and Ellie used the lull in conversation to scan the trees for any signs of trouble – the ones she wouldn’t notice if they were there.

“Very well. I accept your… terms.” Hargrove said gruffly, and she knew he wasn’t pleased with the outcome. Good. Must he make this so formal?

A minute later, Emmory was stumbling out of his tent, his tight curls wild and going in all directions. “Oh good,” He said loudly, “is the lover’s quarrel over?” Ellie threw a stick at him.

When it came time to head out, Ellie only made it a few hours into the day’s hike before she was forced to draw her staff. The lower half of her left leg and foot felt like it was on fire, and they still had half a day’s more travel tomorrow before reaching the crossroads and this Giselle woman. The others reacted with alarm, and Roe had her sword drawn before Ellie realized they thought she’d seen a threat.

“No, guys, stop! I just, it’s for my leg.” The admittance left a bad taste in Ellie’s mouth.

“Was it injured in the fight? I didn’t see-“ The intensity of Roe’s expression and fierceness of her words had Ellie taking a step back. It was like she was suddenly in the company of a shorter, blonder Pentaghast.

“No! Old injury. That’s all!” She said quickly. For a moment Ellie thought Roe was going to snap at her, but instead her shoulders relaxed, and their leader resheathed her sword.

“In the future, please do not draw your weapon for non-combat purposes without a warning.” Roe turned back around and began walking again, her voice clipped. Yikes.

A few of the others shot her annoyed looks, and Ellie did her best to look apologetic. They were all on edge, but Roe had gotten downright prickly – especially towards Ellie. She wasn’t sure if it was because of the tent, and that she’d heard, rather than seen, Roe crying, but the woman had gone hard and steely.

Nobody asked if she was alright, or if she could keep pace, and Ellie was glad for it. It was easier to tolerate the pain and pace if there wasn’t coddling. She also didn’t want the temptation of saying yes to slowing down. As much as she was pretending to be some insane, unphased badass of the forest, she wanted to get off this road as much as they did.

Before the end of the day, they ran into another group of apostates and Templars fighting off the road. This time the fight was well under way, and the majority of each side had already killed each other. Walking up onto a fight in progress was different, and infinitely less confusing than the pandemonium of her double ambush crash-course into fighting.

This time Ellie heard Roe call out to them, pleading with them to drop their weapons and cease fighting, that they represented the inquisition and the war was over, and that both mage and Templar were needed and wanted alongside the Herald of Andraste.

Remembering the panic of battle, and how she hadn’t processed a single thing shouted or spoken to her, Ellie wasn’t surprised when Roe’s appeal went ignored. Or when one of the mages turned and sent a ball of fire aimed at Roe’s face.

Hargrove went for the mages, and Ellie went for the Templars. They were so strung out and focused on their current quarries, that neither of them saw the flash of lightning, or heard the crack of the air when she hit them both with a web of electricity like some deranged Lady Palpatine. Only with a staff. And not cackling maniacally.

It wasn’t enough to kill, so much as immobilize, but that had been intentional. Ellie wasn’t ready to add to her personal death count quite yet. Plus, this gave her the opportunity to practice channeling in combat. Soven and Bruin caught on quickly, and the elf slid up to the first Templar and slit his throat. It was quick and efficient. Bruin, on the other hand, grabbed his sword with both hands and swung hard enough to send the second templar’s head flying.

Their deaths had taken a matter of seconds. Hargrove, Roe, and Emmory had already taken out two of the three mages, and she heard panicked shouting, or was it screaming, as the crackle of her magic died. I’m going to end up deaf.

“Please! No, I- I never wanted to fight!” It was the mage, and Ellie turned to see Hargrove advancing on him. Ellie felt her stomach clench. No.

“No! Hargrove, stop!” Ellie shouted at Hargrove, sprinting towards him. Pain shot up her leg, but she ignored it. There was already so much blood – the mage was covered in it. She knew that was important, for some reason, but Ellie couldn’t remember why.

“Ellie, stop! What are you –“ Roe shouted, but Ellie ignored her.

The mage’s eyes were wide, his skin pale and haunted as rivulets of blood began to fly and web into the air. A blood mage. Hargrove’s sword was on its downswing when she collided with him. Pain shot into her shoulder as she slammed into his side, and sent them both toppling. Roe was screaming at her, and Hargrove’s sword went flying from his hand. If that mage keeps casting…

Ellie waited for the world to explode, or something terrible to happen. She felt an arm yank her violently off of Hargrove, who was shouting something about abominations. “Don’t kill him! Stop, don’t! He isn’t a threat!” No more than you are. Emmory looked pissed, and she felt a ringing in her ears as she tried to jerk her arm from his grasp. That had been a bad idea, and she felt something in her arm tear.

Roe had stepped into Hargrove’s place, “Roe, STOP!” Her swing stuttered, and she stopped. The look she gave Ellie was furious. “He surrendered!”

“This is a blood mage! It consorts with demons!” He, not it.

She kept struggling against Emmory’s grasp, and found a smug satisfaction in how much trouble he was having holding onto her. “Or books! He could even be self-taught!” Emmory made a frustrated noise, and she wrenched herself free from his grasp.

Hargrove had gotten to his feet, glaring at her dangerously. “Blood magic is forbidden! He’s an abomination!”

Ellie stared at him, incredulous. She couldn’t believe that he, of all people, could have the nerve. Templars were such hypocrites. “You’re one to talk,” she spat, “Templars use blood magic all the time!” Just the thought of drinking lyrium made Ellie’s skin crawl. “You’re all hypocrites! Drinking your vials of-“

“We will discuss this later.” Hargrove cut over Ellie so sharply, and loudly, that it took Ellie by enough surprise to actually make her shut up. Yeah that’s right, be guilty. Blood drinking sickos. “Spare the abomination for now, Ellie will bear the blame.” The look he was giving Ellie could kill, but now there was something else behind it.

Roe shot Hargrove a startled look, “Why would you-”

“That is a matter between her and I.” Hargrove snapped, before trying to compose himself. “The abomination is unlikely to survive, anyways.” Ellie could swear his eyes were sneering at her.

She looked over to the blood mage, and realized he was right. The mage had slumped over, unconscious. Ignoring the pain in her arm and leg, Ellie immediately began trying to stop the blood loss. What she saw didn’t comfort her. The cuts in his arms only oozed. His pulse was weak, frantic. He’s going to die. She worked on him anyway – doing what she’d been trained to do regardless of the inevitable outcome. Even with proper medical attention back home, where he could get subcutaneous fluids and transfusions, she wasn’t sure if he’d have made it. When he’d drawn on his blood for that last spell, he’d taken too much.

I did what I could. Knowing that didn’t give her much comfort. He still looked like he was in his teens, and his death was a tragedy. When she stopped resuscitation efforts, Ellie realized she was crying.

When she went to add his body to the pile, the others didn’t say anything. They hadn’t tried to stop her from working on the body either, and in general looked unsure of how to approach her. Roe even had her flint and steel ready, as if she expected Ellie to refuse lighting the not-quite pyre. Well, if you’ve done half as good a job at playing unflappable war mage, your emotional outburst – not to mention tackling a Templar – would be unexpected.

When the gang finally reached the crossroads, to say they were a sight would be an understatement.

They stank, their clothing was caked with blood, and half of them had managed injuries. The first refugee they got near took one look at them and ran.

-

When the Herald returned to the crossroads a few days later, Ellie heard, more than saw, the groups arrival. Namely, Ellie heard the Seeker and Solas bickering, followed by Lavellan threatening to cut out the tongue of whoever spoke next.

Ellie was eating a late lunch with Soven, and they exchanged a sideways glance. The soldiers had been assigned by Harding that day, and Hargrove spent most of his time doing chantry things. At least that was Ellie’s assumption. He’d been surprisingly scarce since reaching the Crossroads.

“What do you think that’s about?” Ellie asked him after a moment. Soven wasn’t as angry with her as the others still were over the blood mage debacle. And whatever his beef with her was, it seemed to have mellowed out some. Enough that Ellie was willing to risk conversation.

Soven grunted, and looked in the direction of Harding’s tent. “From what I’ve heard, that’s normal.”

That took Ellie by surprise. “What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “From listening to other agents talk about it, if it isn’t Solas and the Seeker arguing, it’s the Seeker and Varric. Half the time the Herald tells them to knock it off, and the other half she encourages it. It’s a wonder they haven’t all killed each other.”

Ellie frowned, looking from the elf to Harding’s tent. While she hadn’t expected the Seeker and Solas to be buddies, she hadn’t expected them to be arguing. From what she knew of Solas, he was supposed to be some aloof, egotistical, and quiet psychopath. Not the loud kind. If not even Varric can stand the Seeker, she must be really bad. It was a concerning development.

When Ellie looked back at Soven, only to find him watching her, she jumped. “I- w-what?”

“The information seemed to trouble you.” Soven shrugged casually, and went back to eating, as if his creepy rogue shit was totally normal. Ellie had concluded he was likely one of Leliana’s people during the trip over, but at least then he put more effort into hiding it. At least Josephine and Varric smiled while prying information out of her. Then Ellie remembered the image of demon-Sandy grinning with Liliana’s body, and decided smiling might not be for everyone.

She huffed, “shouldn’t it? The Inqu-Herald of Andraste is a symbol to people, and she’s already spikey enough on her own without scary, pissed off travel companions.” She isn’t the inquisitor yet, dumbass.

“Spikey?”

“Try talking to her, you’ll see.” Ellie clarified, without thinking. It said a lot about the nature of Thedas when saving it required people as bristly as Lavellan, and as batshit as Solas, to fall in love. This is definitely going to require the right time skip to pull off.

Soven looked thoughtful, “I’ll take your word for it.“

Ellie snorted. “Smart.”

Later that night, Ellie found herself staring up at her tent. The inquisitor and Solas being back in close proximity, and Soven’s comments about how much Lavellan’s party hated each other, had left Ellie an anxious mess. Okay, that wasn’t entirely true. It was mostly Solas. Being in close proximity to an insane wolf god scared shit out of her.

How other people could look him in his stupid, impassive face and -not- see the madness swirling around behind his stupid, blue eyes was astonishing. You’re overreacting. Shut up!

Like the brave, wilderness psycho she was pretending to be, Ellie spent the rest of the day ducking behind tents and peeking around corners to avoid the lot of them. There had been a close call with Varric that forced her to fling herself, quite literally, out of sight behind a tent. Later on, Soven had rounded a corner while she was crouched behind a barrel, and she was pretty sure he knew she was up to something. Yes, because nothing about your behavior is conspicuous in the slightest. It wasn’t a long-term strategy.

A few other people had given her odd or alarmed looks when she’d suddenly spin around and jump over a crate, but Ellie didn’t care. She wasn’t ready to try and play matchmaker, and she was running from the responsibility. If Lavellan was threatening to cut people’s tongues out, then Thedas needed help. Ellie just really, really, really didn’t want to be the one giving it.

There was also the very tiny, insignificant fact that Ellie had told herself she’d ask Solas for help with her magic. Which meant talking to him. And being around him. And asking for help. That last one she really didn’t like. It could prove useful. She’d tried this mental argument before. You could try to get inside his head – figure out a way to make Solavellan happen. The only problem there, was that it still meant hanging out with a crazy elf god.

Tomorrow. I’ll stop being a coward tomorrow.

-

Tomorrow began with Ellie accidentally flinging her breakfast into the fire when Soven looked over her shoulder and said “oh look, it’s the herald” just to fuck with her. Where the others looked up with interest, Ellie had already done a backwards summersault off the log she’d been sitting on.

In his defense, the look of confusion on the rest of the group’s faces at her reaction was priceless.

“Is there a reason you’ve been doing backflips over dwarves, and cartwheeling around camp to avoid the Herald?” Soven said, snickering. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were a performer from Orlais.” I don’t even know how to backflip!

The day was not off to a promising start.

Emmory raised his eyebrows, looking from Ellie to Soven in surprise. “You think she’s a bard?” Then he looked back at Ellie, “wait, why are you avoiding the Herald?” Wait, what? No! Aren’t bards assassins!?

She glared at Soven, “I-I’m not avoiding her!”

“That’s good.” Soven said evenly, “The Herald and her mage are heading off to investigate some ruin today, and we’ll be joining them.” The Herald and HER mage?

“Lavellan and Solas are dating!?” Ellie blurted out, her eyes widening. Could I have been wrong? She dared to hope.

Soven stuttered, his brow furrowing in confusion. “Uh.. I-I wouldn’t know.” From the corner of her eye Ellie saw Roe and Emmory exchanged significant looks, but she ignored them.

“Right! When do we leave?” Ellie demanded, utterly failing at sounding nonchalant. The sooner the better. If she could observe them together, then maybe she’d be able to tell. If there was even the slimmest possibility that they were together, Ellie would get to the bottom of it. “Is it a day trip? Overnight? Where are we going?”

The elf clearly hadn’t been expecting the conversation to head in this direction, how could he? He can’t possibly understand the stakes. “A single night. Harding informed me that it would take most of the day to reach our destination. We leave in two bells.”

Her brow furrowed in determination and she nodded. She could tolerate a single night. How bad could it be? If Lavellan and Solas used the same tent, or something similar, it would be the evidence she needed. Then she wouldn’t have to do anything at all for months – maybe years. You can do this.

Packing didn’t take Ellie long, and since the journey was shorter she even brought an extra shirt and base layer of pants. In case the others get covered in too much blood. It said a lot about Thedas. After the trip down here, she’d had to purchase more clothing. It had taken a full day of soaking in soapy water for her to get most of the blood out of her grey shirt’s sleeve.

Ellie followed Soven to their meeting point a little before the next bell and she scratched her nose absent-mindedly. “Do you speak any other languages, Soven?” Do you care? Not really.

“Yes, why do you ask?” Soven gave her a sideways glance, and Ellie remembered that she was terrible at small talk.

She shrugged, “Just wondering.” This is the part where you ask him which ones – what if he knows Spanish? If he was one of Leliana’s, it would make sense that she’d send one who spoke Spanish – or whatever it was called here. It would only make sense if he was here to keep an eye on you, ya egomaniac. She didn’t ask him which languages, and they stood there in silence. At least he didn’t seem to think it was awkward.

“Ugh, what’s the shem doing here?” Lavellan’s voice demanded in disgust, and one of Ellie’s eyelids twitched before turning to face the prickly dalish elf.

Solas was walking alongside her, and Ellie glanced at him briefly. He looked mildly surprised – or that’s what she guessed the minimalist eyebrow raise meant. Lavellan’s expression matched her tone, and both implied the sight of Ellie was equivalent to having stepped in something unpleasant.

“Yes, lovely to see you too, Herald.” Ellie replied dryly. “It’s been too long.”

Lavellan gave her a smile that showed too many teeth, and was really closer to a sneer. And here we see the Alpha female assert her dominance – baring her teeth to let the new arrival know she is not to be challenged. What? Ellie missed nature documentaries.

The Herald turned her attention to Soven, “You’re the ones Harding sent?”

Soven nodded, “we are.”

“Well, keep up.” Lavellan said in reply, giving them both a glare that would give Broody a run for his money. She didn’t pause when she reached Ellie and Soven, instead continuing to walk forward. Ellie took it as their queue to start walking.

Once Ellie and Soven fell into step with them, Solas turned to look at Soven and introduced himself. His smile polite, as he gave a small bow of his head. “I am Solas, if there are to be introductions.” Ohmygod he actually said it. Ellie caught herself staring and quickly diverted her gaze out in front of them.

“Soven.” He said, his tone similarly cordial.

“And Ellie,” She turned to look back at Solas when he addressed her, and also tried to give a polite smile. “I hope you are doing well?” Ellie took that to mean ‘is your brain less damaged’.

“I am, Solas, thank you for asking.” Ellie replied, automatically going into dinner party mode. “It’s good to see you again.” Well -that- was a lie.

Solas inclined his head, and the group fell into silence after that. Lavellan had taken point, and nobody, Solas included, seemed particularly inclined to join her. It was not a promising start. Soven had fallen back as well, leaving them in a diamond formation, with mages in the middle. That left her walking alongside Mr. Crazywolf. Fantastic. At least he didn’t seem interested in conversation.

“Why aren’t you taking Varric and the Seeker, anyway?” Ellie asked the back of Lavellan’s head. She couldn’t remember reading about scouts travelling with the Herald – not that what she’d read was much to go by.

Lavellan grunted, “Varric said something about needing to grease his crossbow,” Ellie raised an eyebrow. Is that what they’re calling it nowadays? “and Cassandra had Seeker duties.”

“I see. And we’re going to some sort of ruin?” It wasn’t like she was ever properly briefed, or told anything whatsoever. This better not include a boss fight… If they were clearing a dungeon, and it was trapped for inexplicable reasons, she was about to get impaled for stepping on the wrong stone.

“I believe there to be an artifact nearby with properties pertaining to the veil.” Solas spoke up, and Ellie glanced at him briefly.

“What he said.” Lavellan confirmed, “should be right up your alley.” The way she said ‘your’ was full of disdain.

Ellie gave the back of Lavellan’s head a wary look. “You don’t want a human around what belongs to the People.” It was a statement more than a question, and she turned to give Soven a questioning glance. Is he trying to get me stabbed? What am -I- doing here?

Soven stopped scanning their surroundings to give Ellie a shrug. “Harding didn’t say ‘no humans’.”

Lavellan neither confirmed nor denied Ellie’s statement, and the silence that followed was unpleasant. It was bad enough trying to feign ignorance around the master of deception himself.

“So this artifact,” now Ellie knew she was desperate. “will it help close the breach?” Or it could be important. He might be lying to them.

Solas shook his head, “No. However, my studies in the fade lead me to believe that it may be used to reinforce the veil.”

“And that will prevent the breach from getting bigger?” Ellie might as well ask. At worst Solas would just think she was an idiot, and there was always that whole brain damage thing she could fall back on.

“The breach has been stabilized for the time being, but strengthening the veil will prevent additional rifts from opening in the area.”

Several hours later, Solas announced that he could sense the artifact nearby. Ellie couldn’t sense anything, but she also didn’t know what to look for – or how, exactly, one was supposed to sense out magic in the first place. During combat, where it was thick in the air, was one thing, but outside of that Ellie was more likely to lose her lunch than transform into an arcane dowsing rod.

At Solas’s announcement they broke from the road, and as they drew closer Ellie could feel the hairs on her arm prickle. If that’s how I’m supposed to sense magic, I’m fucked. A few minutes later Ellie felt a wave through that other sense she did her best to suppress, and the ripple and hum of magic washed over her before receding. She frowned and glanced at Solas for some indication of what the heck that was, but it was impossible to divine his expression, if there was any, through the back of his head. Ugh, what good are you if I can’t take advantage of your stupid bald head?

They quickened their pace, and Ellie could see crumbled stone peeking out through fallen pine needles, and worn away walls rising up from the ground. Her heart skipped a beat, and she felt a surge of excitement that had nothing to do with the next wave of magic or the unearthly snarl that had them drawing their weapons and breaking into a run. I could be a Thedan Indiana Jones!

Staff in hand she jumped over sticks, and Lavellan darted ahead with surprising speed for someone so short. Darting around a half-collapsed wall, they found themselves face to face with what must have been a demon. Its gnarled fingers were tipped with long, discolored claws, and instead of legs its body tapered into a formless, shadowy mass of undulating smoke. 

An elven woman was already there fighting the creature, staff in hand. Taking Lavellan and Solas’s lead, she began to draw mana and charge a bolt of lightning. Not that I have any business fighting alongside actual wilderness psychos. The otherwise orange orb at the top of her staff began to crackle with white-blue currents of electricity… and then the woman killed it with a bolt of magic.

The demon shrieked, before exploding into wisps of translucent, black energy that dissipated into the empty air. Shitfuck. Ellie scrambled to pull the energy out of her spell and safely disperse the magical energy. It was a skill she’d only started to get the hang of, and everything was more difficult outside of the fade. For an instant, Ellie thought she was going to pull it off – until a stray current of electricity discharged from her staff into a seedling next to her foot. Setting it on fire.

She quickly stomped the flame out, and resisted the urge to hide under a rock. She could feel Solas staring at her, and she was resolutely looking at not-him. Nope, not looking at you. Not gonna do it. Nope, nope, nope. One foot still standing on the remains of an innocent baby tree (Kill Count: 2), Ellie forced her expression to that of composed indifference – as if she hadn’t just been fumbling with basic magic like an ignoramus. If you’re counting this as a kill, there are a few trees that would like a word. Not to mention all those hideous naked-armadillo things.

Thankfully, nobody else appeared to have noticed Ellie’s mastery of the elements. The elven woman who had killed the demon turned around, and her face was adorned with the tattoos, vallaslin, that marked her as dalish. The woman introduced herself to Lavellan as Mihris, and they began speaking to each other in a mix of common and elven.

Ellie resisted the urge to roll her eyes as the two inked up forest gangbangers proceeded to behave in a way she could only deem ‘extremely dalish’. She also still wasn’t looking at Solas. Mihris led them to the ruin entrance, which was blocked by collapsed rubble and broken stone.

“Perhaps your flat-ear can help clear the path, if it is not beyond his means.” Mihris gave Solas a glance, and Ellie stared at the dalish mage. This crazy ho seriously just called the fucking Dread Wolf a flat-ear. Ellie didn’t know if Fen’Harold was insane-god-petty enough to hold grudges, but if he was, this lady was in for it later. That wasn’t the sort of thing you said to one of your gods.

Solas nodded, “Ma nuvenin.” Which must have meant something like ‘okay’, because he stepped forward and cleared the path. His expression was unreadable. While the others were looking around, Solas went to one of the walls and picked up a lantern. As he did, a ghostly green flame burst to life inside it, illuminating the passageway.

“What is that? Why is it green?” Mihris asked after a moment, eyeing the lantern with a frown. Ellie smirked. She knew what it was, even if she couldn’t remember the name.

“It is veilfire,” Solas answered.

Mihris walked up to the lantern, watching the flame before yanking it out of his hand. “Strange, it does not give off heat.”

Solas opened his mouth to answer, but Ellie spoke up first, careful to keep her tone respectful. “It’s the memory of a flame, Pendeja.” Ellie knew better, but it was one of only a handful of things she could remember about Thedas. Being able to appear knowledgeable, especially over this bitch, had been too strong a temptation. If she knew Spanish, that would have blown up in your face, you know.

“I didn’t ask you, Shemlen.” Mihris spat the last word out.

“My apologies.” Ellie inclined her head, waiting until the woman’s back was turned before allowing herself a smirk. One she promptly removed the moment she noticed Solas looking at her. Background! You’re supposed to be remaining in the background! Shit, take a lesson from Soven. He hasn’t drawn any attention to himself at all.

It took around an hour, Ellie wasn’t sure, to find some crystal that Lavellan was able to activate with the anchor. Solas appeared pleased, informing them that his theory had been correct. As if it would be wrong. After that it was another hour spent looking through some creepy human skulls for Mihris to find what she was looking for. Whatever it was, Solas did not want to let her have it. Ellie felt the hairs on her neck prickle when she moved closer, seeing it was an amulet of some kind. Likely a powerful one. Yeah, I bet you want it for yourself.

“This artifact belongs to the People, flat-ear.” Mihris said, her tone warning. “You have no right to lay claim.“

Ma halani.” Solas replied.

Ir isala, da’len.” Ellie didn’t know what they were saying, but she knew da’len meant student, or kid. Something that implied knowing less.

Ma glandival. Vir enasalin.”

Mihris looked considering, and she frowned, about to speak, when Lavellan spoke up, looking at Mihris. “Keep it, Hahren. Dareth shiral.

Both Mihris and Solas looked at Lavellan in shock, and the way Solas narrowed his eyes at the Herald made her skin crawl. Shit. It didn’t make any sense. Solas travelled with her, helped her, and Lavellan had just met this woman and chosen to leave the amulet with her, instead of Solas. Ellie knew the dalish could be bad, but picking a stranger over someone you knew, simply because they had vallaslin defied logic. It didn’t add up.

Ma serannas, lethallan.” Mihris said after a pause, hesitating in a moment of uncertainty before putting the amulet in her bag. “Dareth shiral.”

Ellie looked around for Soven, and found him a few feet away. He didn’t look too happy either. Looking nervously in the direction of a pissed off god, she side stepped over to Soven. “Could you take it without her noticing?” The words were whispered so low that Ellie couldn’t hear them herself. She hoped it was enough to keep the others from hearing as well.

Soven regarded Ellie with a deepening frown, and she immediately regretted having asked. She needed to stop asking elves to steal shit for her. Otherwise this was going to become a pattern.  Ellie grimaced, about to apologize, when he shoved off the wall and began walking in the direction of the exit. Shit.

Mihris looked between Lavellan and Solas, then stepped around them to leave.  She didn’t look at Ellie on the way out, and from the look Solas was giving Lavellan, she didn’t want to be around them, either.

“Is something wrong, Solas?” Lavellan challenged, eyes narrowing. Solas’s jaw tensed, then the anger was gone.

Dirthara-ma, da’len.” Solas replied coolly, and Ellie did her best to pretend she hadn’t seen whatever-the-fuck had just happened when Lavellan passed her towards the exit. Ellie waited for Solas to pass, too. She did not feel like having her back exposed to a pissed off wolf god.

When they began making camp, Ellie realized with dawning horror that she’d be sharing a tent with Lavellan. Who needs to sleep, anyways? Once camp was set up, Solas asked to speak to Lavellan.

“Herald, if I may have a word?” His voice was calm, and Ellie pretended to find the piece of flatbread in her hands fascinating. Seriously, it was the coolest, most interesting, piece of flavorless bread on the planet.

“Very well.” Lavellan said, and she could hear their footsteps retreating out of camp.

They hate each other. How do soul mates hate each other!? Ellie put her head in her hands and groaned.

“I now understand the barrel.” Soven’s voice spoke from beside her, and she nearly fell off the rock she was sitting on. Ellie turned to look at him, and he gave her a tiny smirk before dangling the amulet out in front of her.

Ellie grinned at Soven and grabbed it without thinking, repressing a shudder when she felt the power vibrating between her fingers. Now that she was holding it, the magic it let off was obvious. How could I have not noticed Soven carrying this? She made a mental note to work on her magical awareness. Solas will know it’s here too, then. Hopefully he wouldn’t get angry. Would a trickster god get angry over this? Underhanded workarounds were supposed to be the kind of thing a trickster god would do.

“How?” Ellie asked after a moment, taking the opportunity to look at the artifact up close.

“Asked.” Soven replied, and Ellie glanced up at him.

“And she gave it to you?”

Soven nodded.  At least it wasn’t stolen. Maybe Lin did the same thihng.

Not wanting to have it out when Lavellan returned, Ellie took one last look at the amulet before putting it in one of the pouches on her belt. Pity she couldn’t keep it. You wouldn’t know what to do with it in the first place.

Chapter Text

 

Even after treatments from a healer, and multiple days do allow recovery, Ellie’s leg ached dully from a full day of walking. There was too much scar tissue, and magic wasn’t going to prevent the irritation and eventual pain that continued repetitive motion would bring. If she could learn how to heal the damage, then the problem would be solved, but healing magic was likely complex. It would be far above her current capabilities.

Solas and Lavellan had still been absent when she informed Soven that she was off to find the creek they’d seen nearby. The cold water helped, and it was close enough to camp that she’d be able to hear any shouts and get back quickly. After having hardly any time alone since leaving Haven, being able to get away, even for a little bit, was a blessing. With Roe and the others, she’d have never been allowed to wander off. The forests were too dangerous. Soven didn’t seem to share their fears – or if he did he didn’t show it.

It gave her the opportunity to think, and with the tingle of the amulet at her hip, her thoughts inevitably circled back to it. Ellie didn’t know why she’d gone out of her way to get him the artifact. If it was dangerous, allowing Solas to have it might be a mistake. At the same time, permitting a stranger to walk off with it could be even worse. Better the devil you know. Either way, she was grimly aware of how poor Thedas’s current outlook was. If the future of Thedas relied on Lavellan and Solas falling in love, pulling it off was going to take a miracle.

Maybe it’s a hate-love thing? It was possible. Plenty of stories circled around characters in relationships with people who drive them nuts. Ellie chewed her lip, and the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Yes, that has to be it. It clicked, and she grinned with a wave of relief.

Of course, it’s so obvious! Eventually, they’ll get so angry at each other, but instead of killing each other, they rage fuck instead! This had to be it. She’d convinced herself. It made sense! People as insane as Lavellan and Fen’Harold would never commit to something healthy and mutually enriching – they needed someone to tear apart with their teeth. Even in Sandy’s stories, Solavellan fights happened. I mean, he’s called the Dread Wolf. The guy wants to destroy the world. No wonder Andruil’s crazy ass was always trying to bed him.

Somewhere under Solas’s demure façade, there was a freak-beast. One that would get off on all the anger and hate. I can ask demon-Sandy for tips. She should know what to do. Ellie wasn’t sure how long she sat there scheming and plotting, but her ass was as numb as her foot when she heard soft footsteps over the trickle of running water.

Expecting Soven, she called out to him wryly. “Looking for a barrel?”

The sound of footsteps stopped, and Ellie flinched when Solas’s voice responded. ”I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with this expression.” Dios mio, it’s the Freak-beast. When Ellie schooled her expression to polite indifference before looking over her shoulder. He added mildly, “If I am not intruding?”

You are. “Not at all, pick a rock.” Traitor. Ellie motioned around her, and the ground was closer to one continuous piece of stone. “The babbling brook and I were just finishing up.” She watched him, determined to appear unfazed by the Wolf’s presence. El Lobo Loco. He inclined his head, then moved to join her on the slab of rock.

“Are you going to ask, or are you waiting for me to offer?” Ellie asked, once he’d settled. There was no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. Or, in this case, the magical amulet of power in her pocket.

Solas glanced at her, raising an eyebrow. “Would you offer if I didn’t ask?”

Ellie shrugged, ”maybe.”

When Solas spoke next, it wasn’t to ask for the amulet. Instead he said, “What prompted you to ignore the Herald’s wishes?”

She frowned, thinking. “She was going to give it to you. Your appeal worked.”

Solas made a contemplative humming sound, and it was hard to believe that he was Fen’Harel, Psycho McCrazypants. There were the obvious clues, like him being six feet tall, knowing everything, and wearing a freaking wolf jaw around his neck, but he lied so well it made her want to ignore the truths on display. Not that I would. I’ve seen your crazy eyes.

When he didn’t speak up immediately, Ellie dug into her belt pouch and pulled out the amulet. Again she had to suppress a shudder as her fingers touched it, forcing herself to ignore the seductive allure of power. In that moment she hesitated – not because she wanted it, but because she wasn’t sure giving it to Solas was the right thing to do.

Ellie looked at him, really looked at him. She looked at the way he sat up straight, and how his shoulders rounded slightly forward despite the way his head was held high. She saw the illusion of modesty, and the stature of a man accustomed to power underneath. That’s rarely a good thing.

Something must have shown on her face, because his brow creased and his eyes narrowed a fraction of an inch. Play the fool. Be non-threatening. She scrunched up her nose and held the amulet out to him, pretending she didn’t see the gleam in his eyes when their fingers brushed and he pulled it gently from her grasp. Ellie could still feel the magic calling to her, all too aware that he was still looking at her when she turned her focus to the stream. I shouldn’t have done that. Only a few seconds passed before he spoke up, but it felt longer.

“Is something on your mind?” His tone was light, casual, and politely curious. Calculated. Dangerous.  Ellie didn’t buy it for a second. She was ready for it.

Ellie looked back at him, her expression perfectly neutral as she looked him dead in the eye. Years of practice had culminated up to this single moment. 1… 2… 3. “You have strong cheekbones.” The words were delivered in a perfect, observational deadpan. That’s a 9.8/10 execution.

There was a delay between her words and the subtle furrowing of Solas’s brow. His lips pursing slightly as confusion flitted across his face. She could see the thoughts whir behind his eyes, trying to understand where the fuck that had come from. Left field, biatch. It had no logic behind it, or meaning to decipher. That was the point. Victory!

She broke eye contact, maintaining her indifference as she pulled her foot out of the water. If she left it in much longer one of her toes was going to fall off. Ellie could worry about the consequences of trying to mind-fuck a bazillion year old god later – for now she just hoped it was enough to make him wonder if he’d misinterpreted the first look she’d given him. He could be pretending. It didn’t matter. This strategy had been a short-term solution.

She tucked her wet foot under her opposite thigh, and went to pick up her boots when Solas countered her valiant attempt to escape. “Give me your foot.” Shit.

Ellie turned to look back at him, brow furrowed. “What?”

“You’ve clearly done something to it,” he tucked the amulet away in his robes and made a ‘well, give it here’ motion with one of his hands. Ellie was surprised that his usual mask of indifference wasn’t firmly back in place yet. If he keeps this up he might even pass for a person.

She frowned, and almost refused, but the fact that he almost had an expression on his face made her think better of it. Untucking her foot, Ellie turned to face him and stretched her leg out to him on the ground. Ugh this is weird. I don’t want crazy gods touching my feet. Him touching her in general made her uncomfortable. The only reason she’d let him get that close to her in the past was because she needed a magical MRI and treatment for head trauma. You could always roundhouse kick him in the face. I bet he’d go away then.

She knew she was making a big deal out of it, but it was hard not to. Anyone who knew what she did would be wary about Solas touching them. Then there was the delicate way he touched, always hesitating as if he wasn’t sure it was a good idea – treating her like she might shatter to pieces at any moment. Exactly how strong was he? If he sneezed on accident would it knock over a tree? Could he literally blow houses down like the big bad wolf? Ugh, did you seriously just think that?

 He placed his hands gently on each side of her foot, and Ellie tried to maintain a straight face at the mental image of Solas, Jedi robes and all, chasing after pigs and -blowing- on them instead of using magic. Then Ellie remembered that cooked human flesh smelled very similar to pork, and it stopped being funny. She forced her attention back to Solas and her foot, her expression aloof, as his hands began to glow.

There was the cool brush of his magic as he began looking it over, which surprised Ellie despite the sense being separate from her physical ones. Physically, her foot had been left in the icy water for so long that it bordered on stupid. Bordered. There’s a line. I didn’t cross it.

Solas’s magic had only begun to work its way through the inside of her foot when his expression hardened, and Ellie found herself suddenly wary in a different way – like a child that had just been caught misbehaving. Now who’s the da’len? Shut up. There was no scowling, but Solas’s lips had thinned into a slight frown and the glow of magic vanished.

“Pull up your pant leg.” The detached, clinical tone was one Ellie was all too familiar with. It was the one that encouraged patients to do what they were asked, without question or argument, so that necessary observations could be made uninterrupted. She had half a mind to refuse, for the singular purpose of interrupting his thought process, but she didn’t.

Instead Ellie did as he asked, tugging the pant legs upwards from the knee with a sigh. Of course. Of course he’s all over my injuries when they’re from -magic-. Next time I have a head injury, instead of trying to persuade him, I’ll just say it was blood magic. Then he’ll come running! Fall out of a tree and break my arm? Nah, it was -totally- from arm wrestling a hippogriff that shoots lightning from its eyes. She’d indulge him, for now.

Solas made to move his hands to the exposed half of her calf, but stopped. “Enough so that I may see all of it, Ellie.” She was done indulging him. How can I put this gently?

 “Uhh... that would require me to remove my pants.” Ellie replied candidly, waiting to see if it would garner a reaction. Thedan notions of propriety were still elusive to her.

“Ah,” the implications, whatever they are, seemed to click, and he didn’t insist. If anything, Solas seemed momentarily uncertain of what to do with his hands. They just sort of… hovered there, but his hesitation was fleeting. He placed them over the skin that was visible and resumed channeling. Whatever his magic found did not assuage his concerns – not that she’d expected it too. The lower half of her calf was easily the most damaged.

Finally, Solas glanced up at her from her leg. That’s right, eyes up here, buddy. You can stop ogling my gloriously mangled limb. “The damage is extensive, and permanent.” when her expression remained unsurprised, he continued. “Did it never occur to you to ask for help? Or to work with a less volatile element?”

“Are you offering?” If she didn’t ask now, Ellie knew she never would. Needing help, and asking for it, was not something she was good at. It felt too much like showing weakness.

“I… yes. It would be irresponsible of me not to.” Solas said evenly, looking back down at her lightning-scarred leg as he began to address the inflammation. She felt the magic curl and move through her skin, and after a few moments Solas spoke up again. “The way you drew upon your mana earlier today was-”

“Abysmal?” Ellie volunteered, trying to make light how much she sucked at it.

Solas’s lip twitched, “I was going to say ‘inexperienced’. It is not unheard of for magical abilities to manifest themselves during periods of extreme stress… Do you remember much of the events?”

Ellie shook her head, “no, not really. All I really know is that the Seeker - at least I think it was her – said something about ‘seeing what happened’ and that I’d tried to help the Divine. My.. memory of that day is not very good. Sorry.”

He made another ‘hmm’ing noise before speaking. “Do you remember much about where you were prior? In the days, weeks, and months preceding?” Something about the careful way he asked it made her frown, and her mouth went dry. What does he mean, ‘where’? Did he read my mind? Does he already know – don’t! What if he’s reading it right now!?

Ellie cleared her throat, “wandering.” Oh, well now, that’s a completely brilliant, and not at all suspicious, reply. “So you study the fade?” Ellie wanted her leg back.

“I do. My knowledge of the fade is what led me to offer aid when the breach appeared.” Ellie forced herself to look away from his face and ended up staring at the wolf jaw dangling from his chest. Not exactly subtle. “Were you lost?”

“What?” Her attention snapped back to his face, half expecting him to be watching her, but his focus was still on her injuries. Ellie could feel the magic running over tendons and untangling knots. “Uh.. no. Not all those who wander are lost, Solas.” Only you. On a different planet. It’s just like getting lost in the supermarket!

Solas didn’t look up, but Ellie could have sworn that he almost smirked. “I intended no offense.” Everything from his touch to the softness of his voice said he was harmless, and it sent a chill of fear up her spine. I need my leg back. Now was not the time to panic.

Ellie’s mouth had gone dry, and she licked her lips, all too aware that she was trapped under a guise of kindness by a psychopath. Say something. “What made you interested in the fade?” The question sounded forced, and she grimaced.

“Why do you ask?” Solas asked back mildly, as if the Dread Wolf himself couldn’t taste her fear. He probably gets off on it. Ellie suppressed a shudder. Ew! No, gross!

“I don’t know, why not? Aren’t most people afraid of the fade?”

“Only because they have not taken the time to understand it.” The blue glow of magic finally faded, and Ellie pulled her leg back the instant it was free from his gentle grasp.

It was time to start putting on her boots.

“Right, people fear what they don’t understand.” Ellie started to say without thinking, “It’s human nature.” Stupid boots, why do you have to be so hard to put on!? So much for composure.

“I am not human.” Solas stated, and her attention snapped away from her shoelaces. His brow furrowed, “Can you not tell the difference?” What? Can I not tell the… Ellies eyes widened. Shit.

“No, of course not! – Wait, no! I mean of course I can! What I meant was – I didn’t mean – not that there’s anything wrong with – uh.” Ellie stopped and tried again. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. It’s a figure of speech.” When she laughed nervously, Solas just stared at her. A figure of speech that makes absolutely no sense in Thedas, you idiot! She swallowed.

Solas cleared his throat delicately, his expression completely unreadable. “Yes, it is unfortunate that so few are willing to look past the misguided teachings of the chantry.”

“Yeah, well,” Ellie began awkwardly, glad for having something other than her utter brilliance to latch onto. She looked down at her boots and went back to tying the laces, waiting for the slight heat in her cheeks to go away. “They want mages to believe magic is a curse. That they are little more than dangerous monsters, who need to be put down like animals at the first sign of trouble. It’s hardly surprising that they get everything else wrong, too.”

“Considering your own difficulties with magic, I am surprised you don’t take their concerns more seriously. A mage without the willpower to maintain control is a danger to themselves and those around them.” Ellie could hear the disapproval as he got to his feet.

“That isn’t what I meant,” She finished tying her laces and stood up as well, brushing herself off. “If you repeatedly tell someone they’re a monster, eventually that person is going to become one. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Regaining her composure was much easier when she could focus on a subject that made her angry. Solas didn’t say anything in reply, and Ellie resisted the urge to glance at him as they walked back. Silence was for the best. Didn’t need to give herself the opportunity to one-up accidentally calling an elven god human. Bet he hasn’t heard that one before.

‘Oh hi, I’m Fen’Harold, the obviously elven bald guy. Have you seen my clearly long and pointed ears? You know, the ones sticking out the sides of my supremely bald head? I get it, they’re totally hard to miss. Happens all the time.’ Ellie wanted to go hide under a rock, but the inside of her and Lavellan’s tent worked too.

Ellie was woken up the next morning by Lavellan kicking her in the side. It didn’t hurt, but it was an uncomfortable way to snap out of the fade. The experience left Ellie plenty grumpy. It didn’t help that demon Sandy had finally shown up, only to ask ‘can you see my ears?’ off and on the whole night.

It didn’t take them long to pack up, and the walk back was much like it had been on the way out: quiet. Lavellan did appear less irritable, which was an improvement, but none of it explained why the dalish elf was so angry in the first place. They reached the Crossroads in mid-afternoon, and Ellie breathed a sigh of relief once she got some distance between herself and Solavellan.

-

Despite Solas agreeing to teach her, she’d yet to have any lessons. The very next day the Herald, Varric, Cassandra, and Solas left to hunt down a pack of wolves. Then before they returned, Ellie had been sent out with one of Harding’s scouting parties to track down a group of rogue mages terrorizing a small farm. On the way back, her group was delayed by roving demons when they stumbled across a series of undiscovered rifts, and by the time she’d returned the Herald’s party had already come and gone.

After a week and a half, and two more scouting patrols, Ellie was a little alarmed to discover that this way of life was beginning to feel routine. Soven had even shown her a few basic dagger techniques after she confessed to him that she’d almost dropped hers onto her foot while trying to defend against a Templar. She didn’t see much of Roe, Bruin, or Emmory, who were assigned to guard the Crossroads itself, and Hargrove had only accompanied scouts once. He still seemed to be avoiding her.

From what she could tell, most of Harding’s groups were closer to rogues than warriors. Those that were fighters still had to move quickly, and Ellie was the only mage she’d seen heading into unsecured and unmapped areas. Going out in search of rifts and rogue mage-templar bands was becoming normal. Life in Thedas was becoming normal. The idea of killing people was becoming normal.

When Ellie next saw the Herald and Solas, it was on horseback.

The Hinterlands had been declared secure enough, and the guy who seemed to own every damned horse in Thedas had finally joined the Inquisition.

“Preparations to move Mother Giselle safely back to Haven are underway, and you will all be accompanying the Herald as guards to ensure she makes it in one piece.” Scout Harding began, “the rest of us will be working to relocate the refugees behind you. There are some who do not want Mother Giselle to support the Inquisition, and encountering mercenaries is all but guaranteed. People will try to stop you.”

Ellie swallowed and glanced at the others. She was no stranger to the suffering that was an escort quest. Hopefully they aren’t as bad in person. Soven, Roe, Bruin, Emmory, and Hargrove were also in Harding’s command tent, and she was glad at least they seemed to know what they were doing.

When it came time to leave the next morning, everything was going fine until one of Harding’s men came up to her with a horse. She’d assumed, like an idiot, that herself and the others weren’t high profile enough to be given mounts.

Up towards the front Ellie spotted sunlight reflect off a bald head, and from there she was able to spot Lavellan, Varric, and the Seeker. So far none of them seemed to have noticed her. The longer the Seeker doesn’t see me, the better.

 “You’re the lightning mage, yea?” The man said, and Ellie nodded faintly. Ellie hadn’t been on a horse since she was six, and animals that large had always scared her. “Well this one should work well for ya. Bit of a temper, but he don’t spook at all.” Great, I got Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin.

She knew she was staring at the thing, and its dark eyes stared right back. It was already trying to challenge her. “Does it have a name?” Ellie managed weakly. The thing was black, like a creature from hell itself, and Ellie thought this had to be another one of the universe’s ‘ha ha so funny!’ jokes.

“Nope, but you can give it one. Dennet don’t name ‘em.”

Ellie gave another weak nod. Then at some point the man handed her off the reigns, and she was left trying to figure out how to go about this without pissing it off. These things are huge.

When Ellie tried to pet it, the horse snorted at her warningly. Help. She looked around furtively, and saw some of the others had already mounted. This is the kind of monster Lavellan would want. It suits her. So far nobody seemed to have noticed that she had no idea what she was doing. Ellie slowly moved towards the stirrups, and when she reached for the saddle the horse sidestepped. You have got to be kidding me!

“Knock it off or I send you to the glue factory,” Ellie murmured darkly.

Something in her tone must have registered with the beast, because when she reached out a second time it didn’t move. With a shaky breath, she gripped the head of the saddle and half jumped to reach the stirrup with her foot before pulling herself the rest of the way up.

There, she was on the blasted thing. Next Ellie glanced around, trying to get tips on how to hold the reigns. Most either weren’t holding them at the moment, or they were held loosely in one hand. She shifted her weight and found herself grabbing the saddle with a death grip when the horse took a few impatient steps.  There was no way she’d be able to pull this off. What sort of Lady can’t ride a horse? Heck, what sort of travelling wilderness woman am I supposed to be? The sort that liked walking, that’s what.

She heard a whistle off to the side, and turned to see Varric on his pony. Wait when did he-? Ellie glanced back up towards the front where the others had been, and saw that they’d moved. Lavellan was now closer to the leading wagon, and only the Seeker was left up at the front.

“Look at you, twisty. On a horse like that, all you need is a scowl and I’d be terrified.” Varric said gleefully, and she looked back at him with a small smile.

“Want to trade? I don’t currently have any ambitions for world domination.”

“P’shaw, I’m sure he’s friendlier than he looks.” Varric patted his own pony, “at least you know that one won’t cower. I bet this little gal would run for the hills if you let her.”

When the front of the train began to move, Ellie had a brief moment of panic as she grabbed the reigns. The horse started walking along with the group, and when she tried to use the reigns to move it closer to the center, it huffed and tugged back – ignoring her completely. Varric snorted.

“I believe I am the passenger in this current partnership.” Ellie said after a moment, when it continued to ignore her feeble attempts at guidance.

“Not the easiest horse to learn on,” Varric remarked, eyeing her. “Did you do all your travelling on foot?” He looked skeptical, and she couldn’t blame him. Thedas didn’t have cars.

She nodded, “Many of the places I’ve gone would not be suited to a horse.”

“Have you ridden before?” Varric sounded curious, more than anything. Ellie nodded, wishing more people would interrogate her like him and Josephine.

“Yes, but it’s been a little while. I never had much practice. I preferred other things.”

“How long?”

“A little over 20 years, I think.” Ellie noticed that when her horse would start trying to wander further out, Varric would move his pony to block him. I owe this man a drink and a few stories.

Varric raised his eyebrows, “I don’t think it counts if you were a baby.”

She snorted, “I wasn’t a baby.” It had taken Ellie a few weeks to brave checking her face in the pocket mirror, out of fear that she’d look different, but she hadn’t. Apart from some wear beginning to peek through, Ellie looked her age as much as any other person from a first world country did. She’d shown up in Thedas after a lifetime of proper nutrition, exercise, face washes, moisturizers, and skin creams. Ellie wasn’t fantastically young-looking – she just hadn’t been beaten to shit by a world that was full of darkspawn and demons. Here there were teenagers that looked older than she did.

“Well, then how old are you?”

Ellie scoffed, raising her eyebrows at him. “Varric, are you asking a lady her age?” She did her best to act scandalized. With interdimensional travel on her passport, she wasn’t even sure the years here worked the same. When she’d seen dates written down, it looked like they’d written down the time. “I enjoyed your book, by the way. As exaggerated as the stories may be.”

Varric grinned, and she was glad he was willing to drop the subject. “Hey, I’m only telling the story as it wants to be told. It’s an art form.”

“Were there parts you intentionally understated, as well? I expect some of what happened may not have been believable to the audience.”

“A few.”

“Truth is stranger than fiction.”

“Oh, I like that. Mind if I take it?” Varric asked, smiling. Thank you Lit minor.

She snorted. “Go for it, I got plenty where that came from. The second half is something along the lines of ‘because fiction has to stick to possibilities, but truth doesn’t.’ I’m sure you’ll be able to put it more eloquently.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her, “got any others? Ones I could use about the Herald’s story?”

“You’re shameless, Varric.”

“I try Twisty. Is that a yes?”

Ellie snorted, “I think you overestimate me.” Where’s a copy of war and peace when you need it?

“Well, think about it.” He gave her a wink, “if it’s really bad I promise to say it was you – assuming I don’t cut it entirely.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Varric.” She gave him a grin, then gave aiming her horse another go. This time it half-listened.

Varric looked past her then, sitting up more in the saddle to see over her horse’s fat ass. “What about you, Chuckles? Got any long-lost wisdom to impart?”

Ellie tensed, then turned to follow Varric’s gaze. Solas was a few yards behind her. Well, that would explain why I couldn’t find the shining beacon of his bald head up front. She needed to work on her observational skills some more. Again.

Solas inclined his head towards Varric, “Tonight I will dutifully scour the fade for a quote worthy of your writing, Master Tethras.”

“I knew I could count on you, Chuckles!”

“How does that work, looking around in the fade?” Ellie asked, her curiosity getting the best of her. “Do you just will yourself to different places?”

“It requires travel. By sleeping in ancient ruins, or old battlefields, I can enter the fade and explore the memories left behind – where emotions and memories are strong enough to play out long after the events that created them have passed.”

Ellie frowned, “but when people dream and enter the Fade, their dreams don’t place them in the normal part of the Fade. How does that work? Is it like pocket dimensions?”

“What do you mean by pocket dimensions? It is an unfamiliar term.” Solas motioned his horse to move up, alongside Ellie’s horse. Oh, shit. Whoops. Well, at least this way I’m not craning my neck…

Varric shook her head. “Now you’ve done it, Twisty. I think I’ll make myself scarce while you two get all mage-talkey.” I didn’t mean it Varric! Don’t leave me with him, help!

 She looked over at him pleadingly, and the Dwarf smirked and gave her a wink, of all things, before clicking his tongue and moving the pony back up the line.  Okay, remain calm. You have nothing to be nervous about. You’re on Bad Horse, motherfuckers can’t touch you. Ellie looked back over at Solas with her best attempt at polite curiosity.

“Oh, pocket dimensions? Uh, it means spaces within a space. Like if you had a room, and walked into it, then you opened the box inside and stepped into the box. Once you’re inside the box it’s a completely different space – even if only in perception.”

Solas caught on quickly. As if an ancient bald god wouldn’t. “It is similar. The fade is composed of different realms. The size and appearance of a realm varies based on the spirits that control it.”

“But that’s different from the normal part? Or does someone control that one, too? How do realms layer and exist relative to one another? Do they overlay or interpermeate one another?” Ellie wasn’t sure if she was making much sense. Her knowledge of the fade was limited to what she’d seen herself, and random romance scenes in Sandy’s writing where the focus was on kissing, prancing, or fucking. Seriously, you have a dream world, with a god, and you go prancing in a forest? Ugh, you’re one to talk. You go backpacking every other night. On the -same- mountain.

“The fade is a reflection of the physical realm, in multiple ways. To see what the fade reflects geographically, based on memories of the past, one must enter into the fade at that location to witness the dreams played out. Other realms are more difficult to access, and some may dream in realms based on thoughts and emotions prior to sleep.”

“So.. if someone goes to sleep while they’re particularly troubled, and enters the fade, they could end up dreaming in the domain of a fear demon? Or a rage demon if they’re angry?”

“There is a great deal more nuance, but on a simplistic level, yes.”

Ellie had more questions – a lot more questions; but most of them dealt with subject matter better left where someone like Hargrove and the Seeker couldn’t overhear. She didn’t think ‘how can I find my demon friend to chat’ would go over well.

“Do you have an interest in the fade?” Solas asked, when Ellie hadn’t immediately followed up with further questions. He was doing that thing again, where he asked a question with particular care. As if he were concerned the question, or answer, might break something. It was never with serious questions, either – only ones that appeared fairly straightforward. Ellie could only guess that there was subtext or secondary questions her answer was meant to address, and she hated not knowing what those unspoken questions were.

Turning her attention back to him from the trees, Ellie had opened her mouth to say no. But denying it would be a lie. She might never be as infatuated with it as an insane god who spent the past millennium napping, but there was interest. “Yes, I suppose so.”

Solas smiled, and Ellie felt a nervous flutter in her gut. It was just the corners of his mouth, but for him that was tantamount to a grin. This is almost as bad as when my leg was trapped. Help. Completely at a loss, she gave him a small smile back. There was something unbelievably sad about such a small, secret flicker of actual delight, that she found herself pitying him. People shouldn’t go through life where the only thing that interests them is a world of dreams. That’s just tragic. Ellie was glad she’d never live long enough to experience such listlessness. No wonder he’s crazy.

Think about something else. Thinking about how she might end up just like him, a person alone in a world that isn’t theirs, and unable to connect with others, terrified her. It wasn’t something she wanted to think about. It wasn’t something she wanted to become. Anything else.

So Ellie distracted herself from uncomfortable thoughts by asking him questions. She’d ask him about the fade, or the veil, or a war he’d mentioned – it didn’t matter. Anything to distract her from that train of thought. The very idea of the solitude she’d always cherished becoming a prison made bile rise in the back of her throat. If that ever happened, it would kill her.

At least he likes talking about the fade enough that I don’t have to say much.

Eventually even Ellie couldn’t think of something to ask, and they lapsed into silence. By then her panic had subsided enough to make the quiet between them tolerable. She didn’t want to risk him realizing that she was asking to avoid her own thoughts, and not out of interest. For the first time in her interactions with him, Ellie was pretty sure that she’d tricked the trickster. Yeah, by feigning interest in one of the only things he cares about. Solas even looked like he was in a decent mood, which only made Ellie feel worse. 

By the end of the day, Ellie wanted to run into the trees, vomit, then cry. It didn’t matter that he was an insane, evil, world-destroying nutcase – it didn’t justify what she’d done. In many ways, she felt that improving someone’s mood with lies was worse than other kinds of deceit. You would decide day one of a mission was the best time for an emotional breakdown. She was overdue a lot of tears, too - considering that she’d been pulled from her home, thrown into a warzone, and had recently started killing people. Ellie was tough, but she wasn’t that tough.

How she managed to maintain her composure enough to stumble around with her horse, eat dinner, and get assigned to a watch, Ellie would never know. She was in a place where her brain had jumped the rails and was going through the motions, but not registering them. As long as I don’t show it. That was what mattered.  

It was only once she was in her tent, where it was safe and dark, that Ellie allowed herself the luxury of tears. Not crying, just the tears. Short of Roe smelling the sadness and pain leaking out of her face, Ellie’s brief show of weakness was known only to her.

Chapter Text

 

“Do you do this every morning?” Soven asked during their watch, his voice soft and quiet as usual. Ellie nodded. With a larger group, watches had been set up into pairs; and she’d quickly claimed him as her buddy. At least this way if they were attacked while she was supposed to be looking out, he’d be there to spot them.

She hadn’t been able to snag the last spot, but they’d managed to get the one just before. Having to wake up, only to go back to sleep for another two hours, bugged her. Still, this was the only time she had the chance to go through her strength routines and old lady Tai-Chi in relative privacy.

They’d only been up for half an hour, and she was halfway through the Tai-Chi when Soven voiced the question.

“Yes, why?” Ellie replied, familiar enough with the movements to still keep an eye and ear out for trouble as best she could. Unfortunately, her best was still pretty bad.

“You have magic. Most mages wouldn’t bother doing… whatever that is.” They both spoke in hushed tones. Waking up the Herald or Seeker wasn’t worth the risk.

“Training the body helps train the mind. Having the will to follow through with one helps strengthen the other. Their loss.” Yeah, okay. Calm down there Dalai Lama. You still can’t even figure out how your will works with magic. “If you find this strange, try not to stare when I start doing pullups.”

“Where did you learn it?”

“From an old woman.”

“In Rivain?” Soven asked, causing Ellie to frown. One of the reasons she liked his company so much was because he didn’t ask for details. She could lie herself into a corner and Soven would sit back and watch.

“It was an ancient temple carved into the mountainous wilderness. She was the fierce Tiger Mother, revered for her claws.” Ellie answered. “Strict, protective, and unyielding, her children feared her wrath, and many a monk would break under her rigorous expectations. She demanded the best.”  I’m going to hell.

Soven raised an eyebrow, clearly not buying it. “You were a follower of this… faith?”

Ellie snorted, “not that kind of temple. And no. Fuck no.”

“This Tiger Mother taught you, even though you did not follow her teachings?”

“Nope. I watched from a safe distance.” Ellie smirked and gave him a wink, “don’t tell anyone.”

“Your secret shall never pass my lips.” He replied solemnly, the corner of his lip curling into a small smirk.

Hopefully that was the end of his curiosity on the subject. Soven’s inclination towards observation over investigation came at a price. Most people would have spoken with her when they’d found her hiding from the Herald behind a barrel – not forced her into a two-day trip to explore ancient ruins with the very person she’d been avoiding.

-

Breakfast that morning went without issue, and even Lavellan remained civil. When Ellie pointed it out to Soven with surprise, he shrugged. Unfortunately readying her horse, who she had decided to name ‘El Caballo del Pecado’ (‘Pecado’ for short), was another matter.

The hell beast may have chosen to tolerate her presence, and occasional requests from her reigns, but he refused to humor her attempts to fumble with his tack. When he flashed his teeth at her warningly, after side stepping her trying to put the saddle over his back twice, Ellie called in reinforcements. She probably should have done so from the start.

“Psst, Emmory.” Ellie whispered, not too quietly. The curly haired soldier was nearby, and he’d nearly finished readying his own horse.

Emmory looked over his shoulder, and she realized how ridiculous she must look with the large saddle in her arms. “Need something, Ellie?” She wished he’d keep his voice down. Emmory never could seem to figure out volume control.

“Any chance you could lend me a hand?” She asked softly, before silently mouthing, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

The amused smirk almost made Ellie wish she hadn’t asked. “Sure thing. Be right there, your Ladyship.” When Ellie scowled at him, he snickered and finished what he was doing before confidently approaching her and El Caballo del Pecado.

He lifted the saddle out of her hands easily, not that she’d been struggling with the weight of it herself, and when Pecado tried to side step Emmory’s efforts of putting the saddle on his back, the soldier clicked his tongue at the horse scoldingly.

Pecado’s nostrils flared in a warning huff, and Ellie bit her lower lip. “Uh, you might want to be careful, Emmory. He isn’t very friendly.” She wouldn’t put it past the horse to try biting or kicking him. It had already tried to bite her once, or at least threatened to.

“He’s just grumpy. Mustn’t be a morning horse.” Emmory said unconcernedly, before successfully saddling the monster on four legs. Ellie watched what he did carefully, noting that he’d put a blanket down before the saddle – something she’d forgotten about. Oops. Still, the way her horse stamped one of its front hooves, while Emmory’s teasing curly head was only a foot or two away, made her nervous.

“I’m sure you’re right,” Ellie forced an unconcerned looking smile, “I’m more accustomed to wild animals than tame ones.”

When Emmory tried to put on the bit in the horse’s mouth, however, Pecado went for one of Emmory’s hands and that calm confidence had vanished. “Uhh, perhaps your right.. I’ll get Bruin. He’s good with animals.”

“Good idea,” Ellie replied, giving Emmory an apologetic look before taking the bridle to hold. After seeing Bruin fight, she suspected Pecado might be more forthcoming with someone who could choose to be equally intimidating.

Emmory returned a minute later, with Bruin shortly behind him. The seldom-spoke warrior took one look at the horse, and raised his eyebrows. Unlike Emmory, Bruin didn’t brush off her concerns – although that may have been because it was Emmory, and not her, asking him to lend a hand.

Pecado exhaled sharply when Bruin took the bit from her, and the man stood there stoically as he waited for horse to settle down. Ellie took a step back, and Emmory leaned over to whisper, loudly, “Bruin’s family used to own a stable before the blight. He’s got this.”

Bruin ended up spending more time standing there patiently with the bridle, than attempting to put it on. Ellie didn’t understand any of it, but when he finally decided to move closer to the horse, Pecado didn’t try to bite off his hand. Without being asked, he finished prepping the horse, then gave Ellie a small frown. “There a reason you got this horse?”

Ellie grimaced, then shrugged. “I was told it wouldn’t spook from me channeling lightning.”

“Makes sense.” Bruin gave a dry chuckle, “good luck.” Gee, thanks.

Emmory snorted.

“The two of you instill nothing but confidence in me.” She said dryly, “if I go down, I’ll make sure it takes you two with me.”

Before either of them could reply, the Seeker’s sharp words cut through the air. “Get in formation, it’s time to move.” Ellie looked over and saw that she was already seated on her horse, jaw set with impatience.

Emmory and Bruin parted for their own mounts, the former only pausing to add a quick “try not to fall off” before leaving.

With a deep breath Ellie approached Pecado, whose head turned to watch her approach the saddle. Again, when she reached out to grab it, he side-stepped, and Ellie gave him a low warning growl. Just like yesterday, after voicing his protest he allowed her to hop on. If you spook in a fight I am going to kill the asshole that thought assigning me this horse was a good idea. The fact that Bruin seemed to agree with Varric’s assessment that it wouldn’t freak out gave her some comfort.

Riding a horse was different from walking, and once she was in the saddle the soreness from a full day on horseback was more noticeable. The discomfort and pain was well within tolerable levels, however, and she preferred it to the pain she experienced in her lower leg after multiple days of hiking. Solas had once again proven he was a superior healer. Whatever he’d done to her leg had helped more than multiple treatments from the healer at the crossroads, combined. At the end of the day her foot would still ache, but she’d been able to join scouting parties without ending up crippled on day three.  

Watching the other riders throughout the previous day, Ellie’s attempts to guide her horse were more successful. Pecado still ignored her enough that there was no questioning who was in charge, but he was willing to go where she wanted for the time being. Bribing him with a few pieces of dried fruit may have been a factor.

Today Ellie headed towards the back of the procession, hoping to find a spot beside Soven where she could avoid a repeat of yesterday. There was only so much ancient elven god trauma that she could take, and yesterday had left her pretty burnt out. She was already interacting with him way too much, and doing so while emotionally drained was a recipe for disaster. It left her too vulnerable to accidental slipups. One wrong word or statement, and he’d realize she was a threat to be removed.

Navigating on Pecado was closer to her picking a direction, and the horse deciding how they got there. As she reached the end half of the train, Ellie spotted Soven sitting quietly in the shadow of the second carriage. When she pulled up beside him, he looked over at her in mild surprise.

“Ellie.” He greeted her softly.

“Mind if I join you for a little quiet?” Ellie asked, giving him a hopeful smile.

Soven shrugged, “Won’t hear me object.” Yesterday Emmory had ended up next to him for a few hours, and as much as Soven enjoyed listening, even he was looking a little strained by the end of it.

Up ahead Ellie could make out Solas towards the middle, and most people had fallen into places similar to where they’d been yesterday. The Seeker was up at the front, her short black hair and bulk of metal armor making her easy to identify. When Ellie started looking for Lavellan, however, she spot the pint-sized psycho.

Shem,” Ellie heard Lavellan snap behind her, and she jumped. “You’re supposed to be with the other flat-ear, in the middle. Not this one.” As usual, the Herald’s tone dripped with distain.

Where Soven hadn’t reacted to being called a flat-ear, Ellie failed at not giving a damn. She turned and shot Lavellan an annoyed look, which only succeeded in making the dalish elf smirk. You nutjobs deserve each other. When Ellie didn’t immediately move, the smirk turned into a sneer. “Mages go in the middle, Shem. I can’t have your incompetence tipping off which carriage the old hag is in.”

There just had to be a valid reason, and Ellie was beginning to wonder if she was more oblivious than she thought. It was either that, or people in Thedas sucked at communication. Nobody ever told her anything. So far Ellie had been quiet because she didn’t want her questions to raise questions, but this was ridiculous.

It was possible that Lavellan was making it up, to piss Ellie off, but Ellie suspected that it was more likely people had just assumed she’d know better – or that as a mage she’d want to be in the middle to begin with. Not that she was in a position to argue with the motherfucking Herald of Andraste, regardless.

With a small bow of her head towards the future Inquisitor, Ellie squeezed her legs lightly into Pecado and headed up to join the very person she’d wanted to avoid. This is going to be a long trip.

Lavellan trotted past her and up the line just as she reached the middle, and Ellie bit down on her cheek to keep herself from scowling at the back of the elf’s stupid ponytailed head. When they were officially underway a few minutes later, Ellie still hadn’t glanced in Solas’s direction. She was very much of the opinion that not looking at him was a fantastic idea.

It was a brilliant strategy, up until her anger inevitably trickled away into boredom. Riding a horse left very little to do, and sitting for hours on end wasn’t going to improve her situation. Horses were the worst. Instead of sitting here like a coward, you could be enacting the part one of Operation Dalish Daycare. He’s just as stuck with you as you are with him – now would be the time to start planting the seeds.

Acting would be the responsible course of action, but it was easier said than done. Solas wasn’t really Solas, he was a god. Ellie was allowed to be nervous at the idea of trying to trick and manipulate an elf god into shacking up with the psycho bitch who had called him a flat-ear less than an hour ago. Okay, maybe not the best timing.

Forcing a swallow, Ellie gave Solas a sideways glance, trying to gauge his demeanor. Ugh, his expressions are too unreadable. Why do gods have to be all mysterious and aloof? Lavellan hadn’t been going for subtlety when she’d told Ellie to move, so Solas must have heard. Even if he was good at pretending not to be an egomaniac, it had to be frustrating for a god of the elves to get called a flat-ear.

She was still trying to get a clue – something to go off of – when he glanced her way. Shit! Ellie immediately averted her eyes, and tried not to panic. Maybe he didn’t see, act casual! How the fuck do you act casual on a horse!?  Looking straight ahead, she could feel him watching and swallowed. Ohmygod did you seriously just gulp? You’re the most conspicuous person ever. Holy shit!

Every second felt like an eternity, and when she though he was no longer looking, Ellie risked a peek. That was a mistake. Not only was he still looking in her direction, but Solas was looking right at her. Fuck! Abort! She snapped her eyes back in front of her, then inwardly cursed. He was looking at you, pendeja. You have to look back! Ellie wasn’t sure if she could make this situation any more terrifying and awkward. Steeling herself to remain coherent, she looked back at him.

Solas’s brow was slightly furrowed, and Ellie blinked a few times. “…Y-Yes?” She asked weakly, her tone betraying just how flustered she was. This could not get anymore awkward. 

He considered her for a few seconds before opening his mouth to speak, but the reply never came. Something whooshed past her head, followed by a strangled cry of pain, and Ellie’s eyes widened. Time seemed to slow down as she looked to the man in front of her and saw an arrow sticking out of his back. It was meant for me. Behind her there was the heavy thunk of a body falling to the ground, and someone shouted.

Ellie’s hands were already beginning to glow as she swung a leg over the back of Pecado and hopped to the ground. She wasn’t willing to fight on horseback unless she had no choice. Pulling the staff off her back, she finished channeling the barrier spell over herself.

For the past week, Ellie had spent every night in the fade trying to improve the speed in which she could cast an effective barrier. Like the rest of her magic, it was a clunky mess, but it worked. Even with issues like the barrier’s distribution of protection being top heavy instead of even, and the high mana cost, the spell was good enough to help her survive in a fight. For now, that was all that mattered.

A bolt of frost flew over her head and hit one of the mercenaries charging towards Roe with his sword drawn. He froze into a block of ice, which shattered when the blonde ran forward and swung into him. Soldiers were scrambling to try and hold the rush of attackers back, and even she could see they were outnumbered.

She began to channel another spell when an arrow hit her hard in the shoulder, wrenching it back while energy crackled at the head of her staff. The barrier had held, but it was going to leave a bruise. A second bolt narrowly missed her, then she saw a third fly over her head towards Solas. They have people focusing us. Gritting her teeth, she sent the first chain of lightning hurtling towards a pair of mercs.

The air hissed and cracked, and the first man collapsed to the ground. The second stumbled, and it was enough for Bruin to step in and lob the man’s sword arm clean off. The now-familiar smell of ozone and blood filled the air, and when a second bolt hit her in the side, shattering her barrier, she darted behind a horse that was still standing.

Up ahead she could see Varric and Lavellan were both launching arrows and bolts into the trees, trying to take out the ranged opposition. While casting a second barrier over herself, the air around her dropped several degrees. Spikes of ice shot out of the ground in a line where the enemy had broken through, impaling one in the leg before growing upwards into a jagged wall.

Ellie only had the chance to launch another bolt of lightning when the horse she was using for cover reared violently. All she could do was scramble out of the way to avoid getting trampled, and she realized it had remained stationary because its reigns were tangled in the motionless grasp of its fallen rider.

The wall of ice Solas had summoned to prevent them from being overrun was shrinking, and she sent a bolt at the mercenary closest to being over it. Fuck, how many of them are there!? Stepping forward Ellie gathered up a sizable chunk of her magic, and channeled a current of non-lethal electricity into as many of the men on the wall as she could. There was so much static in the air that her teeth buzzed, and six of the mercenaries jerked to a standstill.

What remained of the ice wall popped violently where the lightning hit it, and from the corner of her eye she saw a mercenary break through a gap between the far side of Solas’s ice wall as a figure crumpled to the ground. They were losing ground, and the figure began running towards her. Shit.

Pulling heavily from the fade, Ellie turned the tangle of electricity she was using to stun into something with teeth. Make yourself a weapon. She inhaled sharply as the power swelled, then sent it crashing before being forced to break concentration.

 

She hadn’t wanted to. Wielding so much power, and the sick satisfaction she found in using that power to put others at her mercy, was hard to explain. It was a sensation that begged getting lost in. Ellie might have, if there hadn’t been a sword swinging towards her face.

Spinning to block the swing with her staff, Ellie took a few steps back. Her foot found something soft and lumpy, and she tried to step over the body only to realize it was the corpse of a horse. Stumbling, she raised an arm against the next swing of his sword, hissing in pain from the blunt force.

Having expected the hit to draw blood, the mercenary dropped his guard for a split second, and it was all the opening she needed. Ellie spun the base of her staff up, and thrust it hard into mercenary’s neck. After her first success at jabbing people with her staff, it had quickly become one of her primary strategies for dealing with close combat.

She felt the snap and crunch of his hyoid, and fought a grin. The brief thrill of victory was quickly cut short by a sharp tug that sent pain searing through her upper arm. She blinked dazedly, before stumbling backwards over the dead horse and hitting the ground. She could hear the soon-to-be-suffocating mercenary fighting for each strangled, wretched gasp of breath. A terrible way to die. Then Ellie looked down at her arm, and she saw a crossbow bolt had finally hit its mark: her.

“Well shit, that’s inconvenient.” Ellie muttered to herself, momentarily dazed by the smack of reality sticking out of her arm. Move! Snapping herself out of it, she scrambled back to her feet, took a deep breath, and shielded herself with yet another barrier. The amount of mana she was expending was starting to leave her feeling strained. Stretched thin. Better than becoming a pincushion.

Giving a last glance at the mercenary whose windpipe she’d crushed, Ellie could see him beginning to panic. His fingers started to claw desperately at his throat, sword forgotten. She couldn’t leave him like that. She should have, but she couldn’t.

Hopping back over the horse, Ellie walked up and wrenched the sword out of his weakening grasp. There was nothing pleasant about the dawning realization and fear in the man’s eyes. Thrusting the sword gracelessly into his neck with her injured arm, she hardly registered the resulting mess of blood through the pain. It was a kinder death.

The resulting spurts of blood hardly registered, although removing the blade made her wince as the damaged muscle in her arm contracted. Dropping the sword, Ellie looked up and saw that Lavellan had abandoned her bow and entered the fray with her blades drawn. What the Herald lacked in charm, she more than made up for in lethality. There was the unmistakable, and deadly, grace of a predator.

When yet -another- crossbow bolt smacked into her, this time in the face, Ellie snapped. She might not be able to see well enough to hit the asshole with a bolt of lightning, but she could certainly try. And she did. It was haphazardly pulled, wavering as she collected the energy, but Ellie sent it flying towards the hidden crossbowman.

Ellie saw the outline of a figure scramble, followed by a yelp as one of Varric’s crossbow bolts hit him.

“Thanks for the help, Twisty!” He gave her a wink, before readying another shot and letting the next bolt loose.

Ellie snorted, then gave the battlefield a quick scan. More than one of the men she’d zapped on the ice wall hadn’t gotten back up, and she cleared her head with a shake before sending a jolt at the nearest mercenary. At some point the tide of the fight had shifted while Ellie was busy hopscotching over horse corpses like a dumbass. Fights didn’t last long, and although the scale of this one was bigger than the others she’d experienced, it was no exception. Which was good, because she didn’t want to draw more energy from the fade, and her own mana was heading towards empty fast.

Off to the left Ellie saw Lavellan practically spider jump up onto one of the men engaged with the Seeker, before plunging the blade into his spinal column. It was one of many reminders that the Herald and her group were on a different level. Ellie was able to help finish off a couple of the remaining mercenaries with stunning spells, then combat finally came to an end. 

Breathing heavily, she leaned against her staff and watched as everyone began to take tally of casualties and injuries. She’d spent more mana than she was used to, and the amount she’d pulled from the fade on top of that had her limbs feeling heavy. Her connection with the fade, or whatever that opening throughout her was, wanted the goop she had left. When she didn’t give it any, she could feel it tugging at the cords and strings inside of her with a gentle, but firm, persistence.

A brief glance in Solas’s direction confirmed that he’d also expended a great deal of what he had, which made Ellie feel better about her own state. Not that it was a competition or anything. It wasn’t. Just, if it were, she was doing alright.

Apart from the bolt in her arm, Roe had taken a sword point into her shoulder, Cassandra had been stabbed between her armor, another man looked like he had a punctured lung, and several more were on the ground. Of the enemy dead, Ellie counted a total of five that she’d killed. That’s what, seven? Eight if I’m counting that seedling tree? She wasn’t sure why she was keeping count, but the idea of not remembering the lives she’d taken felt even more wrong. Eventually you’re going to lose count.

“I got to say Twisty, pissed off and shooting lightning is a good look on you.” Varric had walked up beside her, still holding his crossbow. “Those archers couldn’t keep their eyes off you.”

Ellie snorted at the joke, before replying wryly. “I am rather stunning.” That earned her a chuckle.

“If you two are quite finished, “The Seeker spoke up from in front of them, her tone disapproving, “there are men dying.” The Seeker was looking at Ellie, “or are you not the healer you claimed to be?”

Ellie scowled at the Seeker - in part because the woman was right. She should have been immediately trying to help the wounded, not making jokes with Varric. “Do you want me focusing on the ones most likely to die, or the ones that are most likely to live?” Even so, the woman’s antagonistic nature was completely unnecessary.

The question took the Seeker off guard. “I want you to help everyone,” she demanded. That isn’t how these situations work, Seeker.

“Very well, I’ll use my best judgement, then.” Ellie replied stiffly, before looking over at Varric. “You can’t snap the bolt in my arm off by any chance, can you?”

Varric gave her a smirk. “Sure thing, Twisty.” Ellie crouched down so he could reach easily, then grimaced before he snapped the end off. “You plan on pulling that thing out, or keeping it as a souvenir?”

“I will later.” She looked around until she spotted Solas with the man who had a punctured lung.

Ellie found Pecado around the side of the first carriage, eating some flowers growing at the side of the road. Removing one of her bags from the saddle, she grabbed her waterskin, cloth, needle, thread, and other basic supplies before heading over to the first man on the ground who was still breathing. Some she could do things for, other’s she couldn’t.

Solas seemed to be of similar mind, and for the two men on the ground that were salvageable, he healed enough for them to live, then left her to stitch up, treat, and bandage the wounds. Both Roe’s and Cassandra’s injuries turned out to be worse than they looked, and Ellie ended up spending fifteen minutes with her fingers in Roe’s shoulder before she was able to stitch the woman up.

While they were tending to the wounded, those without injuries went about piling up the bodies. She didn’t take count herself, but heard the Seeker mention to Lavellan that they’d lost a third of their men and six horses. When it came time to light the makeshift pyres, Ellie saved them the trouble of flint and steel, using some of the mana she had in reserve to set each one aflame.

Ellie had already lit the third and final pile, watching the flames rise blankly, when she saw a familiar face in the flames. Her stomach clenched. Emmory. It came as a shock, and when Ellie waited to feel a more visceral reaction – some deeper sense of loss – but only got a lump in her throat. Swallowing, she turned away from the fire and found Bruin watching her. Walking up to him, Ellie glanced over in Roe’s direction before looking back at him.

“Does Roe know?” She asked him quietly, and Bruin nodded. Not knowing what else to do, Ellie gave Bruin a light pat on the arm. She’d intended it to be comforting, but she touched people so infrequently that the gesture felt false and awkward.

 Walking back towards the Carriages, Ellie went to get herself bandages so she could finally treat her arm. Or try to. Ellie was left handed, and she wasn’t sure how well she’d be able to stitch herself up with her right hand. Fortunately, that’s what Ellie had Soven for – much to his chagrin. He didn’t seem to like the idea of playing medical assistant, and he started to grumble when they both realized they were close enough to overhear a conversation. Us? nosy? Nah.

“…Some of the Chantry Sisters have found the events distressing, and the longer we stay the greater the risk that we run into more trouble.” Ellie heard the seeker say in a lower voice on the other side of the carriage.

 “I don’t give a fuck.” They heard Lavellan reply, “thought you said the old hag was all who mattered?” The Herald half spat the last handful of words as if it were an accusation.

“That is true,” and Ellie could hear how the Seeker’s words were sent through clenched teeth. “We want to move quickly, and lingering-“

“If there’s a fucking lunch stop today, Seeker, it’s here.” Lavellan growled back, “this isn’t a scenic picnic. Your blessed chantry sisters can take a piss and eat here, or they can wait.”

“Please Herald, try to understand-” The frustration was palpable, and Ellie was glad she didn’t have to deal with either of them on a regular basis.

“Listen lady,” Lavellan said, cutting her off, “I got the stupid glowy hand, so I make the stupid glowy rules. If they don’t like that, then they can get out and walk the rest of the way.”

“I- ugh!” The seeker relented, making a noise of furious disgust. They could hear the stomping of boots and quiet footfalls, as the pair retreated.

Soven and Ellie eyed each other a moment, then Ellie just shook her head and muttered. “Barrels.” He gave a grunt in reply, and didn’t speak up until Ellie started to poke around at the remainder of the bolt sticking out of her arm.

“Can’t you get your friend to heal you?” Soven muttered grumpily.

“He isn’t my friend.” Ellie replied defensively. “I don’t have friends.”

Soven raised an eyebrow, eyeing her for a moment. “I’ll keep that in mind.”  

“That’s not what I-” Ellie said quickly, before making an exasperated sound. “Any chance we could just attribute this to blood loss?”

“I could always stab you to help with the cover story.” Soven replied, and there was something slightly sinister about the tiny smirk he gave her. Good job Ellie, way to piss off the one you actually wouldn’t mind being friends with.

“You have a terrifying sense of humor, you know that?” She huffed at him, then took a deep breath and yanked the bolt out with a hiss of pain.

“What makes you think I’m kidding?” He countered evenly, applying pressure when she started bleeding all over the place. Again.

“See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Ellie would have scrunched up her face at him, but it was already busy being scrunched up in pain.

Soven sighed, “here, hold this.” He said, indicating for her to apply pressure with her free hand.

Ellie did as he was asked, then blinked when he stood back up. “Hey, wait, where are you going?”

He rolled his eyes and gave her a look. “I’m going to get Solas.”

“What? Why?” Ellie scowled at him.

“Because you’re being whatever a ‘Pendeja’ is.” Smartass.

Ellie made a point to glare at Soven’s back as he left her there, and he didn’t even bother to hide the snicker. Stupid.. asshole jerk. Motherfucker. Meanie face. Ugh.

A minute later Solas’s stupid bald head popped up, practically glowing in the god damned sun like a disco ball. Ellie would get her revenge on Soven later. Somehow. It’s what you get for being an insensitive asshat. To make matters worse, Soven didn’t rejoin her with Solas. Instead he waited until Solas’s back was turned before giving her an exaggerated wave with his fingers, complete with a pointedly cold smile, before leaving her there. With him. That asshole!

Ellie shot Soven a parting glare, and if Solas had noticed he gave no such indication. Under the impassive mask, he looked similar to how she felt: tired and drained.

“Is there a reason for your obstinacy?” Solas asked with a tired sigh once he was standing beside the carriage foothold she was sitting on.

“I plead the 5th.” Ellie replied bluntly, then clarified when his brow furrowed. “Uh, I’m a stubborn dumbass when I’m tired.” She didn’t have the energy for Fen’Harold’s reindeer games, and it showed.

“Ah,” He rolled up the sleeves of his robe, then motioned towards the bloodied bandage she’d been using to staunch the slow trickle of blood. “Shall we?”

Ellie hesitated, “Do you have the mana for it?”

“I will be fine.” Solas assured her, and he took a seat in the space next to her.

Resisting the urge to lean away from him, and all too aware that him healing her was becoming a pattern, she peeled back the bandage slowly – not wanting to make a bigger mess if she could help it.

He gently placed his hands over where the bolt had embedded itself in her muscle, and a moment later she could feel Solas’s cool wash of magic sink into her skin. Most of the energy seemed to concentrate on the damaged muscle and connective tissues, and Ellie closed her eyes.

“I would not recommend pulling so much energy from the fade in the future. The fade will pull back.”

Ellie hummed, “so I’ve noticed. If it gets too uncomfortable I can give it some of the energy back.”

“…Is there a reason you have not done so already?”

“I’m still waiting for another crossbow bolt to hit me in the face.” She muttered dryly.

“If the fade can’t pull the energy it’s owed, it pulls at the mage’s life force instead. That’s why you’re so tired.” Wait, does that mean I ripped off a piece of my fucking life force and shoved it into a staff!? Well shit, that isn’t cause for alarm in the slightest…

Thinking better of her current approach, Ellie began to allow some of the magic she had left flow back into the fade. Even at a trickle, it eased the strain on the weird cords and strings inside of her considerably.

Solas’s magic moved slowly, and while it hadn’t gotten sluggish like hers towards the end of the fight, she could tell that he didn’t have much to work with. If that were true, the magic in Lavellan’s hand must have made a bigger difference than she thought. Or he’s faking it.

Without having anything to say in reply, she let them fall into silence. At least he doesn’t seem to mind quiet, like most people. The silences are only awkward because of me. The growing urge to sleep had abated once she’d started giving energy back, but Ellie kept her eyes closed. If her guard had been lowered enough from exhaustion to shut them in the first place, opening them wasn’t going to change much.

When the magic finally receded, and Solas had released her from his overly-gentle grasp, three of the chantry sisters had lost their lunch when forced to brave the sights and smells outside. Considering that Ellie had been in Thedas for a month, and was already murdering men with their own swords, she had trouble understanding how they weren’t used to this shit.

“Uh, thank you. Again.” Ellie looked over at him and forced a polite smile, then busied herself with cleaning off the blood. “You did a much better job on my leg than the other guy.” Because you’re a 65 million year old dinosaur.  Wait, did Thedas ever have dinosaurs?     

“Does your leg trouble you less?”

“Much less.”

“Then I am glad to have helped.” He said simply.

Chapter Text

That night when they made camp, the atmosphere was subdued. Roe had been uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the day, and the glazed-over look in her eyes left Ellie glad that Bruin and Soven were both around to keep her company. Ellie knew she should have been there with them, offering comfort and companionship while they mourned, but instead she grabbed her dinner and found a spot away from the others to eat in peace. I don’t have friends. Not here.

There were too many lies and half-truths for Ellie to make connections. The only reason her quasi friendship with Soven worked, was because she was pretty certain he worked for Leliana – at least until she’d stuck her foot in her mouth. Going out of his way to give Roe and Bruin company didn’t add up with the whole assassin/spy thing either. Yeah, but it also seems out of character. Maybe she didn’t understand Soven as well as she’d thought.  

Even the Herald, miss psycho bitch herself, was sitting next to Varric. In fact, the only other person who had positioned themselves among, but not with, the others at the fire was Solas. How unsubtle of us. Ellie thought dryly. You’re reading into it too much. The only reason Ellie had made a conscious choice in seating herself the way she did was because she was tired. While the irony wasn’t lost on her, given that he was a god and she was an alien, it would be foolish to apply significance to such a coincidence.

With mage burnout as an excuse to turn in early, she finished eating and retreated to her tent for the night. Over the past few hours it had almost felt like the fade was calling to her, much like the tug she felt just before waking up. Given the events of the day, struggling to fall asleep would have made a lot more sense than the minutes it took for her to pass out.

-

Remaining unaware of her presence in the fade just didn’t happen anymore, and Ellie missed the simplicity of a dreamless sleep. Within a few minutes, at most, she’d realize where she was, and from there it was a 50-50 chance if the dream kept going without her. Tonight was no different, and she had hardly arrived when the image faded and fell apart.

From the mini-lecture she’d questioned Solas into giving, Ellie wondered if it was because there never seemed to be any spirits or demons around outside of demon-Sandy. Maybe the realm I go to when I sleep is different? … that or demon-Sandy is keeping them away. There -had- been demons hovering around her, she’d heard fear and demon-Sandy had said as much. Maybe they still are, but you can’t see them? It made a lot more sense than the alternatives she was tossing around.

Tonight, the white nothingness that resulted after her dream fell apart took a while to reform into the Colorado mountains. Sometimes Ellie ended up in what she called the ‘normal part’ of the Fade, but she didn’t know if anything about it was normal. The only reason Ellie considered it the normal part, was because it looked like what she thought something called the ‘Fade’ would look like. More likely it was another dream pretending to be more.

“No importance, not that you can remember. ‘Because’.” Sandy’s voice cropped up behind her.

Ellie jumped and spun around. She had been wondering, for the millionth time, why it was always the Colorado mountains. The demon was using the elven version of Sandy that it seemed to prefer, complete with the pointy teeth. The only thing out of place was the glowing blue vallaslin.

Supposedly this all came from Ellie’s head, but there were numerous times, like right now, where she wasn’t sure what inspired the demon to pick what it did. She’d all but given up trying to make sense of it. Once or twice demon-Sandy had picked something so obscure that Ellie realized it must be able to dig around and see things Ellie had forgotten.

This vallaslin wasn’t one Ellie recognized, and the design could be from something completely unrelated. I don’t think they come in neon blue here, either.

“Other places, better dreams. If he were here, I might tell him. But he isn’t.” It scowled at her, because Ellie was clearly the cause of everything that had ever gone wrong in the history of the universe. “You’re still doing it backwards.”

Ellie gave it a look. “Maybe I’d stop doing it backwards if you tried making sense.” She waved a hand dismissively, before adding. “I totally have the best name for you now. Sandymon! It’s both clever and really stupid. I like it. What do you think?”

Sandymon was looking at Ellie like she’d grown another head, then the expression cleared. “Dirthamen, keeper of secrets. I made them blue. Avatar state, yip yip!”

Dirthamen must be one of the elf gods, then? At the mention of the avatar state, Ellie facepalmed. Fucking seriously? “Look… I’ve been wondering, if you-”

“Yes.”

She’d been in the process of trying to ask Sandymon if the demon could see how she’d gotten to Thedas. Well!? Are you going to tell me!?

“No.” Sandymon grinned, showing off the pointy teeth that actual-Sandy would have loved. It wasn’t the kind of grin Ellie felt very comfortable with, either. It was very much an ‘I enjoy killing things’ kind of grin, and the demon’s expressions in general weren’t natural in the same way a normal person’s would be to begin with.  “You don’t get to know… why don’t you miss me now?”

-

When morning came, Ellie discovered that she’d slept in. Instead of waking up before most of the camp, she woke up with them. It was the worst. The only good thing about the extra sleep was that it gave her more time to replenish her mana in the fade. Considering how much mana her spells used, Ellie tried to keep as much goop in her as possible. The extra weight of too much goop had grown familiar, and without it she felt vulnerable and hollow.  Everything inside of her was too light, and it felt like there was nothing tying her to the ground at all – that she might just float away. Ellie hated it.

Unable to ready Pecado herself, Ellie went to find Bruin for help. He was next to Roe with their horses, and she couldn’t help but notice that Roe looked like she hadn’t slept that night. You should say something. Ellie couldn’t think of anything to say. Considering they shared a tent, the fact that she hadn’t spoken to Roe at all was impressive. In a bad way.

It wasn’t as if Ellie didn’t understand loss. Not only had she been an EMT for years, but she’d lost her entire world. Or rather, her world had lost her. No, her family and friends weren’t all dead – at least she didn’t think they were – but they also weren’t here. To say she had moments of homesickness and grief would be an understatement.

It’s bitterness. At least she had that wilderness apostate backstory to fall back on as an excuse for her own failure to empathize. That and Roe thought she was some sort of emotionally cold badass. Roe really sucked at reading people.

Bruin helped Ellie with her horse, and once he was finished she gave him a small smile. “Thanks.”

He looked at her, “you should say something to her.” I’d have preferred ‘you’re welcome’.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.” Ellie lied.

“ ‘Are you okay?’ would be a start.”

“But she isn’t.”

He frowned at her. “Then help her learn how to be.”

When Ellie didn’t say anything back, Bruin shook his head and headed back to Roe. Well done, me. She didn’t have the capacity to deal with this kind of drama. It was too much for her. Hopping up on to Pecado, she went to wait between the carriages for the day’s travel to get underway.

Solas joined her a few minutes before they began moving, and from the looks of it he was still trying to wake up. Given the chance, he ate his breakfasts late enough for her to surmise that he was not a morning person. If he’s groggy he might be less guarded. It was an opportunity to begin building the friendly rapport she needed for Operation Dalish Daycare.

The next few hours passed in silence, as Ellie did the opposite of trying to establish a rapport. Instead she sat on Pecado silently, berating herself for her cowardice. No, you can do this! The time is now!

I can do this. It had taken her the whole morning to muster up the courage, but she was going to do it. She had to. It was for Thedas. It’s what Sandy would have wanted. Up ahead Ellie could see the back of Lavellan’s head, and the tips of her long ears peeking through a tangle of wild black hair. Seeing people with long ears was still taking some getting used to.

“So, Solas,” Ellie began, after steadying herself with a deep breath. She forced her attention away from Lavellan to the elven god beside her.

He looked like he’d been thinking, and blinked before turning to look at her. “Yes, Ellie?” It was still hard to believe that psycho could sound so polite.

You started, you can’t stop now! Remember, present it like a bro! She could do this. Ellie chewed her lower lip for a final, nervous moment, her eyes darting back at Lavellan, before leaning towards Fen’Harold and dropping her voice. “Have you ever noticed how the Herald looks kinda hot when she’s angry?” It was time to appeal to his freak beast.

Solas blinked, then his brow furrowed and he looked between Ellie and the Harold with narrowing eyes. When he fixed his attention back on her, lips pressed together in a small frown, Ellie was so nervous she shrugged and grinned at him like an idiot. Oh yes, that’s very convincing.  She couldn’t tell if he was confused, or angry; and it was a few seconds before he said anything. “I-” Solas stopped and cleared his throat, speaking tersely. “No. I cannot say that I have.” Shit, he’s angry.

She’d come this far, and now wasn’t the time to give up. Sell it. “I mean,” Ellie ignored some of the heat in her face and motioned her hand towards Lavellan, trying her damnedest to make psychobitch actually sound appealing. “Sure, her teeth are a little sharp, and she wears Andruil’s vallaslin, but under all the fury she’s actually pretty attractive…”  Her voice trailed off when she glanced back and saw the weird expression on Captain McCrazypants’s face, her smile faltering. “…w-what?”

“You recognize Andruil’s vallaslin?” Solas asked after a moment, and Ellie’s brow furrowed. Really, that’s what you pick out of this? I know you hate Andruil, but seriously!?

“Yeah?” She gave him a look as if to say ‘duh’. What’s the big deal? “It is tattooed on her face. Sort of hard not to see.” In truth, the only vallaslin Ellie had any idea about was Mythal’s, but Andruil’s was a freaking bow and arrow on a person’s face. It wasn’t hard to put ‘golden arrows of crazy hunter bitch’ and ‘tattoos with arrows on a crazy bitch’ together.

“That is not… I would not expect a human to know the significance of vallaslin designs.” Solas said after a moment, and his words were still clipped. Shit. “Have you spent time among the dalish?” This conversation was supposed to be about pimping Lavellan’s brand of crazy out to the freak beast. Not Ellie. People also needed to stop asking her if she hung out in forests with crazy racist elves.

“No.” Ellie had to work not to frown, and her annoyance at the question helped keep fear at bay. “This may come as a shock, but the dalish aren’t particularly fond of shemlen.” She’d known Solas wasn’t going to jump at the idea of Lavellan having a hotness factor - at least not openly, but her remark about Lavellan seemed to bother him more than she’d anticipated. He must really hate her.

Solas was still frowning, and Ellie did not like the way he was looking at her. She had no idea what that look was supposed to mean, but it made her nervous. It was time to change the topic onto something else. Ellie didn’t want to wake up in some kind of fade dungeon, like the rest of the elven gods who had pissed him off.

“What does dirthara-ma mean?” Ellie blurted, because reminding Solas even more of Lavellan was definitely the right call in this situation.  Oh my god, have I always been this incompetent? She stopped looking at him and focused on the horizon, biting the inside of her cheek.

He didn’t stop looking at her, she could feel it. The seconds passed, and Fen’Harold must have decided to forgive the puny, stupid mortal, because Solas sighed, as if resigned, before answering. “It is an elven curse, meaning ‘may you learn’.”

“Isn’t learning supposed to be a good thing?”

“Life lessons are not known for their gentleness.” Solas replied. There was still an undercurrent of something in his tone, but for now she was safe from getting smoted.. smited? Smitten? No.. that’s -definitely- not it. Smote?

“No, they aren’t.” Ellie stole a furtive glance, and he wasn’t watching her anymore. He was looking ahead, and, much to Ellie’s surprise, she saw his gaze linger briefly on Lavellan. Wait, holy shit!? Is it working!? Did it work?? She felt a rush of excitement, and hope, at the prospect of Thedas not going up in flames due to a cackling megalomaniac. Smiling a little, Ellie looked away before the situation had a chance to blow up in her face. Again. “I know a similar curse. ‘May you live in interesting times’.”

“And its meaning?”

“Peace, contentment, and happiness are not interesting. Conflict and strife are.”

“These are interesting times, indeed.” Solas replied.

“...I’m afraid Thedas is a very interesting place.” Some of Ellie’s excitement waned at her words. What she wouldn’t give for a Cuban Missile Crisis right about now. At least she knew it was possible to get out the other end of that situation alive.

Neither of them had much to say after that, and Solas’s attention seemed to be focused on his thoughts more than his surroundings. It was for the best, because he still looked a little irritable. That said, he was definitely eyeing the Herald off and on, much to Ellie’s delight. Maybe he’s upset because he – no, stop brain, I am not thinking about that. Sandy’s stupid fiction had ruined her, and Ellie really didn’t want to think about what the actual, totally-batshit elf god was into. Just no. Please no.

Once the thoughts were there, it was like they wouldn’t go away. They were worse than fucking zubats. If Ellie ever made it back to Earth, she was going to beat Sandy half to death with printouts of her own writing. Solas was right next to her – the actual Solas – and the wild machinations of her total pervert best friend became infinitely more disturbing when she was forced to ride alongside the focus of Sandy’s infatuation for hours on end.

I mean, an elven god has to be into some crazy shit. It wasn’t like a god would have trouble getting laid. If the myths back on Earth were anything to go by, then Solas had probably fucked a little of everything. Ever. To the point of weird. Oh my god stop thinking about this!

She chewed the inside of her cheek some more, and wished Sandy could have written about normal, nice things. Why not a story about Solas drinking tea, with dainty little sandwiches? Solas likes tea, right? Tea and coffee – he loves that shit. Does coffee exist here? Wait, could I have been drinking coffee this whole time!? Ellie would have to figure out a non-obvious way to determine the existence of coffee.

In fact, Ellie spent the next hour determinately thinking about how much she missed coffee.

As the day progressed, the procession started to enter the mountains proper. The road had been on a general incline most of the day, but at a certain point the road began to wind and slope and the temperature began to drop. Ellie found the coolness refreshing, and she didn’t miss the humidity levels closer to sea level.

She hadn’t noticed on the trip down, but parts of the mountain path were difficult for carriages to traverse undamaged. When the pace slowed down enough to allow it, Ellie hopped off of Pecado to walk. She hadn’t been able to stretch her legs properly for days, and if saddle-fever was a thing, Ellie was starting to get it. Ellie half expected Lavellan to pop up out of thin air and start yelling at her, but there was no rebuke.

The road improved after an hour or two, and the pace increased along with it. The last thing she felt like doing was hopping back on the hellhorse, even if he’d been easier to manage with bribes of dried fruit. Unfortunately, Pecado’s last bribe had been that morning, and when Ellie attempted to hop back into the saddle her horse pulled more side-stepping bullshit. Ellie heard one of the soldier’s behind her snicker, and she rolled her eyes.

When the horse continued to be difficult, Ellie eyed him. “Pórtate bien, caballo.” It was the same warning tone she liked to use when she threatened the glue factory, and the horse huffed back at her in response. Ellie clicked her tongue, “¿No tienes vergüenza?” She wasn’t sure when she’d decided that the horse’s primary language was Spanish, but Ellie had never considered naming it in English.  

This time the horse permitted her to hop back on, and it was only a little awkward getting back in the saddle while they were both moving. Considering she’d hardly been on a horse prior to three days ago, she thought she was doing pretty good. Logging 20+ hours of horse in a week, while surrounded on all sides by more horse, turned out to be a good way to become familiar with horses. The thing still wouldn’t let her pet him, though. Not that Ellie minded. She didn’t.

Off and on throughout the remainder of the day, Ellie would peek over her shoulder towards Roe and the others. Thanks a lot, Bruin. Now I feel guilty. She’d have preferred not to give it any thought, but it was harder to be an insensitive ass now that she’d been called out on it. A good person would have wanted to be there for Roe – to comfort her because he or she cared about others.

Once or twice Bruin or Soven would catch her eye, but neither of them gave Roe any indication that Ellie was paying her attention. To Ellie’s relief, Soven appeared to have stepped back from yesterday’s role of comforting friend. He was still nearby, but she could see him putting the distance back in place. She hadn’t spoken more than a few words to the quiet elf since he’d left her at Solas’s mercy after the fight. 

Soven was never outright cold, so they still seemed to get along on the surface, but she could feel the undercurrent of animosity in the little things he didn’t do. That was how Ellie knew he was still unhappy with her – or at least giving her the impression that he was. She still wasn’t sure if she’d misjudged him.

-

That evening for dinner Ellie forced herself to sit with Roe, Bruin, and Soven. It was the last place she wanted to be. When she sat down next to Soven, Roe looked over and gave Ellie a weak smile. “Hey Ellie.”

She returned the smile, feeling awkward. There’s this expectation that it gets easier to deal with grieving families and people when you work at a hospital, but easier didn’t mean easy. From behind Roe’s head Bruin mouthed a silent ‘thank you’, and knot in Ellie’s stomach loosened.

“How’re you doing Roe?” Ellie kept her tone neutral, hoping to give Roe an opportunity to focus on other things. With how hard she was taking it, Ellie wondered if they’d been more than friends. Or this is a normal reaction and you’re too jaded to realize it. It isn’t like she’s falling over herself, distraught. Ellie was still being unfair to Roe.

She wasn’t sure she could help it. Ellie knew it wasn’t the same – Emmory had died, not gone out of reach. Her family and friends should still be alive, but Ellie couldn’t swallow her resentment. Roe had the luxury of mourning a loss other people could understand.

“I’m okay.” Roe replied, and Ellie wasn’t convinced.

Ellie wasn’t about to engage in small talk. She couldn’t bring herself to think up something inane to talk about. You’re an asshole, Ellie. At least she was an honest asshole. “You don’t have to be. Nobody expects you to, so long as you keep your shit together when it matters.” She shrugged and started eating. Maybe they wouldn’t expect her to say anything else.

After that conversation turned towards other things, like the horses, and how dinner needed salt.  At least it had, until Varric cropped up. There was an impish gleam in his eyes as he inserted himself into the group, a smirk playing at the corner of his lips.

“Evenin’ Twisty,” he gave her a wink before shifting his focus to the others as he sat down. “Who are your friends?”

Roe’s eyes widened, and she looked between Ellie and Varric in surprise. When she finally opened her mouth to say something, Soven spoke up instead.

“Twisty?” The elf asked, raising an eyebrow.

Varric smirked, “because her hair is always twisted up on her head. ‘Bun’ just didn’t have the necessary flair.”

“I see.” Was all Soven said in reply, and his focus returned to his food.

“Ellie, you never told us you knew Varric Tethras!” Roe blurted, and Ellie stared at her, taken aback.

“Uh.. I mean.. is that a big deal?” Apparently Ellie’s observation skills weren’t the only ones in need of improvement. Varric had spent a good chunk of the first day riding talking with Ellie – not to mention drinks and meals in taverns.

“Is it a- of course it is!” Her entire face had changed, and the gloom took a back seat. “Ellie, it’s Varric Tethras – the Varric Tethras!”

Ellie gave Varric a sideways glance, and the dwarf looked quite pleased with Roe’s reaction. The smirk on his face grew into a grin. “I can see someone is a fan of my work.” Then why didn’t she just talk to him? He’s been within 100ft of her for the past few days!

Roe nodded eagerly, a smile breaking over her face. “Yes, I’ve read all your books, but the Swords and Shields series is my favorite!” It was like watching a teenage girl meeting a rockstar, minus the ear-splitting shrieks.

Varric gave Roe an indulgent smile, “Since you’re such a big fan, I’ll let you in on a little secret.” Roe leaned forward, hanging off his every word. Varric dropped his voice to a loud whisper, “I’ve already started my next book, and Twisty here is going to be in it.”

Roe gasped right on queue.

Ellie spluttered and choked on her mouthful of food, eyes wide. “What!? Y-you told me you were writing about the Inquisit-Inquisition!”

Waggling his eyebrows, Varric continued. “Any chance you’d be willing to answer some questions?”

The blonde stifled a squeal of excitement, officially entering the realm of star struck teenage girl. “Like an interview?”

Varric nodded, mirroring Roe’s enthusiasm.

“Yes! Ask me anything!” Roe clapped her hands together.

“Roe!” Ellie interjected, infuriated by the look of pure delight on the dwarf’s face. “I don’t want to be in his book.”

“But Ellie, it’s Varric Tethras.” Roe said, with wide eyes, as if Ellie had somehow forgotten. “You have to!”

“No,” Ellie countered, “I don’t.” At least Roe doesn’t know anything. It was a small comfort.

“Lighten up, Twisty.” Varric said, his eyes sparkling. He was already making a show of procuring parchment and a quill for notes, returning the scowl she shot him with a wink. “You can have your interview later.” He knew exactly what he was doing, the shameless opportunist.

She didn’t know what was worse: how much Roe didn’t know, or how much she thought she did. Ellie doubted the blonde could say anything to get her in trouble, but Roe was so terrible at reading people Ellie worried she could unwittingly go full circle - putting Varric onto something legitimate through wildly erroneous conclusions.

You’ve stuck to your backstory. Everything should line up. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, that’s what. Ellie wanted to insist, but she knew trying to keep Varric away from her would only motivate him to dig deeper. She couldn’t afford that. If anyone started to look hard enough, they were going to realize she didn’t exist. Or hadn’t.

“Ugh, fine.” Ellie said grumpily, very much wishing she had something strong to drink. Next time she went out on a trip, it would be with a flask of booze.

“Ellie, how can you not be excited about this? You’re going to be in a book!” Roe was so earnest, it hurt.

“Easily.” Ellie rubbed her face with her hands.

“Alright Roe,” Varric spoke up, “tell me a little about Twisty here.”

“Well…” Roe chewed her bottom lip, face scrunching up in thought. “She won’t say anything unless you ask, but she knows lots. And she’s a really powerful mage – you saw what she did.” Roe began to talk faster as she found her train of thought, and Ellie pretended to find her food interesting. “Like, she’s so strong not even demons will get near her in the fade – they’re scared of her!” Wait, what!?

Ellie’s eyes shot up and she tried to keep her expression neutral. She had no idea where Roe would have gotten an idea like that. As far as mages went, Ellie was subpar – relying on sheer destructive force was a sign of her incompetence, not power.

“And, and,” Roe was on a roll now, “When we were ambushed on the way to the crossroads, she shot out a ball of lightning at a Templar powerful enough that the armor melted into his skin.” It would appear Varric wasn’t the only person who liked to exaggerate. “When we asked if she was raised by the Dalish she said no, and that she didn’t like them,” Roe lowered her voice, as if Ellie wasn’t sitting right there to overhear, “but she is still angry the Herald broke up with her, so I think she’s just exaggerating.”

Varric’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline, and Ellie was at a loss for words. The dwarf cast her a quick glance, clearly skeptical. Anyone with half a mind would realize it was nonsense. “I’m not so sure-”

“No, really! You should have seen how she reacted when Soven said the Herald was with someone else – she completely freaked out!”

It was insane. This was insane. Ellie groaned and put her face into her hands, “Roe, that is not – you have no idea what you’re talking about.” When she peeked through her fingers, Ellie noticed that Soven looked like he was struggling to keep a neutral expression.

“You were avoiding her!” Roe shot back, “and everyone knows you have a thing for elves!”

Fuck my life. “Roe that isn’t even close to the truth.”

Roe put her hands on her hips. Well, one hand on her hip. The injured shoulder kept her from moving her other arm too much. “Then why do you hang out with elves more than humans, hmm? You spend way more time with Soven than the rest of us, and it’s the same with that other elf.”

Ellie could only guess that Roe meant Solas when she said ‘other elf’. She could feel her face getting warm, and scowled at Roe. It probably would have been smarter to keep her hands over her face, but frustration was getting in the way of reason. “Solas is a mage, Roe.”

The intent of Ellie’s words went over Roe’s head, and she replied “right, that one!”

Varric’s eyebrows would have been lost if they weren’t attached to his face. “I take it you’re Soven?” He turned to look at Soven, and Ellie didn’t know how he’d managed to maintain a neutral expression. Note to self: never play poker with Soven.

Soven looked over at Varric and nodded, “I am.” Her shorter, likely assassin, ‘friend’s lip twitched.

A wry smile twisted over Varric’s face, and he spoke with the air of polite curiosity. “So tell me, elf to dwarf, were Shade and Twisty an item?”

Soven raised his eyebrows and looked over at Ellie, meeting her eyes. The moment lasted a few seconds and she knew it was a beat too long. The corner of his lip curled, and he looked back at Varric. “Absolutely.” The curl grew into a full -blown smirk as Soven spoke, eyes dancing with a certain cruel delight. She decided right then and there that she -hated- rogues.

Ellie threw her tin mess cup, complete with water, straight at Soven’s face. “Asshole!” The cup was easily dodged, and he scrunched up his face at her mockingly. Asshole!

“It’s okay Ellie,” Roe spoke up, placing a comforting hand on Ellie’s leg.  “Breakups are hard.” She gave Ellie a small nod, eyes wide with sincerity.

Varric had snorted loudly when Ellie threw the cup, but at Roe’s words he lost it completely. He was laughing so hard that it was only a matter of time before tears were streaming down his face.  If the whole camp wasn’t already paying attention to the conversation, they certainly were now.

Red in the face, Ellie threw up her hands in frustration and made a sound of disgust that even the Seeker would be proud of. “I’m going to bed.” It was too much, and much more of this was liable to end with Lavellan stabbing her.

Chapter Text

 

Instead of falling asleep within minutes as she’d expected, Ellie found herself lying awake in her bedroll and staring at the tent above. The events of dinner had riled her up too much to sleep, and Ellie was left feeling silly for trying to sleep so early. Not that the alternative was any better.

Ellie had thoroughly underestimated Roe’s ability to make her life difficult. Not only was the woman willing to tell Varric anything, but she was happy to treat wild speculation and misinterpretation as fact. Just thinking about it made Ellie’s head hurt.

Then there was Soven. Ellie wasn’t sure if this was him acting as a friend, or an enemy. She was starting to think the elf might have a sadistic streak. It isn’t like Varric would believe it. Anyone who knew Lavellan would know it was nonsense, but Ellie wasn’t worried about the people who knew better. She was worried about the ones who didn’t.

It was the normal people, the common man, she was worried about. Even with the surprising degree of literacy Thedas managed, Ellie had started to notice some distinct differences in how the ‘normal’ people of Thedas thought. The biggest of which was exposure to information. Ellie had grown up in the shadow of the internet, and as the shock of everyday life in Thedas lessened, she became more aware of how big a difference things like the internet, television, and radio made.

She still struggled to wrap her mind around it – that even the academics of this era were exposed to so little in their lifetimes. They couldn’t listen to podcasts in the car, or turn on the television to hear about what was happening on the other side of the world. If they had a question, they had to seek out an expert or find a book on the subject. Even a simple question could take weeks, or even months, to find an answer. The overreaching implications of this difference hadn’t been immediately apparent, but after tonight it was beginning to chafe.

Ellie couldn’t just blurt things without thinking around Thedans. Not only because gossip and rumor spread like wildfire, but because they hadn’t grown up filtering and processing information constantly like she had. She had more information packed into her brain than many people here would see in a lifetime – or several lifetimes.

The value of the information was unimportant, relative to the simple act of exposure. Even people disinclined to questions and thought had been exposed to worlds of ideas and philosophies through entertainment and facebook back home. Ignorance became a willful choice, not a natural consequence of life in a medieval shithole.

You’re being an elitist asshole. Ignorance wasn’t the right word. Or rather, it was the perfect word, but Ellie didn’t like the negative connotations it carried. She didn’t know if there was a word to describe the dichotomy between herself and Thedas, but at the moment she felt very much the alien in a foreign world.

Make that a dramatic, elitist asshole. Shall I get you a monocle and top hat? All she was missing was the dramatic Victorian swoon. It could be worse, you could be trying to ‘enlighten’ them. The idea of trying to ‘illuminate the masses’ with the wonders of earth was laughable. She didn’t know shit here. Even with the similarities, they weren’t comparable. This wasn’t her earth with her humans or her people. There was no guarantee anything worked the same.

It was the sort of thing that ended with being burnt at the stake back in ye olden days of Earth, and that was without the presence of actual magic. At least Ellie assumed it was without actual magic. It was hard to know anything for certain when her worldview was still lying bloodied and beaten on the floor in the fetal position. For all she knew magic really was a thing back home, Hogwarts was real, and ancient aliens really did build the pyramids. Heck, lizard people really do live in the center of the earth, but Mario keeps them in check.

Ellie wasn’t going anywhere specific with her train of thought, and she put an arm over her face with a frustrated sigh, closing her eyes. She was giving her brain the chance to run around like an unschooled two-year old, and it was a welcomed distraction. There hadn’t been much time to let her mind wander or process, and any time she would have spent before bed didn’t happen with how quickly she usually entered the fade.

Sleep did eventually take her, and when she felt the draw of the fade she didn’t fight it. Having time for reflection had helped the hamster wheel in her head slow down, but she wouldn’t have been able to take much more of it. Not thinking about certain things was easier.

Snow crunched beneath her boots as she looked out over the jagged mountain peaks. The air whipped around her, cutting sharp enough to sting her cheeks. She’d never been this high before, and every breath through her balaclava hurt, but the thrill made it all worth it. Here was desolation. It’s beautiful.

Stretching out before her was nothing but the jagged peaks of mountain tops and ice. Up here the air was light, empty of heat and substance, and from the summit the world felt so small. It was the solo climb of a lifetime – the one she’d only dared in her dreams. Her smile faltered, and there was a pang in her chest that wasn’t from the biting cold.

Looking behind her, there were no boot prints, and her growing elation died. This is the fade. Ellie looked out over the cragged peaks peeking out through the icy blanket of clouds below, and felt another stab of loss. This was the first time the fade had put her in on a mountain outside of that Colorado trail, and the realness of it was bitter sweet.

From where she stood, the sky was clear and frozen. She could feel the bite of cold, and wanted to revel in the impossibility of her feet at the top of Annapurna Massif – a cluster of Himalayan mountains in Nepal. It was also the deadliest climb on Earth.

There was a reason she’d only climbed the mountain in her dreams, and it was because, as much as Ellie loved the idea of serious mountaineering, she didn’t have a death wish. Annapurna’s 33% mortality rate was nothing to laugh at. She stood there, expecting the image to fall apart, but it stayed. Why now?

It was stupid, but for some reason finding herself on top of a mountain she had no intention of climbing hurt more than being in the familiar places she missed. Scaling the Annapurna was the very definition of ‘only in her dreams’. Even if the opportunity had landed in her lap, complete with someone throwing money in her face and begging her to go, she wouldn’t have done it. Ellie very much liked being alive.

Then there was the lack of oxygen. Even if Ellie couldn’t suffocate or freeze to death in the fade, the little dream world had put her up on death mountain without oxygen. Overall, Ellie catalogued the general experience of where she stood as ‘uncomfortable’. Way to go, fade!

 Ellie would never get used to how real scenes like this felt in her dreams. Everything held too much detail, felt stronger, and the sharpness seemed to contrast the very nature of what the fade was supposed to be.  Half the reason Ellie caught on to being asleep so quickly was because it was all too much. If there was anything she really was doing backwards, it was this. Sometimes the dreams were so vivid that the ‘waking world’, Ellie couldn’t remember where she’d heard it called that, felt closer to a dream the following morning. Yet another thing Thedas does backwards.

“This one is different. A dream within dreams.” Sandy spoke up, appearing beside Ellie. She was still sporting the blue vallaslin of Dirth-whatever. Dirth-amon? “Dirthamen.” The demon clarified. Right, him. Or her. It.

“Any chance you could make it somewhere warmer?” Ellie asked, ready to breathe again.

“At least one, yes. You could do it yourself, I think. Or not. It might go inside out.”

Changing stuff in the fade sounded like something only the gods like Solas and Mythal got to do. I’d probably end up inside out. Ellie wasn’t sure what Sandy meant, but it sounded uncomfortable regardless. What she did think she could do was get into the normal part of the fade. The part that was all full of fog and mist – the part that wasn’t just inside of her head.

“Why do you want to go there? You can’t see the same.”

Because I can’t breathe, can’t feel my tits, and I’m curious.

Sandy’s eyes narrowed slightly, her head tilting. “What will I get?”

“What do you want?” Ellie did her best to avoid thinking about how much she wanted to know the answer to that question.

“Many things. You leave pieces everywhere.” The demon frowned, “What will I get?”

“Uhh…” She had no idea. What, so I just offer it something? Aren’t demons only supposed to want certain things? So what, it wants a piece of… things? If it’s no big thing I guess I could give it a thing? I mean.. it depe-

Its face lit up, “Deal.” Sandy went through the motions of spitting into her hand and shaking, despite there not being spit, and making the motion of a handshake without Ellie’s hand.

Ellie’s eyes widened, “wait, no! I didn’t agree, you can’t just make a handshake with-“  Her words were cut off when the ice and ground fell out from under her, and her she was wrenched out of the dream. It felt like her body had been ripped out from the inside of her skull, leaving her brain had to peel itself off the remaining husk so it could rejoin the rest of her body. Holy shit did it hurt, and Ellie practically bit through her tongue.  

When the ground slammed back into her feet, Ellie’s legs buckled and she crumbled to the ground gasping. She felt a sharp tug in her gut as her body trembled, and not waking up from the shock took a concentrated effort. Everything inside of her felt twisted and out of place as her vision swam, and she had to swallow the bile rising in her throat. Ellie wasn’t sure if she’d throw up in both places, and she didn’t want to find out.

There was also the terrifying realization that she’d unintentionally made a deal with a demon, and Ellie had no idea what she’d traded. That was not a good thing, and she tried to squash down the panic along with the rebelling contents of her stomach. Oh god, what have I done? What if the tug was something else, and I can’t wake up now?

Minutes passed, and Ellie slowly steadied her breathing as the urge to vomit subsided. Sandy hadn’t said anything, and Ellie wasn’t sure the demon was still there. It would serve me right. There was a sharp pain behind her eyes, and when she tried to lift her head and look around, the world fell sideways. Her shoulder hit the ground, and Ellie realized she’d been the one falling sideways, not the world.

After a few failed efforts to get back up, Ellie gave up trying to move and stared up at the endless expanse of weird fade shit above her. Her heart was still beating frantically in her chest, and she’d almost managed to calm herself down when her view of the sky was eclipsed by Sandy’s face. It nearly gave Ellie a heart attack.

When she tried to scream in surprise, Ellie ended up half choking on her bloody tongue. I suck at this. The demon hadn’t changed its form from the one Ellie had come to know, but there was more. It was also only a few inches from her own face, which was several inches too close. Sandy was no longer opaque, but translucent; and curls of purple-grey smoke rose off of the more solid parts of the demon’s form. She was also glowing. Everything was glowing.

“S-shit!” Ellie spluttered, “too close!”

“I thought it was broken.” Sandy completely ignored Ellie’s request for her to get out of her face. Ohmygod demon lady, please get off my face! There was a pause, then the demon moved her head back a few feet. 

Every time Ellie began to adjust, she felt another wave of nausea. It didn’t help that Sandy was staring at her like she’d become an interesting science experiment. This was the worst idea she’d ever had, although Sandy made a point of disagreeing. Apparently her little demon buddy thought it was great fun to watch her flail around like a confused and wounded trout.

When she closed her eyes and could still ‘see’, Ellie realized that the glowing wasn’t coming from her eyes, but behind them. That doesn’t even make sense. Nothing here makes sense. She was registering the otherworldliness of the normal fade with the second set of senses – the ones that she usually tried to keep suppressed or ignored. Considering that she’d been all but helpless on the ground trying not to vomit for well over what felt like an hour, Ellie tried to turn it off, or down, or something that would allow her to function.

“I ripped it off, like a band-aid. That won’t work.” Sandy added, after Ellie had already spent several minutes trying to stop the glowing. It was good to know the demon was as helpful as ever.

Ellie scowled, “Why would you do that!?”   

“Not do, happened. I didn’t know it was there to be ripped. You have sneaky band-aids.”

Yeah, well maybe next time don’t yank so hard.

It took her longer than she’d like to admit to sit up, her balance and vision still swirling, but she didn’t fall over. Sandy hovered around her, almost impatiently, repeatedly getting in the way of Ellie’s line of sight while she tried to look around.

She was in a forest, and the surroundings must have been a reflection of Thedas. In certain places a tree was indistinct, or multiple trees looked like they were layered on top of each other. The ground was a blur of smeared shapes, but nothing was different to the point that she didn’t recognize the forest for what it was.

Struggling to her feet, Ellie found herself fighting the urge to vomit yet again. This whole process was painfully slow, but she didn’t want to back out of it. Every time the nausea threatened to wake her up she fought back. If she’d given up something to experience this, no matter how terrible it was, Ellie was going to make the most of it.

Turning around and taking her first unsteady step, Ellie felt her blood run cold. Holy fucking shit it’s Solas.

She felt panic rise in her chest, and would have turned around and ran if she thought she could manage it. Of course it’s Solas – he’s like the fade monkey of Thedas! Lacking any other alternative, Ellie went completely still. Because freezing in place will totally make you invisible. Several seconds passed, and when he didn’t seem to notice her, Ellie’s brow furrowed. He was definitely there. At least it looked like he was. Is he?

Turning her head imperceptibly towards Sandy, Ellie whispered out of the corner of her mouth. “Can he see me?”

“He isn’t looking.”

“But.. but he’s here, right? He looks like he’s here.” Ellie asked, extremely unnerved by Fen’Harel being so close.

“He is, but not right now.” Ellie didn’t know how much time had passed, and it didn’t seem linear here, but Solas was definitely sitting there. Does that mean he’s still awake? Is this a god thing? Ugh this doesn’t make any sense..

Every time Ellie dared to look somewhere else, she expected to find his insane god eyes watching her when she looked back, but he really didn’t seem to notice. Slowly she started to relax, and she looked at the shadows that also seemed to move around. They must be people?

“When I heard fear whispering, would it be the same as if I walked up to one of them and whispered?” Ellie pointed vaguely towards a cluster of shadows. She hadn’t tried walking closer to anything, and the Solas thing was still creeping her out.

“You aren’t fear. It can’t be the same.”

“Right.” Stupid question. Ellie glanced around, then took a few unsteady further away from the camp. “If I walk away, do I have to walk back to wake up?”

Sandy considered the question, then looked up, focusing on things Ellie couldn’t see. “Let’s find out.”

The fade twisted, and Ellie felt herself get pulled, ripped from where she stood, outside of herself before being shoved back into the right shape and hitting the ground. Ellie tried to steady herself, but it was a futile effort. She tasted more blood in her mouth, and her skin felt like needles. Then there was a sharp tug, she opened her eyes to the darkness of her tent, and promptly retched.

Acid seared into her tongue, and Ellie realized that the inside of her mouth was covered in blood. Shit. The air around her felt heavy and suffocating, and her skull felt ready to split open. Good job Ellie, that deal with a demon is going great. I’m sure whatever piece they took, or take, won’t be important. She was an idiot.

The only redeeming thing about this whole mess was that ye olden tents didn’t have bottoms, and she hadn’t lost the entire contents of her stomach. What little ended up on the ground was easily buried. Silver linings were becoming a specialty. Drinking from her waterskin, Ellie did her best to remove the horrible taste from her mouth before settling back into her bedroll.

She wasn’t sure if it was fear, nausea, or the result of messing with magic she didn’t understand, but sleep didn’t find her. If she was honest with herself, she didn’t want it to. When Roe eventually headed into the tent for bed, Ellie pretended to be asleep – not that Roe would suspect otherwise. Ellie was beginning to think she could run from the tent screaming like a little girl and the blonde soldier would call her the terminator.  

When sleep did finally take her, Ellie fought a losing battle against the pull of the Fade. She didn’t want to go there tonight. For once she wanted a dreamless sleep. The pull proved too strong, however, and Ellie found herself in what was unmistakably the fade.

The earth was scorched stone, a mess of floating rock and ash. Great. Ellie hadn’t gone back to her happy little dream world. Instead she’d gone to wherever Sandy had tossed her. Just great. Sandy was nowhere to seen, either. Not only do I feel like shit, but I’m lost in the fade. Fucking awesome.

What was left of her night in the fade had been spent trying to dampen her ability to ‘see’. It was too much, and what little she’d been able to detect prior to getting tossed through the fade blender had been enough. She wasn’t from Thedas, and magic already felt foreign enough.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t made much progress. It felt similar to when she’d first grabbed her staff in the sense that she wasn’t sure she could go back. In this case, it wasn’t that something about her had changed irreparably - she just couldn’t figure out how to tune it out while the experiences were so raw.

It was also possible that she’d managed to hurt herself more by playing with magic she didn’t understand. Again. It could be like magical papercuts, where it hurts like a bitch at the slightest magical breeze.

When the tug to wake up came, she didn’t fight it.

-

Ellie shifted in atop Pecado, trying to ignore how distracting the world was now that it had the tendency to sparkle if she squinted hard enough. She had no idea what it was, but when she looked at the world just right it looked like a glitter factory exploded. It was enough to give her a headache.  A fabulous headache.

There was also the constant sense of Solas riding nearby, as well as that of the amulet which he’d concealed on his person. They were still some ways away, but the Breach had come into view, and Ellie could feel the energy make her skin prickle.

Solas and Ellie hadn’t spoken apart from a brief greeting, and after that they’d both kept to their own thoughts. Like the day before, he only looked half-awake until about midday. After yesterday Ellie had been a little worried that he’d still be angry about the Andruil slip, or that he’d have questions, but so far he’d shown nothing but disinterest. It was something of a relief.

“Solas?” Ellie should have kept her mouth shut, but being stuck in an unknown area of the fade, apparently alone, had raised a number of questions – ones she doubted anyone other than the fade monkey or a spirit would know the answer to.

He glanced at her, all bald and unreadable. “Yes?”

“What happens if you’re in a domain-er, realm, and the spirit in control of it dies?”

“Another spirit powerful enough to take over will gain control, or several spirits may share it.”

“And if there isn’t another one around to take over? Will the realm collapse or something?” Ellie apparently sucked at finding spirits, so she felt it was a valid concern.

“Without someone capable of maintaining it, the realm will collapse, yes.” Solas frowned slightly.

“Quickly?”

“Perhaps.” He paused, considering her before adding, “Do you expect to find yourself in such a situation?”

Ellie stared at him for a second, before replying dryly. “Not if I can help it.” Then, realizing he might think she planned to run around the fade with a machete, cackling wildly, added, “the question was theoretical.”

“I see...” He looked back out to the road, “do you have any other theoretical questions?”

Only like a million, but I like my head on my shoulders. She cast a quick, furtive glance towards Hargrove and the nearby soldiers to check for eavesdroppers. The Templar was her biggest concern, and he didn’t look like he was paying attention. None of them understood the fade, either, so if Ellie was careful she could probably ask quite a bit between the lines without risking a witch hunt.

This time her words were softer. It wasn’t quite a whisper, as she didn’t want to cause panic among the sheeple, but it was more discreet. “When a spirit is corrupted, at what point are they unredeemable?”

“When a spirit’s nature is twisted against itself to the point of breaking.” Solas didn’t drop his voice to humor her Templar paranoia. It isn’t paranoia if the concerns are justified, Ellie. “Spirits pulled through the veil without will and no concept of self are beyond help, once they are corrupted – many lose themselves until there is nothing left for them to remember.”

“Always?”

“There are always exceptions.”

“What if a spirit doesn’t like its purpose? Can they pick a different one?”

“…Yes, but it is more common for a spirit to embody different aspects of its nature than to willingly change the essence of who they are. Significant shifts, free of corruption, are exceedingly rare.” Solas answered more slowly, his words cautious.

She chewed her lip, then looked back at him. It was hard to know what she could get away with asking, or even the kinds of questions she needed to ask. She knew what she wasn’t going to ask, theoretical or not, because there was no subtle way to ask about how fucked she was by making deals with demons.

Oh hey Solas, so I totally agreed to give something to a demon without knowing anything about the demon or what I was giving it, that’s totally cool, right?’ Yeah right, fat chance. That would go over as well as running up to Hargrove and saying she wanted to become an abomination for Christmas.

Without explaining why she gave a shit, Ellie figured her next best option was to figure out just how ill-advised she was to be friends with Sandy in the first place. Because, even with the horrible events of last night, Ellie had a hard time thinking all demons were as terrible as they were made out to be. They just didn’t seem that bad. That’s what they want you to think, moron. Ellie might be the most gullible person in Thedas, behind Roe.

Ellie turned back to look at him, hesitating. “This may be a stupid question, but is corruption always bad? Or, well, couldn’t a demon still be alright, just a little misguided?” Her voice dropped to a whisper for the last question, watching him nervously.

Solas’s raised his eyebrows and turned to look at Ellie with acuity. The air of indifference had vanished, and, much to her growing horror, Solas had managed to lock eyes with her. The hairs on the back of Ellie’s neck stood on end as Fen’Harel stared her down, brow furrowed and eyes searching. Oh shit. Ohshitohshitohshit. To a normal person, they probably wouldn’t notice a thing, but Ellie knew better. There was nothing but pure, unadulterated crazy hidden behind those pretty blue eyes.

Fuck being calm and collected. Ellie gulped. She had no idea what was going on in his head, or what she’d said wrong, but she sure as fuck did not want to find out. Ellie did -not- want a god looking so …. conflicted? He’s probably angry! What the fuck is – shit, what did I do!?

By the time she found her voice, Ellie had lost her nerve completely. “I-I’m sorry, it was a stupid question –“ Her words were far too hurried to pass off as anything other than fear. “-I don’t know what – I – It’s, uh – I shouldn’t have asked.”

Solas’s eyes widened as Ellie stumbled over her apology, blinking when she began to ramble. “No,” He began once she’d stopped making a fool of herself, “You aren’t wrong. It is not so clear cut as people are led to believe.”

“Oh, well.. that’s good.” It was the lamest response ever. “Being wrong sucks.” Yes, joke away your dumbassery.

Ellie managed a few more questions about spirits, but she tried to keep them simple. It seemed safer when she could guess what his answer would be. In truth she only half-listened, in part because the glitter factory was exploding more often as they neared haven. The layer of snow that now coated the ground had never been more blinding.

When the giant greet tear in the sky was beginning to look similar to the size she remembered from Haven, Ellie wanted to hop off Satan’s steed and run the rest of the way. All while giving Thedas the finger. She wanted to run into a pint of something strong, then pass out, to be exact.

“Do you still intend to give me lessons?” She wasn’t excited by the idea, but being stuck next to him for multiple days made the prospect less terrifying. Plus, it would give her the chance to ask about things without the risk of being overheard. Not to mention Solavellan. He had given the dalish a few glances, so Ellie was hopeful.

“I do. Stop by my cabin tomorrow, and we’ll begin then.”

Chapter Text

 

During her previous stay in Haven, Ellie had spent a surprisingly small amount of time looking up at the breach. If anything, she’d avoided looking at it completely. Now, as the small caravan neared Haven’s main gate, she found it difficult to look anywhere else.

It was stable – she knew that much from listening to others in her scouting party when they stumbled into a cluster of rifts. Those tears were tiny in comparison to the angry glowing mass in the sky. It made the rawness of her injury in the fade, since she didn’t know what else to call it, sting.

Each time the breach creaked, there’d be another ripple of glitter that darted over the world and burned at the space behind her eyes. If this is what magic looks like, no wonder the demon thought my eyes were broken. There was another creak, and the strain on the breach shifted, and Ellie did her best not to wince.

She forced her attention to Haven. They were close enough that she could see past the open gate, and a crowd had gathered inside. Soldiers were trying to clear the street, but from the looks of it they’d have better luck herding cats.

Looking past the chaos of the crowd up ahead, Ellie could see the tips of tents peeking out over the walls, then beyond the walls. There was row upon row of stretching past the town and up the hill behind it.

To say more people refugees had arrived during her absence would be an understatement. How the fuck are they feeding everyone? They probably weren’t.

When the front of the train reached the gate, when Lavellan reached the gate, the hum of excitement exploded into shouts of the Herald’s return.

“Look, It’s the Herald!”

“Bless the Maker!”

“Praise the Herald of Andraste!”

Ellie looked over the crowd uncomfortably when she finally rode through the gates after Lavellan. Some had gone so far as to prostrate themselves on the ground, bowing to the Herald in blind reverence. It was enough to make Ellie sick. She didn’t’ remember this degree of religious fervor when the Inquisition had been declared. This is how cults happen.

Up at the front the Herald’s shoulders rigid and tense, and the dalish elf turned her head to mutter something to Seeker Pentaghast riding beside her. There was enough venom in the terrifying elf’s expression that Ellie was impressed the Seeker moved her horse closer to the tiny psycho instead of keeping her distance.

The Seeker didn’t even look surprised, just tired. Pentaghast said something brief in reply, and Lavellan’s head was turned enough that Ellie was pretty sure the elf was scowling.

Then a woman ducked under one of the soldiers and broke away from the crowd, sprinting up to the Herald. There was a shout in all the confusion, and Lavellan’s fingers were already on her dagger when the infant was shoved into her face.

The draw of her blade faltered, and Lavellan looked at the human child now inches from her face in wide-eyed surprise. For one terrifying moment, Ellie thought Lavellan might actually kill the thing.

“Sacred Herald of Andraste, gift of the maker, I beg of you to please bless my child!”

The ragged woman’s eyes were cast down in reverence as her thin arms held up the newborn, unable to see the mingled fury and disgust in Lavellan’s eyes. Hate wasn’t a strong enough word for the way she looked at the mother and child – she despised them. Loathed them.

The Seeker put a firm arm on Lavellan’s shoulder, and Ellie wondered if it was a ‘please don’t kill the baby’ gesture. The crowd’s beloved Herald of Andraste still held the half-drawn dagger.

Soldiers grabbed the woman and yanked her away from the Herald with gruff apologies, and it wasn’t until the human mother had been pulled away completely that Lavellan let go of her dagger and urged her horse to move forward.

Seeker Pentaghast’s arm left Lavellan’s shoulder, and she shot a deadly stare at the guard who had let the woman slip past. Ellie could see the tension in the Seeker’s jaw, and Varric’s pony suddenly found its way to Lavellan’s other side – shielding her from further baby attacks. Or shielding the babies from her.

The exchange had only lasted a moment, but it was enough to put Ellie’s hairs on end. She glanced around, expecting people to have noticed – for the crowd to recognize how much Lavellan detested them all, but nobody did.

Ellie was by no means unfamiliar with faith, considering her mother had raised her Catholic, but it was different to see such fervor and belief up close. These people, and their faith, were blind. Blind to the point that a foolish woman would risk being confused for an assassin in the hopes of a dalish elf, who hated her very existence, blessing her infant.

“...She wouldn’t actually kill a baby, would she?” The idea was more than a little disturbing.

“The Herald’s anger is misplaced, but I do not believe she would endanger the life of a child.” Solas answered evenly.

Ellie looked over at Solas, and wondered where maniacal cackling and setting the world on fire ranked on the ethical bad guy scale relative to murdering infants. Good Lord, they’re perfect for each other.

Then Ellie was struck by a terrifying thought: Wait, just how the fuck is Solavellan supposed to be a good thing? Since when would the Joker and Harley hanging out help Batman stop their batshit? This sounds like a terrible idea!

The more she thought about it, the worse it was. Yeah, but Batman could never keep them apart, either. She was always breaking him out, or he was working with her when she was locked up. It never worked. Also, this isn’t fucking Gotham. Dumbass.

Backwards. All of Thedas is fucking backwards.

Movement came to a stop again, as people had crowded around the chantry and needed to be pushed back. Varric was doing his best to keep Lavellan distracted, but she couldn’t hear anything he was saying to know if he was having luck. The Herald still looked half-ready to murder the first thing non-Varric thing to enter her personal space.

“Is there a reason she’s so pissed off?” If he goes on a tangent about the glory of Arlathbla I’m pronouncing them god-husband and psycho-wife. Not that Ellie expected him to. So far he’d spoken surprisingly little about his beloved elf kingdom. She’d expected more, considering how much real-Sandy had written about his love for elf-topia.

“Were the mark a blessing of Andraste, the Herald believes you would be the one to bear it. When people began to call her the Herald of Andraste, and her advisors ignored her demands that the mark be attributed to the elven gods, the Herald declared it a curse.” He frowned, “The Herald believes that being given the power of the mark, only for it to be attributed to the Maker, is a cruel joke.”

Ellie stared at him, “She thinks it’s from the elven gods?”

“She had hoped, yes.” His words were clipped, and it was a good thing Solas wasn’t looking at her, because Ellie’s mouth was hanging open.

“But- but,” She struggled to find the words, “the elven gods were locked away!”

“Yes.” Solas answered, and he was beginning to look like he had a bad taste in his mouth. No way.

She couldn’t help it – Ellie snorted. Oh my god you can’t just laugh at the god! What are you doing!? Slapping a hand over her mouth, as she tried desperately to twist her face into something that wouldn’t get her killed.

Solas’s brow furrowed, and judging from the way his lips pressed together when he turned to look at her, she had failed completely.

Then Ellie said, speaking before she could think better. “The Herald thinks the mark is Fen’Ha-rel’s.” You cannot call him Harold. Do NOT call him Harold! Have you completely lost your senses!?

“That is what the Herald believes.” Solas was not amused, and he looked away from her towards the chantry. If she didn’t know better, Ellie might have confused the expression slipping through his stupid mask as pained.

He could smite her later. If she was going to die in Thedas, it might as well be from laughing at someone else’s expense. For once. Not only had Lavellan guessed right, but she’d done so out of dalish arrogance. Thedas wasn’t backwards, it was just a fan of poetic justice and irony. Hah, you wish.

By the time they reached the chantry gates, Ellie’s amusement had waned enough for her to feel properly terrified. Somehow Solas not reacting like a pissed off psycho elf-god only made it worse. The asshole was doing a good enough job at seeming human – er, elfy – that she even felt a little guilty.

Ellie had briefly worried that she’d given herself away by laughing, but in retrospect it probably looked like she was laughing at Lavellan’s beliefs and not Fen’Harel. That isn’t much better. Hopefully he’d just interpret it as Ellie being some godless heathen. That would be for the best.

Mother Giselle was still being unloaded from the carriage when the Seeker called Solas over, and Ellie realized she’d been zoning out. Lavellan had dismounted, and was off to the side in conversation with Rutherford and Leliana. There was some other man over there that Ellie didn’t recognize, but his armor reminded her of the mercenaries they’d run into on the way up.

Off to the side some of the soldiers were heading off with their horses towards the stable, and Ellie decided to take their lead and follow. Mother Giselle had been delivered safely, so her job was done.

Once she was past the bulk of the crowd, the rest of Haven was surprisingly empty. At least half the town must have dropped what they were doing to go see the Herald, and Ellie noticed that most of the people left working and scurrying around were elves. Right. Only the humans get to see the Herald’s grand return. The dalish, elf, herald. That makes sense.

When the stables came into view, Pecado started to become difficult. He didn’t want to go get locked up, and while Ellie couldn’t blame him, she also didn’t care. With no shortage of curses and muttered glue factory threats, she was able to get him to where the others had gone to unload their things.

Ellie’s legs and ass protested when she hopped onto the ground, but she was glad to be free of the saddle. Pecado, on the other hand, was not pleased. When she tried to unbuckle the saddle he’d side step and huff at her. It wasn’t until Ellie pulled off her backpack and gave Pecado what she had left of her ‘apricles’ that he deigned her worthy enough to unsaddle him.

With any luck it would be the last peace offering she’d ever need to bribe him with. As much as Ellie appreciated Pecado’s spirit, she wasn’t going to miss him.

“Lady, er, Ellie?” A surprised voice spoke up beside her.

Ellie looked up from her pathetic attempt to pick gunk out of Pecado’s hoof and was surprised to find Lin, the elf who had helped her get healing potions for her leg. Remember Lin? The one you totally said you weren’t going to use and toss aside, then did?  

“Oh, Lin, hi!” She grimaced, grateful that the elf seemed incapable of looking people in the face.

“I- you travel with the Herald?” There was a touch of awe in his voice.

She nodded, then realized he probably couldn’t see her nodding. “Uh, yeah. Yes. We just got back, how have you been?”

Lin moved closer and held out a hand, and it took her a moment to realize he was waiting for her to give him the hoof pick. She handed it over to him with a pang of guilt. After the bar scene, and the rumors, she hadn’t seen any of the elves. She’d avoided them like a properly shamed shemlen would.

“Good… I’m-I’m glad you’re back.” It was a little clingier than she was comfortable with.

Ellie wasn’t entirely sure she bought that he was ‘good’. Lin had been thin to begin with, and he looked thinner. She pursed her lips, and knew she should apologize – especially since Lin didn’t seem to care that she’d actively avoided him and the other elves after the tavern. She should apologize, but she didn’t.

“Me too.” Ellie managed a smile that Lin would never see. She didn’t know what she’d done to deserve his kindness, but she was grateful for it.

“Hey elf,” One of the soldiers from the trip snapped at Lin, and he jumped. “Take care of my horse once you’re done with the mage’s.”  It was an order, not a request, and Ellie shot a scowl at the man. It went ignored. The guy hadn’t even bothered to pull off the saddle, and those things were heavy!

Lin mumbled assurances that it would be taken care of, and even gave a small bow. It pissed her off, and Ellie glared at the back of his retreating head before looking back at Lin. “Hey I got this. Go take care of his horse.”

“It’s fine my la- Ellie, I-”

“I don’t mind, Lin, please.” Ellie had said the magic word, and Lin gave her a nod before scurrying off to wrestle a saddle as big as he was off the horse.

Truth be told, Ellie didn’t have a clue what she was supposed to do next with Pecado, so she did what she always did: mimic the actions of the people around her and hope nobody noticed she was clueless. In Thedas she did it so often that it was starting to become a specialty.

She was nearly finished, coaxing Pecado with false promises of fruit, when Roe, Bruin, and Soven showed up. “Oh, you’re already here! I thought you might have gotten lost!” Roe exclaimed when she found Ellie, giving her a warm smile.

“Why would I be lost?” Ellie asked, brow furrowing.

Roe had the decency to look a little embarrassed. “Well, because it’s a town. I thought you might not know where to go!” What’s worse is that Ellie knew she meant it too. Exactly how was this person our leader?

Bruin scoffed and dismounted, and the others followed suit. When the giant of a man went to put Pecado into a stall, she didn’t complain.

“After this we’re gonna drop off our things and head to the Tavern. You’re joining, right?” Roe asked, and she sounded a little uncertain.

“Uh,” Ellie wanted to avoid their company as much as she wanted to drown herself in a bottle. She glanced at Soven, who hadn’t looked away from his horse, then back to Roe. “All of you?”

“You bet!” Roe replied. Her scary elf ‘friend’ didn’t seem as cold towards her today, and if he was going then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. At the very least, playing social might put her back in his good graces. Soven wasn’t someone she wanted angry at her – he was too much trouble for that.

“Yeah, sure. Meet you guys there?”

Roe said they’d be there in ‘about a bell’s time’, which Ellie took to mean ‘one hour’. She gave them a wave, then headed off to her glorified closet. Ellie was half afraid that they’d given the room to someone else while she was gone, but it was still there, and still hers.

Stepping inside she dropped her backpack to the floor with an unceremonious thud, pausing only to light a candle before leaving to fill her pail with snow. Ellie didn’t care how soon she was supposed to be in the Tavern, she was taking a ‘bath’ first. It was bad enough that she wouldn’t have the chance to wear clean clothing, but she wasn’t going to drink in any more grime than absolutely necessary.

Three buckets of snow later, and the clothing Ellie didn’t have to wear to the tavern was nearly as clean as she was. The shirt and pants she’d be stuck wearing were only a little bloodstained, and it wasn’t until she’d been attempting laundry that Ellie realized the sight of them entering Haven would have terrified people back on Earth. Here it went unnoticed.

She was a little late heading to the tavern, but not by much. Today was a special occasion, thanks to the Herald’s return, and even though it was wasn’t quite evening the place was busy. Once night came Ellie knew it would be packed.

After weaving her way to the bar, and pre-emptively buying something stronger than beer, Ellie found the trio seated at a smaller table next to one of the walls. Naturally, the spot that would let her have her back to the wall was filled. By Soven.

“See, I told you she’d show up!” Roe said when she’d spotted Ellie.  

She sat down next to Soven without thinking, and took a sip of ‘something strong, Flissa’. That had been a mistake. The fuck is this, battery acid!? The gash on her tongue from her fade adventures burned, and Ellie forced herself to swallow before spluttering. It burned all the way down her throat.

“Shit Ellie, you what did you order?” Bruin asked.

“No idea.”

“Give it here.” Soven said quietly as he sat up, and Ellie blinked. Then she gave him the bottle.

Apparently it was something called Butterbile. Soven only took a sip before handing the drink back. Prior to Thedas Ellie didn’t drink often, but here weak beers flowed more easily than clean drinking water. It didn’t take long for the warmth in her stomach to begin radiating outwards, and after a few more mouthfuls she was thoroughly, and blessedly, drunk.

After that point the night became more of a disjointed blur, but Ellie was just glad she didn’t have to hurt for a little while. Roe did most of the talking, although once Bruin had a few drinks he became chattier. Soven spoke as much as he always did, which was only a little.

When Roe asked Ellie where she’d learned to be a healer, and Ellie nearly made an extremely off-color joke about dead people and helicopters, she decided it was time to go home. Not home. Bed.

She wasn’t sure what time it was when she stumbled out of the tavern, but night had fallen. As tempting as it had been, Ellie wasn’t willing to risk getting properly drunk in the company of others. There were too many things she could accidently let slip, and the cold night air alone went a good way towards sobering her.

It was only once she was in her room, after a few sloppy attempts to magic-light her candle, did Ellie get well and truly shitfaced. After that it wasn’t long before everything went black.

Come morning Ellie found herself curled up on the wrong side of her bed, cradling the empty bottle in her arms like it was baby Jesus himself. Wait a minute, where are my pants? There was the dull throb behind her eyes that indicated a nasty hangover on the horizon.

After stumbling around blindly, stubbing her toe on a chair, and nearly falling face first into a wall, Ellie realized she was still drunk. Also her pants had been tucked into bed instead of her. She vaguely remembered kissing them goodnight.

Lighting a candle so she could see, she started to down what was left in her waterskin. She wanted to avoid a hangover if she could help it – or at least as much of one as she could. When the bells rang she counted ten of them, which was several more than she’d expected. Considering how early she was usually up, it was tantamount to sleeping through half the day. “Shit!”

Ellie scrambled to get dressed, half shoving her face into the sitting bucket of clean water instead of using her hands like a civilized person. She didn’t have time to brush and rebraid her hair, so Ellie ran her comb over the pulled back parts, and prayed she didn’t look like a disheveled wild woman. From what she could tell with her pocket mirror, her appearance was passable.

Halfway into shoving her ass into her clean pair of pants, Ellie remembered she was supposed to meet with Solas to learn actual magic. Ellie felt her stomach drop, and she swallowed. The last time she’d spoken to Harold, no, Fen’Harel, she’d laughed at him. At a motherfucking god. Ellie had been laughing at a god. “Shit!”

Maybe he forgot? A small voice said hopefully, and Ellie wondered what her chances of running were. She could always just not show up, but it wasn’t a real option. Fen’Harel was pretending to be Solas, which meant he couldn’t smite her without risking his cover. Right, it’d make more sense to make sure I died some other way. A tricky god isn’t going to be obvious, he’s going to be tricky!

Ellie finished pulling up her pants, slipped on a shirt, and started the process of wrapping and booting her feet. Her stomach rumbled, but ten am didn’t leave much time between now and reporting to the healing tent for bandage duty. There wasn’t time. She could panic about her hunger and impending doom later – preferably after the latter had already happened.

A few seconds later, staff on her back, she was out the door and heading towards Solas’s cabin. Navigating through the streets went faster than she’d expected, due in no small part to the fact that she had a staff on her back, and that made her a scary mage monster. Under normal stances, it would have annoyed the shit out of her.

Before she knew it, his door was in her face, and she’d knocked. Ellie did her best to look innocent and totally-not-under-the-influence-of-alcohol. She wasn’t really drunk, it was tipsy at best. Tipsy is drunk.

Solas opened the door, his expression its usual neutral. “Ah, Ellie. One moment.”  He moved away to grab his staff, then joined her outside. “It would be unwise to instruct you within Haven. Do you know of a more suitable space where we may cast freely?”

“Yeah, I know a few places that should work.” Ellie replied, and she nodded her head in the direction of the lake before beginning to walk. There were clearings out in that direction that should work fine. As long as it wasn’t her previous space, full of exploded rocks and lightning scars on the ground, Ellie didn’t care where they went.

When they reached the gate, the guards stationed there gave them suspicious looks, but didn’t stop them. Instead they muttered to each other after they’d passed, and Ellie was willing to bet Solas could hear whatever nonsense they were whispering.

After that it was a simple matter of leaving the road, and circling around the body of water to the spot she’d remembered while trying to find the elusive empty cabin. “If anyone flees in terror from us practicing out here, it’s their own damn fault.” Ellie waved a hand over the area vaguely, then turned to look at Solas. “So, what first?”

Solas took a moment to survey both the area and, from the looks of it, Ellie, before replying. “Begin by casting a spell you are familiar with. Something simple.”

Ellie nodded then looked around until she found a rock that looked ready to pass into the afterlife. She took a deep breath, swallowing down her anxiety. The simple bolt she used for target practice should be easy enough. It wasn’t like she was going to fuck it up, there was nothing to worry about.

Pull yourself together. Performance anxiety has never been your schtick.

Staff in hand, Ellie began to draw upon her mana. Pulling it from her center and letting it flow into the staff as she allowed the plasma to begin crackling into lightning. There was no need to rush, Ellie reminded herself, and when the space around her began to glitter she did her best to ignore the pain accompanying it.

It was harder to focus that she was used to, but everything went smoothly and once the mana had gathered at the head of her staff she sent the bolt of electricity into the poor, defenseless rock. The lightning arced as it shot through the air with a loud crack, before the rock exploded. Kill count: 9.

“Is there a reason you chose to cast it in that manner?”

“Uh, what do you mean?” She could still taste the ozone in the air.

Solas clasped his hands behind his back. He really does that a lot. “You are aware that you use a great deal of mana when you channel, yes?”

Ellie nodded.

“You are combining your spells with nullification enchantments. I noticed you used your mana similarly during our encounter with the band of mercenaries, but was uncertain if the choice was intentional. It would appear not.”

“You mean like a Templar? How would that even be possible?” The idea alone was baffling, and Ellie hoped that didn’t mean she felt like spiders to other mages.

“Not like a Templar, no.”

“Why would I do something like that?” Only you would actively try to anti-magic yourself. Way to fucking go.

“That is a question I cannot answer.” He considered her for a moment, “Can you not think of a reason?”

“Nope.” Ellie lied. She could think of several reasons – none of which she wanted to discuss with Mr. Crazypants. “You thought it may have been intentional, why?”

“The nullification enchantment clears the area of ambient magical energy, similar to honing a blade. It can be beneficial under certain circumstances. Wasteful in most.”

“Have I run into any of those circumstances?” Ellie chewed the inside of her cheek. I guess I succeeded at making myself a weapon after all.

“It is unlikely. Perhaps during a run in with rebel mages, if at all.”

“Right. Well how do I stop doing it?” Ellie was starting to feel the sharp prodding of a hangover behind her eyes, and the ease with which she’d engaged Solas was quickly evaporating as she sobered.

Ellie spent the next two hours trying, and failing, at casting without also trying to dispel the magic she was summoning. Solas even tried to show her a few times by example, explaining different ways each time, but his efforts were futile. When she finally got frustrated enough that one of her spells exploded in her face, Solas decided to end the lesson there.   

Chapter Text

 

They began the trek back to Haven in silence, and the dull throbbing of her hangover had grown into something closer to a sharp jabbing. Combined with all the weirdness of the breach making the veil flicker around enough for her to have an epileptic fit, Ellie could safely say that she felt like shit.

Black out drunk wasn’t her usual m.o., but with the current state of her life she was willing to make exceptions. It wasn’t something she could make a habit of, and Ellie had no interest in trashing her liver, but every now and then she had every intention to check out. It wasn’t like Thedas had more practical options, like Xanax. She’d take what she could get, even if she wasn’t proud of it.

“I will fill out a requisition form with Lady Montilyet for a number of basic tomes which may prove useful in your instruction. You would benefit from studying them.” Solas said, as they rounded a corner and Haven’s gate came into view.

Ellie blinked and looked over at him, “and Josephine won’t think it’s weird that a perfectly capable mage is asking for beginner books? Unless everyone is humoring me, a lot of them seem to think I actually know what I’m doing.” Might as well point out the elephant in the room, since she wasn’t fooling Solas, she didn’t see any reason to dance around the obvious. She was already dancing around enough with him as it is.

He exhaled through his nose with some degree of dry amusement, or at least that was Ellie’s best guess.  It was hard to tell when the rest of him gave nothing away. “There is little chance any of the titles would give rise to suspicion.”

“Couldn’t I just read some you already have?”

“You could. I doubt that you would grasp much of their content, however.” Solas replied mildly, and it took effort for her not to frown. Bitch, did you just say I wouldn’t get it!?

“Let me borrow one. It can’t be worse than what the chantry has.”

Solas inclined his head, “As you wish.”

They walked through the gate and back to Solas’s hut, and Ellie waited at the door while he went to grab some sort of fancy magic book for her to bang her head against. What she didn’t expect was for him to come back with two.

The first was what she’d expected: some book on magical stuff she had little chance of understanding. Not that she wasn’t going to try. In fact, Ellie expected to spend an irrational amount of time studying the stupid thing just so she could prove him wrong. That might have been the point. Shut up!

Ellie guessed the second book, judging from the title, had something to do with the fade. She could feel him watching her as she turned over both of the books, and felt a familiar pang of guilt. Feigning an interest in the fade, knowing it was one of the few things he cared about, was precisely the kind of manipulative behavior she hated. It didn’t matter who he was.

“I believe it may be of interest, given your questions on the subject.” Solas said.

Solas’s love of the fade was probably the only real thing about him, and knowing that somehow made the perfectly reasonable, practical gesture feel strangely intimate. Ellie didn’t like it. At all. It made her nervous.

“Yeah, definitely better than the chantry books.” How she managed to look back up at him with a smile, knowing she was full of shit, Ellie had no clue. “Thanks. I’ll, uh, be careful with them.”

“You’re welcome.” Solas gave her a small smile back, and Ellie’s smile faltered.

Even if it was a tiny thing, being the source of false happiness, no matter how small, made her skin crawl. She tried to hide it, laughing awkwardly in an attempt to conceal how much she hated herself in that moment. “Right, well, I’m going to uh- should put these in my room before the healer’s tent. Don’t want someone bleeding all over them!” A normal person would just say ‘bye’.

Ellie motioned in a random direction that wasn’t Solas and started walking backwards to leave. Oh my god don’t quirk your stupid eyebrow at me like that, I am a perfectly normal, composed, totally not- who are you kidding, you’re fucking terrible at this. It’s a wonder all of Thedas doesn’t know you’re an alien. She could feel her face getting warm, and this was not how she’d intended to try and hide her nagging conscience.

“Goodbye, Ellie.” Solas inclined his head and closed his door, the model of composure. Unlike someone.

Ellie turned around and briskly walked in the direction of her room, which also happened to be in the opposite direction she’d pointed earlier. She wasted no time depositing the borrowed books on her little desk, then headed straight to the tavern for food, water, and a shot of something to make her brain hurt less.

The last time she’d eaten was yesterday at lunch, unless drinking instead of eating counted. Like all smart people in the world, Ellie had decided to get plastered on an empty stomach.

Second bell had rung by the time she reached the tent, only to find that someone had picked up her role as linen cutter at the tiny table in the back. It irked her, despite having always found the work tedious. It was foolish of her to think the post would go unmanned, considering she’d been gone for weeks.

Glancing around, she noticed a few new faces, some of which were mages, but Adan didn’t appear to be in the tent. Ellie walked up to the closest person she recognized, a young woman changing the sheets on a recently vacated bed, and asked where the grumpy alchemist had gotten off to.

The shorter woman jumped at being addressed, and Ellie fought the urge to roll her eyes.

“She -would- ask the elf.” Ellie heard one of the others in the tent mutter, and she frowned. You have got to be fucking kidding me. Maybe it was the hangover, or the shot of vodka she’d had with lunch, but Ellie had to fight the urge to snap at the guy. She settled for clenching her jaw.

“Oh, L-Lady Roosevelt, he’s at th-the apothecary.” It was official, picking the last name of Roosevelt was the best idea ever.

She sighed, not wanting to risk a minor panic among the Templars if she went off to find the grouch. Nobody there was wearing a sign that said ‘in charge’, and there weren’t any name tags either. To spare frail racist sensibilities, she addressed her next question to the tent at large. “Well, whoever is in charge can tell me what to do, then.”

One of the mages she didn’t recognize, an older woman with greying hair who had been tending to a soldier’s broken arm, looked up from her work. “Either help, or get out of the tent.” Lovely.

Leaving the tent wasn’t an option, so Ellie rolled up her sleeves and helped. If Adan was still running this thing, he was going to have a fit when he discovered she’d been helping patients. It was tantamount to madness, considering how vehemently he’d refused to allow her to do anything previously.

When the newer mages realized she didn’t heal with magic, one made a derisive remark, but otherwise she was allowed to help without harassment. Some of the mana-less assistants took an interest in her ‘unusual methods’, and when one or two asked questions she was happy to answer them. Ellie wouldn’t go so far as to call her work fun, but not feeling like a blind idiot stumbling around was a refreshing change of pace.

Not that she was some wondrous mundane miracle worker by any means. Ellie was mostly changing bandages, checking for signs of infection, and avoiding sick refugees that came in. She knew the human body and emergency medicine, but she didn’t know how to treat most normal, non-life-threatening conditions that didn’t have an obvious physical cause.

In the spirit of avoiding people, and sleeping out the rest of her hangover, Ellie decided to skip dinner and head straight to bed once she was finished at the healing tent. She still had some leftover rations, so nibbling on them and attempting to comprehend the first few pages of Solas’s tome on magic, was how she spent the little time she had left before deciding it was late enough to justify sleeping.

That night in the fade, she was relieved to find herself back in her own dreams, where she belonged, and not on the island of scorched earth and ash. She was unsure if it would have reset itself on its own from having travelled, or if not dreaming last night had something to do with it, but she’d feared being stuck there indefinitely.

Ellie had only just begun to practice casting in the fade that night when she felt an insistent tug in her gut, urging her back into the waking world. Even with the weird way time worked in the fade, she knew it was way too early for morning, and she could hear a distant thunking.

Following the pull she snapped awake, only to hear a loud, hurried knocking on her door. Shit! Half tumbling out of bed, she scrambled blindly to the door and wrenched it open, only to find empty air. Her brow furrowed, and she blinked in confusion until Varric’s hurried, anxious voice spoke up below her.

“Down here, Twisty,” He was wringing his hands, and glanced over his shoulder. It wasn’t a good sign.

Still trying to clear the fog of sleep from her head, she rubbed one of her eyes with the back of her hand. “Fuck Varric, what time is it?”

“About half past eleven bells, give or take, but that’s not important right now.” He looked apologetic, worried, and it may have been a trick of the green night light in the sky, but she could swear there was some guilt mixed in there too.

She was dimly aware that he hadn’t made any jokes about her answering the door in nothing but her underthings, and she swore. “Varric, what the fuck did you do?” Ellie left the door open and began to scramble putting on clothing.

He motioned frantically with his hands to keep it down, whispering loudly. “Shh, not so loud! I told Shade you were probably off in some elf tent, but that didn’t buy me much time. Do you know how hard it is for a dwarf to outrun an elf?”

She settled on loud whispers. “You did what!?” Ellie looked up from the pair of pants she was pulling on and stared at Varric, her eyes widening. “Fuck!” She started moving at double time.

Varric grimaced at the confession, but pressed on. “It was all I could think of on short notice!”

“Tell me what happened.” It was not a request, and Ellie’s fingers were fumbling to button up her shirt. It sounded like the psycho dalish was coming to kill her.

“Look, there isn’t time for the full story. All you need to know is that some drunk decided asking Shade if she wanted to ‘have a taste’ of a real man. Before he lost consciousness, he may have said something about how everyone knew she’d already been with ‘that witch who has a thing for elves’.” Varric finally made an attempt at humor, adding, “I got to say Twisty, you’ve managed quite the reputation.”

“Please tell me she killed him.” Ellie replied dryly.

“Still breathing, for now. I think.”

She muttered something darkly in Spanish, put on her footwraps, and decided to forgo the boots. They easily took longer to put on than the rest of her outfit combined. Varric was glancing around more frequently, and in the spirit of not dying Ellie grabbed her staff and left everything else. Almost. Hesitating, she quickly turned back to pick up the book Solas had lent her on the fade, just in case the Herald decided to set fire to the building.

Varric raised an eyebrow when she turned back to grab the book, but didn’t comment on it. Ellie closed the door, not bothering to lock it, and began following him away from her tiny room.  

“Wait, so she’d leave that asshole alive, but come to kill me?” Ellie whispered, with growing anger.

That made Varric snort, “Shade might hate everyone here, save yours truly, but she’s more bark than bite.” Ellie wasn’t entirely sure she believed that, and her skepticism must have shown on her face, because Varric clarified. “Shade still hasn’t forgiven the Seeker and Nightingale for promoting her as Herald of Andraste, and she’s been an absolute nightmare ever since, but she wouldn’t kill people over it.”

Varric’s explanation was significantly more direct than Solas’s had been. The latter had explained the elfy reasons, but he’d neglected to mention how it tied into the Herald’s piss-poor attitude. The elf-god focused on the larger scale, but overlooked the humanist, or whatever it was called here, side of things. Sort of a weird thing for a god in hiding to point out… wouldn’t telling me that only draw attention to the idea of Fen’Harel being involved? It was a question for another time.

“If that’s the case, then why am I following you through Haven in the middle of the night?” Ellie shot back, weaving around another building in the convoluted pattern Varric had decided to take her.

The dwarf glanced over his shoulder at her, “just because I don’t think either of you would kill each other, that doesn’t mean everyone else would. I get that you’re trying to help, but you’re still an apostate. If you attacked the Herald for any reason, even in self-defense, the chantry won’t care that you fell out of a big ol’ hole in the sky. People would want your head, and they’d give it.”

Ellie frowned, and she didn’t have anything to say after that. Divine Providence my ass. She’d been told something to appease her and keep her around, but whatever freedoms it afforded her clearly didn’t extend to keeping her alive the second she became an inconvenience. She was beginning to have a greater appreciation for why the herald was so angry. From the sounds of it, the chantry and its followers would say, and do, whatever they wanted in order to push their agenda.

Why does that surprise you? The Templars exist to brute force dissidence and kill anything that doesn’t fit into their cookie-cutter view of how the world should be.

A short time later Varric was knocking on another door, and they were in a part of Haven she wasn’t very familiar with. During the day there were more soldiers and Templars in this area, so Ellie had avoided it.

He had hardly placed a second knock on the door when it was flung violently open, revealing none other than Seeker Pentaghast, wearing a surprisingly feminine nightgown, with a sword in her hand. Never forget this image. It’s hilarious. The woman’s eyes were sharp and alert, and Ellie had little doubt that if Varric told her there were enemies she’d go running into battle with nothing but her sword and the frilly silk.

When Pentaghast registered none other than Varric and Ellie at her door, she clenched her jaw and half-growled her demand that Varric explain. “What is the meaning of this, Varric?”

The dwarf gave her a grin, “I was just discussing the finer points of Seeker dress code, and Ellie insisted she see the nightclothes for herself!”

“Varric!” Ellie and Pentaghast both said, and he raised his hands in surrender. The Seeker’s cheeks had gone slightly pink, and it was a wonder she didn’t throttle the dwarf right then and there.

His expression returned to the more serious one he’d worn so far, although his eyes still held mirth from the brief exchange. “I need you to look after Twisty here for a little bit, at least until Shade settles down.”

The Seeker’s eyes shot over to Ellie, her eyes narrowing. “What did you do?”

“Don’t look at me!” Ellie said quickly, her eyes widening. She was still trying to get over the fact that the Seeker had answered the door in a frilly nightgown. With a sword. “I was asleep!” Having a sleepover with the giant she-bear was the last thing Ellie wanted to do. At least this way if psycho-bitch shows up, she can wrestle with the Seeker instead.

 The woman eyed her for a moment, scowling, before begrudgingly stepping aside. “Very well,” She said, before turning her attention back to Varric. “I expect a full explanation in the morning.”

“You’ll get all the juicy details.” Varric assured her, and Ellie realized she should probably move.

She took a deep breath and walked into the Seeker’s room, and was unsurprised to find it sparsely furnished. Everything was neat, and orderly. The book on her end table was a nice touch, though. Ellie hadn’t expected the unyielding military type to be big on reading.

Now that Ellie was safely inside, and under the she-bear’s protective paw, Varric exchanged a few quick goodbyes before running off to try and wrangle in the Herald. Good luck. That left just her, and the Seeker. Once the door was closed, Pentaghast rounded on Ellie.

“And you had no part in this?” The Seeker demanded, again.

Ellie shook her head, “none at all. You can thank some drunk human in the bar for implying that Lavellan and I have had relations.” More irritation slipped into her words than she’d intended, but she was missing sleep over this bullshit. “Mind putting the sword away, Seeker?”

The Seeker’s face twisted up into an unmistakable expression of disgust at Ellie’s brief explanation, and she gave Ellie another hard look at the request to sheath her sword before giving Ellie a curt nod. The scabbard was hanging from the Seeker’s bedpost, and Ellie thought it was a bit much, until she realized her staff was also within reach from her bed.

It was easier for her to relax once the weapon was safely put away, and as a show of good faith Ellie rested her staff up against the wall. That was as close to being disarmed as she could get. Whether or not the gesture was appreciated, she didn’t know. Pentaghast was still too busy looking angry.

A candle or two were lit in the room, and she wondered if that was how most people dealt with dark rooms – leaving candles burning all night. It sounded like a fire hazard waiting to happen.

“Will this take long?” The Seeker asked, and Ellie looked away from the candle to Pentaghast.

She shrugged, “no idea. You know the Herald better than I do, Seeker.” That earned her a frustrated growl.

“Very well. I shall harbor you until it is deemed safe.” Oh boy, I’m being harbored.

“Thanks.”

Ellie tried to remember the last time she’d spoken with the Seeker directly, and she was pretty sure it was after the mercenary attack, when she’d been speaking to Varric instead of helping the injured and dying. Before that, it was getting let out of the dungeon. And before that, it was a punch to the face. That part was my favorite.

She understood why Varric had left her here, but she really wished he hadn’t. Ellie was not remotely close to comfortable with the situation, or with Pentaghast. Maybe we’ll just watch each other awkwardly all night.

“If you wish, you may sleep the rest of the night in the bed.” The Seeker said after a moment, and Ellie blinked in surprise.

“What? Oh, no- no that’s fine.” Ellie said quickly, and the Seeker’s eyes narrowed. Her usual intimidating presence was dampened somewhat by the nightgown. It wasn’t nearly as scary as the blood-splattered armor. It looks like the sort of thing Josephine would wear. “You should use it. I’ve already gotten a few hours worth, and I can sleep anywhere.”  Ellie pointed to an uncomfortable looking wooden chair tucked into a small table, “good as a bed!”

Pentaghast eyed her, and Ellie couldn’t blame her for being skeptical. The chair did not look comfortable. At all. “Very well. You are free to wake me should you change your mind.” Aka: You’re so stubborn it’s hilarious, and she doesn’t believe you can sleep in that chair.

The Seeker offered Ellie a blanket, which she accepted, then climbed back into bed without further argument.

The chair was not very comfortable, but Ellie eventually managed to get comfortable by tilting the back of it up against a bookshelf, and propping her legs up on the table. If she was anything, it was creative when it came to sleeping arrangements. Ellie was pretty sure the Seeker hadn’t fallen asleep by the time she’d settled, so if the woman took offense to her feet on the table, she didn’t voice it. Ultimately, Ellie fell asleep before the Seeker did – even with the uncomfortable chair.

In the fade she spent the rest of the night trying to de-antimagic her magic. From what she understood of the fade, the idea of her using nullification magic in the world of unrealness and magic made even less sense than how she was compelled to cast like that in the first place.

In the waking half of Thedas, Ellie knew fear was behind the nullification. She couldn’t explain it to Solas, or anyone else, but when she’d channeled that first spell, the one that scarred the earth and her leg, containing that initial flood of power had taken every ounce of mental fortitude she had. It had wanted to tear her apart. The places her mind went then, and every time she drew upon enormous amounts of magic, unnerved her. She always felt the overwhelming desire to lose herself in it.

On top of that, every time she pulled from the fade a part of her was terrified that it would overwhelm her. She feared that the energy of the fade would somehow consume her, and that she’d cease to be real, too. Just like the magic. It was ridiculous, Ellie knew that, but the fear was still there.

Earth didn’t have dream worlds, where there was some connection between imagination and reality like there was between Thedas and the Fade. Back home the only way to create something out of nothing was to take an idea, and use what was available in reality to make that idea come to life. Dreams didn’t happen in some mystical world full of spirits – they happened in your brain while you slept.

Trying to imagine something into life through sheer force of will was confusing and terrifying. It was cool, yes, and amazing, but also scary. Letting go of her preconceptions about how reality worked, more than she already had, came at a cost she didn’t know how to explain. She’d already changed so much, she’d had to, and Ellie wasn’t ready to give up more. She didn’t want to. If she did, she wasn’t sure she’d be her anymore.

When morning came, Ellie hadn’t had any more luck casting her spells normally in the fade than she’d had outside of it. If she couldn’t even manage it in her dreams, where she was as unreal as unreal could get, it didn’t leave much hope for pulling it off while she was awake.

It took her a few moments to remember why she wasn’t in her bed, and Ellie rubbed her face before pulling her stiff legs off the table and returning the chair to a normal, upright position. She stood up, stretching her back, when the breach creaked and sent a ripple through the veil. It hurt less than it had prior days, and glitter didn’t explode behind her eyes in the same way.

Whatever Sandy had done did, in fact, seem to be healing. If she focused, and tried to increase her awareness of magic, she could, but it wasn’t an overwhelming flood that left her on the floor coughing up dinner. Is there any way to approach magic shit that doesn’t involve horrible suffering to acquire? At this rate, she was grateful that the experience hadn’t left her blind.

The Seeker was still sleeping, and Ellie didn’t want to rouse the hibernating bear, so she did her best to move silently across the room to peek outside. Haven was still mostly dark, illuminated by a blend of pre-dawn light and the breach. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the silence and crisp air. Morning was the only time of day where Haven smelled decent.

This was normally the time of day where she’d go running, do some pushups, and other things involving muscles. Not being able to go out and move had her feeling antsy. Closing the door Ellie turned back to look at the sleeping Seeker, surprised that the woman hadn’t bolted to her feet at the first signs of Ellie waking. The woman appeared very much asleep, and most people didn’t get up before the sun for fun. For lack of anything better to do, Ellie walked back to the tiny table and picked up Solas’s fade book.

Instead of trying to read by candlelight, or using a glowing finger, she made the pages glow instead. If she decapitates you over a glowing book, you were doomed anyways. It was almost like a kindle, only not. The book turned out to be primarily about spirits, not the fade, and Ellie didn’t know what she’d expected. Unwilling to sit, she leaned against the wall and waited for the Seeker to join the world of the living.

Every so often there were references, words, or terms she didn’t recognize, but most of it read similarly to late Victorian and turn of the 20th century English. There was also a surprising amount of Latin, and, for the first time ever, Ellie was glad she’d been raised Catholic. The medical background didn’t hurt, either. Toss in some Spanish, and she either knew the word, could guess its meaning, or had a decent enough idea to infer based on the surrounding text.

From there Ellie lost track of time, and she was a third of the way through before getting interrupted. She was just finishing up a section on desire demons when the Seeker spoke up.

“What are you doing?” It was closer to demand than question.

Ellie jumped, startled by the aggressive tone when she looked up to see the Seeker sitting up in bed and eyeing her suspiciously. “What? I-I’m reading.” No, she’s eyeing the book. “Oh! Uh, so I can read it.”

The Seeker frowned, “I have never seen a mage make the book glow in order to read it.”

“Why make something else glow, when all I need to read are the pages? It works better.” Ellie replied, awkwardly. When nothing bad happened, she closed the book and set it down on the table. Slowly. Careful not to make any sudden movements.  

The pages continued to glow, but she knew it would use up the remaining mana faster now that it wasn’t in direct contact with her. Ellie still hadn’t figured out why that was, although she’d managed to increase the spell’s efficiency so the difference was less pronounced. It wasn’t something she’d been able to dedicate much time towards improving, yet.

“What is it about?”

“Spirits, mostly.”

The Seeker made a noise of disgust. “Varric is right. You two are alike.” Seriously!?

“If you say so, Seeker.” Ellie kept her expression neutral..ish She may have rolled her eyes. They were nothing alike. The only reason she even had the book was because she’d dug herself into a corner with her stupid lies.

“Are you the same as he is, then? Wandering the fade and speaking of spirits and demons as if they are friends?” She began getting dressed as she asked the question.

“No, I don’t explore the fade or speak to spirits to the extent he does.” Because he’s the motherfucking Dread Wolf. Note the wolf jaw necklace.

The Seeker seemed to approve of this difference, not that Ellie particularly cared. Conversation remained awkward, although in the privacy of her room Pentaghast seemed a lot less tense. Yeah, but the lady punched you in the face. It was still tense.

When a serving elf came with breakfast, Pentaghast requested a second meal to be brought, and the elf’s eyes flicked to Ellie before running off to get another plate. Ellie wondered if that meant she’d be rumored to be sleeping with the Seeker, next. Maybe the Seeker isn’t elfy enough for me to be fucking her.

Varric showed up once they were nearly through a very silent breakfast, and the moment Ellie got the all-clear, she was out of there. The dwarf did warn her to keep a distance, but the Herald and company were off to some place named Val Royeux next morning, so she’d be safe from any potential stabbings come tomorrow.

Ellie managed to get through her lesson with Solas while sober, without fleeing in terror, or otherwise making a fool of herself. It was an improvement from yesterday. His attempts to make her knock off the nullification magic didn’t go any better than they had yesterday, but she hadn’t expected them to. If magic was will based, and she wasn’t completely willing to stop, her chances of doing so couldn’t be great.

Ellie expected him to get impatient or frustrated, considering she was making zero progress whatsoever, but he never did. It didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest that she was terrible at magic and, in truth, wasting his time completely. He had more important things he could be doing. Heck, she had more important things she could be doing. When she’d asked him to teach her, Ellie hadn’t gone into it knowing she wouldn’t want to fix the thing she was doing wrong.

Short of hiring a therapist specializing in magic, or a few physicists to explain how this all worked scientifically, she wasn’t sure when she was going to get over it. He’s going to start asking questions eventually. Ellie would cross that bridge when she came to it. At least he’d be gone tomorrow. That would buy her time.

Chapter Text

 

Ellie returned from her morning exercises the next day, only to find a soldier waiting anxiously by her door. Considering it was still fairly early, it came as a surprise. When the man spotted her, he looked visibly relieved.

“There you are, Lady Roosevelt. The Commander wishes to speak with you.” Oh, great.

She eyed the messenger, and was glad it was, at the very least, a soldier and not a Templar. “Then I hope he’s buying me breakfast, first.”

The dry humor seemed to go over the soldier’s head, and he looked uncertain, before eventually choosing to ignore the statement. “If you will follow me, please.” So much for my daily sponge bath.

Ellie didn’t protest, despite the temptation, and followed the soldier towards the training grounds and Rutherford’s command tent. Most of them were still going through their morning routines, and she saw a number of them practicing their sword work on dummies. Those positioned closer to the breach looked more experienced than the ones nearest to her, and she wondered if that choice was deliberate. Probably.

She was able to spot Bruin and Roe towards the farther end, before finding herself ushered into the big tent where important things happened.

Inside there was a Templar, along with some man she hadn’t seen before who was arguing with the Commander. Judging from Rutherford’s expression, he wasn’t particularly moved by whatever arguments the man was making.

“Lady Roosevelt, Sir.” The soldier said, announcing their entrance.

Rutherford looked over at Ellie, then turned back to the man, who was saying something about the chantry.  “While I appreciate your concern Roderick, I have already spoken with Mother Giselle on such matters. I recommend you take it up with her.”

Roderick began to protest, but Rutherford ignored him. He really didn’t seem to care for the guy, whoever he was. I find it hard to take people with silly hats seriously, too.

“I wish to speak with Lady Roosevelt in private,” Rutherford said, his tone growing serious. “We are not to be disturbed.” When Roderick didn’t shut up, he added, speaking to the soldier who had brought Ellie over, “if you would kindly escort Chancellor Asignon back to the chantry.”

Escort turned out to be closer to ‘drag out the angry man if he makes you’. It was like watching some cartoon villain, all he was missing was the shaking fist and threats of ‘you haven’t heard the last of me!’ She hadn’t moved from her spot near the entrance, watching as the man was removed before finally daring to look back at the Commander.

The dark circles under his eyes looked worse than the last time she’d seen him, and Ellie wondered again if the man understood how sleeping worked. His expression, however, was what chilled her with fear. It was grave. Serious.

Rutherford motioned for her to join him further inside the bowels of the tent, and Ellie very much wanted to stay near the opening. There was a shorter distance to run that way. “I wish to speak with you on Templar matters.” He explained, when she didn’t immediately leave the safety of the entry area.

Why he expected that, of all things, to make Ellie walk towards him, she hadn’t the foggiest idea.

When she still didn’t move closer, all the alarm bells in her head ringing, he clenched his teeth and added a “please”. He was losing his patience.

Ignoring the very real urge to turn around and run, even if she couldn’t quite put her finger on why, Ellie forced herself to cross the room and stand across from him. There’s something desperate about him. Desperate men were dangerous.

“Thank you.” The Commander said, taking a deep breath and eyeing her coldly before he continued. “Hargrove has spoken with me regarding the incident with the blood mage.”

Apparently this was supposed to garner a reaction from her, but Ellie already knew that. Hargrove had told her as much weeks ago – and even then she didn’t get what the big deal was. When she didn’t say anything, or react in in any visible way, the Commander added, “Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”

She pressed her lips together, and focused on keeping her expression as neutral as possible. Ellie didn’t even know what kind of game she was playing, or what the rules were, which left her at a significant disadvantage.

“I’m not sure what you expect me to say, when I don’t know what Hargrove told you.” She replied, speaking as calmly as possible.

“He reported that you not only prevented him from executing a blood mage, but you went further and accused the Templars of practicing blood magic.” The Commander’s nostrils flared briefly.

“Did he also inform you that the mage had tried repeatedly to surrender, and his pleas had gone ignored? I don’t condone murder, Commander.” Her tone was cooler, bolder than she’d expected.

“That is beside the point!” Rutherford snapped, “Blood magic is forbidden. The apostate knew this, and chose to do so anyways.”

“Forbidden according to who? The chantry? The Templars? Is there a law that says to put anyone you disagree with to death?” So much for neutral. “It’s only okay when the church condones the type of blood magic, is that it?”

“The Templars do not use blood magic – and while we’re on the subject, I don’t know how you discovered the order’s use of lyrium, but you will keep that information to yourself.” He practically spat the words ‘blood magic’ with disgust. The entire subject had him seething.

He really didn’t know. She scoffed derisively, “What, exactly, do you think Lyrium is, Commander?”

“I don’t know where you get such insane notions, but lyrium is mined by the dwarves. It’s a crystal.” She was pretty sure that Rutherford hated her. If this conversation was anything to go by, him not hating her might break something in the universe.

“It’s the blood of a Titan.” If there was one thing she knew, it was that titan blood wasn’t something to fuck around with. “If you Templars are so noble, then why is it so important to keep the lyrium use a secret? How noble can a cause be when it’s fueled by something so addictive?”

Real Sandy had written whole stories focusing around the elven gods getting addicted to lyrium and killing titans for more of it. When the blue stuff wasn’t enough, Andruil went nuts and started using the red stuff. They all went crazy over it, until Mythal got killed, at least that’s what Ellie thinks happened, and it inadvertently led to the fall of elf-topia.

Solas – no, Fen’Harel – went nuts when Mythal kicked it, then tricked the rest of the gods and locked them up so he could be in charge. Ruling the world alone made him go crazy, and he probably snorted the blue stuff since they were all addicted to it, so he laughed his crazy ass off, made the veil to kill off most of the red-addicted immortal elves, then took a nap for a billion years to kick his own habit. While in uther-something Fen’Harel had crazy fever dreams for a few hundred years, lost his orb because he was tripping balls, and now he wants to blow up the world.

Okay, so she was filling in the blanks in a few spots, and not all of Sandy’s stories, as far as she could remember, went in that direction; but if they were about the elven gods, and most of Sandy’s were, lyrium was always responsible for the fall of the elves at some level. Fen’Harel always lost his shit when Mythal got murdered. Andruil was always a bitch, and Mythal’s husband, Edgar-Naan, really liked setting things on fire. That’s what Ellie knew.

The Commander was glaring at her, one hand clenching the hilt of his sword, and it took everything she had not to take a step back. She’d pretty much just called the Commander of the Inquisition a blood drinking, blood-magic using, drug addict. It sounded like a really good way to get herself killed. From what she’d seen, Templars weren’t big on thinking for themselves.

“I need to know that you are going to keep the source of the Templar’s abilities a secret.” Rutherford said after a long pause, the one of the muscles in his jaw twitched. Does he think I’m going to disrupt his supply, or something? Ugh, this shit isn’t worth dying over…

“I haven’t said shit, and don’t plan to. So long as the Templars leave me alone, we don’t have a problem unless you make one.” Ellie could feel her heart beating loudly in her ears. She needed there to be fewer threats to her life. Just a day or two would be great.

The Commander’s shoulders eased some, but the tension was far from gone. “If you make yourself a threat, the Templars have a duty to protect the people of Haven.” It was like listening to a broken record.

“Commander Rutherford, I haven’t done anything to make myself a threat since coming here. I don’t intend to start. I go to the healing tent so your goons can keep an eye on me, which, for the record, I hate.” Did you seriously just call the Pope Police ‘goons’? Speaking of silly hats…

That gave Rutherford pause, and he looked to be considering something, watching her through narrowed eyes. “I will inform the Templars to leave you alone, and you are no longer required to attend the healer’s tent.” That was not what she’d expected, and Ellie eyed him warily. He seemed to be regaining some of his composure, or at least reigning in his temper. “You have served the inquisition faithfully, and I do not believe further supervision is required.”

Ellie stared at him, and she really hoped this wasn’t some convoluted way of telling her to fuck off and leave town. She didn’t think it was, but with her luck, she wasn’t writing it off. He doesn’t want you around the other Templars. If Ellie had known their lyrium use was such a big deal, she’d have never brought it up in the first place. Especially if they didn’t know what it was, or what they were doing.

“…Thank you, Commander.” Ellie said after an awkward pause. This guy needs to get laid.

Rutherford gave her a stiff nod, “You’re dismissed.”

She didn’t need telling twice. Ellie left the tent and training grounds as quickly as she could without breaking into a run. The more she interacted with Templars, the more she disliked them.

After returning to her room to rinse off all the sweat from her morning workout, Ellie decided to divide the time she had until her once-mandatory healing tent attendance between reading and magic. She wasn’t sure if the Commander expected her to avoid the healers tent now that it wasn’t required, but since being able to actually treat patients the time didn’t feel quite so wasted.

What her new freedom did mean, however, was that she didn’t have to drop whatever she was doing come second bell. If she was absorbed in her reading, needed to run errands, or had better things to do, Ellie now had the choice to do them. If there was one thing she was big on, it was choice.

Breakfast was had at the tavern, as usual, and Ellie had brought the book on magic along to read while she ate. She’d decided to go through the first few pages again, hoping it would make more sense a second time around. I need to take notes. The information was too dense, and it assumed the reader already understood a lot about magic. Which she didn’t.

Porridge bowl empty, Ellie closed the heavy volume and brought the bowl to the counter.

“Hey Flissa, what do I have to do to get a meal delivered to my room?” Ellie asked, handing over the dirty dishes.

“Regularly, or just a one-off?” The bartender asked, then added. “Well I guess it don’t matter either way. That’s all handled through the quartermaster. When we get orders here, we fill em, but we don’t handle delivery or nothin’.”

“So if I ever need anything, I just need to go bother Threnn?” From the sound of it, Threnn was what kept the wheels moving in Haven. Well, Threnn and Josephine. I should probably say hi to her at some point. The Ambassador did a lot for the inquisition, and Josephine had been good to her so far.

“You got it.” Flissa confirmed.

“Thanks.” Ellie gave her a small smile, then headed off to find Threnn.

Haven had since woken up, and as she walked in the direction of the quartermaster’s usual location she noticed several people giving furtive glances, accompanied by whispers. News of what happened in the tavern had clearly spread, and she wasn’t looking forward to whatever horrible repercussions would come of it. Because horrible things would definitely come of it.

Threnn was at her desk, half-buried behind stacks of ledgers, inventory logs, and requisition forms. Haven had grown considerably since the last time Ellie had seen her, and she was amazed everything was still running smoothly with all the work there must be. A second desk had been shoved into a corner, where an elf sat, hunched over papers with an abacus. Well, at least she has an assistant. Although if the stacks of books are anything to go by, Threnn could use three.

The door had been open, but Ellie knocked on the frame after stepping inside to announce her presence. “I’d ask if you had a minute, but from the looks of it you’re fresh out.” She gave Threnn a polite, apologetic smile when the woman looked up.

“Not at all, Lady Roosevelt.” Threnn replied, waving her over. “Most of this mess is low priority. What can I do for you?”

Ellie walked up to the desk, and didn’t bother correcting the quartermaster. She preferred ‘Ellie’, but she figured if she couldn’t remember everyone she’d asked to use her name, then it was silly to expect everyone to remember she’d asked. Threnn and her didn’t speak regularly enough for it to matter.

“I was hoping I could get a quill, ink, and parchment.” Ellie said, her eyes flicking briefly to the elf in the corner. She could have sworn the man had been looking at her. You’re getting paranoid.

“Of course, will you be needing sealing wax, as well?” Threnn asked, putting her own quill down and getting to her feet.

She hadn’t considered sealing wax – she didn’t have anyone to write letters to. Yet. You might in the future. “Yes, that would be great. The need is primarily academic, however. If you have a blank journal, or book, in addition to paper, I won’t complain.”

Threnn nodded, grabbing one of the ledgers from a smaller pile and beginning to fill out a few forms. “Between Lady Montilyet and the Nightengale, paper is always in plentiful supply.”

Ellie could feel the stupid elf watching her, and she forced herself not to look. She doubted they’d be going on like this if her exiting the fade with the Herald was common knowledge. That, or they’d be worse. “Sounds about right, Josephine was half buried in correspondence last I saw her.”

Threnn nodded, then excused herself to go grab Ellie’s walk-in order. It could just be her imagination, or that Ellie wasn’t intimidated by the tall woman like she had been in the past, but Threnn seemed like she was regarding Ellie with more respect than she had in the past. Not that the quartermaster had ever been anything but respectful, but their conversation had always been closer to Threnn as the authority figure, or both of them as equals. Now it was almost like Threnn was deferring to her.

I really need to figure out how this place works. Too much was happening that Ellie didn’t notice or understand, and it was going to end up a problem.

“Here you go, Lady Roosevelt.” Threnn said, returning from the room with a stack of parchment, several ink vials, a pair of quills, and what looked like a journal. “If you could just sign these,” Threnn set the items down on her desk, then handed Ellie the forms and her quill.

Ellie had never written with a quill before, save for the last time she had to sign forms, and that time all she’d done was make a scribble and pretend it was a signature, as she didn’t trust herself to attempt actual writing. She went for scribbles again.

“Is there anything else?” Threnn was being too polite. Was she always this nice? Was I just too anxious and freaked out to notice?

“Oh, yes! I was hoping I could have my lunch delivered to my room for today. Also, I don’t know how early breakfast is usually handled, or the cost of such things, but if I could have it delivered daily when I’m in Haven, it would be greatly appreciated.” Look at you ‘Lady Roosevelt’, getting all posh.

Threnn went to pull out another ledger, and Ellie was just glad the woman hadn’t laughed at her. Why she’d worried that the request would be considered hilarious, she wasn’t sure. Having meals brought to her by servants felt very Downton Abbey. The idea of having people serve her, in any form, was weird.

“When would you like your breakfast delivered, and do you have any requests or preferences?” The quartermaster asked, and Ellie knew she was the only one who felt awkward about this.

“By ninth bell, but not before eighth. I’m not particularly picky with food, so long as there’s enough of it. I’ll also want plenty of clean drinking water, and perhaps some tea, as well.” Is that too picky? Calm down, it’s like room service. You’re acting like you’ve never been around ‘help’ before. That was, in part, why this made her so uncomfortable. “As for today’s lunch... I’ll be happy so long as it’s there by second bell, and it contains meat.”

Threnn made a few notes, “I’ll have the costs deducted from your wages.”

Before leaving, Threnn asked if she wanted any of her wages, and Ellie decided to take half of her stipend. She was getting low on coins, and that should be enough to cover whatever came up.

Once she was back in her room, Ellie unloaded her things on the tiny table, or desk, half-table?, and quickly made a mess of her first piece of paper. There was ink everywhere, and she ended up tossing her shirt off to avoid further stains to her sleeves. You’re supposed to be a noble. You’re supposed to have fancy quill penmanship.

Nothing about the middle ages was easy, and writing was no exception. It didn’t help that she was left handed. At all. The ink did not dry quickly, and a lifetime of ballpoint pens and keyboards meant she’d rarely had to worry about smearing ink. Do they have pencils? Ugh.. with lead, probably. Shit, what about the cookware!? Fuck!

Lead made people little, angry rage machines. Thedas was probably full of it. World peace through reduced heavy metal poisoning, what will I think of next? She was getting distracted, and she forced herself to look back down at the ruined piece of paper with a groan. Should I try to use my right hand? Is using your left taboo here? Ellie struggled to think of handedness mattering much more than being a mage. She’d done plenty of things left-handed so far, and nobody had made any comments.

The second piece of paper went slightly better, but it was still rough. She wondered if people ever used paintbrushes instead, but even if they did learning how to use a quill was still a necessity for the sake of her cover. Once the second piece was also a ruined mess, the ink on the first piece still wasn’t dry enough to write on the back. This is ridiculous.

After destroying a third page, she could finally turn the first page over and begin practicing on the other side. She still struggled with ungainly splotches of ink, but it was no longer exploding all over the page like it had been on her earlier attempts. The messes were small enough that she felt ready to begin taking notes. Carefully. Very, very carefully.

Before picking up the magic tome, Ellie spent several minutes washing her hands and cleaning the table surface. Eleventh bell rang during her preparations, and she decided to put her shirt back on, too. Ellie didn’t know when her lunch would arrive, and the last thing she needed was to open the door for an elf while topless.

She focused her notes on important terms, words she didn’t know, and references to things she hoped to understand later as she gained more context. The information was primarily theoretical, and a lot of it involved manipulations of the veil in relation to space. Solas made the veil, why would he need a book on how it works? Wouldn’t he know? Ellie imagined him sitting in his room laughing every time the author got something wrong. Or, at least, she tried to. Her mental image of Fen’Harel didn’t line up well with the reality of Solas.

The further she got, the more abstract the content became. More Latin began popping up as well, although it was often in reference to other books, or the names of mages with theories pertinent to the subject matter. Varric’s book had enough about Fenris and Corypheus, that she knew Latin meant a country called the Tevinter Imperium. Where the mages are crazy, super gay, and slavery is legal.

After another page, Ellie discovered she’d been taking notes on the introduction. Shit. Did he give me the most complicated book on the stupid shelf or something!? The Spirit one isn’t nearly this bad! And at least the spelling in that one is more consistent. This one can’t make up its mind!

 She was halfway through a word when there was a knock at the door, and she ended up getting ink all over her letter ‘a’. Muttering a curse, Ellie put the quill in its holder and was about to stand up and get the door when it opened. Or that works. Come to think of it, the elf who delivered Cassandra’s breakfast only knocked before entering, too. I guess answering the door is too much work?

The elf came in with the large, unwieldy tray of food, only to stop dead when she spotted Ellie. I do not have the patience for this shit. Her big eyes widening as comprehension dawned that she was alone with the scary elf-fucking mage of Haven legend. Ignore it.

Or she’s looking at all the glowing shit, you know, that thing you use instead of candles. Magic is scary to people, remember? Oh, right. That. Ellie glanced over at the glowing orb of her staff she’d decided to use as a light source. There was enough mana in that thing to keep it going, even without her touching it, for a few hours.

“Uh, Lady Roosevelt, if you would be so kind as to clear a space…” The elf spoke up nervously, her voice wavering at the request.

“Oh, right! Sorry!” Worst. Noble. Ever. Ellie scrambled to shuffle papers out of the way, and capped her bottle of ink before shoving it to the side with the papers.

“Thank you, my Lady.” The elf said, walking up and setting down the tray. “I’ll return to retrieve the dishes once you’ve had time to finish. Or you may leave them outside the door.”

Ellie nodded, perfectly aware that the elf was hoping she’d do the latter. “Thank you, uh.. what’s your name?”

The elf looked mortified. “Itha, my Lady.” Oops.. Ellie had forgotten they weren’t used to being thanked. Josephine’s helper elf had reacted similarly.

“Well, thank you Itha.” Ellie gave a small smile, then wondered if that had been the wrong thing to do. How dare you terrorize the elven population with kindness. You monster.

“Yer welcome, my Lady.” Itha said, before all but bolting. What horrors will I unleash upon them next!?

With a heavy sigh, Ellie turned her attention to the food, and worked her way through the meal while reading the next page. She was finishing off the last dregs of something similar to beef stew, using bread to sponge up the dregs, when she found her first equation.

Once her brain registered what her eyes were seeing, Ellie nearly jumped out of her chair in excitement. She could do math. Math was something concrete, logical. It made sense. It also helped put into context the rest of what she’d been reading. The author had been trying to come up with a formula to predict fluctuations in magic relative to fluctuations in the veil. The equation was as close as he’d gotten.

They don’t have calculus. Of course they don’t, why would they? There was no reason to invest in math to the same degree when magic could bypass so much of the necessity. From the looks of it, the only reason mages cared was because they were looking for ways to increase their power. Pity I don’t remember any of it. Otherwise I could blow their fucking minds. It was another thing real Sandy would have been able to do, that she couldn’t.

Regardless, the idea that some aspect of magic, no matter how small, could be modelled mathematically, was a huge comfort. Even if the people of Thedas didn’t have the tools to measure it concretely, or the mathematics necessary to express their observation properly, it had to mean that there were still some rules. In some way.

The next three pages were an argument about why the first author’s attempt to represent magic’s relation to the veil with mathematics was wrong.

Fuck you Thedas.

The tray and empty dishes ended up on the floor by her desk. She refused to dump them outside and make it easier for Itha, if only because she was pissed off about her reputation. If she had to suffer the elves buying such nonsense, they could suffer her presence. When the elf returned for the tray, Ellie thanked her again, by name, because she had manners god dammit. Swearing and manners. That’s what I got.

When her hand started to hurt from holding a quill for so long, Ellie closed the book. She still didn’t understand most of it, but at least now she could pretend to. Opening her door, she was going to set out for the healers’ tent, only to discover night had fallen. Instead of managing her time like a normal human being, she’d lost track of it completely studying a text she didn’t understand.

Ellie decided to skip a late dinner, and she told herself it had nothing to do with being around people, but that was a lie. Dinner was when she was most likely to run into someone she knew, or get harassed. The only person she wouldn’t mind hanging out with at the moment was Soven, and that was because he hardly said anything.

She spent the rest of the evening before bed trying to improve upon her magic lightbulb idea, and playing around with magic that didn’t explode violently. For once. The fade was dedicated to practicing offensive and defensive magic, but it was never for anything fun. After spending all day buried in that terrible book, and staining her fingers with ink, Ellie figured she’d earned the break.

The next few days went similarly, and Threnn must have made a note about ‘enough food’ because the breakfasts she got were huge. It was great – it gave her the excuse to keep skipping dinner. Itha still brought her meals, and Ellie still thanked her. After day three without something traumatic happening, the elf started to relax. As tempting as it was to request her lunches delivered as well, Ellie forced herself to brave the wild of Haven’s tavern. She made it to the healing tent about half the time. The other half Ellie opened the door only to realize it was too late for her to bother. So far none of the Templars had freaked out when she showed up.

On the morning of day six, Ellie was getting ready to go workout when there was a knock at her door. She eyed the door, then got up slowly and opened it. Haven was still draped in pre-dawn shadow, and she couldn’t think of many people who would go around knocking on doors this early. Not to mention people who knew she got up this early.   

 The woman at the door was dressed in light leather, hood up, and she had daggers at her hips. One of Leliana’s. At least that was what Ellie assumed, as she wasn’t already on the floor bleeding out.  

“The Nightingale wishes to speak with you.” Was all the woman said, and even through the sudden spike of fear, she found the whole thing a bit dramatic. Remember, you’re the unflappable badass.

Right, because she was totally going to fool a spymaster. Just like she’d fooled the elf-god about being a competent mage. What are you doing with your life? “Lead the way.” Ellie motioned to the scout-ssassin, following when the woman turned to walk in the direction of the Chantry. Are many nuns in Thedas bardic assassins? Is that a thing here?

The dramatically cloaked female scout led Ellie into the war room where Leliana was waiting, then left once the redhead gave her a nod – closing the door behind her. It was nearing a week since Ellie’s last threat of death, so she was overdue.

She tried to ignore the sudden dryness in her mouth as the Spymaster’s attention turned towards her, and she wasn’t comforted in the slightest by the smile Leliana gave her. It was meant to be friendly, but ginger’s eyes didn’t hold the necessary warmth. That, and Ellie knew to be scared shitless of her.

Leliana didn’t pussyfoot around, she went straight to business. “While I believe you are sent by the Maker, others disagree. There are some here who think you are an unnecessary complication.” Even with the softness that came with a French accent, the Spymaster’s words were crisp and sharp like her eyes. The Commander thinks I’m trouble. He wants me gone.

“I have received word that Lieutenant Harding lost contact with her scouting party along the Storm Coast, in addition to the soldiers stationed at the newly established base camp in the region.” Leliana continued, her words lilting with a mild French accent, and Ellie waited for her to continue. “It is vital that the Inquisition establish a presence in the region, and this is an opportunity for you to prove your value to the Inquisition.”

“Have I not proven myself already?”

“You have, but if my suspicions are correct, I wish to make you invaluable.”

Ellie didn’t like where this was going. “Your suspicions?”

“Tell me, Ellie, are you a Witch of the Wilds?”

Her shoulders tensed, and the hair on her neck prickled. “Like Morrigan.” She managed to keep her tone even, hoping she hadn’t betrayed her surprise.

Leliana gave the slightest nod of her head, and the false warmth of her smile was slipping into something more cunning. “You did not answer my question.” Fuck.

She had two options, well, four, really. There are always more than two options. You can do this. “If I said I wasn’t, would you believe me?” Ellie hoped she’d chosen wisely. There were only so many reasons for Leliana to help her, and this woman was all about games and deceit. She was a snake painted with a smile. She’s also in Lavellan’s dog house. Encouraging rumors about the Herald of Andraste would have been primarily her doing, more than Cassandra’s.

“I might,” Leliana’s smile widened. There was definitely some crazy behind the mask. “But would you want me to?”

Ellie had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from scowling. “That depends.” There was a time when she’d loved these games, before she’d gotten wiser. Now she saw it all for what it was: a way to toy with lives; and she despised it.

“Precisely.” The Nightingale looked pleased, if that was worth anything at all. All Ellie could do was stumble through this dance, and try to pretend Leliana wasn’t eyeing her like a hungry tiger. “I have been able to find little on the Roosevelts of the Free Marches, or elsewhere.” Fuck.

“I wouldn’t expect you to. My birth place is of little note, and much was destroyed during the blight.” Ellie replied, surprising herself with how calm she sounded. Be one with the badass. Don’t show your fear.

Leliana’s eyes narrowed, “yes, it is almost as if you were never there at all.”

Ellie swallowed. She was so screwed. “I never did spend much time around people.” Unlike Solas, she had been the opposite of forgettable – everything from her entrance to her magic grabbed attention.

“And now we have gone in a circle. Are you a Witch of the Wilds?” God dammit. Of course Leliana would know what she’d been doing. Dodging definitive answers, supplying half-truths, and avoiding concrete statements was probably covered in Spying 101.

Fuck. She didn’t have anything to say in response. Her mind was blank, and short of trying to distract the woman with information the redhead likely already knew, there wasn’t much she could do. You have to say something. “I am an apostate with a very strong background in traversing mountains and sleeping in forests. If that is what you wish to call me, so be it.” She paused, forcing herself to meet Leliana’s gaze. This was a gamble, but it was also an out. “Is the truth so important? Most people prefer convenient truths over real ones.” It was a good thing Leliana wasn’t an elf, because Ellie’s heart was beating so hard she was certain a pair of long, pointy ears would hear it.

“Yes, I expect unnecessary obstinacy and sarcasm come as an easy defense to someone who is educated, but inexperienced in the ways of the world.” Leliana said coolly, her words warning. Because you hold the truth in such high regard.

Honestly, claiming to be a witch of the wilds, as a shitty mage who knew her way around trees, was actually really smart. Too bad you didn’t think of it. It would explain a lot. “My apologies,” Ellie said, then added, “ ‘Tis not a simple thing.” She tried to imitate what she remembered of Morrigan, which really just meant sounding full of herself and saying ‘tis’.

The Spymaster still didn’t look placated. “The Inquisition would be fortunate for the truth to go beyond convenience.” The truth was something the opposite of convenient.

Fuck it. Desperate for this line of conversation to end, Ellie managed a polite smile. “Yes, the Inquisition is fortunate indeed.” There, I said it. Happy now?

Ellie had all but said ‘I am a witch of the wilds’, allowing Leliana the confirmation she’d been seeking. From the glint in the Spymaster’s eyes, it looked like she’d bought it, too. How the fuck am I still alive? Talk about a confirmation bias. Hopefully Solas and Leliana didn’t have heart-to-hearts. From the sound of it, being a Witch of the Wilds explained away how little she understood about the culture and people of Thedas, so she’d take it. Besides, it wasn’t like Morrigan was going to show up, and promptly point out to the Spymaster that she’d never seen Ellie before in her life. The witch was probably off giving birth to demons on a mountain.

“You are to lead a group of scouts to rendezvous with Lieutenant Harding at the base camp here.” Leliana had moved towards the map and pointed to a marker. From where Ellie was standing, she couldn’t actually see the map, and was begrudgingly forced to move closer to the woman in order to see. Then Leliana’s words registered.

“Wait, lead? I’m not a leader, at all. Surely you have someone more familiar with the terrain and location better equipped to-” Ellie began, eyes widening.

“If you die, then the complication is resolved. A witch of the wilds with your background should have little difficulty navigating, and those I am sending with you are all capable agents.” Leliana said calmly. And therein lies the trap.

Ellie scowled, her eyes narrowing. Shit like this was exactly why she hated the games. “Navigation is not my concern. Is the goal to kill me, or not? Make up your mind.”

“I assure you Ellie, if I wanted you dead, you would be.” You are an unflappable badass. Holy shit, don’t freak out. Rambo. Think Rambo. You can lie! You’re a liar! You lie sometimes!

“Of that I have little doubt.” She responded dryly, forcing herself to ignore the panic bubbling up inside of her. It’s like the bucket, but a map. Focus on the map. Ellie focused on the map. “Do you have a topographical one as well?” She asked, pointing to the map.

“I have never heard of such a thing.” Leliana answered slowly, and Ellie could hear the cogs in her brain turning. Fuck, that was a dumb question.

“Forget it. So I’m meeting up with Lieutenant Harding, then what?” She was trying to memorize everything she could on that map. The door to the war room wasn’t open to anyone, and from the looks of it, all the maps she’d been looking for were in it.

“Find out what happened to the other scouts and soldiers. Once you join Lieutenant Harding, you will follow her orders from there. Base camp will be re-established, and you will scout and secure the area until the Herald arrives from Val Royeux.”

This was over her head. Until now she’d been up to her neck and ears, but this. I can’t do this. It wasn’t fair. Nothing about this horrible place was fair. Life isn’t fair. There was an uncomfortable tightness in her throat, and Ellie realized she was on the verge of crying.

Nope. Not going to happen. You do NOT get to tear up in front of the fucking Spymaster. Ball the fuck up. Focus on your anger. Let the hate flow through you. WWPD: What would Palpatine do? It worked better than she cared to admit.

“When do I leave?”

“Ninth bell. Lives could be at stake. I have already sent word to ready the horses, with the necessary supplies packed.”

Ellie finally looked up from the map, “you realize I barely know how to ride a horse.”

Leliana didn’t look surprised. “Then I suggest you learn quickly.”

This was all happening way too fast. Whatever happened to training wheels? Ellie had gone from tricycle to motorcycle. Think, Ellie. Think. “Is Soven available?”

“He is. Would you like Roe and Bruin as well?”

“No. Just him.” At least that way she knew there’d be someone observant in the group. She sure as fuck wasn’t. “What’s the risk of attacks on the road?”

“Low up to the coast, from there it’s an unknown.”

Ellie’s brain was scrambling to think up the right questions to ask. Unless the agents were debriefed due to the fact that their leader was completely incompetent, she couldn’t rely on them to know much more than she had when she’d been under Roe. “A map. Is there one I can bring with me?”

“Do you need one?” Har, har, very funny you ginger demonspawn. I’ve only been staring at this one like my life depends on it. Which it does.

The route was fairly straightforward, and, in truth, she probably didn’t. It was hard to fuck up ‘head north, then go east along the coast until you find shit’. Ellie hadn’t been given coordinates, “No, but I’d like one all the same.”

 “I will see what can be done. Unless you have further, more pressing, questions, I have a great deal more work to do before sunrise.” Leliana said, and Ellie could take the hint that she was being dismissed.

Chapter Text

 

By the time Ellie reached her room, she wasn’t mad: she was pissed. Throughout all the bullshit so far, she had yet to completely lose her temper. It had been ruffled, frayed, prodded, and riled; but never lost. Now that control wavered. Every time she began to find her rhythm, her footing, in this terrible place, something new reared its ugly, scaled head.

Learning to survive in this foreign world, despite its ceaseless attempts to murder her, consumed every second of her days and nights. Even in her dreams she practiced and practiced, until her body was raw and exhausted – only to wake up, fresh, for another day.

Another day that wanted to kill her. 

It wasn’t until she noticed the taste in the air, or the way it had begun to quietly snap and crackle, that Ellie realized her control was dangerously close to slipping. Along with her composure. The room smelled like a mixture of chlorine and asphalt just after rain, and the hum of magic under her skin begged to be let out. And Ellie wanted to let it. To give in, give up, and surrender herself to her rage.

The impulse was there, and the suddenness of it make her mentally withdraw from the impulse as if it were a hot iron. That wasn’t how emotions were supposed to work. That wasn’t how her emotions worked. Losing her temper wasn’t seductive, it was a weak.  And it certainly wasn’t supposed feel like that.

Then she heard it. The whisper was so quiet she’d hardly noticed. Speaking words of self-affirmation, it told her that she should be angry, that she should let go, and that she should make Haven burn. It said that, together, they could raze this town, and then the world, to the ground.

“They toy with your life, and you don’t deserve this. You didn’t ask for it. They threw you in a dungeon, hit you, fear you. They think you aren’t strong enough, but you are. They don’t take you seriously, but they should. Everyone should.” It was trying to coax her into a hatred and anger that was blind. A rage demon.

“They want to see mages as monsters, and you should let them. Everything would be so much better, so much easier, if they weren’t here. I can help, let me in. This world deserves our wrath.” It knew what to say, to a point, but the demon must have gotten over-eager now that she was consciously listening to it.

Last time with fear, it had been different. Then she didn’t understand what it had wanted. There hadn’t been any risk of possession, because the idea of quitting hadn’t been there. Ellie also hadn’t understood what it was asking, unlike every other person in Thedas. The demon might as well have been asking her to tea. A person must be willing. The book on spirits had mentioned that. 

The book had also mentioned that rage demons were some of the weakest, stupidest, and least dangerous. Just how bad at this am I? At some point this was supposed to get easier, not harder.

Yes, Ellie’s thoughts could get pretty vicious. There were several instances where she’d entertained the idea of razing this whole miserable world to the ground in a fit of madness, but that didn’t mean she actually wanted to. That was Fen’Harel’s thing. 

 “Why the fuck is everything on this god damned world so impossible!?” Ellie snapped, and a small bolt of electricity manifested in the air, smacking into the wall and leaving a small, black scorch mark behind. “Fuck it!” She threw up her hands, decidedly ignoring the continued whispers of the rage demon in her head. The bastard could sit there and talk in her head all day. He wasn’t going to possess shit.

I’m calling you Kyle, demon. You seem like a Kyle. The whispering faltered, then stopped. All rage demons are now Kyles. If the demon was still there, it didn’t say anything in reply. She presumed it was, but she also knew she’d be pretty pissed with or without a freaking demon goading her on.

Ellie finished packing her backpack, and began getting dressed for travel. The not-jacket went on last. She used the time to calm herself down more, and think. There’d been no further words from Kyle, so if it was still there, it wasn’t speaking.

Did having a better understanding of spirits and the fade somehow make me more vulnerable to possession? Would I have been better off not learning about them at all?But normal people don’t know anything, and they can get possessed too.

She heard the Chantry tower ring six bells, and looked around the empty room. Once again, she’d easily fit all her worldly possessions into her backpack – even with the addition of Solas’s books, the parchment, quills, and ink vials. Ellie had considered leaving them where they’d be safer for all of two seconds, then decided her chances of survival were better if dying meant Solas might never get his books back. Ellie took borrowing items very seriously. At least, that’s what she told herself. The logic was fairly convoluted and she knew it. You could just admit that you want to finish them, you know.

Nope, it was out of concern for thievery. She definitely didn’t want to risk the books getting stolen. That was it. They’d be much safer on her person, riding off into unknown dangers, full of potential arrows, water, and death. Much safer. You’re hopeless.

She didn’t know if her breakfast had been cancelled or not, given the odd hour of departure, but Ellie wasn’t going to be in her room to receive it. Just in case, she left a note to Itha, apologizing for not being there, and saying she was free to eat it, or give it to someone else. Doing so meant half unpacking her bag, but it wasn’t like Ellie had much packed in the first place.

The sun wasn’t quite up when she reached the stables, and nobody had started preparing the horses, either. Getting horses ready three hours ahead of time does sound premature. Haven was still asleep, and that carried over to the stables. The only person in there was her and a very bored guard.

Lacking better options, Ellie went to go wake up Lin. The elf seemed to like her no matter what she did, and she’d pay him a ridiculous sum to make up for it and her terrible Shemlen ways. If she hadn’t avoided everyone for the past week, she might have known where to find Bruin, Soven, or Roe – people who would be happy to help or tell her to fuck off. Lin would agree. This is the part where you feel like a guilty, terrible human being, then do nothing to fix it. Oh, fuck off brain. She was still too angry for that shit.

She walked briskly past sleeping rows of refugee tents, until she hit the elf side of town. There, some people were already waking and moving. Fires had been rekindled, and a handful of drowsy eyes followed her as she headed to the tent she’d crashed in for two days over a month ago. The circle of tents hadn’t changed much, and she knew the name of one of the elves already up by the fire. Kamen? Gamen? Kalen? Fuck, what was it… Well, used to know. You’re the worst elf-fetishist ever.

Considering it was her, the unholy elf-fucker of the apocalypse, at their humble little tent circle, she did little more than roll her eyes at the looks of surprise and shock on their faces before ducking her head into the old tent. She wasn’t pleased to discover that even more people had been crammed into it since last time.

It was too dark for her to make out more than lumps and forms, but she was fairly certain the lump where Lin had his bag was now filled with someone else. One of the three lumps where she used to sleep, however, looked vaguely familiar. Well that isn’t weird in the slightest. Ellie pushed the thought from her mind.

“Psst, Lin!” She whispered, for all the good it would do trying to wake up a single jumpy elf in a tent full of jumpy elves. Lin woke up.. along with about five other people.

Unlike the five other people, however, Lin practically jumped to his feet. He was ready for, well, whatever he thought he needed to be ready for. It seemed to take him a moment to realize where he was, because he actually looked Ellie in the face for a whole second. “Sorry,” She dropped her voice lower, “I need your help, if that’s okay.”

He nodded, to her complete unsurprise, then immediately made to head towards her and the tent exit. Her request of horse lessons was downright tame compared to the acquisition of healing potions through questionable means.

Navigating out of the tent without causing any catastrophes, she could feel the pair of elves at the fire glaring into the back of her head when Lin popped out shortly after. Ellie didn’t know what that was all about -  it wasn’t like they were his keepers. The elf was clearly an adult, at least he looked like one. What if he’s like 13 and only looks like he’s in his early 30s. You could be, like, crazy creeper status right now.

Unfortunately, the alternative was fucking up her mission, and that would somehow translate to being dead. She was sure of it. ‘Tis the Thedas way. She thought Morriganly.

 “What is it, La- Ellie?” Lin caught himself.

“You work at the stables, right?” She asked, starting to walk in that direction. It never hurt to check – or to make sure they were out of hearing range from the grumps around the fire. The last thing she needed was all of Haven knowing she couldn’t ride a horse.

Lin nodded, and she was surprised how easily he kept up with her. She was walking pretty quickly. Why does that surprise you? He’s an elf. They have a plus +2 racial bonus to scurrying.

She dropped her voice and leaned closer to whisper. “Well, in a little less than two hours I need to learn how to ride a horse. And know like.. everything about horses.” At the look of confusion and alarm on his face, she amended her statement. “Like, trotting, and horse… running… and not falling off. How long I can keep them above a walk, obvious things I should know not to do, that I don’t.”

Lin nodded more slowly, “you have the black horse.” She was not bolstered by the carefully neutral expression on his face, or the idea of Pecado being ‘hers’. Ellie knew that look – it was the one she used constantly. “Don’t worry my L- Ellie, I will help.”

“Can’t I use a different horse?” The question was closer pleading. Perhaps begging.

“I, uh, can check.”

It turned out that she could not, in fact, use another horse. None other than the Herald of Andraste had specifically requested that she, Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, use that horse. I am going to KILL her.

Pecado was also very displeased with Ellie, and he wouldn’t let her near him until after she sent Lin running with a handful of coins to fetch dried fruit for horse bribes. The thing was a monster that should be put down, and the guard watching them commented that he’d seen the horse break someone’s arm earlier that week.

The next two hours were a mix of violent Spanish swears, threats on the horse’s life, and Lin doing his best to keep her and the horse from shedding blood. It was as if Pecado saw her as some kind of traitor for leaving it at the stable – as if that was her fault. Stupid horse would get out more if he stopped trying to attack people. And didn’t act possessed.

Were Ellie not so angry going into the whole thing, common sense would have prevented her from recklessly hopping back onto the devil’s steed each time she fell off. The first time she landed on her ass it was Pecado throwing her off. As was the second time. The third time was Ellie failing her crash course in horse-riding. On attempt number four she squeezed too hard while trying to stay upright and Pecado broke into a run – Lin called it a ‘canter’. After that, Ellie she started to get the hang of trotting – at least to the point where she could stay upright without unintentionally sending the horse running.

There wasn’t time for her to attempt learning how to ride Pecado at a canter, or to get comfortable with riding him at a trot. Ellie had learned enough to manage it, but ease and familiarity would have to come later. Eight bells rang, and the stables were now awake with the rest of Haven.

Off to the side she could see five normal, well-mannered horses had been taken out, and Ellie was 90% sure that her general disposition could be summarized as terrifying when she handed Pecado over to the man readying the mounts. The way Pecado’s nostril’s flared, black eyes staring death threats into the poor stableman, probably didn’t help.

With Pecado safely away from her, and temporarily someone else’s nightmare, she walked back to Lin and listened as he quickly tried to go over some basic horse info. Things like how often they needed to rest, signs they need water, and a few other hurried basic. If she lived through this, Ellie would owe Lin big time. He hadn’t even flinched when she’d snapped at him repeatedly out of frustration. He was cool as a cucumber. At least, he was until she gave him a hug.

That had been a mistake. He tensed and went so still that Ellie knew she’d done something wrong. You can’t even say thank you right. She let go quickly, grimacing. “I-uh, sorry. Uh. Ir abelas.”

Lin gave a stiff nod of his head, and when he spoke his voice sounded strained. “Son’t make them move too quickly downhill.”

She nodded, but he was looking at the ground, fists clenched. Shit, I really fucked up. “Uh, yeah. Right. I’ll remember that, Lin. Thank you for all your help. I really appreciate it.” Ellie tried her best to sound nice, but she doubted it was convincing, given that she’d been a bundle of rage all morning.

One of the humans with the horses yelled “hey elf, don’t just stand there, get the saddlebags.” And Lin seemed to snap back. He gave Ellie a hurried nod, then ran over. She’d intended to pay him, but right now it seemed better to leave him alone.

“Well done.” A soft voice spoke up from beside her.

Ellie jumped terribly before spinning around to find Soven standing just outside of her peripheral vision, quite literally a foot away. If that. “How long have you been there?” She demanded, totally and most definitely not unnerved. Asshole.

“Long enough to watch you make a fool of yourself. You’re quite good at it.” Soven said mildly.

She glared at him, throwing up her arms. “Oh, go suck a wolf dick!”

He snorted.

The rest of her party showed up a short while later, and Ellie wasted little time in getting out the front gate. She recognized one of them from the caravan with Mother Giselle, and another from one of her scouting runs in the Hinterlands, but the other two were strangers. If either of the two she recognized were wondering why the incompetent mage was leading, they didn’t voice it. Not that she could blame them. Today Ellie was channeling her inner Seeker Pentaghast.

Once Haven fell out of sight, the ground quickly began to slope downhill, and she wished she’d paid more attention to the road during her prior trips. There were places it would level for a little while, and other spots that went back uphill, where they could increase their pace, but she didn’t know when they were. To her the whole mountain was a blur of zigzagging road.

The first few hours were spent in silence, until one of the scouts she’d never seen started speaking quietly to the others. When Ellie didn’t bite his head off, the group spoke more freely. From listening to them talk, Ellie learned that the two warriors she’d recognized were named Martin and Sean. The archer, who was also the only other female and elf, was named Neria. The last guy, with a crossbow, was called Duncan.

Once she had their names, Ellie tuned out most of the chatter. Instead choosing to go through the leather envelope she’d been handed, which had basic mission information inside. Certain things had been left out, like why they were headed to the Storm Coast, but it did have details on road conditions, water, and the last known locations of the missing scouts and base camp.

They rode through lunch without complaint, and once Pecado didn’t feel as restless under her, she was willing to pick up the pace to an intermittent trot when the road and incline allowed it. They only stops until nightfall were to water the horses. If the nightingale wanted them to move quickly, they would move quickly. Ellie wasn’t about to fuck around. She didn’t have the luxury to.

“I think you scare them.” Soven said, and Ellie detected a slight undercurrent of amusement. It was partway through the next day, and he’d left his place in the back to ride up alongside her.

She frowned, giving him a sharp look that went ignored. 

He was silent for a few minutes before speaking up again. “Have you considered trying to relax?” Are you fucking teasing me, asshole? They’d shared a watch last night, where he’d kept a lookout while she tried to calm down. She didn’t have much success, and Soven knew that.

“Why, are you offering?” She snapped back, raising an eyebrow. “There’s nothing quite like a hare in the bush.” Ellie didn’t know why she said it, but from the utterly appalled look on Soven’s face it was worth it. Not to mention his complete shock and alarm at her saying something so completely inappropriate and out of line. Ellie couldn’t help it, she laughed.

His eyes narrowed, but she didn’t care. Soven had more than earned a little quid pro quo. Roe’s wild theories had not needed encouragement.

When the shock began to give way to sourness, Ellie composed herself with a snort and added, “Mythal’s saggy tits, you know perfectly well I’m not serious!” Soven didn’t look particularly relieved, which only made her laugh harder. She’d reached the point of stressed where things that weren’t be funny were suddenly hilarious, and some of the tension began to ease from her shoulders.

It was only once her amusement subsided to more suitable levels that Soven finally spoke.

“I cannot believe you just said that.” Soven stated, frowning at her.

Ellie scoffed. “Oh please, as if you didn’t earn it after the shit you pulled with Varric. Do you have any idea how much I’ve had to put up with thanks that ridiculous rumor?” I can be cruel, too, Soven. So much for her plan to get back on his good side. If anyone asks, it was Kyle’s fault.

“yes, but that was -actually- funny.”

“Speak for yourself, seeing you so revolted is hilarious.”

“As entertaining as you on your back, I’m sure.”

“Pity you’ll never find out. We both know I’d be on my stomach.” Ellie gave him a pointed look.

He glared back, but his frustration with her had dissipated significantly. “I stand corrected. You on your back would be very entertaining.” This was her life now: a world where innuendo was literal, and she joked about how easy it would be to stab her in the back.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Soven rolled his eyes.

Ellie expected him to return to his preferred spot at the back, next to the Duncan, but he didn’t. Instead the elf stayed up front for the remainder of the day in what she could only guess was a companionable silence. Neither of them were prone to talking much in the company of others, and Ellie spent the rest of the day very aware of the four people at their backs who heard the exchange.

Their pace was determined by what the horses could take, and it turned out that horses could take a lot. She’d been worried that they’d tire faster than they did, and water was quickly becoming their most limiting factor. Even with people, armor, and supplies, as long as she didn’t force the animals to trot for too long, they could keep going with regular, short water breaks. By the end of day three Ellie’s thighs were screaming.

The Storm Coast was further from Haven than the Hinterlands, but the hastily sketched map she’d been given made it impossible to approximate how much further. It may as well have been drawn on a napkin, and she used it more for her own notes than as a reference guide. When she began to feel salt in the wind, and the air pressure shifted, Ellie knew they were close.

After stopping at a small village named Crestwood to restock on a few supplies, using her own coin as she hadn’t been provided with any, they left the supposed safety of the Imperial Highway and headed towards the coast line. 

It felt like walking, or rather riding, into the setting of a horror movie, complete with dark storm clouds looming on the horizon. As they got closer, the midday sun was quickly blocked out by the threat of rain. So it’s like living in Seattle. Instead of maintained roads, there were muddy and washed out pathways prone to unexpected dips and jutting pieces of rock.

When they stopped to make camp that night, it had begun to rain and the air was wet to the point that having a hood, cowl, or cloak made little difference – she was soaked.  It showed no signs of letting up the next day, and from the sheer volume of water Ellie wondered if there was a magical aspect. Through the downpour, there was a familiar prickle at the back of her neck, and, try as she might, she couldn’t shake it off.

Time had allowed much of the magical ‘damage’ Sandymon had caused to heal, and the world didn’t randomly sparkle and blind her, or hurt, like it had. At least not to the same degree. The end result was that Ellie was more aware than she’d been prior to her reckless agreement, but not to the painful level she had been in the days immediately following the experience. Now seeing the veil took concentrated effort and focus, instead of exploding at random behind her eyes.

Given the choice, she would never want to experience anything like it again. Good had come from it only because the sensory overload forced her to use a muscle she didn’t know she’d had, but time would have been much gentler. The weird prickle made her hairs stand up, and the subtle change in the air once considered impossible to notice were now anything but.

The next day they set out early, although it was difficult to tell the time of day with so much rain and fog. Since they were supposed to meet with Harding at the base camp, Ellie decided to search for it before the scouts’ last known location. If there was trouble, the scouts are the ones most likely to be alive. You don’t know that.

Navigating the jagged terrain on horseback was difficult to the point of dangerous, and they’d only been travelling for an hour when the first horse slipped and had to catch itself. This place feels wrong. The prickle at the back of her neck was getting stronger, and she frowned, pulling her horse to a stop.

“What is it?” Martin asked, his voice low.

She glanced back at the others, only to find most of them watching her anxiously. Good to know I’m not the only one who hates this place. The only two who weren’t was Soven, who had continued to ride with her in the front, and Sean.

Looking back ahead, she made a final, pointless, attempt to see something despite the abysmal visibility, then shook her head. “Not sure.” She was pretty sure whatever it was involved the veil, and there was a familiarity to the magic but she couldn’t tell more than that. Could it be a rift? “We’ll find out later.” Maybe that book is going to my head.

-   

“I have my doubts about survivors.” Ellie said to Soven dryly, kicking over a piece of broken wood as she continued to sift through what was left of the base camp. The most they’d found of the missing scouts, so far, was a half-eaten arm, and the soldiers at the base camp had been very clearly slaughtered.

“Can’t imagine why.” He replied, poking through another pile with little interest.

It had been several days since arriving at the Storm Coast, and without the ability to scout on foot, progress through the area had been slow. Martin had proposed setting up a base camp themselves, so they wouldn’t need to drag the horses with them everywhere, but Ellie shot down the idea immediately.

She could tell some of them were getting restless, impatient, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. The rocky terrain was not well-suited to exploring on horse, and they’d already had multiple encounters with beasts and bandits alike. Splitting their group up would be Scooby-doo level stupid. How none of them were dead, Ellie considered a miracle.

“Ah, found something!” Neria exclaimed, raising up a torn piece of parchment from her own pile of rubble.

Ellie practically bounded over to the woman, eagerly taking the paper from her hands. Oh great, the bandits are some kind of cult. Fantastic. Love you too, Andraste. “See if you can find the other half.”

“Shouldn’t followers of Andraste have burned the bodies?” Soven asked, having read the dead soldiers’ note over her shoulder.

“You would think,” She replied, accepting the other half of the note once Neria found it. “Maybe their cult likes the idea of possessed, bloated corpses. Who knows, who cares.” She glanced over at the growing pile of bodies Martin and Duncan were making, and still wasn’t sure what to make of it all. “Whoever these Blades of Hessarian guys are, I doubt we’re in a position to do anything until Lieutenant Harding shows up.” If she shows up. Ellie was beginning to have her doubts, but she didn’t dare voice them to the rest of the group.

Soven crossed his arm and looked towards the others, “what next, then? Will we just continue mapping the area until someone shows up?”

“Yes and no.” That was a question she’d given a great deal of consideration over the past few days, due in no small part to the absolute deathtrap that this mission was turning out to be. Sean had taken a sword to his shoulder two days ago, and Duncan’s horse had been slain during their last run-in with trouble. “I’m not willing to camp near here, or check in daily, in the hopes that the Herald or Lieutenant show up before this cult turns our visits into an ambush.”

Sean had quickly proven himself as one of the more experienced members in the group, and his injury crippled the group significantly. While he put on a brave face and pretended he hadn’t been seriously wounded, Ellie knew they were effectively a man down. He also needed a healer, and rest, or they would be a man down. Leliana had provided them with a small supply of Healing and Lyrium potions, the latter of which Ellie refused to touch, and the former they’d run out of as of their last encounter.

Ellie folded up the pieces of paper, and added them to the leather envelope with the rest of her mission information and notes. “I think there’s one of those veil artifacts nearby. If I’m right, it’s worth seeking out.”

“How long do you think it will take?” Soven asked.

“More than a day… the veil has been very thin in a few places. If it is what I think it is, activating it will prevent any new rifts from forming.” Look at you, sounding like you know things. At least Ellie thinks it may have been thin in a few spots. She wasn’t entirely sure.

 “… and if it isn’t what you think it is?” He was watching her closely, and Ellie wasn’t sure she wanted to know what was going through his head. If this went badly, it would be because she’d decided to go slightly off-mission. Do you really think you know better?

She didn’t. She just didn’t know what else to do. They couldn’t stay here, and they couldn’t keep doing what they were doing. Ellie wasn’t willing to bet her life on the hope that things would work out. “Then it’s a rift, or something else with enough magic for me to notice. That makes it worth investigating.” She paused, then eyed him back. “Why, what would you do?”

“Find out where the cultists sleep, and kill them.” Soven replied without hesitation, “Preferably before they wake up.” I don’t know what I expected.

“You and your insufferable moral high ground, if only you could sink into moral ambiguity like the rest of us.” Ellie remarked dryly, before rubbing her face and sighing.

Soven laughed. Delightful.

“Hey Ellie, I think we got them all.” Martin called over to her, pointing a thumb at the pile of bodies.

“I’ll be over in a moment,” Ellie called back, before looking at Soven. “Leave something to let Lieutenant Harding know we’re around.” He nodded, and Ellie walked over to the heap of bodies. With all the rain, they’d needed to gather an excessive amount of wood, followed by even more wood. There was nowhere close enough to shelter it from all the wet.

It was a foolish and excessive use of her mana, but she was able to generate enough fire and heat for the pyre to eventually catch. If she didn’t have magic, or experience lighting fires in the rain, Ellie wouldn’t have bothered.  

“Alright, back on the horses. I want to get out of here before something tries to kill us.” Ellie said, hopping back onto Pecado. A few of the others exchanged uncertain looks, but they didn’t argue.

“Aren’t we supposed to stay near the camp?” Neria asked, once it was clear Ellie was up to something. They’d been travelling for over an hour, and it was the second time she’d had to suddenly shift directions to try and navigate around a sudden cliff or similar geographical obstacle.

“No. We are supposed to meet with Lieutenant Harding at the camp. As she is not there, we have other objectives to concern ourselves with.” Ellie replied shortly. She didn’t feel like explaining herself or risking an argument.

How she’d managed to maintain authority for so long, and convince any of them that she knew what she was doing, still shocked her. Being able to melt bad guys helps. Considering how terrible her reputation in Haven was, and that she was a mage, Ellie had expected a lot more resistance and animosity towards her. I must fake badass better than I thought.

Chapter Text

 

The closer she got to the magic, the more certain Ellie was that it was one of Solas’s veil artifacts. She didn’t know how to explain it, but it felt ‘veil-y’.

“We’ve gone in a circle.” Martin said, and Ellie’s lips thinned. They’d actually gone in a circle twice, but she wasn’t about to point it out.

“And we’ll keep going in circles until we find something that looks like a front door.” She replied, pointing to the cliff face they’d explored from top to bottom, front to back. “The entrance may be blocked, or collapsed, but under this stupid heap of rock and dirt is what we’re here for. If you see ruins, anything, say something.”

If it really was buried, Ellie would throw a fit. There had to be a way inside. Some hidden entrance, or a cave – something.

She knew her powers of observation were pitiful compared to the likes of Soven, so Ellie focused on looking with her not-spidey senses instead. The only problem was that the entrance wasn’t necessarily closer to the object. Closing her eyes, Ellie tried to search with her aura and the veil instead.

The third time they passed the waterfall, Ellie noticed a small spike. All the cool kids look for entrances with their eyes closed. It made focusing easier, but definitely drew a few odd looks, or she expected it did. Ellie couldn’t tell. Her eyes were closed. It was a reasonable deduction, considering she was trying to find something without using her eyeballs.

“I think it’s behind the waterfall.” Ellie said, and she heard a few groans.

“We’ll get wet.” Duncan complained, as if they weren’t already completely soaked, and hadn’t been that way for the past few days. Ellie didn’t even remember what being dry felt like at this point. I bet Leliana never heard back from the base camp because the crows drowned mid-flight.

“We’re already wet. Now we just get to be extra wet. By the end of this we’ll grow gills and turn into mermaids.” She replied.

“Not funny.” Martin grumbled.

There weren’t any side ledges to bypass the shallow river, so Ellie guided Pecado into the water and towards the fall. The others didn’t follow, and she looked over her shoulder as water splashed up onto her legs. Soven shrugged. Pussies.

Pecado didn’t like the idea of going through the aqua curtain either, and he huffed and shifted back and forth. Unfortunately he was doing this in front of a waterfall, while standing in a shallow river, which meant they were still getting extra wet regardless. Eventually her hellbeast seemed to realize this, and she was able to coax him through. Sure enough, there was a cave on the other side. 

Turns out eyeballs are overrated.

Ellie pulled out her staff and cast a light spell, holding it forward to illuminate the cavernous walls, only for her heart to drop into the pit of her stomach. Reflecting back were several sets of shining green eyes belonging to what could only be cave spiders.

She let out a pitiful whimper, trapped between the urge to close her eyes and run away screaming like an idiot, and watching the one closest to her which had gone still and crouched up against the wall. If that thing jumps at me I swear to fucking god-

It jumped, and Ellie shrieked. She sounded like a sorority sister, and all but fell off Pecado in her desire to avoid a giant spider to the face. For one horrible moment it looked like the spider was riding her horse. When the horrible moment didn’t pass, Ellie realized that, no, there really was a giant spider riding her horse - a fact Pecado was not at all okay with.

There were way too many legs in one place, and Pecado was not putting up with her, the spiders, or the cave’s, bullshit and he bolted back through the waterfall. The spider currently in his saddle went with him. This was immediately followed by loud swears and someone, it was hard to tell who through the curtain of water, screaming something that sounded very close to ‘what in the Maker!?’ and ‘Andraste’s tits, get it off me!’

A second later Soven had leapt through the waterfall, landing crouched with his weapons drawn, clearly ready to take on whatever horrors were on this side of the water. Oh… right… I, uh, screamed… His eyes darted around, brow furrowing with confusion when their eyes met.

She stared back at him stupidly, standing there completely unharmed, as chaos continued to reign on the other side of the water. When it became evident that there was clearly no immediate danger, he straightened, eyes darting back in the direction of the ongoing fight as the spider let out a shriek amidst their companions’ screams and the clash of swords against carapace.

The seconds passed and Soven looked back at Ellie, who blinked. She could see the question forming on his lips when there was an angry neigh and Martin shouted, “Fuck, it’s back on the horse!” The elf seemed to think better of it, and they went back to awkwardly eyeing each other in silence.

Soven cleared his throat.

Ellie scratched the back of her head.

“Hurry, cut off its escape before it can ride any further!” Neria yelled.

“Aim for the eyes!” Martin shouted, followed by, “Shit, get it off Duncan!”

“What are you doing!? I- Oh Maker!” Duncan yelped.

All the while the spider shrieked angrily, amidst thrashing and splashing of horse and person. Somehow, Ellie couldn’t bring herself to go out there. I mean, they’ve totally got it covered.

“Fuck! There’s webs everywhere! I can’t-“ Neria started, before there was an exceptionally loud splash, and Ellie was pretty sure one of the horses had just fallen over. Uh, I mean.. it’s just one spider… surely…

“How is it still moving!? But it’s legs-No, stop, get back!” Uh.. right? Soven was now looking at the waterfall with growing concern.

There was another loud shriek from the arachnid, a great deal of thrashing, followed by silence. Neither of them moved, and Soven looked back at Ellie when it was clear that the rest of their party hadn’t just been killed by a spider riding a horse.

“Uh.. we should probably look like we were doing something.” He said quietly, nodding in the direction of the next closest spider, who was still out of jumping range, before giving her a look.

“Oh, right!” She turned to face the spider, suppressing a shudder, then sent a ball of fire at it.

It hissed angrily and began to charge towards them, while on fire, and Soven rolled his shoulders and readied himself before glancing over his shoulder and saying, “shit! Look out!”

Unfortunately, the spider died before it quite reached them. It was smaller than the one that had gone riding Pecado, and Ellie swore under her breath. She jogged further into the cave and tossed a weak lightning bolt at the next closest pair, and this time she waited for them to be closer before frying them. We’re both going to hell.

Soven cut off a leg and stabbed the bodies a few times for good measure, and Ellie splattered herself with some spider guts, to which he gave her an affirming nod. When the rest of the party finally came through the other side, battered and breathless, only Sean eyed the two of them dubiously.

The horses were led in behind Sean, and Pecado still had a spider leg dangling from a stirrup. I don’t even want to know. Ellie was able to fell the next several spiders with little difficulty, but there were so many of them that she was leaning on her staff by the end of the first cavernous chamber. If you could cast without nullifying everything, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Panting, she looked down at the spider corpse by her feet and kicked it half-heartedly.

“You holding up okay?” Martin asked, and she looked up to see the others all waiting for her up ahead. Oops.

“Yeah, just, uh, give me a minute.” Or several minutes, and a nap. Ellie wasn’t tapped, but this was a workout. She allowed herself around five minutes, then it was back to the spider slaying. Halfway down the next corridor, Ellie saw a familiar looking lantern on the wall and her face lit up. It’s one of the veilfire ones!

Running over she picked it up, and, when nothing happened immediately, Ellie tried activating it with some of her mana. The lantern flickered green before the ghostly flames erupted in its center, and she beamed. Memory flames are so cool!

“Why is the fire green?” Neria asked warily, and Ellie had déjà vu – only this time she got to be the smarty pants.

“It’s veilfire!” Stowing her staff in its holster, ignoring the light it continued to give off, Ellie trotted back to the others with the brazier. When a few of them took a step back, she added, “no it’s totally safe. Look!” Ellie stuck her hand into the green flames and wiggled them. “See? It’s only a little warm.” She held it out to them, “honest, try it!”

Martin and Neria were now looking at Ellie as if she’d lost her mind, and even Sean was eyeing the magical flame with apprehension. Jesus Christ people, what ever happened to your childlike wonder? This is cool, both literally and figuratively! Stop hating awesome shit!

Determined to show them that not everything magical wanted to kill them, she held the lantern out to Neria. “Really, try it!” Without the Dread Wolf and Lavellan around to keep her scared, she couldn’t help but completely nerd out around magic that wasn’t set on causing her agony.  

She returned Ellie’s insistence with a look of clear harassment, before finally sticking a single finger quickly through the flame as if she expected it to bite her. When nothing happened, she poked it more slowly, but that was as far as she was willing to experience the badass memory fire. Martin wouldn’t touch the stuff.

“How close are we to the artifact?’ Soven spoke up, interrupting her attempted lesson in friendly magic. At least he didn’t seem off put around magic like the rest of them.

Ellie paused, looking up ahead and focusing on the pulse of energy, “Close.”

“Then we should keep going.” Martin said, a little too eagerly as he walked quickly away from the spooky, harmless lantern. She only pouted a little. When nobody was looking.

The orb was in the room at the end of the corridor, although room was a strong word. This place was closer to a cave than a ruin.

Being in such close proximity to such powerful magic sent a pleasurable shiver up her spine, and made the hairs on her arm stand on end. Even more exciting was the fact that she’d been right. Very little about Thedas had worked out well for her so far, and magic came to her as naturally as a cat in water – in that it didn’t.

This could be one of her few victories in this terrible place. A spot where she’d made a judgement call, trusted her gut, and, knock on wood, everything didn’t blow up in her face. She’d been too afraid to bet on the orb being in a place they could lie low, but If the number of spiders were any indication, the Blades of Hessarian would not find them in here.

Licking her lips, she approached the dark orb atop a pile of rubble in the corner, and reached out to touch it before hesitating. She had no idea how to activated it. Focusing hard enough to make the space behind her eyes hurt, the space began to shimmer, and only then did she put a hand to the object. At least this way if I manage to start tearing the veil, I can catch myself and stop. You know, before breaking the planet.

Carefully, and slowly, she began to push mana into it in the same way she had with the veilfire lantern. It seeped through the surface easily, only to catch on what felt like a maze or puzzle inside. Trying to push her magic deeper went about as well as her skill with those infuriating marble labyrinth games, and every time she made progress it seemed to slip through her fingers. Magic weaved into the object only to fall through invisible cracks and be reabsorbed by the fade.

Considering it had taken Solas all of a second to activate, her own difficulties left her flustered. Yes, compete with the god of magic in activating his own devices. The ones that affect the veil – that he made. Do you hear yourself!? She couldn’t help it. Her competitive streak was a character flaw, and one that she fed regularly. It liked long runs and obsessive behavior.

She’d gone into this situation knowing there might be some weird trick to activating the orb, and knew there was a very real chance she wouldn’t be able to figure it out. Her backup plan had the potential to be disastrous, but Sandymon hadn’t threatened to spill Ellie’s secrets to Solas in the fade for a while. If anything, it seemed to avoid him. What could possibly go wrong? Has anyone ever told you you’re an idiot? Surprisingly, few had.

When Ellie stood back up, Soven asked “did you activate it?” Oh, right, they can’t tell.

She shook her head, “no. There’s a puzzle to it. I need to get the answer key.” She went over to Pecado, and started removing his saddle bags. “We’ll camp here for the night. Outside of the spiders I think we’ll be safe.”

“Where do we have to go to get the key?” Martin asked.

“Oh, nowhere. I just need to ask in the fade. If all goes well it shouldn’t take long.”

Martin’s nostrils flared, and his eyes widened in alarm. “You’re going to consort with demons?”

“No, of course not.” Ellie lied, “I’m going to ask a spirit, or have the spirit ask a friend.”

The scout eyed her, then huffed and muttered, “you mages are weird.”

They went about setting up camp and unloading their horses, and Ellie wasted little time pulling out her bedroll and dragging it over to the wall closest to the orb. The sooner she could sleep, the sooner she could work on talking to Sandy. If worse came to worse she suspected she could talk the demon into finding and pestering Fen’Har-Solas- into telling her what to do.

From what she’d read, she wasn’t sure if it was normally possible for spirits to easily find specific people in the Fade, especially when they were awake; but Sandy had said he was in both places, and since he’d made the veil, and was a god, he sounded like someone that should be easy for spirits to find.

-

Ellie was at the horse track with her father, ignoring the droll of business conversation next to her as the next race started. The only good thing about coming to such pretentious affairs was the excuse to wear absurd hats, and look through dainty binoculars with dangerously raised eyebrows.

The horses were out of the gate, rounding the first stretch, when she realized the jockeys all had eight legs. Instead of midgets, the thoroughbreds were being ridden by spiders, complete with the ridiculous little hats. When the dream collapsed, she was almost sorry to see it go as the scene collapsed and she found herself in the familiar white space.

When Sandy didn’t show up immediately, like she’d hoped, Ellie whistled and called out to the demon. She didn’t know if it was possible to scream or think loudly enough to draw a specific spirit or demon, but trying to seemed to work half the time.

Sandy appeared, looking pointy-toothed and elfy as ever, complete with the glowing neon blue vallaslin, and was going to speak before her eyes narrowed. Don’t look at me like that.

“Why should I? What if I don’t want to?” Sandymon huffed, crossing her arms.

“Aren’t we friends? That’s what friends do.”

“Fine!” The demon made a show of how much she didn’t want to, despite agreeing. “Where is your wolfy? Fenny Fen Fen?”

“Uh..well..” She looked around her, and realized she had no way of knowing which way she was oriented with respect to the fade while in her dream. “Which way am I facing in the waking world. Can you see that from the reflection part of the fade?”

Sandy made an ‘mmmm’ noise then vanished in a poof before returning several seconds later. “That way.” She pointed in a direction.

“Okay, if my face.”  Ellie pointed to it, turning to face the direction Sandy had pointed, “is pointing that way, then Solas is off in that direction.” She pointed her arm out towards what she hoped would be west, considering the fade didn’t follow the same rules.

“Okie dokie.” Sandy said, before floating around. It didn’t seem particularly pressed to go anywhere. Now would be nice?  She stuck blew a raspberry, said “Toodles, falon.” Then vanished, leaving Ellie to wait in the white space with increasing trepidation.

Shit, I didn’t tell it what to say. Ellie knew Sandy could read thoughts, so logic would follow that it understood what she wanted. Still. It wasn’t like the demon had a reputation for doing what she wanted, in the way she wanted. If anything, it was closer to the opposite. Sandy would help, but in a way that also drove her nuts.

Perception of time in the fade never flowed as linearly as it did in the waking world, and Ellie wasn’t sure how long she waited before Sandy returned, but it was faster than expected. A lot faster.

“Olly olly oxen free!” Sandy announced with a toothed grin upon her return, and Ellie looked to her right to find the demon hovering a few feet from Solas. Of course she’d bring him here.

Solas’s brows furrowed slightly as he looked around the absolute blankness that was her dreamscape. At Sandy’s seemingly nonsensical words, he eyed the demon consideringly, before finally shifting his attention to Ellie. “Your... friend said you wished to speak with me.” He didn’t appear particularly hurried, so that was a plus.

“Uh, sorry.” Ellie replied, trying to give an outward appearance of calm. It was easier said than done, considering he was- no, don’t think about it. You’ll panic if you think about that. He’s just Solas for now. “Right, uh- I’ve located another one of – another artifact that can help strengthen the veil, but I don’t know how to activate it.” Okay, why is he looking at me like that!?

His eyebrows rose, “You were able to detect and locate an artifact on your own?” Gee, try not to sound so incredulous.

“Well, yeah… but shoving magic at it didn’t work, so I figured It would be smarter to ask before I broke something.” Ellie replied with a small grimace. It wasn’t like she was the most competent person out there to try and pull this off.

“I see. Few would think to utilize the fade in such a manner.” He paused, glancing around a second time, for all the good that did. There was nothing to see. “You are a dreamer, as well?”

“What?” She blinked at him, then it clicked and Ellie shook her head. “No, I’m not like you. I can’t manipulate the fade or anything. I’m not a ‘somnia-whatever.” It had only been one of the first things she’d tried, and repeated to try, since showing up here. He didn’t show his disappointment, but Ellie knew it was there. Solas was the Fade’s #1 fanboy. Don’t think about it.

“You are certain?” His brow furrowed, a slight frown crossing his lips. As he clasped his hands behind his back, Ellie got the distinct impression that he might not believe her. Please don’t let this be Leliana all over again. She could only appease so many confirmation biases.

“Isn’t that the sort of thing I’d notice? I can’t even get my dreams to do what I want.” Ellie waved a silk-gloved hand vaguely at the empty whiteness they were both standing in. Wait, silk?

Ellie stilled. The guilt beginning to bubble up in her stomach vanished, and her eyes widened when she put a tentative hand to her hair and found, to her horror, a hat. Oh, for the love of – I have not seriously been having a conversation with fucking Solas dressed from the spider jockey dream. Noooononono.

Fingers fumbling, she started trying to pry off the hat, and Sandy snickered loudly. Her face was threatening to go red, and she didn’t dare look in Solas’s direction until she knew what, exactly, was on her head. She could feel fur and feathers, which was -not- comforting. The stupid thing was pinned properly, too, which meant it was half a puzzle to finally rip it off of her head.

It was worse than she’d expected. This was British Royalty bad. How has he maintained a straight face with me wearing this!? The abomination now in her hands had several, long peacock and white feathers sticking out one end, but that was the least of it. In the center was a massive, furry cave spider – complete with a riding crop in one leg and a bright pink helmet. Just kill me now. Please.

“I rest my case.” Ellie managed weakly, after staring at it in abject revulsion for several seconds. Don’t just stand there, brave face. There was a good chance her face was as pink as the absurd spider’s hat when she finally threw the thing to the ground. “The explanation is even more absurd than the hat – not even Varric would buy the story.”

Solas chuckled, which could be added to the list of unbelievable things that had happened to her today. “I would like to hear it.”

She stared at him and tried not to look too surprised. It had been soft, and brief, but the equally small smile on his lips implied that she hadn’t completely lost her mind. It was a good thing her face was already a tomato, because him laughing would have normally made her go red with embarrassment. Yes, how fortunate you’re already too embarrassed to look more embarrassed.

“Uh- uh, yeah. Sure.” She was going to regret that later. For now, story time had to wait. “But, uh, the artifact? I don’t know how much time I have before I’ll have to wake up, so, uh, yeah…” Her words tapered off into an awkward silence.

“Ah, yes. Of course.” Solas switched seamlessly back into the role of information dispensary. “In order to activate the orb you must pull the veil into it. Once you have done so, it is a matter of drawing magic from the fade, and through the portion of the veil you’ve warped, into the device. Then it will unlock.” So much for simple.

“How does unlocking it strengthen the veil? Is it to keep it in place or something, like with weights on nets?” Ellie asked, voicing a question she’d had for a while. Anything to get her mind off the heat in her face and that hat. She hardly noticed his eagerness to answer the question.

“These artifacts create a current. By manipulating the veil, and pulling magic into it from the fade, a cycle is created. The orbs act as an intermediary between the veil and both worlds. Each one pulls energy from the fade, through a small portion of the veil, into the waking world. Energy gathered from the siphon is then rerouted back into the veil as a whole. Reinforcing it.”

It was evident from how he spoke about it, that Solas was pleased with his own cleverness in their creation. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you almost sound like you made the things. Oh wait. He was lucky nobody else in Thedas gave a shit, or he’d unmask himself out of pride in his magical veil-babies. It was also a little sad. This was something he was clearly passionate about, which was saying something. Ellie had never seen him looking so, well, awake. So much for thinking of him as ‘only Solas’.

“… and the orb converts the raw energy of the fade into rift magic, as a product of the cycle?” Ellie asked, unsure if she was asking stupid questions again. Even more terrifying was the fact that this bordered on making sense to her. Nothing here was supposed to make sense to her.

Solas nodded, his smile growing slightly. “Precisely.” Holy tits, it’s like the veil’s personal Krebs cycle.

“Oh, that makes sense.” She paused, chewing her lip and looking around at all the nothing before looking back at Solas, “what caused them to deactivate? Does it only work for a little while, or will they cycle for a long time?”

“A matter of time, I suspect.” More like you know. “The energy deteriorates until there is not enough to complete the ‘cycle’, and the current breaks. It is difficult to know how long they may remain active for. Perhaps centuries.”

“You said they act as intermediaries between worlds – does that mean they exist in both?”

She hadn’t intended it to be a weird question, but it must have been. Instead of answering immediately, Solas hesitated. The shift was subtle, and when he did answer his words were more careful. “It is difficult to say.” He was pretending to be thoughtful, but that was a question Ellie knew he’d know the answer to. He’d made the damned things. “How much of the book have you gotten through?”

The tiny smile he wore no longer reached his eyes, and Ellie forced herself to swallow the lump growing in her throat. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Resisting the urge to run screaming, for all the good that would do in the fucking fade, Ellie scratched her nose. “Maybe a third of the way, or three-eighths?” As always, when nervous, grin and chuckle like a moron. “I don’t understand most of it.”

“Liar.” Sandy spoke up with a wide grin, watching Ellie closely as it hovered into Solas’s personal space.

Ellie flinched visibly, then froze like a deer in headlights. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even that much of a lie. It was closer to a technicality, really. One look at Solas did not comfort her. Those stupid blue eyes were re-evaluating her, she was sure of it. Shit. Shit.

Shit.

What the fuck, Sandy!? The demon looked delighted, before suddenly veering away from Solas when he finally turned to look at her. Apparently that was enough reason for Ellie’s ‘friend’ to vanish. Fuck.

Solas - oh, who was she kidding - Fen’Harel, turned back to look at her, raising an eyebrow. A questioning eyebrow. ¡María Madre de Dios! I’m so dead. Muerta. Estoy muerta. Estoy so muerta.

Lo siento, pero no pensé – er, el libro-” She stopped, then tried again. In English. “Sorry, I didn’t think skimming counted. The La- Tevinter it uses isn’t as easy for me to understand, and the spelling consistency is atrocious because it’s always referencing other books, and without context it’s harder to know if I’m understanding it right.” She was blathering again. “So, uh.. I’m not really sure what I know. I don’t know what I know. Yeah.” That is your brilliant cover? ‘I don’t know what I know’? How does that even – what is – are you retarded!?

“Ah.” He paused, then added. “You should consider giving yourself more credit. Do you know how to manipulate the veil?”

“Poke it with magic?” Ellie answered weakly, and real or not, her heart was beating a mile a minute.

“Gently. It will not respond well to nullification.”

“I’ll, uh, try not to break anything.”

He gave her a small smile that still didn’t reach his eyes, “That would be for the best.”

Ellie gave him a double thumbs-up, and prayed that she didn’t look as scared as she felt. Now would be a very good time to wake up. This was totally, definitely, the natural end to their conversation. At least she thought that’s what it was. “Uh… any chance you could wake me up?” She could hope – anything to get away.

Solas inclined his head, “Wake up.”

 

Chapter Text

Ellie’s eyes snapped open, and she took a deep breath before sitting up. She hadn’t bothered to fall asleep in a comfortable position, and her back popped several times when she twisted it before getting to her feet. Either she needed to get more sleep, or she’d woken up at the wrong place in her REM cycle, because she felt like a very groggy rock.

Rubbing her eyes, she trudged to join the others, who had tossed a lit torch on the ground for light. The veilfire lantern had remained untouched. Pussies. Sean had settled up against one of the walls and looked like he was sleeping, which was for the best. He was paler than she’d like, and Ellie made a mental note to re-check his injuries for signs of infection after dinner.

“How long was I out?” Ellie asked, plopping down next to Soven.

He didn’t look up from the knife and whetstone in his hands, giving her a mild shrug. “Half a watch. Maybe more.” She took that to mean somewhere between thirty minutes and two hours.  

Ellie grunted, and she tried to ignore the sideways glance that Soven and her both knew the others were giving them. For what it was worth, at least she knew they were even. After finally making light of her horrendous reputation, followed by a few days of Soven being weird, they’d fallen into something close enough to whatever it was they had prior to her being a mana-drained dumbass and pissing him off. It was… nice.

It didn’t hurt that Soven was clearly the most experienced person there. She needed all the help she could get, and he didn’t seem to give a damn one way or the other what happened. Ellie had the sneaking suspicion she could kill everyone else in the dead of night, then vanish into the wind, and he wouldn’t raise a finger to stop her. Or he’s good at giving that impression. The idea was more than a little disturbing. 

Making a fire was out of the question, so Ellie used magic to heat and cook their food that evening. The veilfire lantern sat on the ground flickering, but it didn’t give off enough warmth to double as a space heater, which was unfortunate. Sean’s injury didn’t look worse, but the rest of him did. She wasn’t sure how much blood he’d lost, but it was enough that she was concerned.

As they were camping in a cave full of spiders, every so often one would wander down the stretch towards their alcove, and a few of them would move to kill it, but it was predictable and safe relative to the clusterfuck of things trying to kill them dead outside.

When Ellie announced they were spending the following day in the cave, Martin was the only one who voiced any objection. “We have orders. We’re supposed to scout and meet up with the Lieutenant.” 

“I am perfectly aware of our orders, Martin. All of them.” Ellie stressed the last sentence with a raised eyebrow, her tone firm. Clearly she had secret orders they weren’t aware of. That was totally the case. Move over Solas, there’s a new queen of falsehoods, and she’s stealing your chair. Today was no different. It was what she did every day: play the unflappable action hero. She was hard as steel, experienced, and terrifying. Keep telling yourself that and you might start to believe it.

“What, and the inquisition wants us hiding like cowards?” He retorted, and the accusation stung. He’s right. No, he wasn’t. That wasn’t why she was doing this. This is the part where they all realize you’re a fraud.

Ellie narrowed her eyes at Martin warningly, praying her voice didn’t betray her. “I understand that we are all tired and stressed, but my decision to take a day here has very little to do with cowardice.”

“We should be doing something.” Like what? Go get mauled by a few bears and have tea with cultists?

“We are. It’s called resting. Day after tomorrow we’ll be back out in the mud and you can get drenched in blood and mauled by bears to your heart’s content. But for now, we are resting. You, are resting.” When it looked like he was going to protest further, she lost her patience. “That’s an order, Martin. It may have escaped your notice, but this is not a discussion. My decision is final. Sit. The fuck. Down.” Or I will make you.

Even if the last sentence had been thought and not spoken, the message was clear. Martin sat down, and Ellie hoped she wouldn’t wake up with a cave-fevered soldier putting his sword to her neck that night. Martin seemed on edge about the whole thing, and he didn’t want to sit still, but she didn’t know how to fix something like that. That wasn’t the kind of thing she was good at. She also didn’t give a damn.

When silence continued to reign, she walked over to the veil artifact and counted to ten in her head. It was time to try and crack this egg. Heh, egg. You’re an idiot.

Calming herself down enough to try and mess with the veil took several minutes, and she wondered if this is what bomb experts felt like in the field. He wouldn’t let me go ahead with this if he didn’t think I could do it, right? Ellie sure hoped not, but she wasn’t about to try and guess the logic of a god.

There was an unspoken rule that god logic had to be weird, just like there was a rule about them all being slightly neurotic and prone to fixation. That went double when it came to matters of love, and the rule book exploded if a god fell in love with a mortal – because it couldn’t contain all the crazy.

You’re getting distracted, focus. Ellie focused. The relative silence made it easier for her to filter out what her eyes were seeing, and to focus on the layer of shimmering light that was interwoven throughout everything. The veil was thin here. Fragile. She wasn’t sure how to warp the veil, but she had a few ideas.

Between her own feeble understanding, Solas, and the book, the easiest way to affect change was to draw directly from the fade. There was only one problem with that: every time Ellie drew from the fade she’d pulled from the opening in her, and not externally. From the way the veil book spoke about magic, and interaction with the fade, the difference was closer to an illusion than actuality – whatever that meant.

Nerves were getting the best of her, and her heart was hammering in her chest so loudly that she was beginning to wonder if she should be trying any of this at all. You can do this. Just to be on the safe side, she decided to grab the book and her notes, flipping through them aimlessly as she stalled.

After fifteen minutes Ellie was ready to consider trying to use magic again. It was stupid that she was psyching herself out so much in the first place – this wasn’t supposed to be difficult. It had taken Solas all of a minute. Not even a minute, more like several seconds. You got this. Bracing herself, Ellie focused on a spot of shimmery stuff just outside the black orb’s surface, and gently tried to coax some of the fade into the glittery bits.

Yes. Glittery bits. That’s the technical term.

It took several tries, but around attempt twenty-something Ellie finally managed to get the magic into the shimmery part without it getting pulled through or falling back in the other direction. From there she tried to move the glittery bits into the orb, using the energy to push, twist, and stretch it, but that was easier said than done.

The veil was like tissue paper – the sparkly kind people shoved into gift bags when they didn’t feel like wrapping a present properly. It would be one thing if she knew how to patch a tear, but she hadn’t read the book on magical scotch tape yet.

Preventing tears ended up involving her pulling on surrounding areas of the veil, using what little leeway she had to gently tug the glittery bits into the orb. Ellie was glad there weren’t any other mages present to watch her fumbling, because this was taking her much longer than a minute. She didn’t have the skill or experience to do any of this quickly without tearing a hole in the veil large enough to cover the room – that was how far she was having to reach for the slack she needed.

At one point someone, Soven probably, approached, asking her a question, but she shook her head and muttered a ‘no’ in the hopes it would make them go away. He stood there for a moment, before saying something else and leaving.

Slowly, so very slowly, Ellie was able to inch the veil into the orb, and she could feel it slide and weave past the blocks and holes she’d been unable to pass through earlier. Ugh, why does it have to get to the center. Can’t it work with just ‘close enough’? She was tempted to try and physically move the orb the rest of the way, but her hands were too tangled up in glittery bits for her to risk it. Plus, it sounded like a terrible idea. That was exactly the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that lead to trouble.

When she finally reached the center, the artifact latched onto the piece of the veil immediately. There was a whir of magic as the rest of the surrounding veil suddenly warped and twisted into the orb as if by a strong magnetic force. It was connected, and Ellie could feel the current of magic she was still tangled up in flowing into the device.

 She waited, expecting the magic to ripple back out. It didn’t. Maybe it needs a stronger catalyst? The line into the orb was there, so the hard part was done. With the current established, all Ellie needed to do was give it a larger handful. At least that was the idea. The hum of magic around her grew louder, raising goosebumps on her arms, and she felt the circle complete with what she could only describe as a ‘spark’.

The magical energy cascaded out from the orb across the veil in a wave, and the sudden explosion of glitter made her close her eyes with great inefficacy. She could practically taste the magic as it rippled over her, and there was a large part of her that wanted to reach out and try to take it. Be it the magic itself, or the power it represented, Ellie couldn’t help but feel a certain yearning for more of it. Not that she had any intention of acting on the impulse, but the desire was there.

With a deep breath, she waited for the urge to pass, as it always did, and let go of her hold on the veil. The orb had been activated, and Ellie realized she was grinning like an idiot. I did it! She swelled with pride, clasping a hand over her mouth when she started to giggle.

Maybe she was high on magic, Ellie didn’t know or care - she was excited, dammit. This was an accomplishment for her, and she was going to be excited about it. The Storm Coast was a soggy nightmare, and she was going to celebrate her little victories.

“Looks like the witch has finally lost it.” Neria said dryly.

“Then perhaps she’ll eat something.” Soven replied.

Martin made an irritable grunting sound.

“You know I can hear you.” Ellie called over her shoulder, still smiling.

Soven looked up from his food to Ellie, expression deadpan as he leaned towards Martin and whispered loudly. “She’s making eye contact. We better be careful.”

The glare Martin shot at Soven made the elf smirk.   

At the mouth of the room were a handful more spider carcasses, and when Soven offered her a bowl of food she took it, surprised. Hot food meant breakfast or dinner. That meant this was breakfast. While she knew she’d taken a while, Ellie didn’t realize she’d spent the entire night sitting there with her fingers tangled up in the veil.

“Are you finished with the artifact?” Soven asked once she’d taken the bowl, crouching down beside her.

Ellie nodded. “Yes.”

“Is there a reason this one took so long?”

“Uh,” she hesitated, “I am not an expert on the veil like Solas. It required a type of magic I’ve never used before, and any mistakes risked creating a rift.” A nice, big one I’d be unable to close!

“Will it take this long on the next one?” Soven was asking questions again.

“No.” She gave him a flat look, “Why? Will a certain Nightingale want to know?”

He rolled his eyes, “obviously.” Ellie blinked at him in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to admit it, but she hadn’t bothered to ask before, either. Well, that confirms that.

“Any chance you can just give me a list on the stuff she wants to know about? Save us both the trouble?” It never hurts to ask. Usually.

He snorted, “there is no list. I like to suck up on field reports.” Now she didn’t know what to think.

“You’re telling me you like to be thorough with -paperwork-?” She raised an eyebrow at him, because that was as believable as her saying she enjoyed getting hacked at by Templars. Are you here to spy on me or not!?

“Yes. I get the fun jobs that way.”

“Seriously?”

Soven nodded solemnly.

“Right, because fun for you is anything dangerous with a high risk of death.” Ellie replied, “whoever does the dying is the optional part.”

“That too.” He said with a small smile, and she rolled her eyes. Yeah, yeah… freakin’ nutcase. He really did have a terrible sense of humor, and Ellie could practically feel Martin shifting uncomfortably. It doesn’t help that we both say this shit straight-faced.

Ellie forced herself to ignore the urge to sleep, and spent her day studying the veil book and taking even more notes on it. Every time she ran across a word that was unfamiliar, she wrote it down. If the word was Latin, it got copied onto a separate page at the back of the book, with space to add translations. Any elven she could remember went in there, too. So far, however, the page was almost entirely Latin.

-

That night in the fade when her dream fell apart she was back in the Rocky Mountains, and that same Colorado trail. As much as she always enjoyed the view, regardless of where she popped up on it, it was beginning to niggle at her mind. She’d never given dreams much weight, but if any of this was real – any of this experience actually happening – then there could be significance to it. If there is, do I want to know?

She wasn’t sure. Ellie spent a lot of time decidedly not thinking about several things she should be. She didn’t think about how she got here, she didn’t think about if she was dead, she didn’t think about what happens if she dies here, she didn’t think about what she left behind, about her parents, about her family, about her friends – save for Sandy – about her apartment, about her – it doesn’t matter.

No, she didn’t think about those things. Something else. Think about something else.

This was the part of the trail nearby the lake, Ellie remembered that much. Skipping rocks. I can skip rocks. Thankfully her outfit hadn’t carried over from the dream this time, and Ellie was in clothing appropriate to a mountain.

Most of her time asleep was spent practicing magic, and tonight would be no different, but for now she could allow herself a break to skip some stupid rocks over some stupid water. There was no need to follow the trail, either. Nothing here was real, no matter what it felt like, so she was free to hop over boulders and shoot birds with lightning bolts. The loud squawk let her know she’d hit her mark.

It wasn’t a dignified death squawk either, and she snickered. Real life duck hunt. Honestly, the fade was pretty amazing. She might be some sort of anti-spirit anomaly, considering how few of them she saw, but even then. It was too bad that most people in Thedas lived in fear of their own dreams. People are dumb.

Dumping the backpack full of who-knows-what, Ellie also paused to kick off her hiking boots and socks before approaching the lake. There was no way in hell she was going to dip her feet in, but at least this way she could flirt with the idea.

Stone skipping was serious business, and she took her time locating suitable rock-victims for throwing. She was in the process of finding a fourth stone to thrust into watery oblivion when the hairs on the back of her neck prickled, and she paused her quest, straightening to look around.

There wasn’t anyone that she could see, but her gut told her otherwise. Not knowing what else to do, Ellie continued to stand there, waiting.

She didn’t have to wait long, only long enough for it to be creepy.

None other than Solas appeared off to her right, and Ellie tensed. Of course. You idiot. What’s that elf saying – may the dread wolf never catch your scent? Then here you are opening the door for him with a gilded invitation. Right now it didn’t matter, but it was going to suck when he went all Lex Luthor and started blowing shit up. You knew this would happen, suck it up.

“Forgive me. It is not my intention to intrude.” Solas said, inclining his head. Yes it is. That’s exactly what it is. You want to see what I dream – see! You’re doing it right now!

His attention had drifted off of her to her surroundings, and Ellie handled this invasion with composure and grace. That is to say, she lacked both entirely. “What are you doing here.” The words came out more forcefully than she’d intended, making it closer to an accusation than a question. Well done.

Solas looked back at her and blinked, brow creasing. “The Herald has received word from the Nightingale, regarding difficulties encountered along the Storm Coast.” She resisted the urge to facepalm. Way to jump the gun. “The message was brief. I came to inquire about your location, as well as learn more about the situation - if that is where you are located presently.” Oh great, now you’ve annoyed him.

“I- uh- sorry. That question came out a lot worse than I meant it to.” Fumbling for a way to make up for it, Ellie managed to be even cooler than she already wasn’t: by making a peace offering. “Rock?” Ellie asked, holding out one of the carefully selected skipping stones to him. Is your brain broken!? Don’t answer that.

Solas looked at the proffered stone for a moment, then back at Ellie, and she didn’t blame him for being confused. Ellie was confused too. He hesitated, as if trying to determine whether it was a strange attempt at humor – she wished it were – before taking a few steps forward and carefully taking the stone from her fingers. “I – thank you.”

She gave him a serious nod of her head, expression grave as she defaulted to purposeless absurdity. It was the cheekbones all over again. Reaching out with her free hand, she folded his fingers over the small rock with unnecessary ceremony. Ellie, no. What are you doing, Ellie?! Once the pebble was safely clutched in his fist, she clasped her hand over his and looked him in the eyes. You don’t have a reason to be confusing him, Ellie! No, there was a reason in there somewhere. She was sure of it. Perhaps it was time to invest in more appropriate defense mechanisms.

Some seriously uncertain blue eyes looked back. She should not find this as hilarious as she did. Messing with an elven god of trickery was a really, really bad idea. Ellie… don’t you dare. Don’t you say it. Don’t you fucking- ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ She couldn’t say it. That was too much, and she wasn’t completely insane. Debatable.

Nope, she was not saying that. She was, however, now very aware that she’d invaded his personal space as a knee-jerk reaction to her dream being invaded. Quickly letting go of his hand she turned to approach the lake for some rock skipping. That was what she’d come down here for in the first place, after all.

“Yes, I’m at the Storm Coast. Difficulties is one way of putting it.” She said normally, as if she hadn’t just been 31 flavors of weird. The first time it had made sense, but this time it didn’t. It wasn’t like she was trying to chase him off. Are you? No, she wasn’t. If she was honest with herself, he was a welcome distraction. Getting gung ho over rock skipping had been an act of desperation, not diversion.

Anything to avoid those thoughts.

“What is the situation?” Solas asked, and she heard the scraping of pebbles as he walked over to stand beside to her. His fist was still closed around the stone, and she felt a little guilty. He was probably going to analyze that whole situation looking for an explanation outside of ‘the human panics oddly’. Or he sees right through you.

“We were supposed to rendezvous with Lieutenant Harding at the base camp Leliana lost contact with, as well as locate the scouting group that failed to report back. Then from there continue going over the area.” Ellie began, unable to think of a way this information could possibly be used for diabolical purposes.

She threw the first rock, watching it bounce over the water as she continued. Six times, eh. “There’s some sort of Andrastian cult, the Blades of Hessarian, that took out the base camp and scouts. I think animals took off with what was left of the scouts, as all we came across was an arm – albeit I haven’t had the opportunity to search more thoroughly. With horses and the terrain, I couldn’t keep us in the immediate area safely - so we went to find the veil artifact instead.”

“…You are the individual responsible for the decisions of your group?” Solas asked, with a touch of surprise. Yes Solas, the brain damaged baby mage is responsible for peoples’ lives. God help us.

Ellie snorted, “I know, right? Not my idea, that’s for sure.”

“What do you intend to do?” His tone was neutral, measuring. That meant the nosey mage was trying to poke at her brain – see how she thought.

She threw the second stone, and this time it bounced properly. Eleven, much better! Only then did she look over at Solas, “in the morning we’re going to check for signs of Harding. If there still aren’t other scouts in the area, I’ll begin operating under the assumption that nobody is showing up until you guys.”

He didn’t respond immediately, but their conversations in general had a weird cadence. “There is a band of mercenaries seeking to join the Inquisition. They are led by a qunari who goes by the name ‘Iron Bull’. Should their offer be genuine, you may be able to find aid there. Should you need it.”

Ellie frowned slightly and made a ‘mmm’ noise in reply. She hadn’t forgotten that her current situation was the result of more than some insane cultists. Hiding out behind mercenaries wouldn’t impress anyone, and, unfortunately, she was in a position that necessitated making an impression. Getting people killed isn’t going to impress anyone, either.

“That’s good to know. Thanks.” She finally said.

“You are welcome.” He replied evenly, and she noticed he was still holding onto the stone. Why didn’t he just drop it?

“Well, are you gonna throw it or what?” Ellie asked, pointing to his closed hand. If she was going to use Solas as a distraction, she might as well skip rocks with the Dread Wolf. That way, when the world is ending, you’ll have a good story to tell at bars.

Solas pressed his lips together, posture tensing slightly. “Ah, yes. I must confess… I have never thrown a rock in such a manner. I presume there is a trick to it?”

Ellie stared at him, “wait, seriously?” Hold the phone. You’ve had thousands of years to throw a rock at a lake, and haven’t!?

“The village I grew up in did not have any large bodies of water nearby.” He replied stiffly.

The way she was gawping didn’t do him any favors, and he was beginning to look slightly flustered. Ellie was just trying to wrap her mind around the concept of Solas ever being a child. Would that make Mythal his mom? D’oh, probably. Wasn’t she called the all-mother or something, like Freya? Yeah… I guess if my mom was murdered I’d lose my shit too…

Then she realized she was still staring at him, and rejoined the conversation. “Oh! Well, it’s really easy! When you throw it, it’s similar to throwing a disc. You want to angle it slightly, so it hits the water at a slight angle – say ten to twenty degrees or so. When you throw it, you use your index finger and wrist to make sure it spins.” She made a circular motion with her finger, to illustrate. Yes. Spinning. That’s the part the god needs help understanding.

She started looking around the ground, and it only took her a few seconds to find one that was ‘good enough’. “Okay, so this is sorta not the best example, the rock you have is a lot better, but I don’t need a good one. Anyways, so the idea is to use the horizontal momentum to propel the rock forward while it spins to push off the water. You can even skip rocks off of waves in the ocean. Surface tension has very little to do with it.”

Considering she was showing Solas how to throw a rock, he was surprisingly attentive to her explanation and subsequent demonstration. Seriously though, thousands of years, and you never skipped a rock? The hastily selected stone only bounced twice before plunking into the water, but it bounced.

“See? Easy. Now you go.”

Solas did as he was bidden, finally opening his hand with the stone and holding it in the way she’d shown him. His genuine interest, or at least the appearance of it, had surprised her. What didn’t surprise her was that he got it to skip six times on his first try. He was a god after all.

“You sure you’ve never done that before?” Ellie teased. Note to self: fluster nerdy trickster gods by knowing random stupid shit they don’t. Because Fen’Harold doesn’t understand how childhood works.

“I was fortunate enough to have a good instructor.” Solas replied smoothly. Ellie blinked.

Wait a minute… Why had she thought making Fen’Harold skip rocks was a good idea? Solas wasn’t supposed to be playful, or expressive, or curious. He was supposed to be half-awake, arrogant, and disinterested. Being in the fade wasn’t supposed to change that. This was getting confusing, and confusing made her nervous.  

She scratched the back of her neck, “yup, that’s me. Expert rock skipping teacher.”

There was another one of their patent pauses, both of them regarding the lake, until he spoke. “I am curious. What do you mean by surface tension?” His question made Ellie stop in her tracks, mind going into overdrive. Shit.

Chapter Text

 

Ellie’s mouth felt suddenly dry, and she licked her lips before starting to reply. “Uh.. well, it’s like the elasticity, minimizing surface area, and how much liquids like to be liquid-y.. together. How cohesive it is. Like with a water drop, it stays together as a drop when it rolls down a rock if the rest of the rock is dry. The drop wants to stay with the rest of the other pieces of it. The greater the surface tension, the more force can be applied to it without disrupting the cohesion. Like attracts like.”

That had been her second mistake.

Ellie spent the next several minutes trying to explain molecular cohesion in a way that didn’t rely on any scientific background. The end result was mixed. Solas followed the concepts easily, but then he’d challenge them with further questions. She couldn’t tell if it was healthy skepticism, toying, or if he knew she wasn’t telling him everything. You know it’s the latter. Unfortunately, she was pretty sure it was.

Several of the questions had been leading, and there were only so many ways she could creatively side-step and avoid the topic devolving further into scientific oblivion. For whatever reason, he’d particularly latched onto the ‘like attracts like’ part of her sentence. Out of context she might have thought it was a poor attempt at flirting, but it wasn’t. It was something else. Either way, she sure as fuck was not going to let him drag her into explaining intermolecular forces and polarity. That was -not- happening. 

When that didn’t work, he started trying to bring the conversation back around to the fade and spirits, with those stupid vague, double-questions instead. It was like he was trying to get her to acknowledge something, but she could not, for the life of her, guess what.

Her only consolation prize in this entire mess, was Solas’s subtle, but increasing, frustration when he couldn’t seem to get the answer he was looking for. Considering Ellie had been doing mental acrobatics like a god dammed Olympian for most of the conversation, with only limited success, and a whole lot of playing dumb, the development was an absolute delight. You have nothing to be smug about.

She wasn’t willing to ask what he was talking about, and whatever it was must have required her awareness or understanding to give an answer. Short of asking directly, her bald interrogator would just have to suffer. Ellie would take her little victories - or stalemates - or not complete disasters – where she could. Dude, he completely ran circles around you. At least the brakes still worked.  

Ultimately, the line of conversation ended with him commenting that it was an ‘interesting theory’ in the infuriating doublespeak that always left her paranoid.

“You must have been a terrifying child.” She finally remarked with a huff, hoping to play off her increasing anxiety as exasperation.

Solas raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Intelligent children are every honest parent’s nightmare.” There. Now preen and ruffle your tail feathers, then go away!

“I would think intelligence an admirable trait.” He said, frowning slightly.

Ellie scoffed, “Yeah, all the way up until they realize they got outsmarted by a five-year-old.”

“You sound as though you have experience in such matters.”

“Maybe as the five-year-old. So, did your village have their hands full?” She wasn’t entirely sure why she’d taken an interest in his supposed childhood, of all things. While he claimed to have been raised in a village, she had no idea if it were true or not. She wasn’t even sure he’d ever been born – at least not in the way most people were.

Solas considered her for a moment, and she was beginning to think he might not answer when he finally spoke. “For a time. There was little to interest an inquisitive mind, especially one gifted with magic. My dreams, and the spirits of the fade, quickly became preferable to the time I spent awake. The village had only to worry itself for the hours between my last and next dream.”

That… that would explain a lot. Assuming any of it was true. From the sounds of it, if there was a grain of truth to be had, Solas might as well have been raised by spirits. No wonder he was crazy. The guy probably wished he was one. But he’s in both the Fade and the waking world – he made the veil. He’s a god. Isn’t the veil what keeps the fade and normal world separate? Ugh! Yeah, there were things that definitely didn’t add up. Maybe the village is where he took his bazillion year long nap?

Ellie realized she’d been frowning out at the water, and she quickly cleared her expression, for all the good that would do. The last thing she needed was Solas knowing she considered a life so focused on Spirits and the Fade a life half-lived. Or, you know, disapproving of a god.  

Not wanting to look over at him, she went and found another rock to stall for time. “It’s too bad,” she began carefully, stealing a glance in an attempt to gauge his reaction to her getting lost in thought. Don’t flinch, be neutral. Wear that mask of calm. One look let her know his guard was back up. He was more at ease here, and expressed himself more. That had been made abundantly clear during their little science chat. The lack of reaction here let her know there was one. Ellie quickly looked away, and swallowed as she sent another stone bouncing off the water. “That more people can’t appreciate this place. The Fade, I mean.”

She really hoped he bought it. It wasn’t a lie, but that definitely had not been the reason behind her frowning. There was no way in hell he hadn’t picked up on how weird she could be around him. As long as he doesn’t know why.

“Yet you do not venture beyond the confines of your own dreams.” He challenged. For whatever reason, that seemed to bother him.

“It isn’t a priority.” Ellie said, this time picking up a rock and throwing it normally. It sank into the water with a loud plop. “As much as I would love to unravel the secrets of the universe, this lake still has rocks to throw into it.”

“I see.” Solas did not sound particularly impressed with her reply, and she was surprised when he didn’t prod further. That’s just fine with me.

They fell into silence, and Ellie half expected him to leave, but for the time being he seemed content to watch her toss rocks into the lake. It was more comfortable than she’d expected, despite the nerves twisting in her gut.

“Were you able to activate the artifact?” Solas eventually asked. It was a safe question, not a prying one, and some of her unease waned.

Ellie’s brow furrowed and she looked over at him. “You can’t tell?”

He shook his head. “No. While I am visiting your dream, I am not truly here. There remains a great deal of distance between us. Locating a dreaming mind at a distance is possible, if one knows where to look. The surrounding fade, however, cannot be accessed.”

“Oh, right... it’s nested.” Right, that part of the fade was a reflection of the waking world, and bound to physical locations and constraints. It was the part she’d seen with Sandy. At least that was how she thought it worked. You didn’t answer his question. “Uh, yeah. I was. Took me a while, though… Honestly, I’m a little surprised you were okay with me trying to in the first place. I could have easily made a mess of things.”

“But you didn’t.” He replied.

“That isn’t the point.” Ellie didn’t know why it bothered her, but it did.

Solas raised an eyebrow. “Do you believe my faith misplaced? You located the artifact on your own, sought counsel through the fade, and grasped the explanation – all clear indicators that the task would be approached with care.”

Well, when you say it like that. “Maybe.” She said, scrunching up her nose. Now she was just being stubborn. Ellie perfectly aware of how silly it was for her to question a god’s ability to quickly judge what a person was capable of - considering they were his own freaking inventions.

When he made a noncommittal noise in response, she was suddenly very tempted to shove him and his stupid bald head into the lake. Bet he’s never had that happen, either. Who the fuck would go around shoving gods into icy mountain lakes? Nobody. That’s who. He was all up in her grill, and she didn’t know what to do about it. And even worse, he almost acted like a normal human being-er, elf being – person-thing here.

Short of her kicking him out, which she wasn’t going to do, Ellie was at a loss. She didn’t know how to make him go away without being an ass, but she really didn’t want to end up fade buddies, either. Then there was the lonely, depressed part of her that actually wanted his company. Any company. Ugh, I give up. Mentally throwing up her hands, she decided to try and make the best of it. With any luck, the rest of the night would pass quickly.

“So in the book on the veil, it cites an author trying to represent veil fluctuations algebraically. I understand why the one given wasn’t correct, but could aspects of the veil be expressed through mathematical equations or proofs? The author was critical of the attempt, but I was wondering what your thoughts were on the subject.” Maybe she’d be lucky and he won’t want to play Professor Big Bad Wolf. Wait. Would that make me Little Red Riding Shem?

She couldn’t be so lucky, and Professor Dread Wolf was in the house. Since any hopes she’d had of practicing her spell work were effectively dashed, she tried to make the best of it. This was an opportunity to learn more about the fade-veil-world relationship, as well as figuring out how far Thedas had progressed with math.

Really, it was mostly about the math. And getting Solas to do the talking instead of her. Unfortunately, Solas agreed with the author. While he admitted one could represent the connection with an equation, doing so put ‘unnecessary constraints’ on magic. Whatever that was supposed to mean. Can’t one stupid thing in this fucking place make sense in a way I can relate to!?

By the end of their discussion she’d learned less about modern Thedan math, and more about ancient elven math, than she cared for. Also that ancient elves pretty much knew everything, and did everything right, because elves. Real-Sandy had made mention of ‘ehlvhehen glory’ a handful of times, but hearing Solas talk about it with his ridiculous ‘learned it in the Fade’ excuse first hand had her stifling a snigger at one point. Ellie tried to pass it off as a cough, but from the way Solas pursed his lips she didn’t think he’d bought it.

Great, now Crazypants thinks I’m snickering at Arlathbla.

Not that it wasn’t interesting, but that hadn’t been what she was going for. Roll with it. If you slip and reference something out of place, just look Solas in the eye, say ‘ancient elves’, and wiggle your fingers mysteriously for dramatic effect. Spooky ‘wooooohhooohh’ noises optional.

The morning really couldn’t come fast enough.

-

When Duncan nudged her awake for the last spider watch of the night, it came as a relief. While time spent with Solas was always educational, it was also very stressful. And now, in the fade, confusing. Her nerves would not have lasted much longer. Even if the differences were small, by the end of the night they felt glaring. Unlike the waking world, where they were both out of place and playing along with the roles they’d taken, the Fade was clearly his playground.

He was comfortable there, and that translated into his guard being lower. A lower guard meant things like almost having expressions, and the peeking presence of a personality. A personality that -didn’t- scream Mr. Crazypants so much as under socialized nerd. That doesn’t mean he isn’t. He’s a fucking trickster god. Plus, everyone has a breaking point. There are no exceptions. Nice and bad are not mutually exclusive, either. You know that.

Keeping a general eye on the tunnel, Ellie used her watch to begin prepping her bags and packing while she thought. Giant clacking exoskeletons were loud enough on stone that even she’d notice. Once dawn had arrived, breakfast heated and eaten, and bags packed, it was time to brave the endless typhoon.

Overall, the rest had been a good call. Sean still didn’t look good, but he no longer had a foot in the grave.

“And here I was almost dry.” Neria complained, when they reached the waterfall. Ellie couldn’t blame her, she’d enjoyed the brief escape from the endless typhoon of doom as well. Maker forbid the Storm Coast stop storming.

The trip back to the abandoned base camp went more quickly this time around. The space was appeared unchanged. Ellie didn’t have high hopes, she still had them all dismount and take a look around – going through the motions for the sake of thoroughness.

“Someone has been here, but they weren’t ours.” Soven said after a few minutes. “Can’t say more with the rain.”

They lingered before giving the surrounding area a quick search. When all that their efforts rewarded them with was an angry bear, it was time to go find the Iron Bull and his mercenaries. Ellie didn’t know much about the Iron Bull, beyond him being some kind of large, gay, and kinky man-cow. Solas said he was a… Qunerie? Is that what giant cow people are called? Why the Inquisition was recruiting potential minotaurs, she had no idea.

“This isn’t going anywhere. We’re going to continue scouting new areas, and meet up with a Mercenary group that should be nearby.” Ellie said, using her authoritative voice. Or trying to. It was the same as her Rambo, but with a touch of pissy EMT. At least that was the idea.

“You keep in touch with mercenaries?” Soven asked.

“No. They’ve offered to join the Inquisition, and are waiting to meet with the Herald on her way back from Val Royeux.” Ellie replied in a quieter voice. Not that she thought anyone in the group was prancing off with intel for Cory, but it seemed prudent all the same. “Presuming they’re friendly, Sean will be able to stay with them, along with the horses, and we can move more freely… as well as address the Hessarian issue.”

Soven raised his eyebrows, studying her for a moment before looking back out to their surroundings and adding in his usual soft voice. “You’ll hear no complaints from me.”

“No, I don’t expect so.” She replied wryly, “Try to keep your dagger in your pants.”

That earned her a smile.

Ellie rolled her eyes and shook her head, glancing back at the others only to find Martin eyeing them both with beady blue eyes. He’d have made a good templar. In Martin’s defense, he didn’t know that the Iron Bull wasn’t going to try and kill them. For the very few instances where Ellie had knowledge, she was glad for it. This was, blessedly, one of those instances.

It was another full day, complete with bandits, even more bears, and sleeping in a soggy cave, before Soven spotted people that weren’t trying to stab one of them in the kidneys. At this rate we’ll have the whole area mapped. Solas hadn’t reappeared in her dreams the previous night, and it was only now occurring to her that she should have asked when, exactly, the group would be headed towards the Storm Coast.  

Pecado shifted impatiently under her as Ellie squinted out towards the figures. None of them looks like a cow. They were in robes, huddled close to the shore with collected remnants of a recent boat wreckage. “Well they certainly aren’t with the Iron Bull.”

“More rebel mages? Should we approach them?” Duncan asked.

Ellie frowned, her brow furrowing. “No.. lets keep them at a distance for now. I don’t think those are leftovers from the war.” It was one thing to go up against a bunch of half-starved, scared mages who had fled the circles, she did not trust herself to hold her own against properly trained mages from the fucking Tevinter Imperium.

“We could handle them.” Martin spoke up.

“Then we can handle them after we’ve found the mercs and seen about getting Sean better medical attention.” She replied firmly, giving Pecado’s reigns a tug back away from the edge of the tree line.

The ridge they were traversing overlooked much of the coast, and there were enough washed out spaces into the ravine below to let them head to lower ground should the need arise. Every so often the ground underneath Pecado felt like it slipped, and Ellie knew with all the rain the whole thing was a landslide waiting to happen.

Were the vantage point it allowed her more observant party members not so exceptional, there was no way in hell she’d have decided to ride up here. To say this was unsafe would be an understatement, but it was a huge time saver.

Neria was the one who spotted the next cluster of tents further down the coast, and this time the people inhabiting them looked considerably more like mercenaries. The group was large enough that it certainly looked like it could be a mercenary group. Not that Ellie had much experience with such things. Outside of killing them… or getting shot with crossbow bolts to the face.

“Alright, lets get off this impending mud slide. I think that’s them.” She said, beginning a very careful descent. It was getting easier to speak with the feigned confidence necessary to pretend she had a right to authority, and with any luck the act would be convincing by the time they reached the encampment.

“I don’t expect trouble, so let’s leave the weapons down, alright?” Ellie added, glancing back at the others.

They nodded, with varying degrees of certainty and uncertainty. All of them were tensed or readied for trouble at varying levels, and she really hoped she hadn’t misjudged this. There were a lot more mercenaries than there were of them.

The tents had been set up in a large enough clearing that they were easy to find, but hard to sneak up on. Once Ellie and her group was in that clearing, it took the camp very little time to notice. Nobody’s shooting at us, so that’s a good sign.

She could see a few get up and duck into a tent, while others watched, and fewer got up to greet her. And by greet it was closer to stand there and wait for Ellie to awkwardly approach on her giant black hellhorse. Fuck, should I say something? Do I call out or ride up? Should I get off the horse?

A wiser person would have been more concerned with introductions. You should say something.

“Thought Krem said the Herald was Dalish?” A darker skinned man spoke up, and the dwarf beside him responded with a grunt. Ellie had no idea who Krem was, but at least it sounded like she was in the right place.

“That’s because she isn’t the Herald.” Ellie said, after following several of their gazes to Neria. “We’re with the inquisition. If I understand correct-” Her voice cut off as a pair of giant horns connected to an equally giant man-thing rounded a nearby tent and came into view.

That was not a minotaur. That was something else. And it had -huge- man tits. There is nothing natural about that muscle distribution. Ellie realized she was staring and cleared her throat, grateful that she’d at least been staring at the horns and his face more than the toplessness.

“You must be the Iron Bull.” She managed, trying not to stare.

“That’s me, I’m the Iron Bull, and these are my Chargers.” He chuckled, and she’d never realized how weird it was to see someone wearing an eyepatch outside of a hospital or Halloween. “Noticed the horns, I see. So the inquisition sent you guys?”

Ellie nodded, “we’re here to scout out the area ahead of the Herald.”

 “Well, we may be expensive, but we’re worth it. This here is my second in command, Cremisius Aclassi.” Only now did Ellie notice the man standing beside the Iron Bull. He was the mercenary she’d seen speaking with Lavellan and the others when they’d returned to Haven with Mother Giselle.

“It’s Krem.” Cremisius spoke up, and the voice was definitely female.

“He’s a good man, even if he is a Tevinter.” The Bull added.

Okay, so Krem’s a lady that went dude. Got it. She so was not touching that barrel of awkward conversation. Barrels were for hiding behind. “Eleanor Roosevelt,” She couldn’t help but smirk a little. That last name was still the best decision she’d made. “But I prefer Ellie.”

“Just so we’re clear, I’m not in a position to make any official hiring decisions, but I’m sure the Inquisition can afford it.” Ellie added, looking back from Krem to Iron Bull’s… eye.

“Ah, so you’re just here for the drinks, then?” The Iron Bull said, grinning.

Ellie stared at him for a beat, blinked, then forced that smirk into a grin that left her feeling slimy. “Yes. Definitely.”

Iron Bull laughed loudly, “Oh, I think I like you.” Then he called over his shoulder, “Looks like we’re opening a barrel or two tonight, Chargers!”

There were rowdy shouts of approval from his men, and Ellie silently put ‘mercenaries’ into the same mental category as ‘college fraternities’.

The Iron Bull raised a giant hand to wave them in, and under normal circumstances she would have hopped off the horse to continue speaking, but being on the saddle had her closer to eye level with the giant. “If you have a healer, one of my men took a sword to the shoulder and could use better medical attention than I’ve been able to provide.”

“Yes, M’am.” Still smiling, the Iron Bull called over to the darker skinned man, Stitches.

After that it only took a call over to Sean, nodding at the Charger’s healer with a “go let their healer look you over.” The time back out on the road, in the rain, had Sean looking peaky again, and she didn’t miss the relief in his eyes.

True to her expectations, the Iron Bull welcomed them in, and, just like in Sandy’s fanfictions, all of the Charger’s seemed pretty big on drinking. The more Ellie thought about it, the more she realized that, apart from the Iron Bull and Dorian fucking, she had never read about the character outside of the fortress’s tavern.

Honestly, the ease with which they’d been welcomed, and permitted to join the camp, was a little too easy. Relax, he isn’t going to stab you in your sleep. You know that. It was still too easy.

Once she’d finished unloading and brushing down a soggy Pecado, and reminded the others that they’d still be expected to work tomorrow, Ellie went off to find the Iron Bull. Knowing she was safe didn’t mean she knew why. And the why mattered.

She was also pretty sure it was expected of her. Right now she was effectively the Inquisition’s representative, and crashing with mercenaries, no questions asked, would probably be weird.

It turned out the Iron Bull wasn’t kidding when he mentioned the alcohol, either. Ellie hardly had a foot into the extra-large tent when a cup of something foul smelling was half-thrust into her face. She’d hardly had the chance to register what it was before grabbing it and managing a quiet nod and ‘thank you’ to the dwarf.

The dwarf grunted. Is he mute or something?

If he was, she didn’t have the chance to ask, because the blonde man was on a mission to make sure everyone had a drink of this piss in hand. That left her and the bull. Ellie still wasn’t sure where to categorize Qunari relative to other fantasy races. Unlike dwarves and elves, they didn’t fit as easily into a slot she could reference or recognize. When words and circumstance failed her, she didn’t have parallels she could draw to fall back on.

At least the tent flaps were pinned open. His tent appeared to function closer to a command and common quarter than a personal space. The last thing she needed was everything thinking she was sleeping with -that- too.

“Gotta say Ellie, I’m a little surprised to see a mage like you with the Inquisition.” The Iron Bull spoke up, sitting down on a crate that must have been scavenged from a wreck if the latin -Tevinter- was anything to go by.

“A mage like me?” She asked back, taking a sip from the cup and immediately regretting it. Definitely frat boys. This is worse than cheap tequila mixed with natty ice.

The Bull was watching her, and maybe it was the eyepatch, but it made her uneasy. “Yeah, a mage like you.” He gave her an easy smile, warm and charismatic. Alarm bells started going off in her head. “Most bas saarebas with the know-how to scout in a place like this wouldn’t be so quick to join the chantry. A circle mage, maybe, but you are no circle mage.”

Ellie stared at him, and she wasn’t sure when she’d stepped back into Rambo, but it occurred to her that she hadn’t grimaced at the taste of piss water. Well hello there, mum. She took another, larger drink. “Bas Saarebas?” A giant bull-horned orc-thing should not be reminding her of her mother. The very notion was appalling.

 “Means a mage that isn’t Qunari.”

“Ah, I see.” Ellie decided she’d think about him as a man-cow anyways. His man-tits were large enough. “Well, what has you looking to join the Inquisition Iron Bull?”

“It’s -The- Iron Bull. Makes me sound more like a force of nature that way.” He chuckled and leaned back. His body language was open, warm, and welcoming. Nurturing and safe. Dangerous. Nobody was this nice and easy going. Especially not in a hellish fuckhole like Thedas. The only people with charisma like that were vipers.

“A thing like the Breach concerns the Qun, so they sent me to keep an eye on things.”

Varric’s book had spoken of Qunari and the Qun, and there’d been some mention here and there about Seheron and skirmishes with Tevinter. A lot of it had involved Fenris, and there were some scary dudes called the Fog Warriors, but very little of it gave her any cultural context beyond the knowledge that the Qun were as much a culture as they were a religion. If the bull starts trying to televangelize at me he’s getting pocket sand to the face.

“Let me get this straight. You want the Inquisition to hire you and the chargers, you’re expensive, you know I don’t have any say whatsoever in you getting hired, but you’re telling me you work for the Qun.” She was too sober for more Thedan bullshit like this. Ellie didn’t even bother trying to keep the incredulity out of her voice.

“Hey, you asked.” His enormous shoulders shrugged, “You might not have the final say, but you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a say.” Sure, why the fuck not.

Ellie shrugged back in acquiescence – she wasn’t about to tell the guy he was wrong. When it came to her, everyone was. Even Leliana. She didn’t fit in here, and she never would, because she didn’t belong in Thedas. This wasn’t her world. You also have no idea what you’re doing 99.9% of the time.

“Besides,” The Iron Bull continued easily, eye narrowing. “With how fast you picked up on it, the Inquisition would have made me within a week.” Shit.

That gave her pause, and she did her best to school her features. The Iron Bull was a lot more observant than she’d given him credit for. While Ellie hadn’t jumped to spy, she’d recognized him as dangerous. 

“So, what’s your reason?” The Iron Bull grinned too much.

“More than the Qun are concerned by the Breach, The Iron Bull. I don’t need to love the Chantry to work with the Inquisition. The Breach needs closing, and if the Inquisition is the one making it happen, then that’s who I’ll be helping.” She finished the horrible beverage with a final swallow.

“Simple as that, huh?”

 “Simple as that.”

It didn’t sound like he was buying it, and the approach she’d been using with Solas didn’t look like it would work with him. He was the other side of the coin, and far more direct. This was someone she’d need to be careful around.

Ellie quickly rerouted the conversation to business, and confirmed with The Iron Bull that she could leave their horses and Sean with the Chargers. They wouldn’t come to harm under his watch, and once she was sure she wasn’t committing any accidental mercenary faux paus, she wasted no time exiting the tent. She managed all of five steps before another mug of terrible booze found its way to her hand. Lovely.

At least now you know why he isn’t a threat. For now. She might not know what the Qunari’s end game was, but until then he would likely be an excellent asset to the inquisition. Any organization in a position of power is going to have spies. Leliana is probably- Ellie caught herself and scowled. It wasn’t any of her business, and she didn’t want it to be.

She hadn’t been planning to down her second cup, but plans change. This is all Solas’s fault. Stupid fucking Fen’Harel prancing around my dreams making me think. Actually think. Nothing good could come of her getting dragged further into this bullshit than she already was. Not being on Earth didn’t change anything. She wasn’t playing these games.

Chapter Text

Come morning Ellie was uncomfortably aware that she was the only person in her group with a hangover. Alcohol must affect her connection with the fade, as well, because her dreams that night had been blessedly blank. Sounds like a challenge. She could worry about getting into the fade drunk later.

Traversing the rocky, muddy, uneven, and cliff-like terrain of the Storm Coast without horses was almost fun. The others didn’t seem to share her enthusiasm, but the larger animals had been all-but dead weight on several occasions. So many days on horseback had Ellie’s left leg feeling stiff, and finally being able to stretch it out hurt in a good way. On foot, with all the mud, she could almost pretend it was a giant obstacle course.

“These are our priorities,” Ellie began the second they were out of sight from the Charger’s camp. “To finish preliminary scouting in the region, then locate the Blades of Hessarian camp. And remove them.”

So much for every life being sacred. Ellie shoved the thought from her mind.

At this point most of the region had been explored, thanks in part to the limitations imposed from sticking to routes their horses could navigate safely. What little was left nearby only took half a day to cover. After that, the only parts were by the trashed base camp, and, by extension, the Hessarians.

Not that anything was known for certain, but the cult’s presence was much stronger in that direction relative to where the Chargers were. It was an educated guess.

The next day went much as the first, with one distinction: bears. They’d set out that morning expecting to follow a set of tracks Neria found to the Hessarian camp, but it led them to a river of bears instead.

“Why are there so many fucking bears?” Duncan grumbled, pulling a crossbow bolt out of his quiver before aiming at one of the charging blurs of fur.

Ellie grit her teeth and sent a fireball at the furry mass, which did little beyond making the bear twice as terrifying. Now it was a charging blur of fur that was also on fire. Fantastic. Lightning was too noisy, and she didn’t want to draw attention to their position. Not that fire was subtle – the only thing she could cast that didn’t draw attention was her barrier spell. It was a problem.

As for why there were so many bears, she was at a complete loss. She’d never seen anything like this. “..Maybe they’re magical?” Ellie was half-joking, but it was the best explanation she could think of. Their presence around the river was well over any natural k capacity.

“That isn’t funny!” Martin half-growled, swinging his sword down the front of the bear currently trying to maul him. A huge paw missed his face narrowly, and Martin managed to sink his blade into the beast’s throat. “T-they aren’t actually magic, are they?”

Ellie’s jaw clenched and she sent another fireball at the flaming bear, watching it crumple into a smoldering heap. Looking over her shoulder she gave Martin a flat look that went missed, and she replied. Her tone serious. “Yes, they are. These are magic bears.” They’re motherfucking care-bears. Rub their bellies and see the rainbow. The death rainbow.

Fire didn’t come as easily to her as lightning, and the next spell she’d been channeling wavered as her attention faltered. Focus. Another burst of flame and she half-incinerated the next bear. To an untrained eye, the feat looked impressive, but she suspected any mage with training would realize it had been unintentional. Her fire magic wasn’t as strong or fluid as her lightning, and inexperience had her miscalculating how much mana and force was necessary. It was brutish and volatile raw force, without nuance or elegance. She hated it.  

“You’re lying.” Martin said, pulling his sword back roughly out of the dead animal.

“Nope,” Ellie said, turning to face him. Neria, Soven, and Duncan could finish off the last one on their own. There wasn’t any point in her wasting mana more than she already had – all her spells costed far too much to use carelessly. “You know how elves believe in the Dread Wolf, Fen’Harel? There’s also his brother, the Dread Bear, Teddy.” Her tone was entirely matter-of-fact.

Martin gave her an odd look, and clearly had no clue who Fen’Harel was supposed to be. Then he started wiping the blood off his blade onto the dead bear’s pelt. 

There was a thump as the last bear fell, and Ellie ignored the look was Soven now giving her as she leaned on her staff. She’d used too much mana with that last spell, and supplementing some of her own pool with the fade helped, but not nearly enough.

“Oh ignore her, Martin.” Neria snapped, giving Ellie an irritated look. “There is no such thing as the Dread Bear. None of the Creators are named Teddy – the word isn’t even elven.”

“So… the bears weren’t magical?” Martin now sounded thoroughly confused.

Ellie waited all of a beat before replying, “oh no, that part’s definitely true.” People like you are the reason folks think airplanes leave chemtrails. Before anyone could point out the ridiculousness of the statement, or allow Soven to call her on her bullshit, she headed towards the crumpled masses of the Hessarians they’d followed into the fuzzy death trap.

Unlike the Hessarians, however, Ellie and her group had survived their encounter. Crouching down next to the first body, she began rummaging through the shredded clothing and armor for information. She found nothing of note on the first two, decidedly ignoring how fresh the bodies were. On the third shredded torso there was a small leather satchel, and a few more papers on the fourth. If there was going to be information, it would be here.   

“This handwriting is atrocious,” Ellie muttered, squinting down at the papers she was trying to decipher. Her frown deepened the more she read, and while none of it said where the camp itself was, the mystery of Harding had been solved.

“It sounds like Lieutenant Harding and her scouts ran into similar issues with horses, and a wagon. Unlike us, the Blades of Hessarian were able to set a trap. They collapsed part of a cliff face to pin the scouts in place.” Ellie frowned, perfectly aware that Harding wouldn’t have had a wagon if she’d been in a rush like Leliana implied. If it was just going to be us, then why the fuck didn’t she just say that? They would have words later, spooky nunsassin or not. It was one thing to play the part of a pawn, but this shit wouldn’t stand.

She returned her attention to the haphazard scrawl. “No point in trying to send crows if they’d just get shot down. Whoever is leading these guys, it looks like he views the Inquisition as invaders.”

“Does it say where?” Soven asked.

“Yeah. Not too far from here. These guys,” She motioned at the bodies, “must have been on their way back to the camp. Apparently they haven’t had much luck actually killing Harding or her men. I guess the Blades of Hessarian have enough control to keep the scouts trapped, but that’s it.”

Ellie spent a few more minutes rifling through the messy chicken scratch befitting of a doctor, stalling under the pretense of looking for further information. The reality was that she’d spent too much mana again, like with the cave spiders, and needed to catch her breath. With the constant fighting, she had grown more aggressive in how much energy she encouraged to flow into her from the fade, but it struggled to keep up. -She- struggled to keep up.

For Ellie to survive in this world, she would need to adapt. The only problem with that was that she didn’t want to. Adjusting meant changing away from the person she’d been back home. The more she did it, the more it felt like she was losing part of herself. For her to embrace the fundamental differences in this world, she would have to look at the world in a fundamentally different way. A shift like that was large enough to leave a different person in its wake, and Ellie liked who she was. She wasn’t perfect by any means, but she was her. She didn’t want to lose that.

You’re losing it anyways.

Once this was over, and she was back in Haven, Ellie would need to have a very serious conversation with herself. But, for now, it was killing bears and chasing after cults that doubled as bandits. That thought alone was surreal. Exactly when did this shit become normal? Her five minutes were up, and it was time to find Harding.

It was an impulse decision, but after standing up Ellie went over to one of the bodies and began tugging off the scabbard for the short sword on the ground nearby. In the event she lost her staff and was out of mana, the single dagger she carried wasn’t going to cut it.

“Is that wise?” Soven asked.

Ellie buckled the bloodied leather around her waist, then picked up the sword and sheathed it. “Isn’t like he’ll be using it.”

“You don’t know how to use it.”

“True,” she scoffed, “but they don’t know that.”

“They will when you drop it.” Soven teased, dryly.

“Then I’ll be sure to drop it on your foot.”

-

It was dusk when they found where the scouts had been pinned in, and thanks to the ever-present cloud coverage of the storm coast, visibility was already shit. Finding the area had taken their remaining hours of daylight, and Ellie crossed her arms as she continued to wait impatiently for Soven to return.

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust him, she did – at least she did with this sort of thing; but waiting was not something Ellie excelled at. She had no idea how long it was supposed to take a rogue to sneak around bad guys, and after five minutes she’d started to get antsy.

Not that Ellie was allowed to show it. No, she was their brave and fearless leader, and that meant instead of tapping her foot and pacing, she had to stand there calmly and cross her arms. She’d sent Neria out as well, but at the end of the day the female elf was still, effectively, red shirt status in Ellie’s head. It was harsh, but true. Ever the bastion of giving a shit.

Like all terrible people, Neria’s death would upset her more because of how it would reflect on her, rather than the fact that Neria had died. She would then feel terribly guilty about the whole thing, for all the wrong reasons. Monster. The rules she gave herself existed for a reason. Like the one you ignored earlier? Right. That. Again, she would need to have a very serious conversation with herself once she was back in Haven.

It was bad enough that she was concerned about Soven in the first place. Caring about people was expensive, and never in the ways she could predict. Not to mention dangerous.

Much to Ellie’s consternation, Neria returned first.

They were waiting behind a small outcropping of rock nearby, but far enough away that the chances of being spotted were slim. The archer ducked into view, and Ellie hid her ridiculous frustration that the wrong elf had returned first, because the whole thing was absolute emotional nonsense.

“What did you see?” Ellie asked in a low voice once Neria had rejoined them.

“There are fewer Blades of Hessarian than I expected. Only counted six on my side. I think the only reason the scouts haven’t moved is that their positioning is more defensible. Some of the rock also bottlenecks in a way that would work against them if they tried to fight their way out.”

Ellie wasn’t so sure she considered ‘only six’ to be no big deal. There were five of them. Not that she had any experience being on the ambushing side of an ambush, but Martin was the only warrior they had, and none of the scouts wore heavy armor like the Seeker or templars. He also didn’t have a shield. He had a buckler that was on its last leg.

“What was the breakdown of the six men? Are they ranged or melee?”

“Four crossbows, one daggers, one swords. Leather and hide for armor. The sword has metal on ‘em.” Neria answered.

There were probably other important questions she should ask, but Ellie didn’t know what they were. It wasn’t like she could start voicing any plans until Soven got back, either. She wanted his opinion on the whole situation before committing to any ideas.

Fortunately, Soven returned within 10 minutes of Neria, and Ellie was finally able to stop fretting like an overprotective hen. It wasn’t that he was her leadership security blanket or anything, but he was totally her leadership security blanket. She was confident he’d speak up if she were about to lead them into something truly moronic. At least she liked to think he would. More like he’d go make some popcorn.

“Twelve men. Four are watching the scouts, three are lookout, and the remaining five move about freely. Five crossbows, four swords, three daggers.” Soven said, volunteering the information before Ellie had the chance to ask. You are not seriously considering this, are you? That’s 18 fucking people – are you out of your god damned mind!?

“Why does that side have so many? What the hell kind of breakdown is that? Twelve on one side and six on the other?” Ellie asked. You’re going to die.

“Getting there.” Soven said mildly, and she shut up. “The group that led us to the bears would normally be there. When guard was supposed to change, they were short for the missing group, forcing a chunk of them to head back and inform their leader. Those left behind complained loudly.”

“When will they show up?”

Soven shrugged. “Not sure. Soon, I think. We can either do something fast, and hope they don’t show up immediately, or wait and see what we have to work with.”

“What do you recommend, Soven?” She needed to ask.

“That we go now.” We won’t have the numbers otherwise. Shit, we don’t have the numbers right now.

Ellie had been afraid he’d say that. It left little room for a plan or her mana. Mages were as close to a trump card as it got in combat. Fuck. Running a hand over her hair, she looked between all of them and nodded. “Right, now it is, then.” Saying the words out loud made her stomach turn, but her voice remained steady. It had to. That’s what 80’s action heroes did. 

“Do we know how many people Harding has with her?” Ellie asked.

“If we could see them easily, then they’d be dead by now.” Neria answered.

She swallowed and nodded, taking a slow, deep breath. This was absolute fucking madness. Ellie wasn’t a god damned combat mage, she was an overqualified PT Tech and occasional consultant. She helped old ladies adjust to hip replacements, and complained about sub-par restaurant spaghetti. You can add Inquisition Scout to your resume before you’re committed. Just survive this first. Eye of the Tiger and shit.

Ellie took another few seconds to collect her thoughts, then looked up at the others. No, not eye of the tiger. “Without Harding’s men coming to help, they outnumber us enough that I want to avoid direct confrontation for as long as possible. I don’t want to go into this relying on their participation for success.” Her focus settled on Duncan, “You’ll be in a tree.”

Duncan looked taken aback, “what?”

“A tree. You’ll be in one.”

“Why?”

“Because people don’t look up.” Ellie answered, then looked to the pair of elves. “Neria and Soven, I want you two together. The goal is to let Neria take a shot, move, then take another. If, or when, these guys start to get too close, that’s when I want Duncan to take a shot. I want them uncertain about location and numbers. Just avoid drifting too far away from the rest of us. If you do, and can’t easily get around, disengage and we can meet back here. Or try to. Martin will be with me.”

“That will take longer. We won’t be able to handle the full group if the replacements show up.” Soven spoke up.

“It’s necessary. We won’t have much of my magic to fall back on if shit goes south. My mana is too low.”

Soven frowned, “How long would you need?”

“A nap,” Ellie replied, “I can only pull so quickly when I’m awake. If we want to do this now, that isn’t an option. I should still be able to take out two or three, but we can’t afford to be careless.”

The others nodded, except Soven. He was giving her a look, and while he didn’t say anything, she knew why he was irritated. There were two lyrium potions burning a hole in her bag, that she refused to touch. He’d seen them while grabbing a healing potion out of her bag when Ellie’s hands had been busy keeping Sean from bleeding out.  

“Look, worst case we can always come back in a few hours. Do that a couple times a night, and darkness should start to fuck with them.” Ellie pressed on, ignoring Soven’s silent judging. “So far none of them that I’ve seen have been elves, so we might as well take advantage of it.” She paused, then added. “I’m willing to be patient.” And I like being alive.

“Is the tree thing really necessary?” Duncan protested.

Ellie glanced briefly at Soven, who was no help whatsoever. For all she knew it was a terrible idea. “Humor me.”

“Is there a point when we move into open combat?” Soven asked. “It will be harder to close distance once they’ve taken cover.”

“When we don’t have a choice. Or once Martin and I step out. Now let’s go do this.” If they didn’t leave now she would start to think better of it, and uncertainty didn’t blend well with life-threatening situations.

The group moved closer to the tree line, with Soven and Neria playing the role of seeing eye elves for the humans. Ellie only stubbed her foot on a rock once. When they were finally close enough for her to see firelight flickering through the trees, and the men in the clearing, Ellie reached out and put a hand on Soven’s shoulder.

Pulling from the fade and her own goopiness, she focused on drawing the magic out of her and into a protective layer over Soven. The shimmer was brief – a small flicker of blue light before it vanished. It was the first time she’d tried to cast a barrier on someone other than herself, and she did her best to tell the magic to stay put and behave itself before removing her hand.

The magic field wavered when she let go, then stabilized. Ellie didn’t like spending the mana on it, but it would let her keep an eye on them. Until the barrier broke, she’d know he was okay. Neria took a step forward, and she felt a tug of guilt. Don’t be a dick. She repeated the process for Neria.

The pair of elves went off in one direction, Duncan climbed up his tree, and Ellie and Martin positioned themselves near what she guessed was the bottleneck Neria had mentioned. Then it was a matter of waiting. The rogues didn’t waste time.

Ellie never heard the pluck of the bow string, or the arrow as it flew through the air and embedded itself into its target, but the dropping body and the confused shouts that followed it were unmistakable. Seventeen. Please let this work. One of the men held up a hooded oil lamp towards the trees, protecting their source of light from the misty drizzle. Swords had been drawn. They were making enough noise that Harding and her men would hear. And anyone else nearby.

The seconds passed, then another arrow was loosed, sinking into the next man’s shoulder. Sixteen and a half? It was faster than she’d expected. Too fast for them to have moved, and four of the men broke off, running into the trees. Ellie realized she was holding her breath.

Duncan’s crossbow was closer, and she heard it clunk the second after smaller group of men entered the trees. He’d had time to ready the shot, and a man holding one of the lamps made a sick, guttural noise as crimson began to seep out of the hole in his neck. Fifteen point five. The lamp fell to the ground, spilling fire and oil over the ground, only for it to be quickly picked up by another man hoping to salvage it.  

A few of the Hessarians shot their own crossbow bolts in the general direction of Duncan’s tree. The others moved to take what cover they could, but their position was not very defensible from the north. Both Neria and Soven’s barriers were still up. She could hear the men searching, but their reliance on light put them at a severe disadvantage. The night is dark and full of terrors, and I have elves with night vision. Bitches. Praise mother fucking R’hllor. One of them started screaming, and Ellie decided that probably meant she could round the number down to fifteen at the very least.

“We found ‘em!” One of the men yelled, “get o’er ‘ere!”

Three of the cultists moved out from their cover, and the one in front immediately took a crossbow bolt to the gut. The other two hesitated as the first man stumbled, and one of them opted to grab the injured man rush back to relative safety. The other must not have noticed, and continued into the brush. Fourteen. There was another yelp of pain from the trees. Thirteen. A second later Ellie felt one of the barriers break.

“It’s the Dali-aghk!” Twelve? Is that a Twelve? It sounded like a twelve. 

Martin shifted beside her, and she gave him a quick glance for all the good it would do. It was too shadowed for her to make out much of his face. “One of their barriers is down.” She said, “get ready. I- I don’t have the mana to give both of us a barrier and still use lightning, so be careful. I’ll try to make myself a good distraction.” Her impulse decision to try giving Soven a barrier had been a costly one.

She still didn’t like the odds, but twelve – ten once Soven and Neria finished up in the forest – was a hell of a lot better than eighteen. Yes, but if you’d rushed them, they wouldn’t have had time to take cover.

Chewing her lower lip, she spoke up again. “...Hey Martin, if you saw a mage lob a ball of white light towards you, what would you think it was going to do?”

Martin looked back at her, then said. “Explode.”

She could work with that. Ellie put a hand to the ground and started feeling blindly for a few rocks. She only managed to find one the size of her fist before there were a few more shouts of surprise and the forest went silent. I guess that’s ten, then?

The seconds passed, and neither Neria nor Duncan loosed another bolt towards the Hessarians. They’d all moved behind rocks out of easy aim. Well fuck, now what? Shit, you suck at this.

“We should go.” Martin spoke up suddenly, making to stand. “We need to distract them from the others.”

“What?” Ellie squinted her eyes, and Martin pointed.

“Behind where they’re hiding, past the rocks, look.”

It took her a moment to see what he was looking at, but then she saw it. Instead of taking the bottleneck, a group of Harding’s scouts had climbed up the rock face during the commotion. Well that explains why they’ve been taking so long.

“Right. Now or never.” She muttered, mostly to herself, as she gave the fade a tug and saw the brief blue glimmer as the barrier spell covered her. Martin was already moving into the clearing, and Ellie bolted past him. She knew how to be a distraction. It was practically her specialty outside loud and crackly.

Gripping the rock so tightly it hurt, she ran smack into the middle of the open clearing, pouring light into the rock until it glowed bright and white. She was a glowing mage beacon, and the first crossbow bolt hit her smack in the chest. It bounced off the barrier, and people were shouting again. Most of it was some variation of “mage!” and “kill her!”, and she threw the glowing rock as hard as she could in an arc towards the Hessarians.

Martin had been right. The spell was harmless, but the men it was heading towards scattered. The people of Thedas feared magic to the point that she could use that fear against them. It was as useful as it was fucked up.

What happened next was close to a slaughter, as Harding’s men descended on them. Ellie moved closer, the staff in her hand crackling as she charged up a spell, when she felt the impact of a bolt in her back and the barrier broke. Shit. The reinforcements had arrived, and Ellie spun around to see one of them running towards her with a sword. Shit!

Taking several quick steps backward, she tried to put distance between herself and the metal aimed at her head while she refocused her lightning spell, but there wasn’t time. The blade swung down, and Ellie blocked the swing with her staff. Angry sparks spurted from the crackling orb as some of her electricity danced up his blade, and when he moved for another swing she sent the half-charged spell into his chest.

The constant fighting in the storm coast had given Ellie more experience, and when the swordsman stumbled she didn’t hesitate to smash her staff into the side of his head with everything she had. He let out a pained gasp, stumbling, and when he didn’t fall immediately she hit him again. There was a certain visceral satisfaction when she felt his skull give that was so vicious and ruthless that made her sick. Later.

Past the collapsing man whose skull she’d bashed in, Ellie saw nearly a dozen men. The shield she mustered before the next crossbow bolt was hastily made and weak. There wasn’t the mana, and it shattered instead of bouncing the arrow back. She winced when the tip pushed through her leather jacket far enough to scrape her stomach.

The next crossbow never finished aiming, and Ellie realized Duncan was still in the tree as one of the men fell to the ground. He just saved my life.

Or, at the very least, he’d delayed the inevitable. You know, because this world is going to explode. Part of the group had split off looking for Duncan, and others were moving forward to help, but she was the mage. And she was empty, spent. Just standing was an effort as her chest heaved, and she felt hollow. You have the lyrium. You have your blood. There’s always blood.

When another Hessarian broke off and went for her, Ellie drew from the one place she shouldn’t have. The fade didn’t care about reasons, and both Solas and his book had made it abundantly clear that taking more than you could return was a good way to get yourself killed.

It was only a stunning spell, the weakest lightning she knew, but even that was expensive coming from her. If she lived through this, when you live through this, she would need to get over her fears and holdups with her magic. This wasn’t something she could afford to repeat.

The effect of using the magic was immediate, and Ellie let out a pained gasp as her vision began to spot. Her plans of trying to draw a dagger or sword went out the window, and she settled for whacking the stunned Hessarian in the face. Why does everything magic have to hurt!? Stumbling backwards, she was dimly aware that the edges of her vision had gone black, and the loud ringing her ears. It felt like someone had dropped a weight on her chest.  

If this horrible place kills me with a heart attack, I am going to claw my way out of wherever-the-fuck dead shit goes and haunt the -shit- out of Thedas.

The idea of her dying from anything remotely normal at this point was almost insulting. She had the expectation of a horrible, violent death to look forward to, potentially during an honest to Maker apocalypse. Not everyone got such insane opportunities, and she was not going to get cheated out of it by something common. Ellie refused.

Chapter Text

The problem with stunning spells was that they didn’t last forever, and through the utter mess of growing shadow and blurring shapes she could make out a very pissed Hessarian beginning to move towards her. His face was a red mess, the rain and blood blending into a bright red torrent that ran down his front. Blood.

Ellie knew blood magic was strong, but she didn’t know the first thing about how it worked. Yeah but it’s just sitting there, on his face. Like. There. The hand on her staff spasmed painfully, as a tremor ran down her spine. It took everything she had just to stay standing. Breathing. The weight on her chest had spread, and the air itself felt suffocating. Each drop of rain an assault as the fade pulled at the opening inside her - a constant, unrelenting demand for her to return what hadn’t been hers to take.

He was moving closer now, and Ellie glared at him, gritting her teeth. She tried to reach out to the blood, grasping blindly in the hopes that she’d find something, but she didn’t know what to look for. It didn’t feel like her mana, or the magic from the fade. She tried to see it, but it was muddy and unfocused. There isn’t time.

I can help, let me i-

Oh, fuck off Mr. Magoo.

The demon didn’t sound like it appreciated that, whoever it was. It didn’t sound like a Kyle. There’s the lyrium. Yes, there was the lyrium. Unlike the human’s blood, she could feel it. The two vials were practically burning a hole in her side, and her fingers were shaking so hard it took her two tries before she was able to grasp one of them properly in her hand.

Maybe it was her imagination, but now that it was in her fingers she could have sworn it was whispering to her. Almost like an echo, disjointed and lost, before she crushed the vial in her hand. I really hope this works. Even if Ellie didn’t understand it, she knew that Lyrium was about as magic as earthy rock shit got. She could feel it, and while it did nothing to sate the hunger for balance clawing inside of her, there was power in it.

It was calling out to the fade, and Ellie encouraged it. Blood is blood. This power wasn’t hers, not truly, but she could wield it. She could taste metal, smell it, as the hum of magic grew stronger.

The Hessarian was on her, but Ellie couldn’t move. Her feet were lead with the rest of her, and as he raised his sword her focus began to tunnel. The world was shrinking, and a single word ran through her head: kill.

She put everything into that single word. Commanding, not asking, the magic she’d gathered to bend to her will and fulfill the purpose she’d given it. The power in the lyrium surged, a deep, low thrum, and obeyed.

It lurched forward, invisible and unseen, into the man’s chest. There was that all-too-familiar moment where he staggered, and Ellie dragged her eyes away from his chest to his face, imagining more than seeing the widening whites of his eyes. She’d seen enough death to know the look – it was the one everyone wore in that split second before they died. The look of horrified realization that had burned itself into her mind years ago.

The magic imploded, and Ellie half expected him to start spewing blood, or even to explode, but there was little more than a choked and bloody cough as his body failed him. All the strength behind the swing of his sword was gone, and she was grateful for the leather armor when the weapon flew loose from his hand and careened into her thigh. The impact was a dull thud compared to the strain the rest of her body was under, and she couldn’t tell if it had done any damage. Everything was a mix of muddy shadow and smears of red at this point.

In the distance she saw what she guessed was left of the Hessarians getting cut down by Harding’s scouts. It was hard to tell, but that was her hope.

“I know looks can kill, but that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it happen.” A female voice spoke up, complete with a weak and nervous chuckle that failed to hide the woman’s unease.

With the end of the spell, the energy had left the air, and Ellie glanced down at the lyrium dripping from the crushed vial still in her fist. You probably cut yourself. While she hadn’t known what to expect, it hadn’t been -that-. She’d expected the lyrium to shoot into the guy, or even turn into electricity – to physically look like it had done something. Instead it had acted like a surrogate, coalescing and carrying the magic until she’d ripped the power from it. All of it. The instant her spell had finished, and the hum of magic stopped, the lyrium had gone silent with it.

The nacreous blue fluid now spilling between her fingers to the ground might look the same, but if she reached out to it Ellie knew there would be nothing to find. What made it lyrium, and magical, had been stripped away and consumed. The glow in it was gone, and it would never be anything more. You murdered it.

“Uh, Lady Roosevelt, isn’t it? You feeling alright?” The voice was starting to sound wary now.

Ellie was not okay. She hadn’t been okay since showing up in this place, but that wasn’t exactly a conversation she’d be having with anyone here. Ever. They’re going to think you’re an abomination. Say something. Ellie didn’t know if she could. How the fuck am I still upright?

“I’m fine.” The words felt foreign and distant on her lips, and she realized her current demeanor was nothing short of disturbing. Ellie might as well be a statue for how much she was moving. “Used too much mana. Currently trying not to die.” Now really isn’t the time for sarcasm, Ellie.

With considerable effort, Ellie turned to look in the direction of the voice. Oh great. It’s my boss. I’m scaring my boss. Fan-fucking-tastic. At least she was pretty sure it was Harding. The shadowy blob looked like a dwarf, the voice was female, and the list of female dwarf scouts with who sounded familiar had a population of one.

“Healing potion?” Ellie really hoped her speech was coherent. The last thing she needed was a sword through the chest because someone thought she was speaking in tongues.   

“Oh, sure thing! I guess some of that blood must be yours, then.” Ellie stared at Harding blankly. She couldn’t recall getting sprayed with blood at all, so it must have been. “It’s hard to tell when it’s everywhere.” Did Harding always sound this nervous, or only when she was attempting to joke?

The woman was holding out a vial, and she stared at it for several seconds before realizing she needed to move. There’s an arrow sticking out of you, pendeja. Unclenching her fist with jerky movements, she removed the partially imbedded arrowhead from her gut before accepting the healing potion. A sloth could have grabbed the vial with more expediency. At least it felt that way. A normal, rational person would have given up and passed out by now.  

“We’ve managed to map out most of this region,” She started slowly. It was hard to think, but Ellie knew it was important Harding had all the necessary information, before... what, exactly? Do you even know what you’re doing right now? She didn’t. “I’ve done my best to map and mark places of interest to the Herald and Inquisition. Only found two rifts so far.”

Harding, bless the woman, didn’t freak out when Ellie explained she had left the horses and Sean with a bunch of mercenaries. Swallowing the healing potion ended up closer to half-choking on, but it did seem to help beyond her stomach and thigh. Not much, or in the same way it did with physical injuries, but Ellie no longer felt like she was actively dying. It also made her realize she was freezing, and an absolute moron for pulling from the fade when she shouldn’t have.

Telling Harding that she was busy not dying might have been a joke, but it had been a lot closer to the truth than she’d realized. Too close. This was not a mistake she’d be repeating. If it came down to a similar situation in the future, she would drink the stupid lyrium potion. It was one thing for her to be a stubborn dumbass, but her actions had put other people at risk, too.

With the enemy dead, and their brief information exchange complete, Harding took Ellie’s notes and went to work giving orders. The dwarf wasted little time establishing a basic lookout, and working to get the wagon full of equipment moved to where they could begin travelling immediately at first light. Ellie went and find a nice, slightly less wet, rock to hide under.

-

“You really are -terrible- at this.” Sandy said, grinning at her from across the small table as she stirred her coffee.

Ellie was bogged down with school work, and she gave her friend a harassed look before dumping several heavy textbooks onto the table hard enough for some of Sandy’s coffee to slosh over the rim, earning a glare from one of the baristas.

“Hey, watch it! This is my life blood!” Sandy exclaimed, “don’t you know it’s rude to spill blood after feeding guests!?”

Ellie’s brow furrowed, “What the fuck are you talking about? Did you fall asleep to Game of Thrones again?”

“No. Maybe.” Sandy took a sip of the coffee and smirked, “if I say yes do I have an excuse to discuss the seven aspects with your mum?” The dirty blonde engineer waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

“Only you could make that sound so dirty. And no. I’m not letting you anywhere near my family until after Easter. My mom is bad enough without your crazy ass trying to talk to her about fictional gods from some fantasy novel.”

 “Oh please, she isn’t that crazy. You know, besides the cannibalism. I was totally right.” Sandy replied, her grin going a little crooked.

She gave Sandy a flat look, “the Eucharist isn’t cannibalism. I have no idea how my mother hasn’t shot you yet.” Her parents still hadn’t forgiven Sandy for the matzo ball incident nearly a decade ago. They only tolerated her best friend because Sandy’s parents had ‘useful ties’. “I was honestly hoping I could do Passover with you guys.”

“They’ll blame her, but I was right. How many first borns could have fit into the basket?” Sandy glanced around, her smile growing. “Will you have nightmares soon? That would be fun! You really fucked up, didn’t you, ma falon?”

Wait, what? Ellie frowned, and she felt a growing sense of dread as her stomach began to sink. The awareness beginning to prickle at the back of her mind blossoming up and unwanted. None of this was right. No no no, not yet. Just a little longer.

“Who do you think took it in the butt, Dirthamen or Falon’din? I think it was Falon’din. Death seems like he’d be into that. If I ship them will you read it? Do you think Fenny Fen ever tapped that – he’s very persistent you know. Keeps trying to find me. You owe me.”

“Fuck!” Ellie swore loudly as it clicked. She’d gotten used to seeing demon Sandy in the fade, but this was the first time it had appeared without the elf ears. As small as the difference was, it was that small separation that had made it easier for it not to hurt. Considering how much time she’d spent with the thing, and that it could read minds, Ellie was pretty sure Sandymon knew that. Please stop.

“No.” The demon cackled loudly, spilling the coffee everywhere, before throwing the cup into the ground and shattering it. It was clearly delighted. Ellie wanted to strangle it.

She groaned loudly and ran her hands over her face in exasperation. You could probably walk the fade, find any spirit you want, but no, you hang out with -this-. Exactly which one of you is the crazy one, Ellie?

“Your head makes a good point.” Sandy added, helpfully.

“Oh, shut up!” Ellie snapped, “what am I even doing here, anyway? I wasn’t trying to fall asleep.”

The demon grinned, running its tongue over pointed teeth as it remained decidedly silent. Well, not ears, but I guess that’s something.

“Fine, don’t shut up!” That made Sandymon giggle, or at least attempt some twisted imitation of it, which made Ellie add, “and Sandy doesn’t giggle.”

Ellie was more pleased than she should have been when that made Sandy scowl. “Ma harel. You wanted more, so here you are.”

Ugh, what does that even mean!? More what? Mana? Power? Magic?

“Would it kill you to speak plainly?”

Tel’vin.

Her thoughts were more sluggish than she was used to, and Ellie frowned. “When you use elvish like that, I can’t understand half of what you’re saying, you know.”

Sandymon was probably referring to the fact that Ellie had gone full retard and drawn from the fade anyways. You never go full retard. So what, the fade pulled me back? That didn’t make any sense. Everything she understood about the relationship between the fade and the waking world, along with the veil, had been very clear that it would kill you if you took too much, not suck you into a dream. But I took the healing potion, that helped.

Elvhen. How long does a healy potion work for, da’len?” Sandy asked, the crooked grin back in place.

Oh, so that’s where the ‘h’ goes. Wait a minute- Ellie’s eyes widened and she jumped up, chair clattering to the ground. “Am I dying!? Shit!”

“You bet!”

She needed to wake up, now. But there wasn’t any tug, and the fact that demon Sandy seemed pleased was not helping. Could I push instead? Right now, it was all she could do not to start freaking out. The scene the fade had created was starting to distort and slip, falling away in pieces. Ellie had no clue what she was doing, but she focused on the place behind her navel and pushed. Hard.

-

Ellie’s eyes snapped open, and she sat upright so quickly her stomach lurched. Breathing? Are you breathing!? Then the pain hit, and she clasped a hand over her mouth for all the good it did. She only had time to lean to the side before vomiting up the contents of her stomach. Spluttering on her own bile, the world swam hazily into focus, and it took her several seconds to realize someone was speaking.

Spitting what she could from her mouth, Ellie took a deep, shaky breath before asking, “what?”

“I asked if you were alright.” Soven replied. Is that joke?

“Was I breathing?” She wasn’t proud of the way her voice wavered at the question, or how loudly her heart was hammering in her chest. You’re shaking. Stop shaking.

There was a pause before Soven answered, “shallowly, but yes.”

“That bitch!” Ellie spat, “I’m going to kill her!” She was going to go into the fade, find that insufferable demon, and rip its stupid head off.

Soven didn’t seem to have a reply for that.

Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she straightened with a grimace and looked over at the elf. It was still night, but the hooded oil lamps gave enough ambient light that she wasn’t blind. He was sitting on the side of her without a pool of sick, leaning away from her with a slightly wary expression. “You know, for a murder-happy assassin you’re pretty squeamish around bodily fluids.” If she looked half as bad as she sounded, she must be quite the sight.

“Forgive me for not wanting to bathe in your vomit.” Soven frowned, “exactly who are you planning to kill?” She could tell he’d done his best to clean off all the blood, but even with the rain it was hard to get everything. From the looks of it, his upper arm and shoulder had also been bandaged.

“Nobody.” Ellie replied, and Soven gave her a look. “A friend.” He was still giving her that look. “In the fade.” Now he was raising both eyebrows. Great, now he thinks you’re crazy. Well done.

“You’re going to go kill your friend in the fade?” Soven had adopted the falsely pleasant tone people used when they were speaking to someone who might not be all there. “Is this a common occurrence for you, murdering friends? So -that’s- why you don’t have any, it all makes sense now.”

“Are you mocking me?”

“Me? Never.” He said with a certain dry incredulity, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“I hate you.” Ellie said flatly.

“A relief. Friendship with you sounds dangerous.”

“Oh, shut up.” She replied with a scowl, holding out her hand. “Give me your waterskin.”

He did as she asked with a small smirk, and Ellie took a moment to rinse out her mouth before allowing herself a few swallows. Her body still felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, and her arm was shaking from the effort of holding up the waterskin by the time she handed it back to Soven.

In the distance she could hear several of the scouts, along with Harding, struggling with the horses and wagon. Others that were injured had taken measures similar to Ellie’s and found spots out of the rain to rest while they waited. “Where are Neria, Duncan, and Martin? Are they alright?”

Soven nodded, “Relatively unharmed.”

Ellie didn’t have anything to say after that, and when Soven appeared content to remain quiet as well, it wasn’t long before Ellie fell asleep. When she re-entered the fade, Sandy had returned to her neon blue vallaslin and pointy ears. Ellie had half-expected the demon to be absent, all things considered, but her current emotional state was clearly something the demon enjoyed, so she must have been too ‘delicious’ to ignore.

Come morning, she almost felt worse, if that was even possible. The air was less suffocating, and she was out of the woods with respect to any fade-induced heart attacks, but otherwise she was dead on her feet. Dead enough that she didn’t even protest when Soven told Martin to dump her in the back of the wagon. That’s me, the mage cargo.

Deciding to commit herself to the role, Ellie made like a sack of potatoes and promptly passed back out.

She woke up some time later when a waterskin smacked her in the face. The grogginess of sleep still fading, Ellie swore and fumbled for the offending object.

“Harding wants to speak with you.” Soven said.

“Was that really necessary?” Duncan’s uncertain voice spoke up.

“I wasn’t aiming for her face.”

Ellie opened an eye at the pair of them and groaned, shoving herself into a sitting position. The inside of her mouth felt like sandpaper, so she wasn’t about to complain about the method of waterskin delivery. “Don’t worry Duncan, that’s just how Soven says ‘I love you’. If you’re real good, maybe one day you can wake up to a waterskin in the face, too.”

“Ugh, you two are weird.” Duncan looked between Ellie to Soven for a few moments, then added. “I’m going to help with the tents."

“How long was I out?” Ellie asked once Duncan had made his exit, grimacing as she stretched out her stiff legs and hobbled off the back of the wagon. She felt weak, and the area the arrow had pierced was sore, but the hollowness was gone. It wasn’t much, but she’d rested long enough for some of her precious goop to return. It wasn’t enough for her to do anything with it, and she was still exhausted, but it was there.

“A day.” Soven replied, looking in the direction Duncan had headed with a slight frown, before leading the way to Harding’s tent. Not that Ellie was likely to miss it, considering it was also the only tent currently finished.  

They’d stopped at the remains of the first base camp, and Ellie wasn’t entirely certain that was a good idea, considering what had happened to the last one. Yes, but Harding has more people, and we did sort of kill like.. 30 of their dudes a day ago.

Ellie realized then that she hadn’t kept up with her kill count. Fuck! What was I at? She already disliked the idea that she was killing people in the first place, but not knowing how many lives she’d taken was even worse. That would mean she’d murdered someone, and their death meant less to her than one of those flaming bears. Woman, it’s worse than flaming bears. You do realize you’ve included a baby tree and a fucking rock in your numbers, right? That means they mattered less than a rock.

She was still double checking her numbers, trying to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anyone, when she realized she was in the tent and in front of Harding. Ellie stared at her for a moment, then decided she should probably say something. “Lieutenant Harding.”

The woman looked up from the papers she was reading and gave Ellie a smile, “Lace or Harding is fine. Lieutenant is too formal.” Her first name is Lace? Who the heck names their kid something like Lace?

“Harding it is. You wanted to speak with me?”

“Oh, right, yes. A few things.” Harding began, “If you’re up for it, I want you to gather your group and rejoin the mercenaries. I have a letter here instructing the current scouting group accompanying the Herald to trade off with your group and rejoin us here at base camp. I doubt the Herald and her party will want to stay here on the Storm Coast any longer than necessary, weather considered.” Shit.

“I’m… not sure that’s a good idea. The Herald is not particularly fond of me.” She may try to stab me.

Harding’s smile looked a little strained, and her voice dropped. “I realize the Herald can be difficult, but you’re best suited for the task. Half of your group is already… familiar with the Herald. It’s best if we keep her presence contained.” I’m going to get stabbed.

To say she was best suited for the task was an understatement. For one, it was her horses and man at the mercenary camp – not to mention her group was the only one currently familiar with the area. Ellie didn’t exactly have an excuse. “Alright, give me the letters. Is there anything else?” She held out her hand, resigned to her fate. Maybe I could get Soven to hand them over. Ugh, no, that’s too cowardly.

Harding handed over the leather envelopes with orders, instructions, and information. “Uh, yeah I’m still looking over your notes, but in a few places you make this weird squiggly line, and I was wondering what it means.” She traced the shape in the air with a finger.

“They were areas where the ground seemed particularly unstable or prone to landslide… but I’m not an expert on that sort of thing. It was a personal note, more than anything.”

“And by the Long River, you drew some sort of angry, spiked monster on fire? With six eyes?”

Ellie had forgotten about that one. “There is an unusually high density of bears there.”

“Huh. That’s a really strange way to draw a bear.”

“I am not an artist.” You are so awkward. Ellie couldn’t remember if she’d added the rainbow or not. Now that she thought about it, there were probably some terrible doodles mixed into what she’d given Harding. At the time she’d been too tired to think about it.

With Harding’s questions answered, and Ellie was dismissed and free to go round up the troops for more soggy adventure. I hate my life. Harding had pointed out that, judging from Ellie’s notes, if they left within the hour, they should be able to reach the mercenary camp by nightfall if they hurried. In other words, ‘leave now, get there tonight’. Or at least that was how Ellie interpreted it.

All Ellie could think as they trekked, once again, through rock and mud and wet, was that it was a good thing she enjoyed distance running. If her body hadn’t been used to the unique levels of endurance abuse, and slight insanity, required of marathons, there was no way in hell she’d have been able to get through the day without collapsing into a boneless heap. On several occasions, usually ones involving an incline, she had been sorely tempted to ask Martin or Duncan for a piggy back ride.

Unfortunately doing that, along with rolling down any of the following declines in a fit of laughter, would have ruined any scout street cred she’d managed to gain during this whole misadventure. As their fearless leader, crazy mediaeval Thedan street cred was important. That’s it, you’ve lost it.

The sun was low in the sky by the time they were in sight of the Charger’s tents, and Ellie desperately wanted nothing more than to set up her tent and pass out. She had little doubt that even though they were unharmed, she, at the very least, must be quite the sight. A good chunk of her hair had found its way free of its confines, and was plastered against the sides of her face and neck in a tangled mess. The not-jacket bore several a hastily sewn shut gashes from a close call with bears and blades alike – along with the puncture marks of an arrow or two. The rest of her gear didn’t fare much better.

As they approached the camp, Ellie pulled off her pack and handed it to Neria. “You guys go set up the tents while I check in with the Iron Bull. Martin, go find Sean and let him know we’re back and still breathing.” They’d been gone a day or two longer than she’d intended, and she didn’t want to leave him wondering longer than necessary.

Beyond the initial spotting and recognition of look-outs along the perimeter of the camp, none of the chargers paid them much mind when they entered the sea of tents. From there Ellie split off from the others, adding a quick note to check on the horses, before heading off to find Bull.

She could make out that deep, easy-going, and rumbling cadence of the Iron Bull’s voice as she rounded into sight of the man himself, when a second voice made her stop dead in her tracks. There was no mistaking the harsh, aggressive tone of Seeker Petaghast, or the shine of her armor. Shit! Not that the Seeker was the problem. No, it was the shorter, wild dark hair and pointed ears beside her that had Ellie’s eyes going wide and doing a quick about face.

Stupid! You didn’t even see the Venatori on the way over, of course they’re here! She had little doubt that the Iron Bull had spotted her, but exhaustion had shorted out the more tactical part of her brain hours ago. I should find Varric. She needed to know if everyone’s favorite psycho dalish had been saying her name at night before bed.

Darting around the corner, she’d broken into a jog without thinking as she went to turn the next one, only to all-but-collide into none other than Solas. The one person she didn’t want seeing her run around like a scared halla. Ellie didn’t know what, exactly, a halla was, but she was pretty sure it was an apt description. Fuck! You have got to be kidding me!

His eyes widened slightly in surprise as she skidded to an abrupt stop. The mud and rain wasn’t doing her any favors, and between slamming into the Dread Wolf, or falling ass down in the mud, she’d settled on mud – only to have one of his hands close firmly around her wrist to steady her. Bullshit! This is bullshit! Who the fuck is writing this shit!? Neutral mask, neutral mask!

Much to Ellie’s relief, once it was clear she’d regained her balance, he quickly withdrew his hand. She straightened, cleared her throat, and adopted a nonchalant expression that wasn’t fooling anyone. “Solas! Hi!” Ohmygod, was that your dinner party voice? You are such a freak.

Yeah, she couldn’t blame him for raising an eyebrow at that particular stroke of brilliance. She was about as subtle as pink polka-dotted elephant at the moment. Solas regarded her, glancing briefly over her shoulder, then said, “It would appear you are in quite the rush, Ellie.”

Ellie started to wring her hands, then caught herself, instead opting to feign attempted subtlety when she tried to peak around his shoulder. If she was making a mess of things, she might as well own it. It was then, when she’d been about to reply, that was when she noticed he, unlike everyone else here, wasn’t a soggy mess. She stared, dumbfounded. Using a weak barrier to keep the rain off was so obvious, it hurt. I’m an idiot. People were going to wonder about her for not using that one. She’d need a good explanation.

When her gaze flicked back to his face, it was obvious he expected an explanation. “Uh, you know what, don’t worry abou-”

YOU!

The sentence died on Ellie’s lips as she snapped her head around, stomach sinking.  She hardly had time to register the dalish elf moving towards her, before the Herald of Andraste punched her in the face.

Chapter Text

Ellie had known to expect -something-, but that didn’t make getting punched in the face any more pleasant. Stumbling backwards, Ellie put a hand to her bleeding lip and scowled at Lavellan. “Christ on a cracker, what is your problem!?”

“You are!” Lavellan spat back, before launching herself at Ellie, who had not been expecting a full-on spider-monkey assault.

She fell hard onto the ground with the Herald, swearing loudly as she shoved a palm into the elf’s face to try and push the deranged rogue out of the way. “You psychotic, insane-”

“Herald, there is no reason to-” Solas began, moving forward to pull them apart.

What the rogue lacked in sanity, she clearly made up for in evading grapples. “Shut it, flat ear!” Ellie and the Herald were a violent tangle of limbs. Lavellan said something in Elvhen, or elvish – whatever it was the Dalish spoke – before landing another hit to Ellie’s face. This one had her nose spouting blood.

“Herald, please!” The Seeker snapped, rushing forward to help.

“-get your batshit, rabid-”

The elf was pulling her arm back for yet another blow, and something in Ellie snapped. She unclenched her left hand, and put as much force as she could into an upward palm strike into the base of Lavellan’s nose.

Psycho Elf recoiled, letting out a cry of pain, “Fenedis!”

Ellie spat at her face, the mix of blood and saliva landing on one of the hands Lavellan had clutched over her now bloodied nose. Jurassic Park, bitch. She was seething.

Propping herself up on her elbows, Ellie desperately wanted to smash the blessed Herald of Andraste’s face into the ground.

Solas gripped one of Lavellan’s arms, wrenching her roughly off of Ellie. His lips were pressed into a thin line, eyes narrowed at the Herald in a way that spoke volumes behind his otherwise neutral expression. He was livid.

Ra banal las halamshir var vhen.” He said to Lavellan, his voice quiet, but clear. Not like anyone else can understand him. The only words Ellie understood were ‘banal’ and ‘vhen’. The dalish elf glared at him, trying to yank her arm out of his grasp, but Solas didn’t let go.

Then there was a large man hand closing around Ellie’s upper arm, tugging her to her feet. The grip was tighter than necessary, and she grimaced, half expecting to see the Iron Bull holding onto her. When it was the Seeker, Ellie made a mental note then and there never to give the woman an excuse to punch her in the face… again. The last time you did sort of fall unconscious.

Ellie had been about to say thank you, then stopped when Pentaghast was levelling a glare at -her-. The fuck did I do!? It was hardly her fault that the Herald was an unstable lunatic. When her grip didn’t loosen, Ellie decided she should apologize. You didn’t do anything.

That didn’t matter. She was a ‘complication’, and had just made the Seeker’s life more difficult. It was best to try and appease the woman. “My apologies, Seeker.” Ellie almost managed to sound genuine. “If, uh, you let go I can give you the information Lieutenant Harding has put together for the Herald.”

That got the Seekers attention and she let go, but the scowl remained firmly in place. “You know the Lieutenant’s whereabouts?”

Ellie nodded, spitting out a mouthful of blood before handing her the envelope. “I have orders to relieve your current scout accompaniment, and to assist the Herald in locating known rifts.” The Seeker didn’t seem too enthused at the idea of Ellie around the Herald, but she didn’t voice any objections. At least not presently. Orders are orders, after all.

When Solas did finally let go of Lavellan, it was a small comfort that she didn’t charge or start foaming from the mouth. Yet.

Throughout all of this, the Iron Bull had remained a giant, but silent, observer. Talk about first impressions. When he writes home they’re gonna love it. Pentaghast seemed to have remembered him as well, because she turned and addressed the man-cow. “The Herald and I will discuss the matter of you and the Chargers, Iron Bull. We will let you know once we’ve reached a decision.” Ellie could practically hear the Seeker’s teeth grinding.

“We’ll be waiting. Just remember, we’re worth the cost.” The Iron Bull grinned, as if he hadn’t just seen the Herald of Andraste go off the handle. And to think, I’d been trying to talk myself into resuming Operation Dalish Daycare. Ha! That wasn’t happening. Short of a brain transplant, personality reversal, or an act of god, which, all things considered, wasn’t the most far-fetched option these days, Solavellan was doomed.

The only shot Thedas had left for getting them together, and avoiding the apocalypse, was when the time travel happened. Unfortunately, as far as Ellie could tell, apart from making sure Lavellan time skipped alone, without Dorian, whether she went to the past or future was a toss-up. Ellie had come up with a few ideas that might tip the scales in favor of Lavellan visiting Arlathan, but she had no idea if any of them would actually work.

She also wasn’t sure when, or how, exactly, the whole time-travel thing was supposed to happen; only that it did. With the way things were going, presuming the current state of her face was any indication, it won’t matter if her ideas would work, because she won’t be anywhere around the woman to enact any plans in the first place. Right now Lavellan seemed to hate her so much, Ellie’s ability to position herself near the Herald when everything went down was borderline nonexistent – if such a thing was even possible in the first place.

You need to stop fucking around and start taking this shit seriously. A whole world is at stake here.

It was a sobering thought.

Face bleeding and tired, Ellie hadn’t paid much attention to what else was said around her – or if anything was. She’d watched them talking, but her mind was elsewhere. So much that she only checked back into the present when Lavellan started moving. The Herald and Seeker were heading back to their tents, and Ellie quickly stepped out of the way before Crazy-Dalish found an excuse to do anything else.

The Seeker’s back was turned, and Lavellan shot Ellie a bloody-faced glare as she passed. Ellie met it. If Lavellan was hoping to cow her, she was out of luck. For that to happen, Ellie would have needed to possess a modicum of respect towards the woman.

If you really wanna start juvenile bullshit, I might just rip your arm off before Solas got the chance. So much for the fate of the world.

When Lavellan finally broke her gaze, Ellie looked away, only to find the Iron Bull watching her. Shit. You did not seriously just give the Herald of Andraste the stare down in front of the Iron Bull and Solas. She could not think of worse people, apart from perhaps Leliana and Rutherford, to have done that in front of. Normal people don’t glare at the Herald like they want to shout ‘bring it, bitch!’

Inwardly cringing, she risked a quick glance in Solas’s direction, only to discover that his eyes were narrowed dangerously at Lavellan’s retreating figure. He hadn’t noticed. She could hardly believe her luck.

Her attention flicked back to the Iron Bull. He’s the only one who saw it. “Well, as you’ve probably noticed, we came back. I wanted to thank you, again, for allowing me to leave the horses and Sean with the Chargers, the Iron Bull.” She was using her pleasant dinner party voice again. You do realize your face is half covered in blood, right? The Storm Coast is not a motherfucking dinner party you nutjob, what is wrong with you!?

The Iron Bull blinked his good eye, then chuckled. “You’re welcome. ‘Sides, once we’re on the Inquisition’s payroll it shouldn’t be a problem to back charge.” He grinned.

She was about to ask him why he was so confident that they’d get hired, but Solas spoke up first. “If you have a moment, Ellie.”

Ellie looked over at him, hoping her wariness didn’t show. Even if she didn’t think he was angry at her, he was still angry. And as much as she enjoyed his company at times, angry gods carried a base mortality risk for mortals. No matter who they were angry with.

Yeah, but he’s more the silent, plotting type. The kind where Lavellan has an unexpected and tragic accident three years from now... And you shouldn’t be speaking to the Iron Bull anyway. He could be a problem.

She couldn’t outright avoid the Iron Bull, because that would only raise more flags. It would be stupid to turn down an easy escape from the Qunari – even if that invitation came from an irate Mr. Crazypants.

Ellie gave Solas a nod, before looking back to the Iron Bull with a small smile. Turns out that hurts when you have a split lip. “I’ll see you later, the Iron Bull.”

“Ellie.” He replied, returning the nod. Not that she gave him the opportunity to say much else.

Solas didn’t say anything once she’d stepped up beside him, and, even if Ellie didn’t think she was the source of his ire, anxiety began to bubble up in her chest. Between the tension in his shoulders and jaw, Ellie was amazed she didn’t flinch when she felt the press of his hand on her back and began leading her away.

The gesture came as a surprise. If she hadn’t been nervous earlier, she sure as fuck was now. His touch was still gentle, but it was also unyielding. His steps were purposeful, and Ellie gave him a sideways glance.

Solas’s gaze was forward, chin parallel to the ground, and his demeanor had gone so cold she really hoped she’d read the situation correctly. Holy shit Solas, do you have any idea how terrifying you are right now!? He didn’t. Solas didn’t touch people unnecessarily. The guy was clearly off in his own head. His mask had slipped, and Ellie was currently being herded between tents by the motherfucking Dread Wolf. Humble apostate my ass.

Then Solas glanced down at her, and their eyes met. She should have broken eye contact and pretended she hadn’t been watching Mr. Crazy. But no, Ellie held it like staring contests with the Evanuris were a personal pastime.

Ellie didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but if the way he blinked before quickly looking away was anything to go by, it hadn’t been her watching him. Solas frowned, and the shift in how he carried himself was so quick Ellie could almost believe she’d imagined it. Almost.

The hand on her back hesitated for a fraction of a second, but Solas didn’t withdraw it. He couldn’t. Yeah, that’s right, now you gotta commit to the mistake Wolfy. She would know. Committing to mistakes was something Ellie had, thus far, excelled at in Thedas. When he gave her another glance, Ellie realized she was bordering creeper territory and quickly looked away. 

This turned out to be a good thing. There was a rapidly approaching tent flap, and her face had taken enough abuse for one day. Only then, as they stepped inside, did Solas have the excuse to withdraw his hand.

“The medical tent?” Ellie blurted out, surprised.

There were a handful of collapsible cots, and a handful of basic supplies. She didn’t see Sean anywhere, which meant he must have recovered. Nor, for that matter, did she see anyone else. Ellie swallowed, pulse quickening. I’m alone with the angry Elvhen god. Fantastic!

“I believe you have injuries.” Solas replied, words clipped. Ellie looked at him, uncomprehending. Healing her shouldn’t be anywhere on an angry god’s to-do list. “Unless you would prefer I heal you in the rain?”

Yes! “No.” The question had probably been rhetorical. She went to the nearest cot and sat down. “I- just- you didn’t heal Lavellan. Why heal me?”

“Her injuries are a consequence of her own foolishness. Yours are not. Regardless of what the Herald chooses to believe, such treatment is undeserved. Her abuse of you is an abuse of her position.” Solas answered, some of the anger seeping back as he spoke.

“That’s because the woman is completely unhinged and insane.” Ellie didn’t quite manage to keep the venom out of her voice.

Solas pressed his lips together then, after a few seconds, he let out a heavy sigh. The anger seemed to seep out of him, replaced, instead, by weariness. “I apologize for the Herald’s behavior. She is… misguided.”  

Ellie stared at him. Misguided? You think she’s misguided? Do you hear yourself right now? “It isn’t your place to apologize. You aren’t responsible for her actions.”

“All the same.” He murmured, collecting a cloth and bowl of water.

“No, not all the same.” She started, anger, exhaustion, and stubbornness outweighing reason and fear. “There’s misguided, and then there’s that. Were it not for the mark on her hand, she’d have been taken out back like a rabid dog and shot by now.” She shouldn’t have said that.

Solas flinched. She should not have said that. What the fuck is wrong with you!?

“I-I’m sorry. That was- I shouldn’t have said that. I let my anger get the better of me.” Ellie was at a loss for words. She’d just told the Dread Wolf, and Elvhen god, that an elf should be put down like a raid dog. An Elvhen wolf god. María, madre de Dios. He was going to resent her now. Silently hate her.

“…It’s understandable.” Solas replied evenly, pulling up a chair and taking a seat in front of her.

This was bad. She couldn’t have him hating her – especially not about that. Now you’ll be the one meeting a sudden and tragic accident. Way to fucking go. She couldn’t afford for Solas to hate her. Ellie thought wildly, renewed panic bubbling up inside of her as she tried to find something in all of Sandy’s written nonsense to fix this.

“It isn’t. It’s inexcusable.” Ellie began, her mind frantic. “It doesn’t matter how ignorant I think she is, that doesn’t mean she deserves to die– uh –” You’re making it worse. “I mean, you know her better than I do. If you say she’s misguided, then you’re probably right. I mean, It’s just-” Fuck, what does he care about?! Elvhen glory and spirits. Elfy elf shit. And knowing things. He likes that too! Ugh!

“- all I want to do is help her, share what I know, and instead I’m getting punched in the face because some drunk asshole in the tavern decided to vocalize rumors that I’m fucking the Herald.” Ellie, that has nothing to do with glory, spirits, or knowing shit!

Solas dampened the cloth in his hand. “I fear the Herald’s resentment towards you may have little to do with rumor.”

Ellie felt a knot beginning to form in her stomach. “What do you mean?”

“While it is likely a factor, one among several, I do not believe it is the source of the Herald’s animosity. Her aggression towards you, in part, may be the result of the memory echoed in the Fade. Where you were seen with the Herald and the Divine Justinia.” Solas said, beginning to dab at the blood on her face.

Considering how thoroughly she’d stuck her foot in her mouth, the gentleness of it surprised her. She’d expected him to quickly wipe away what was necessary, then get on with the healing. Instead he was wiping at her face with such a ridiculous overabundance of delicacy that, were it anyone else, she would have teased him mercilessly.

Oh my god, Solas. You can’t just touch people’s faces like that – even with the cloth! What are you doing!? Stop being weird!

Naturally he appeared oblivious, and Ellie was grateful that her face was already too mottled for it to flush. He was making it weird. You’re making it weird. He’s paying attention to detail like any self-respecting immortal would. He was definitely making it weird.

Angry, insane trickster gods weren’t supposed to delicately dab at faces. Especially not when the face they were oh-so-gently wiping blood off of had expressed the belief that one of his precious crazy elves should be taken out back Old Yeller style.

“What did it show, exactly? I never found out much beyond being told I tried to help the Divine lady first.” Ellie asked.

“The Herald entered, seeking an explanation…” He paused, an odd expression flitting briefly across his face. “You then threw what I believe to have been shoes at the Elder One, causing him to drop the orb. When neither of you moved to pick it up, you looked to the Herald and said ‘hurry up and grab the thing’.” 

Oh. Ellie felt nauseous. “That explains why I woke up barefoot.” She said dryly.

“Meanwhile the truth of your involvement remains hidden for convenience. You do not share the weight of her burden. The pain of the mark. Freedom is yours.” Solas finished his ridiculous, delicate dabbing and set the cloth aside.

This was the part Ellie didn’t like – the part with the touching.

Solas raised his hands, and she looked up at a corner of the tent. He was suddenly much too close. Just as with the previous times he’d healed her, his hands paused, hesitating before he finally placed them gently on her cheeks and nose. It was like some weird god version of the hover hand.

Us pitiful mortals are so prone to spontaneously shattering. Best not let the whole fingerprint touch skin – my skull might cave in.

There was the increasingly familiar flare of Solas’s magic, his hands glowing a faint blue. The coolness of his healing magic felt strange sinking into her nose, and she repressed the urge to shudder.

They fell into a short silence, then Solas spoke again. “You should not have overextended. Pushing yourself beyond your own capabilities, while you may still survive, carries risk. Relying on such measures will eventually result in strain beyond what your body can withstand. It is a wonder you have the energy to continue as you have.”

“I know,” Ellie said carefully, trying not to move in a way that would disrupt the magic in her face. “It was foolish.”

“It would be wise to determine alternative methods of action, for when such a situation arises again in the future.” Solas continued.

“I have. You’re preaching to the choir on this one, Solas… not that I don’t appreciate the lecture.”

“I speak of more than your mana, Ellie.” Oh.  

His attention shifted to her split lip and jaw, and she was glad she had an excuse not to reply. He wasn’t wrong. If there was one thing Ellie knew, it was her physical limits. Thanks to how thoroughly she’d overspent her mana, today had pushed them. Hard. It would be several weeks before her body recovered.

Without the distraction of conversation, Solas was able to finish quickly. Lavellan’s fists did significantly less damage compared to arrows, lightning, and falling out of a hole in the sky onto her head.

The glow of magic faded from her peripheral vision, and Solas quickly withdrew his fingers from her face and stood up. She frowned slightly, watching him take the bloodied fabric and water with increasing guilt. You shouldn’t have said that.

“Thanks.” Ellie said.

“You are welcome.” Solas replied.

The serious expression she’d attributed to his concentration while healing hadn’t lifted. It was bad enough that he’d already been angry, but she’d made it worse. Even if, ultimately, he was a deranged psychopath undeserving of kindness; when he wasn't busy making terrible decisions Solas had, at least, been kind. And now he looked half lost in his own head. Not a good thing for crazy elf gods. Especially not ones who prefer dreaming to being awake.

“Hey, Solas?” Ellie asked after a moment, uncertainty clenching her chest. It’s worth a shot.

He looked over at her distractedly. He hates you. “Yes, Ellie?”

“Uh… you said the mark still causes her pain. Is there a reason why you can’t stop it?”

“It is powerful magic.” He began, and he finished putting things away as he answered. “While its effects have been contained to her hand, and the mark stable, it is too much. Short of removing the magic itself, it will always be a source of pain. The mark is as much a part of her hand, in the same way her hand is a part of her, making its removal without the loss of both impossible.”

“Is the pain on the magic side, or the physical side?” Ellie asked.

Solas’s brow furrowed. “The source of the pain is the mark.”

She started to chew the inside of her cheek, then stopped because it hurt. “No, I get that. I mean where is the pain registering? Is it hurting through, uh…” Ellie paused, “You know. Like, there’s the seeing and feeling with my eyes and hands,” She pointed to her eyes, since it was the important part to clarify. “Or the seeing and feeling with the other... magic-y ones.” She made more, this time vague, gestures. You would make a terrible Italian.

Solas raised his eyebrows, mulling over his words before speaking. “While there may be the potential for pain of that nature, the Herald, herself, does not possess a connection to the fade strong enough for any conscious manifestation.”

“So the pain is physical?” She sat up a little straighter. Be cool. You don’t even know if it will work.

“It would appear so, yes.” He replied, and she could practically see the questions - whatever else was on his mind now set aside.

Ellie grinned, and it felt out of place on her face. This world is chewing you up. Eating you alive. When was the last time you smiled? Her smile wilted. “I… there’s a chance, maybe. I can’t be sure, uh..” Spit it out already. “I think I might know how to help Lavellan’s pain.”

“Oh? While I am able to, at times, ease her discomfort, any relief is temporary.” Solas was a nerd, and she now had his full attention. That might not be a good thing.

“I-” She stopped, closing her mouth. Yeah, because talking about shit like the brachial plexus won’t be suspicious at all. She tried again. “There are… it would not be a perfect solution. Probably similar to yours, but, uh… if the pain itself is in this realm, then, regardless of the cause, it should work.”

Unable to stay sitting any longer, she got to her feet. Nervous excitement joining in the cacophony of nausea, adrenaline, exhaustion, and whatever else she had coursing through her that hadn’t killed her yet. It was hard not to pace like a lunatic. With the state of your hair, you’re halfway to mad scientist already.  

He eyed her for several seconds, and Ellie felt like she’d just been shoved under a microscope. Then the bastard smirked. It was small, and subtle like everything else his stupid face did, but he fucking smirked at her.

“And yet no intent to explain.” He mused, “Is it not possible I have already considered your solution?”

Alarm bells were going off in her head, red flags waving, raid sirens, the whole shebang. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! In that moment, she could think of few things more terrifying than a potentially pissed Solas, Psycho McDread Wolf himself, Lord of the Crazypants, and baldest of his name, smirking at her.

Internally her brain made a noise like a murloc, while the rest of her tried not to panic. “I mean it is, but uh… unlikely. Until I know- there are things I need to check first. I wouldn’t have said anything, but you were going to ask anyway, so, uh, I…” Ellie said, words trailing off.

“Was I?” Solas asked, as if he could be innocent of such a thing. Ellie headed to exit the tent, and he fell into step beside her. Outside it was quickly approaching dusk, the light fading.

“-Yes-. Of course you were!” She could feel her face going red. He looked -amused-. Not good.  

“Then why choose to bring up the matter in the first place?”

Because your expression was concerning, and stuck-in-his-head Solas, future exploder of the world, is a helluva lot more dangerous than Loony Luna Lovegood. Ellie huffed, ducking through the flap and back out into the glorious rain. Somebody needs to give these clouds a cesarean.

Her reply was supposed to be ‘because I’m tired’. What came out of her mouth, however, was a belligerent “I’m going to smack you.”

“Ah, an appeal to violence.” Solas replied dryly. “I am terrified, truly.”

Ellie didn’t know what she’d done to deserve this, but whatever it was, it was bad. This was bad. She was in trouble. Solas was showing personality. Again.

“You should be. Without that barrier you’ll be soggy like the rest of us.” She said, giving his arm a poke with her index finger. Did you seriously just poke the Dread Wolf? Threateningly!? Her exhaustion had clearly reached the threshold for early-onset delirium.

He raised his eyebrows, “You still have not answered the question.”

Yep, she was definitely in trouble. They needed to reach the inquisition tents fast, and breaking into a sprint wasn’t really an option. A passing Charger shoved a cup of piss into her hands, clapping her roughly on the back. She made an exasperated noise, but at least the nightly frat parties gave her something to capitalize on.  

“You tried this stuff, yet?” Ellie asked, glancing at Solas. Of course they didn’t give him one.

Solas gave her a flat look, “I have not had the pleasure, nor do I wish to.” Okay, so you aren’t winning points for subtlety, but who gives a shit.

“Well then,” Ellie said brightly, as if it wasn’t painfully obvious that she was avoiding the question with the grace of a rhinoceros, “now you have to try it! It’s utterly repugnant, I assure you.”

She offered the cup out to him, of which he made no move to accept. “I will take your word as evidence enough on the subject.”

“Really, I insist.” Ellie pressed.

Solas sighed, tone still dry. “I now see why you would choose a spirit such as your friend for company.”

Ellie withdrew the cup. If the change of subject had been an attempt to get the foul-smelling liquid away from his person, it was successful. “You mean Sandy?”

What, is Sandy a spirit of exhaustion induced insanity or something? She had a lot of questions about Sandy, but no simple way of asking them – not without sharing more than she wanted to. Especially not if Solas was under the impression that Ellie had sought the spirit out, and not the other way around. It wasn’t the first time Solas spoke about what she got up to in the Fade as though he expected her to understand more than she did.

When she’d said that she couldn’t manipulate the fade, his reaction bordered on thinking she was the mistaken one. Yes, but he also gave you what is, effectively, an introductory guidebook to spirits. And called you out on not knowing how to magic. So he can’t possibly think you’re secretly some mystical fade wizard, either.  

It didn’t add up. Neither do you. Ellie didn’t know what to make of it, and decided that, for now, she’d categorize it under ‘impossible god logic’.

“The spirit calls itself Sandy?” His brow furrowed slightly. Shit.

“No, I do. Sandy usually doesn’t speak in third person.” Ellie said. He’s going to realize you have absolutely no clue what Sandy is. Then he’ll realize you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. About anything. Ever.

The Inquisition tents came into view. The wet meant there wasn’t a central fire, or people sitting down, outside, over dinner, but the Herald being out of sight did not put her out of mind.

She still needed to find the other scout lead and give him, or her, Harding’s orders, check on Sean, the rest of her group, and the horses, before turning in for the night, too. Nope, no burdens here. I’m free as a bird. Between the day long trek, lack of mana, and Heraldic fist fight, her body was shot.

“Hey, uh, sorry Solas, but I still have a few things to finish up,” Ellie added, scanning for the other scout lead, “so I’ll have to catch you later.” Spotting someone near the Herald’s party of horses to ask, she looked back over at Solas, only to find him watching her.

Why wouldn’t he be watching you? You’re talking to him, dum dum.

He hesitated. “Tonight, with your-”

“Can it wait until tomorrow?” Ellie interjected quickly, a guilty knot forming in her chest. “I’m pretty tired, and once I’m through I just want to pass out.” She tried to give him an apologetic smile, but the end result might have been closer to a grimace.  

 “Of course. I would not wish to keep you.” He replied smoothly, inclining his head.

She gave him a nod back, “Thanks.” Then turned and headed off in the direction of the horses. Fade playdates with Solas were something she needed to avoid. She could respect that he was lonely, because being a god was, by nature, a lonely gig. And it made sense that he’d want to share something he loved with the only other person in the Inquisition that didn’t see a spirit and run screaming, but they could not be fade buddies.

Chapter Text

After the debacle with the Herald, it was safe to say that Ellie’s future with the Inquisition was tenuous at best. As much as Lavellan might have deserved it, she was still the Herald of Andraste. Ellie, on the other hand, was a suspicious nobody with a questionable reputation regarding tents. Rutherford wanted her gone, Leliana wanted her as a pawn, and whatever privileges ‘Divine Providence’ was supposed to have clearly didn’t mean much.

She was fucked. She was absolutely, positively, pants down, fucked.

It was a fact Ellie had the pleasure of ruminating over while she continued to work towards a successful wall of lightning spell. Without distractions, she had improved upon her ball lightning enough that she was willing to begin attempting it out in the waking world.

Sandy was, much to Ellie’s surprise, nowhere to be found. Tonight all she had for company was the endless expanse of white and her own thoughts. Solas probably chased her off. She’d said something about him bothering her. Ellie didn’t know if she should be annoyed at the absence, or thankful.

“Would it kill you to work normally!? A nice normal dream? Maybe some Hogwarts? You know, because this isn’t suspicious or weird at all!” Ellie shouted out, throwing up her hands and allowing the magic she was working on to collapse. The fade wouldn’t even give her an echo. All she had was clear, bright, and sharp whiteness.

Why would it work normally – you aren’t normal here. Earthlings don’t need the fade to dream. It’s weird that you even have magic in the first place.

She flopped down onto the ground and closed her eyes, then took a few deep, not-actually-happening breaths. Up and at ‘em girly. You got magic to practice. She allowed herself another deep breath, then climbed to her feet. A moment later the white silence was once again filled with the crackle of lightning.

-

Ellie crept out of her bedroll before sun-up, and had a quick breakfast before packing up what she could and slipping out of the tent. It was early enough that only Chargers on watch would be awake, and that meant no scary Heralds or Seekers to worry about while packing. The less visible she was when it didn’t matter, the better.

It also meant she had the excuse to use a weak barrier to keep out the rain.

Pecado took one look at her, and his nostrils flared. Getting him saddled without losing a hand was going to be a fight. She’d run out of bribing material, so unless her demon spawn liked hard liquor from a flask, Ellie was out of luck.

Buenos dias chiqueado, no te extrañé.” Ellie said, flaring her nostrils right back. “Cómo sueño de enviarte a la fábrica.” She put her free hand dramatically over her heart.

Pecado did not appreciate the sass. You’re talking to a horse.

It took several minutes for her to claim victory in the first battle of stubbornness. She’d managed to get the saddle and remaining tack on, which meant it was time for her bags.

“I knew I’d find you here,” Lavellan spoke up behind her. You have got to be kidding me.

Ellie stilled, immediately strengthening the barrier she’d tossed on. Be cool, be calm, be neutral. Turning around, she found the Herald standing a few feet away – looking like the cat that had just caught the canary. Chin up, Tweety Bird.

“Herald.” Ellie responded evenly, “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Don’t insult me, Shem. I bet you thought you were so clever, sneaking around out here like a coward.” Lavellan sneered, idly playing with a throwing knife in her hands. Wait, what? Seriously?

Ellie pressed her lips together and swallowed, forcing herself to pay attention to the Herald and not Mr. Pointy. It was way too early in the morning for her to get stabbed. “If I’ve done anything to upset you, Herald-”

“If you’ve done anything to upset me? What would make you think that, Shem?” Lavellan taunted.

You shouldn’t. “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot you were Dalish.  Everything offends you.” Ellie replied dryly. You know better.

The Herald’s sneer turned into a scowl, and stepped forward to close the distance between them. “You Bitch, you know -nothing- of the Dalish. We honor the Creators and follow the paths of our ancestors. Keeping the beliefs and history of The People alive, which is something a pathetic shem like you would never understand.” Ellie blinked, but the Dalish kept going. “As if I can’t see right through you – I know exactly what you’re doing. Just because you can’t coax me into your bed like one of the broken flat-ears.”

The fuck is happening!? Solas, I think you might be giving your psycho-waifu more credit than she deserves.

The Herald plowed on, pointing at Ellie with the throwing knife instead of an index finger – as if to really drive her ‘point’ home. “The very sight of you disgusts me. As if I would -ever- consider laying with a human. Or even a flat-ear! Like the best of my people, I will bond with another of the Dalish, proudly, and we will have children to keep the future of our people alive.” Good for you, soapbox.

Ellie definitely knew better. There were better ways to go about this, but it didn’t stop her. “How’s that going, by the way? Honoring the Creators as the Herald of Andraste?”

Lavellan was fast, and the fist slammed into the barrier where her jaw was. Varric had been right. The Herald didn’t want to kill Ellie outright, just pummel her face into a pulp. That might change if you keep this up.

“Fuck you!” Lavellan spat, and Ellie only partially succeeded at suppressing a smirk. “This is all your fault!” Okay, point to Solas.

“I am hardly responsible for the machinations of your fist.” Ellie said dryly. You’re being cruel.

“Shut up!” Lavellan’s jaw was clenched, and now that Ellie didn’t think that throwing knife was going anywhere, the situation was a lot less scary. It made the Herald little more than a short woman with anger management issues and a lot of angst. The Herald is a teenage girl. “You stupid shems can’t always get your way. I’m not letting you have your friends. We’re going to say no.”

It took Ellie a moment to realize what Lavellan meant, her brow furrowing, and then it clicked. Shit! Look happy. Look amused. Fucking relax your shoulders. Her shoulders didn’t ease so much as remain tensed in a downward direction, but hopefully the effect was the same.

“Of course you will. Why wouldn’t you? That’s what Seeker Pentaghast wants.” She sneered. It was an educated guess, and Ellie sincerely hoped her hunch was correct. Otherwise this would be her fault.

“That isn’t- We came to an agreement!” Lavellan countered, and Ellie knew she’d hit her target. It was too easy to get under the elf’s skin, and easier to use that anger against her. The Herald was no longer speaking quietly enough not to risk being overheard. Someone was going to notice. Someone already has. “Cassandra wants what’s best.” Oh, you sweet summer child.

“Yes, for -her- beliefs.” Ellie could feel the guilt knotting up in her gut, and she shoved it aside. “She’s a Seeker, Right hand of the Divine. A qunari in the inquisition would spread the beliefs of the Qun.”

Of course it would be Solas. He probably sets up a string of fade tin cans to jangle whenever someone so much as gets up to take a piss. Ellie hardly realized that she was using her other sense to see, the light and glitter of the fade and veil making Solas’s approaching aura stand out like a beacon. Quickly Ellie, quickly.

“Andrastianism doesn’t make room for other gods. There is only the Maker. Or have you forgotten that?”

“You’re wrong.” Lavellan growled, her knuckles white. She was upset enough that the mark on her hand began to spark and flicker green.

“As you say, Herald of Andraste.” Ellie replied quietly, and a large part of her hoped it wouldn’t work. That it couldn’t be so easy. Even if Lavellan was an insufferable bitch, she didn’t deserve this. Ellie was disgusted with herself. You said you wouldn’t play games.

Solas came around the corner, and, were she not momentarily distracted at the sight of him looking so serious in pajamas, Ellie would have been better prepared for Lavellan shoving her roughly into Pecado.

The horse, who had been ignoring the unfolding drama and giving absolutely zero fucks, did not appreciate this. He immediately side stepped with an infuriated huff, because how dare she try to fall into him, clacking his teeth threateningly at Ellie as she went down. It isn’t my fault you stupid horse! Go bite the Herald’s arm off, you impossible monster!

“Herald, is everything all-” Solas began, followed by a thump that sounded suspiciously like Lavellan shoulder-checking the Dread Wolf. It was hard to be sure, given that Ellie was presently sprawled out in the mud next to certain a pissy horse.

Fenedhis lasa, baldy.” Lavellan hissed, and Ellie failed at stifling a snort. Baldy: Hairless Dread Wolf Wonder.

Ellie risked a glance away from Mr. Stompy’s happy stomping feet to see the Herald storming off. Solas was looking after her with a frown, his brow furrowed. He did not look pleased. Then she noticed the wolf necklace outlined beneath a slightly askew undershirt that looked as though it had been hastily pulled on. Does that mean he sleeps with it on? What if he rolled over – then he’d have wolf teeth biting his chest. Ugh, he’s probably into that. Fucking weird-ass kinky god shit.

There was another threatening huff, and the next hoof landed a little too close to her head. She looked back at Pecado to find him glaring at her.

Ellie glared back, replying to his indignation with mock apology. “Oh, lo siento Pecado. ¿Era este tu lugar?

Pecado’s nostril’s flared, ears going back. He stomped the ground again with a hoof, and she smacked the offending leg.

Intentalo, me atrevo. Cuando fallas, alimentaré tus entrañas a los pájaros mientras estés vivo.” She replied cooly. Giving attention to Pecado’s bullshit was easier than acknowledging the sinking feeling of guilt, or how slimy she felt.

Solas cleared his throat.

Oh. Right. Him. That, uh… and you’re lying in the mud arguing in Spanish with a horse. Well done, Ellie.

She broke off the staring contest with Pecado, and looked over to find Solas standing on her other side. He was looking at her, because of course he was looking at her. There was no reason he wouldn’t be looking at her. Now would be a good time to stand up.

Ellie scrambled to her feet, and she had absolutely no idea what to make of the expression on his face. She could tell he wasn’t happy, and he was eyeing her in a way that said she wouldn’t be getting off the hook so easily this time. Solas wasn’t stupid. He was Fen’Harel, a freaking trickster god. His ridiculous humble getup and ‘in the fade’ excuses alone spoke volumes about how well he could play people.

Everything about her little night-time chat with the Herald screamed suspicious, and he didn’t need thousands of years of experience to know Ellie had come out the winner in their little exchange. She has his mark, you don’t. If he thinks you’re going to become a problem, he will kill you. Ellie suppressed a shudder, hoping she didn’t look as guilty as she felt.

“Oh, hey bal-Solas- fancymeetingyouhere!” Ellie said, then immediately wished there was a nice rock nearby to hide under. Perhaps Pecado could trample her to death and put her out of her misery.

 

Solas’s eyes narrowed, and he was not amused. “Ellie,” He began carefully, like a parent waiting to hear a child’s explanation before deciding how upset to be. “Have you reason to antagonize the Herald? I would prefer to believe you do not resort to such pettiness without cause.” Shit. He isn’t allowed to threaten me with disappointing him – how is that fair!? I don’t have anything to prove to you!

“You aren’t going to ask why I’m out here with a saddled horse before dawn?” She replied, trying to redirect his attention. For all the good it would do.

He glanced at the horse for all of a second before returning his attention to her, frown deepening. “You would be within your right to leave the Inquisition. If that is your intention, it is hardly my place to stop you. However, as you have yet to do so, despite the many risks to yourself, I do not believe that is the case.”

Ellie didn’t say anything, and chose to regard him warily for several seconds instead. Because that was clearly the least suspicious thing she could do. Yes, stare at the guy silently like a three-year-old covered in purple marker in front of the wall also covered in purple marker. You had nothing to do with it. You’re the picture of innocence. Could you possibly be more awkward? Doubtful.

Better to appear awkward and potentially addled than visibly drowning in your own guilt. When his expression began shifting towards something dangerously close to concern, Ellie couldn’t stomach it further and turned to focus on trying to finish packing up Pecado with a swallow.

You’re a mess.

Freezing like this wasn’t something she did, and Ellie wasn’t even sure why she wasn’t answering. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have appropriate answers. Self-sabotage isn’t a good look for you. You did what you thought was necessary. Pull your shit together.

Solas sighed, and this time when he spoke his words were gentler. Which, if anything, was worse. “You must understand my concern. The Herald is far from justified in her actions, but you should not encourage further conflict between the two of you.”

“We came to an understanding, that’s all.” She finally answered, “I thought it would be easier to prep the abomination ahead of time, when I wouldn’t have to worry about the Herald getting in my face. I didn’t expect her to be lying in wait for me.”

“She should not have done that. I will speak to her on the matter.”

She tried to approach Pecado, but he wasn’t having any of it. Ellie had clearly committed an unforgivable sin by falling into his plot of mud, and after the second time he tried to bite her, she abandoned the attempt to busy herself and turned back to face Solas. “Don’t. I’m perfectly capable of handling her on my own. Your da’len is far more bark than she is bite.”

“I did not say that you were not.” Solas replied.

“Then don’t act like it.” Don’t pick a fight with Fen’Harel. What the fuck is your problem!? “I’m fine.” Exactly who are you trying to convince, buttercup? “You can still get an hour or two in the fade before sunup.”

Solas pressed his lips together, and she didn’t need the look he gave her to know she was acting plenty like a da’len herself.

Ma nuvenin.” He said, and for a moment she thought he was going to say something else, but he didn’t. Do you care? No? Then who cares. Solas left her there to head back in the direction of his tent, and she watched his aura, more than him, as he left. Then her attention was back to Pecado.

It took Ellie longer than she’d care to admit to get Pecado appeased enough for riding. By the time he was no longer a threat to her limbs, the rest of the camp was awake and well on its way towards heading out. The stupid horse was furious with her, and seemed to think he was the god damned king of Thedas.

Even worse, the only reason Pecado was willing to deign her anywhere near him was, in part, thanks to Solas. Shortly after dawn he’d shown up while she was halfway through a particularly vitriolic threat to send Pecado off to live with a circus, and given Ellie dried fruit to bribe her four-legged megalomaniac with. Ellie had tried to decline, ignoring the fact that they both knew she could use the help, because she was an arrogant moron. It also didn’t help that his kindness just served as a reminder that she’d been an asshole earlier.

Given the choice, she’d have seen about the other scout group taking their horses, making Pecado’s insolence irrelevant. Unfortunately, between her groups and the Inquisitor’s there would be far too many horses for the other scouts to manage safely on their way to Harding.

The Iron Bull didn’t make an appearance until the others had finished packing, and Ellie had, thus far, found excuses to stay by the horses and away from the Herald and her party, until the Charger’s leader made his appearance.

His booming voice carried, confident and easy-going as ever. “Gotta say, the Inquisition sure knows how to make an impression.  I know you said you’d let me know once you made a decision, Seeker, but I wasn’t expecting the Herald to run into my tent in the middle of the night.” He grinned, “Not that I’m complaining.”

Ellie facepalmed, and was glad that the hand in her face hid the smirk. Even if she was a manipulative piece of shit for doing so, it was hard not to be at least a little smug. When she finally composed her expression, Soven, who had been tending to his horse beside Pecado, was raising an eyebrow at her.

The Seeker scowled, her brow furrowing. “I do not think the Herald would-”

“Well I did.” Lavellan spoke up haughtily, crossing her arms over her chest. “The Chargers are on Inquisition pay now.”

Pentaghast looked as though she’d been slapped across the face, but she recovered quickly. Her scowl snapped firmly back into place, jaw clenched. “But Herald, I thought we agreed it would be best-”

“I changed my mind, shem.” Lavellan interrupted her again, and she was so clearly trying to make a point that it hurt. It’s like watching a chihuahua try to bark down a mastiff. The height difference between the two alone, with how far it forced Lavellan’s head to tilt up, was comical.

The two began to bicker in loud whispers, and Ellie was willing to bet every elf nearby could hear what they were saying. Lavellan had the sense to speak at a lower volume, but the growling noises coming from the Seeker had Ellie struggling to keep a straight face.

The Iron Bull gave an easy chuckle, “So what’re our orders, Boss?”

“Go to haven. People there will figure out the money stuff.” Lavellan waved a hand dismissively.

“You got it, Boss!” The Iron Bull grinned, then called over his shoulder. “Hey Krem, get everyone to move their ass, we’re heading out!”

Ellie didn’t see Krem anywhere, but a moment later she heard him shout back. “I think they heard you just fine, Chief.” From the sound of it, Krem was yelling from halfway across the camp.  

“Your not-friend is eyeing you.” Soven said quietly, sidling up alongside Ellie. “Suspiciously.”

She looked away from the Iron Bull to the elf now bumping shoulders with her. “Oh yeah?” As far as she knew, only Soven and Solas were officially in the ‘not-friend’ joke category, and the latter she had been carefully avoiding eye contact with the moment Iron Bull mentioned Lavellan running into his tent at night.

Krem and Iron Bull were now holding a conversation with shouts, primarily consisting of insults regarding Tevinters and Qunari.   

-

The second rift closed more easily than the first. Just like with the one before, Ellie and the other scouts held back where they could ‘stay out of the way’. She might have been insulted, but having ten people for a few demons really was overkill. Even four was too much. Both times Solas had stepped forward and frozen the area, leaving Cassandra to shatter the blocks with her sword, while Lavellan focused on closing the rift.

Being able to watch Solas cast was also invaluable, and Ellie didn’t waste the opportunity to watch how he drew upon his mana. She didn’t have anyone to compare it to outside of herself, so she couldn’t see how he compared to a competent mage, but the difference between her pitiful excuse for magic and his was night and day.

Having the sense to use her sparkle-vision made a big difference in putting together what she felt with what was happening. Solas’s magic flowed into spells so seamlessly, like water, willing ice into the waking world as easily as breathing. The mana he used for it was a pittance compared to her spells – so much so that it had her wondering just what she would be capable of if she didn’t treat her spells like she was an ogre trying to smash shit with a club.

Ellie watched as the luminescent green glow collapsed in on itself and the tear as sealed.

“How far ‘till Harding, Shem?” Lavellan demanded, walking back to her horse.

“Half a day. There’s a cave east of here that we can use to make camp tonight.” Ellie replied. She might not be the only human in the party, but Thedas liked irony, so of course she was the one Lavellan meant. Were it not for the absolute shitstorm it would cause, she’d demand to be referred to by her proper descriptor: alien.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say I can’t wait to get out of this rain.” Varric piped up, “How long have you guys been out here for, anyways?”

“Two weeks, I think.” Neria replied, riding alongside Varric’s pony.

Ellie focused most of her attention on navigating from her spot in the front. She’d half hoped that Soven would join her, but with the larger group he’d returned to staying towards the back. Duncan was using a horse they’d hijacked from the other scouting group, and somehow Martin of all people had ended up beside Solas. She struggled to think of a worse pairing.

Martin being, well, Martin, was seriously underqualified for a conversation with someone like Solas. But he tried.

“So if you’re an apostate too, does that mean you’ve run into a lot of magic bears?” Martin asked Solas out of the blue.

“No, I have not.” Solas replied. “Bears are not magical in nature.”

“Oh, well they can be. We fought a whole pack of them.” For fucks sake, Martin.

“You are mistaken, I assure you.” Solas said.

“She was joking, Martin. Like with Teddy.” Neria spoke up.

“Who’s Teddy?” Varric said.

Neria rolled her eyes, “Teddy the Dread Bear.”

Ellie was determinately not looking back, and she really hoped Lavellan’s dislike of Fen’Harel gave her a freebie pass on poking fun at the Dread Wolf, even if he was one of the Evanuris.

“What am I not getting?” Varric asked.

“One of the elven gods, the Creators, is called the Dread Wolf. I think in the stories he’s really hard to escape, and for a while there were a lot of bears.”

“Fen’Harel is the great betrayer, flat-ear.” Lavellan sneered, the embodiment of bristly. “He locked the Creators away. He’s the enemy of the people.”

Ellie shifted in her saddle, frowning. She was pretty sure the only reason Lavellan wasn’t flying off the handle at her horrible shemness was because Neria committed a worse offense by not properly summarizing Fen’Harold according to Dalish standards. The Herald is a walking Dalish mouthpiece.

“Not a fan of bears then, eh Twisty?” Varric said.

She looked over her shoulder to Varric, sparing Solas a glance against her better judgement. She immediately wished she hadn’t. He almost looked pained under his mask of neutrality. There was a weight to his shoulders, the way they sagged and hunched forward as if he desperately wanted to curl in on himself and hide but wouldn’t allow it. So? Who cares. He deserves it. Solas was going to destroy the world – he was literally the last person she should feel sorry for. What does he have to be upset about, anyway? Shouldn’t you be pleased that they think you’re scary?

“I’ve learned to take a visceral joy in setting them on fire.” Ellie replied to Varric dryly.

“More like incinerating them.” Duncan grumbled.

Varric was good at talking, and he managed to steer the conversation safely until they reached the cave. It helped that he was also Varric Tethras, and his reputation as a storyteller preceded him. Apart from the Seeker, everyone else seemed content to listen when Varric was speaking. As Pentaghast was busy grinding her teeth, the rest of the trek passed in relative peace.

When they reached the cave, once Ellie made sure Pecado was taken care of, she went to get a fire going at the cave entrance. Finding dry wood was closer to a joke than a possibility, and without magic their prospects for heat would not have fared well.

“Should you not make the fire closer to us, Lady Roosevelt?” The Seeker spoke up, once it was clear Ellie had every intention of building the fire near the cave entrance, instead of further inside where they would be sleeping.

Ellie shook her head, not bothering to pause in her efforts. “No, it’s best here. With all the water, I don’t want to risk the heat of an overnight fire drying out of cracks in the overhead rock. Doing so could damage the structural integrity of the stone and cause it to collapse. I don’t think it’s likely, since this isn’t a softer rock like sandstone, but it only takes a single boulder to squash a person’s skull like a grape. Not much healing magic can do about fixing that. Over here it will still provide heat, but the smoke and steam can escape faster, and any falling rock shouldn’t land on our heads.”

She could still feel Cassandra scowling at the back of her head. “You are serious.”

“Very. The similarities between fruit and a person’s head are quite remarkable given enough force.”

The Seeker made a disgusted noise, and further back Ellie heard Soven snort. He would find that funny.

Chapter Text

Cassandra didn’t pester Ellie further on her choice of fire location, and Ellie was able to finish its construction in peace. Neria and Sean handled dinner preparations, and the in the interim until the food was ready Ellie did her best to keep to herself. Unfortunately she was in a cave, the fire was being used to heat food, and hanging out towards the back with the horses would be so blatantly antisocial she was certain someone would capitalize on it.

She looked over at Soven, hoping to use him as a conversation shield, but he had already inserted himself next to Duncan, and Varric had wasted little time sidling up to the pair in order to interview Duncan about his experiences thus far with the Inquisition. He’d done similar with Neria, all under the guise of casual conversation, until they’d reached the first rift earlier that day.

Solas had yet to approach her directly, but he would. She’d already caught him watching her once or twice, and today was yesterday’s tomorrow. Unless he’s expecting you to approach him. If that was the case, then he’d be sourly disappointed.

Ellie went to her bag and started to rummage through it for lack of anything better to do. Normally she would have the veil book and her notes out by now, but nerd gods did not seem the type to be dissuaded by her reading. If anything, he would be magnetically drawn over within five minutes of her opening the book.

Real Sandy had even written a story where Solas’s foreplay was composed entirely of innuendo using the chapter titles for David Copperfield – the book Sandy’s Lavellan had been reading. It had been a terrible story, and the only reason Ellie remembered it was because she was fairly certain the experience had scarred her for life. If Thedas had its own version of the book, Ellie would never be able to read it. Should Solas ever so much as references a person named Mr. Dick, or uses ‘aunt’ as a euphemism, I quit.

Speaking of everyone’s favorite insane psycho elf-god bent on destroying the world, where is Solas? She looked back up towards the fire, brow furrowing when he wasn’t conveniently located next to the others. Instead she found him seated a short distance from the fire – close enough not to raise eyebrows, but far enough to be left alone. He would be reading a book.

Unable to make out the title of the tome, Ellie frowned. This is why you can’t have nice things.

Before curiosity had the chance to encourage poor life choices, her attention was brought back towards the fire by the steadily rising voices of the Seeker and Lavellan.

“I understand that the Dalish follow their own gods, but could there not be a place for the Maker among them?” Pentaghast said, and Ellie stared at Lady Cheekbones in blank disbelief.

Lavellan narrowed her eyes, and spat back. “No, shem, there couldn’t. Your human god has no place among the Creators.”

Varric shifted uncomfortably, “Seeker, maybe this isn’t-”

“How can you say that? We have been over this.  I thought you understood that The Maker and the teachings of Andraste are followed by elves, too.” The Seeker replied, her jaw clenching.

“Your city flat ears are not true elves! They abandoned their gods and their heritage, and the Dalish want nothing to do with your stupid Maker. I won’t let you use me to further your religious agenda!” The Herald snarled, and Ellie fought the urge to grimace. Having gangbanger slave tats does not make you more elfy, crazy bitch.

Doing her best to keep a neutral expression, Ellie bit down on the inside of her cheek as the argument continued to escalate. Soven was eyeing Lavellan far too casually for Ellie to be comfortable with, and if he looked any less bothered people might start mistaking him for pleased. That one is going to be trouble someday.

“There is no agenda. The Dalish gods and the teachings of the chantry do not have to be at odds!” Pentaghast protested.

“Hartshit! Your Chantry forbids the worship of the Creators, and I will die before I let you try and use me to poison the Dalish with your shem god! Fuck your Maker!” Lavellan was shouting now, teeth bared. What had possessed the Seeker to think anything she’d said was a remotely good idea Ellie would never know.

“You cannot-” The Seeker was interrupted by Sean’s sharp whistle, and she turned to him with a snarl. “What!?”

“Dinner’s ready. I suggest we eat.” Sean said firmly, and the Seeker looked like she might punch him in the face. Holy shit Sean has some fucking balls. Leliana give this man a raise.

“Great idea!” Varric quickly added, jumping to his feet, “Come on Shade, the glowy hand gets dibs.”

The dwarf was starting to look like he might get a punch to the face, too. Lavellan glowered at him, before growling audibly and stomping over to collect her food. The uncomfortable silence that followed was thick enough to cut with a knife. If every cricket in a five mile radius hadn’t already drowned, there would be chirping and everything.

Ellie wasn’t eager to hop up and close the distance between herself and psycho Dalish or Lady Cheekbones. A quick glance in Solas’s direction confirmed that his face was still in his book, although his eyes were slightly narrowed in a way that made her think the shouting match had stretched his patience thin. The Seeker’s brilliant arguments even pissed me off, and I’m not an elf - much less an elf god.  

The last thing the cave needed was a pissy god on top of the pissy Herald and pissy Seeker, so Ellie decided she could take her food from her mess cup, and use the dish to grab Solas’s portion. Being around Solas when he was less-than-pleased made her nervous, but she didn’t want to leave him to fester.

Deep breath. Food in hand, she walked up next to Solas, and tried to ignore how silly she felt all of a sudden. “Hey, I grabbed your dinner.” Why are you bringing meals to a trickster god?

Solas looked up from his book and blinked at the proffered bowl, eyebrows rising slightly. It’s just a bowl of food, don’t you dare make this weird. I really don’t need help in that department. He set aside the book and accepted the food.

Ma serannas.” Solas said quietly, giving Ellie a polite smile.

Fuck, what’s ‘you’re welcome’? Do I know that? She couldn’t remember how to say it in Elvhen, but she wasn’t insane enough to risk speaking elfy-tongue around Lavellan anyways. Probably ‘de’ or ‘da’ something. I bet there’s an ‘h’ or ‘n’ in there somewhere, too.

“You’re welcome.” She replied, plopping down beside him. Solas gave her a sideways glance, and she realized it would have been politer to ask before sitting.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, and Ellie idly watched Varric playing the role of conversation wrangler off in the Herald danger zone. You da real MVP, Varric.

Solas was the first to break their silence, his voice quiet and calm. “It seems the impact of your words cannot be understated. The Herald has taken them to heart.”

Ellie decided that was a good time to take a spoonful of dinner, as it would be rude to speak with her mouth full. She stopped people watching and turned to look back at Solas. Be chill, you can be chill. Cool as a cucumber. Next time she’d need to avoid sitting so close. You aren’t that close. It was still too close.

“I don’t know about that.” Ellie replied dryly, “Maybe something will click in a few months.”

“Did they not have the effect you intended?” Yeah I’m not taking that bait, Solas. Nice try, sneakypants.

“Well, I haven’t been punched in the face - not that I’m complaining.” She was making slow progress with her food, and noticed that Solas poked at, more than ate, his own. Not that she could blame him. It wasn’t exactly the most appetizing stuff out there. “What was the book you were reading?”

“ ‘Modern Theories in Mana Conversion’.” Solas answered, sitting up a little.

“Is it any good?”

“I am told the circles hold it in high regard.”

Ellie snorted, “That doesn’t answer the question.”

“I have yet to form my own opinion. Mana conversion is, however, a fairly straightforward subject. The arbitrary restrictions and limitations, of which the circles are so fond of in their Chantry-approved teachings, should not be a hindrance. In theory.” He did not bother hiding his distain of the circles.

“Funny thing about theory: it can be wildly different from application.” She said, scrunching up her nose. “Everything can look neat on paper, then blow up and defy predictions the second it leaves testing.”

“Indeed.” He set his half-finished meal aside and picked up the book, and Ellie found herself trying not to smirk. Solas was such a nerd. “Potential issues in the circle teachings on the subject arise from their approach to schools of magic. Dividing magic into different branches serves a necessary purpose as an organizational tool. It is my understanding that circle mages are given rigid definitions for the varying schools of magic and their properties.

“In truth, the ease in casting from one school to the next is ultimately subjective. Affinity towards a particular school of magic does not predispose a mage towards difficulty or ease in another. Perception and personality color the experience.”

Solas opened the text to the table of contents to illustrate his point, a slender finger pointing out a chapter on opposing schools, and associated mana costs on the basis of affinity. As Ellie had only a vague notion of what mana conversion meant in the context of this world, she was equally interested in reading the other chapter titles – as well as the whole book.

Skimming the titles as quickly as possible, it looked as though the first half of the book was dedicated towards relative mana costs for various types of spells. There was also a chapter on redirecting mana already channeled into a spell and converting it to a new spell and purpose. This was sort of thing that would be useful once she had a broader list of spells, and the proficiency and experience to regularly scale her spells. Or, you know, cast like a normal person.

“So that entire chapter,” Ellie started, nodding at the one he’d indicated, “is pretty much nonsense.”

“It is likely. A significant portion of the book remains to be read. You are welcome to borrow it once I am finished.”

“At this rate I’ll slowly steal your library.” She teased.

“You are welcome to try.” Solas replied, with the tiniest of smirks. Wait, what?

Ellie, what the fuck are you doing? Don’t get friendly with the fucking Dread Wolf! She stared at him, determinately straight-faced. Whatever this was, it was definitely a terrible, bad, horrible idea. Yeah, no. This was not happening. Whatever madness had possessed her to be friendly in the first place, ignoring the necessity of having a teacher, did not need to extend so far.

Right now he was being nice, sure, but people didn’t end up with a name like Fen’Harel by snuggling bunnies and baking cookies with grandma. And if they did, then Thedas was even more fucked up than she’d thought. Have you considered making eye contact in normal ways, like a normal person?

Apparently not. It didn’t take long, only a moment, for something less at-ease to flicker across his face. She hadn’t spent a ton of time around him, but she was pretty sure the look in his eyes was wariness. Why Solas would be wary of her, Ellie had no idea. Unless he knows you know, in which case he’d just kill you. All he’d have to worry about is you speaking before he removed the threat.

“I’ll be sure to buy some bookshelves.” Ellie replied, forcing a small smile. “If you’re done with your food, I’ll take my dish back.”

He handed it over wordlessly, complete with the mask of a small smile over a guarded expression, and she left to go rinse out her mess kit. There was nothing comforting about the feel of his eyes on her back as she headed to the cave entrance. You were supposed to blend in, to be forgettable, and you’ve done the opposite. When Ellie returned she was relieved to find Solas’s attention back on his book.

Since she’d already done a splendid job of avoiding Solas so far, whether or not she was reading a book meant fuck all. She’d finished the book on spirits ages ago, but Ellie didn’t want him to see how far she was through the tome on the veil. While she welcomed him as a knowledge source, the less concrete information he had on the current state of that knowledge, the better. Especially with respect to matters of the veil.

Magic didn’t come naturally, or easily, to Ellie, but she knew how to learn from a book. She knew how to process and filter information, and lots of it, in a way people on Thedas did not. Even if she didn’t currently understand a lot of what she read, the more she learned, the more things would fit into place.

If she was going to, ultimately, be working against him, and one of the few skills she had at her disposal was knowing how study and work her ass off, the last thing she wanted to do was show him an accurate reflection of her progress on a subject that he created. She needed him to underestimate her on the little things – even if it hampered her progress. The less concrete information he has about what she knows, and the rate she knows it, the better. Yay long cons: where everything can go wrong!

You’ve been staring at the same page for five minutes. Right, that.

She’d flipped to a random page around two-thirds through the spirit book, that happened to be one of the more boring chapters on spirits of knowledge and curiosity. How the author managed to make the section covering curiosity the least-interesting chapter of the entire book, Ellie had no idea. It was impressive, really.

Ellie spent the rest of the evening pretending to read something interesting, and was glad when it was finally late enough to get away with going to bed. Solas hadn’t tried to ask for a fade playdate, or speak to her further. You haven’t exactly been subtle about avoiding him... and… not avoiding him. Okay, you haven’t made much sense at all.

She fell asleep quickly, and her dream involving surfing Nazis did not last long enough. The fade was full of empty, white nothingness the second she faceplanted off her surfboard into the saltwater. It was a tragic loss of absurdism that Ellie needed more of in her life. Sandy isn’t good-natured enough to count.

Demon Sandy showed up halfway through the night, and Ellie, once again, had mixed feelings regarding Sandy’s appearance and her previous lack thereof. The fact that Sandy chose to enter Ellie’s dream by appearing all but an inch from her face did not help ingratiate the demon towards her.

Hola falon!” Sandy said loudly, obnoxious grin and all.

The spell Ellie had been working on exploded a short distance away as she stumbled backwards, cursing. “God damnit, Sandy. It’s called-“

“-personal space, and bla bla bla.” The demon finished for Ellie, sticking out her tongue while she made a talking gesture with one hand and rolled her eyes. Seriously, all that’s missing is the nasal voice and bubble gum. “Ooooh, valley girl! I like that!” Oh god, why.

Ellie groaned, rubbing her face. “Yes, hi. Nice to see you too, Sandy. I’m fine, thanks for asking.”

Sandy scowled. She still didn’t quite have emotional expressiveness down. They never flowed from one to the next like a standard fleshsack would. “Th'ea, edhas!”

Ellie narrowed her eyes. She didn’t know what any of that meant, but the second part sounded similar to fenedhis. Yeah, but dick and duck are only a letter apart, too.

“Asking how you were. You can speak backwards too! Or is it forwards? Everything else you do back, but does that work with talking, too? Normally you like it in one direction.” She paused, then added. “Why would a band only go one way? Do they only go backwards too?”

It had been a while since Ellie had been harped on about doing everything in Thedas wrong, and she’d started to think that maybe she was getting the hang of things. If that was the case, Sandymon must disagree.

“It’s just their name. Not how they move.” Ellie explained, “I- why am I talking to you about this. I literally cannot fathom something less important.”

“I do! Disagree. Still backwards. You suck at it. Now make Fenny Fen Fen leave me alone. He’s in the way when he tries.” In the way of what?

Ellie sighed, crossing her arms, “What is he trying to do, and why do you think he’d listen to me?”

Ma ema glanas. Chop chop. I want another piece, falon.” Sandy replied, making karate shopping motions with one hand.

“If you’re going to speak Elvhen at me to explain, then you should tell me what it means.” Ellie said. All things considered, for Sandy this was a pretty straight forward and focused conversation.

“You’re in my debt. You owe me.” The demon dropped the scowl and let her expression go blank.

I’m not just going to give you shit because you tell me to. “What for?”

“What for?” Sandy echoed, mockingly. “They don’t know what to do with you, but they want to. I make them leave you alone. Most of them. Most of me’s. Now do it back for me.”

They? Does she mean other spirits? Demons? That would explain why Ellie hadn’t seen much of anything beyond Sandy in the fade, but if that was the case, it raised a lot more questions than it did answers. It was also exceptionally concerning. That would mean Sandy wasn’t some pushover troll demon. If she was super dangerous though, wouldn’t Solas have said something?

Sandy slapped the grin back on, eyes widening. “Would he? Fenny fen? Now make him go away, falon. His trying is in the way.”

“What’s he trying. What are -you- trying?” Ellie crossed her arms, giving the demon a look. Shit, even your name would be a start.

“I am innocent. Or nadas.” Sandy nodded. “Talking is for bitches. I don’t wanna.” Then the demon z-snapped. Ellie blinked.

“Do I get a name?”

“I’m Sandy.” The demon’s grin widened.

“No, I-”

“I can be a ‘nameless ones’!”

Oh for the love of- “Do you have a name, or not?” Ellie couldn’t ignore it forever. “Tell me and I’ll talk to him about it, ma falon.

“Blegh!” Sandy groaned loudly, sticking her tongue out and everything. “Ma telam’ala. Pfft.” It wasn’t an immediate no, which meant Ellie had a shot at actually getting it.

“Or I won’t and he’ll stay in the way, falon.”

Sandy growled, and it was oddly satisfying to see the spirit looking like the annoyed one for once. “Ma’ melinen Vexan.”

The fuck is that supposed to mean??

“My name.”

“Vexan.? Ellie repeated slowly, eyeing Sandy. The demon nodded. Vexing? Vixen? None of the above?

If that meant Sandy was a demon of vexing, or vexation - or whatever - it was almost frustrating how fitting it was. The spirit stuck out her tongue. Hey, wait a minute, that means Solas said I was being vexing! I’m not vexing! Yeah, it would have to be the vexing thing. Not vixen. She frowned. The last thing Solas would ever do is call her foxy. Just no. Sandy started cackling. God damnit.

To secure the deal, Sandy held out her hand to shake, but this time made the motion to spit on the ground. There was still no actual hand shaking. And, if Sandy really was all about vexing, for all Ellie knew the demon got stuff wrong on purpose. Just because.

As if to really drive the point home and make the most of Ellie’s revelation, Sandy, or rather Vexan, spent the rest of the night vexing the shit out of Ellie until it was her turn to get up for the last watch.

She’d stopped asking for the last shifts now that she was technically in charge of a group, but tonight she’d been lucky enough to get the last leg of lookout with Soven.

They spent most of the lookout in companionable silence, and she had her old Asian lady Tai-Chi routine to go through. At one point she got Soven into a brief discussion of dagger techniques, which consisted primarily of her asking questions and taking mental notes, but she didn’t know enough about rogue things for the conversation to go very in depth.

Breakfast managed to pass without catastrophe, and the Herald didn’t bite anyone’s head off for the first half of the day. She had dark circles under her eyes, and, while her responses were at normal levels of bitchiness to the Seeker, Lavellan didn’t have much energy behind her words. If she’d gotten sleep, it either wasn’t much, or it hadn’t been restful.

Today had Varric alongside Martin, who happily answered the dwarf’s questions to the best of his ability. Fortunately for Ellie, his interests weren’t in gossip like they were with Roe. Instead he ended up monologuing about how his brother had gifted him his first sword, and how fond he was of carved mabari figurines. Apparently he collected them.

To Ellie, it was the equivalent of an old lady admitting she collected porcelain kitten figurines playing with yarn, but nobody else seemed to think much of Martin’s weird love of dogs, so she figured it was cultural. He was from Ferelden, and Ellie had overheard the occasional remark about Fereldeners and their love of canines. Still makes him sound like someone with a house full of nothing but beanie babies.

They reached Harding’s base camp somewhere after midday. The constant rain and cloud coverage made it difficult to determine the time. The current base of operations in the area was now set up properly, and there was even a large, central tent with a fire. Had Ellie not spent half a month running around in caves and blowing up bears, she might have been more excited. By now, however, she just wanted to go home. Haven isn’t home.

“We should check in with Lieutenant Harding, Herald.” The Seeker said as they entered camp, and Lavellan muttered something about shems under her breath.

Ellie wasn’t sure if the Seeker was addressing her or Lavellan, so she decided the best course of action was to keep her mouth shut. She was already heading towards the command tent, and that meant everyone else was too, since she’d been the one playing waterlogged woodland forest guide.

The Herald and company were dropped off outside Harding’s tent, leaving Ellie and the others to take care of their mounts. Once they were all dismounted and unsaddling the animals, Neria let out a sigh of relief.

“Wow.. that was, uh..” Neria muttered, glancing between Ellie and Soven. “Is it always like that?”

Soven looked at the other elf blankly, and Ellie inwardly cursed him for so consistently remaining silent when she wanted a cop-out.

“Always like what?” Ellie replied mildly, as if half the trip hadn’t been spent in an uneasy tension.

“She means the Herald’s blasphemy. Why would a Herald of Andraste be so dismissive?” Martin answered for Neria, voicing his own frustration.

“What are you talking about?” Neria snapped at Martin, putting her hands on her hips. “Even if I don’t agree with the Dalish, at least I can see where the Herald is coming from. The Seeker had no right to say those things!”

Neither of them were talking quietly enough for Ellie to be comfortable with, especially considering the sensitive nature of what they were arguing about. She needed to shut this down. This could lead to problems.

Martin opened his mouth to respond, frowning at Neria, but Ellie wasn’t about to let this escalate. Especially not somewhere they could be overheard. It was a side of the situation, the Inquisition, and political nonsense that Sandy’s stories never addressed. Hearing Lavellan and the Seeker talked about so openly, by normal people, had caught her off guard. Knowing it happened, and seeing it happen, were two different things.

“Knock it off, both of you.” Ellie said, her tone firm. “It isn’t one sided, and the Herald and Seeker are both carrying a lot of responsibilities on their shoulders. A few days isn’t enough to understand either of them.”

“You -would- side with the elves.” Martin muttered under his breath as he turned back to his horse, and Ellie wanted to smack him upside the head. Jesus fucking Christ.

“If you honestly believe race has any influence on what I said, Martin, then I recommend you open your ears. The Inquisition serves a purpose infinitely more important than petty bickering or ideological differences. The Herald and Seeker understand that. Maybe you should too.” You know, unless you don’t mind the sky falling and King Corypoo.

Lavellan might be a naïve pain in the ass, but she hadn’t run off and left the sky to explode. How firm an understanding the Herald had was anyone’s guess, but, at the very least, Psycho Dalish understood enough not to immediately fuck over the world. Ellie wasn’t so sure Martin would do so well if he was in her shoes and surrounded by Dalish. Guy would probably have a nervous breakdown and cry himself to sleep. He collects puppy figurines.

Martin didn’t say anything in response – at least nothing Ellie could hear. You’re technically his superior, so why would he? She wasn’t sure if anything she’d said had gotten through to him. Ellie had her doubts, but she couldn’t force anyone to change their minds. Martin reminds you of a templar for a reason.

After removing her bags from Pecado, and making sure he was firmly secured at a safe distance from all the other, normal animals, Ellie sent the others to set up tents while she headed off to check in with Harding.

Chapter Text

There was no sign of the Herald and her party when Ellie stepped into Harding’s command tent. The dwarf looked up from the crate topped with papers she was going through, and her smile faltered. Great, she’s still scared of me. At least Ellie hoped that was why the smile faltered. If every boss she ended up with in Thedas hated her, that would really suck.

“Well you look like you’re still in one piece. A wet piece, but out here isn’t everyone?” Harding said, motioning Ellie over. “Guess you didn’t have anything to worry about after all.” If you say so.

“Guess not.” Ellie said, before giving the Lieutenant a brief rundown of events.

The dwarf asked a few general questions, which Ellie answered to the best of her ability. She didn’t know what the Herald or the others had said, or how high up the dwarf was on the information loop, so Ellie didn’t mention the fist fight. There was no reason to, and pointing it out would only draw attention to the Herald’s animosity towards her.

“So, what next?” Ellie asked, surprising herself with her own bravado. “What else has to happen for me to get out of this place?”

“After you left to meet up with the Chargers, I sent a group to investigate the Blades of Hessarian. We were able to locate their fort and apprehend one of their members for questioning. Turns out there’s an amulet we might be able to use to end the conflict. It’s considered sacred, so they won’t attack anyone wearing it.” Harding said. Wait, seriously? The fuck is the logic in that??

Ellie stared at Harding. “Let me get this straight. Anyone with one of these amulet things can waltz on in and have a friendly chat with the Blades of Hessarian? Just like that?”

Harding nodded, “There was mention of a Challenge, but the details were vague. Still, it could be lucky for us if her Worship decides they’re worth recruiting for the Inquisition.” Her… worship? Jesus Christ.

Ellie was struggling to wrap her mind around the concept of these people, who had been attacking her and her group for weeks, suddenly playing nice with the Inquisition all because of an amulet. We’ve killed dozens of them – their comrades, friends; and they’d just go along with it if we have the right jewelry? The fuck?

“…and if they aren’t worth recruiting?” She asked, despite having a good idea what the answer would be.

“Then we wipe them out and take the fort. Controlling this region is of strategic importance.” Harding answered, scratching her nose before adding with a nervous chuckle. “I guess I hope for their sakes that doesn’t happen. They won’t stand a chance against a mage like you.”

“Yeah. I, uh, don’t suppose they would.” Ellie replied, managing a smile that felt closer to a grimace. Am I really that scary? “So once the Herald addresses the Hessarians I’ll be finished up here?”

Harding nodded. “Yeah, I can send your group back with the Herald of Andraste. No need to keep someone like you out here for normal stuff.” Someone like me?

Ellie tried not to frown, and settled on nodding instead. The fuck is that supposed to mean? What am I, the god damned Batman!? She didn’t want to talk to Harding anymore, and once Ellie was sure she didn’t have any immediate assignment she talked her way into a quick escape.

The idea of being seen as something dangerous didn’t sit well with Ellie. That she’d be expected to help wipe out the Blades of Hessarian, who, from the sounds of it, were about as free-thinking as lemmings, sat even worse. Lemmings that tried to kill you. Murder Lemmings.

After heading out to where her group had set up their tents, Ellie was able to avoid further human contact until evening. Without having to run off on some new terrible adventure, the others left for the central tent to do normal things. Like being social. Ellie, on the other hand, took more notes and read up on the veil in her tent. Decidedly not thinking about how dangerous Harding made her sound.

By the time her sanctum of academia and hermitness was encroached upon, Ellie was well into trying to decipher a particularly Latin-heavy page of the tome. Her vocabulary and understanding of the language had improved, but a lot of it still required deductive reasoning and guesswork. That someone had addressed her from outside at all was closer to an afterthought.

“Yes?” She replied automatically.

Slender fingers pulled the tent flap aside, and Ellie’s eyes flicked briefly to Solas’s face before returning to the book. She was halfway through the next line when the visual stimulus registered with the rest of her brain. Wait, Solas? Her brow furrowed and she looked back up at the tent flap. Yep, that was definitely Solas. What the fuck is he doing here?

“Master Tethras inquired as to your whereabouts. I am told you have a propensity towards forgoing food in favor of ‘weird books’ and ‘creepy veil shit’.” Solas said with a small smile, making Ellie purse her lips.

Her first impulse was to deny it, and argue that she did nothing of the sort. But that wouldn’t be entirely true, considering that was, apparently, precisely what she was doing. Ellie glanced over his shoulder, trying to determine the time of day, but she couldn’t tell much beyond ‘later than she thought’ and ‘lots of clouds’. You? Lose track of time? Never.

It was then she noticed him holding out a bowl of food for her. Ellie blinked at it several times, then realized she should accept the offering instead of staring at it like a dumbass.

“Oh, uh, thanks. Er- ma serannas.” Ellie said distractedly, bemused over why Solas would go through the trouble of bringing her food in the first place. When she finally managed to tear her focus from the food and back to his face, Ellie suppressed a frown. Shit. He wasn’t looking at her. His attention had strayed down to her lap. To her notebook. So much for keeping my actual progress a secret.

That’s why he brought you food. To freakin’ snoop. God damnit. Quickly setting down the clay and carbon pencil, she closed her notebook and shoved it out of sight before placing the bowl of food where the notebook had been.

Solas looked back up at her, and she chewed the inside of her cheek.  Just act natural. “Uh, you can come in if you want.” How is that acting natural!?

Solas raised his eyebrows, and Ellie was starting to wonder if she was stupider than she thought, because she’d just invited fucking Fen’Harel into her god damned tent. It’s ye olden times dumbas! You can’t just invite men into your tent! Especially not elfy god-men! As if her record with elves and tents wasn’t already bad enough.

Ellie’s eyes widened as the implications registered, “I didn’t mean, uh,” she could feel her face beginning to flush. “Only because the rain and all the… wet.. outside. Because rain. And tents.” Which is why he uses a barrier. Kill me now.

“The sentiment is appreciated, but unnecessary.” Solas replied, clearing his throat. He’s totally trying not to laugh at you. “I ask that you return the bowl and spoon to me once you are finished.”

“R-Right, yeah. Will do.” Ellie managed weakly, relieved when Solas ducked his stupid bald head back out and left before she could say anything worse. It was a good thirty seconds until she remembered to breathe.

Now feeling thoroughly idiotic, and the food in her lap all but forgotten, Ellie looked at the opened tome in front of her. Its pages were slightly aglow with the same incandescence of her notebook. Just the pages, not the ink. It had taken a little work to fine tune her light spell, but it had been worth it. The way it glowed was reminiscent of her cell phone or tablet, without the eye strain. It was a little thing, but she found it comforting – a small way to help ease her feelings of homesickness. Shit.

Ellie flipped her notebook back open to the page she’d left off on, scanning through what she’d written for anything that may have stood out as particularly unusual. Apart from the likelihood that some of her note choices may seem eclectic to a native, there wasn’t anything that she thought would give her away.

She’d been working towards coming up with an effective note system that would allow her to put her thoughts down in a way Solas and Leliana wouldn’t understand, but she’d made little progress beyond the shorthand she’d developed while taking notes in college. I guess it’s time to bump that up on the priority list.

When she finally did get around to eating, Ellie was pleased to discover the food was a step up from bare bones trail rations. There were large chunks of bear and actual herbs. It was pretty awesome. That she’d eaten enough bear to discern it by taste and texture was another matter. Honestly, it wasn’t so bad. Tastes better than nugs, at least. Fucking nugs.

After eating and cleaning off the table finery, it was easy to find Solas’s tent – the guy lit up like a beacon with sparkle vision. And even without the glitter, she could sense his aura if she reached out to it.

Ellie didn’t reach out, because poking auras didn’t go unnoticed. Even Ellie could tell when it happened, and she didn’t know shit.

“Knock knock.” She said, crouching down.

Solas pulled the flap aside, and Ellie back the borrowed portion of his mess kit.

“Er, Thanks again.” She said.

De da’rahn.” He replied, considering her for all of two seconds before speaking again. “Did you learn the light spell from your spirit friend?”

She blinked, trying to keep her expression neutral. Of all the ridiculous things she did, and stupid things she said, Solas -would- comment on a stupid light spell. “It’s a light spell.” Ellie said bluntly. “Hardly anything to write home about. Why do you ask?”

“Your use of light, illuminating the pages themselves, without conjured flame or an orb of light, shares much in common with the techniques of the Ancient Elves.” You have got to be kidding me. “There is nuance in the magic your other spells lack.” He said, brow furrowing slightly. Not everything is ancient elves, Solas!

Ellie raised an eyebrow, unsure if she should be flattered or insulted. It’s a light spell, dude. That’s like level 1 shit. It’s a freakin’ homesick homage to e-readers. “Well, the answer is no. It’s self-taught like everything else - apart from what I’ve learned from you.”

“I see.” Solas was looking thoughtful, which, for a trickster god, couldn’t be a good thing. This is why you can’t have nice things.

Might as well get the ‘back off’ talk about Sandy out of the way. There’s no time like the present.

“Uh, speaking of Sandy, she asked me to tell you to stop chasing her around the fade.” Ellie paused, and the impassive expression on Solas’s face did little to calm her nerves. “Not that it’s any of my business,” she added quickly, “but I told her I’d speak to you about it.”

“Was a reason given for her reluctance in speaking with me?” Solas asked.

She shook her head, “Like I said, none of my business. The deal was that I’d ask you to stop, that’s it.” The words were out of her mouth before she could realize her mistake. God damnit.

“You are making deals with spirits.” Solas said, eyeing her sharply enough that she flinched. Fuck. He wasn’t scolding her, exactly; but there was a definite warning in his tone. You expected as much, calm your tits.

When she didn’t make any attempt to correct, explain, or justify, Solas continued. “I would advise caution. While spirits can be excellent teachers and steadfast friends, it would be foolish to mistake any appearance of good intent with altruism.”

That’s fucking rich, coming from you. I bet you know all about that, freaking ‘trickster god planning to blow up the world’. Her jaw tensed, and she half-wished it wouldn’t be suicide to point out the irony of his statement.

“A deal. Singular.” She corrected, even if she was pretty sure he knew that was bullshit. If Fen’Harel isn’t keen on Vexan, then maybe I should be. “And if you really want to speak with her, stop trying to. In my experience, with people like Sandy, patience bears the most fruit.”

Solas looked at her for a long moment, and it was enough to make her uncomfortable. “W-What?” She asked. Don’t look at me like that! The fuck did I do wrong now!?

“I-” Solas began, but he hesitated. “It is nothing. A conversation for another time.”

Right, because saying -that- is the best way to convince anyone that it’s actually ‘nothing’. Holy shit, that was almost as awkward as I am. Ellie tried not to give him a look.

“Suit yourself,” She raised her hands in a gesture of acquiescence as she spoke, “Anyways, thanks again for the food. I’d have totally forgotten otherwise.” She straightened, then gave him a thumbs up. “Uh, have a good night Solas.” A thumbs up, really?

The corners of his lips curled downwards in the slightest of frowns, and he inclined his head. “Good night, Ellie.”

Before she could make shit any weirder, Ellie about-faced and headed back towards her tent. Her notebook and the tome would still have a little glow left in them, and she might as well finish a page or three before heading to bed.

The heavy Latin was a welcome distraction from the current mess that was her life – not to mention all the Solas. When the mana she’d pushed into the spells finally petered out, it was well into night proper. Ellie channeled mana into her hands for light while she carefully closed and wrapped the tome, as well as her notebook, in the mix of oiled and waxed leather she used to keep them dry.

Had Ellie known how much storm was in the Storm Coast, she never would have brought the books along. It was a miracle that she’d managed to keep them safe and dry at all. Invent plastic and Ziploc baggies. Watch Thedas lose their collective shit. Pretend Solas doesn’t know you brought his books into this wet clusterfuck.

Ellie could pretend. She was good at pretending.

Her night in the fade was uneventful and was, once again, full of white emptiness and Sandy-free. She spent at least half the night trying to find the supposed ‘nuance’ in her stupid light spell, before ultimately deciding that the differences weren’t nearly as wild as Solas implied. Sure, she could apply it to just about anything, and it was loads more efficient than it had been a month ago, but it was still interwoven with nullification magic – just like everything else. It suffered the same primary flaw.

Heck, in many ways, the only real difference was that she used it regularly. With so much use in the waking world, Ellie had been able to slowly improve it from ogre-smashing bluntness. She’d had the time and opportunity to work with the magic until it felt natural instead of jarring.

Well, that and making shit glow felt a lot less like magic than shooting lightning from her hands. Back on Earth just about anything could be made to glow these days. If you wanted it to - touch activation included.

If she wasn’t under so much pressure to survive, and hold her own in a fight, Ellie wouldn’t be throwing around such messy spells in the first place. The way she was casting felt about as graceful as filling out a coloring book with a crayon during an epileptic fit. Right now her focus was all about getting color on the pages. Period. Not making anything pretty. Pretty wasn’t a luxury she could afford. For now.

-

The next morning began uneventfully enough, and Ellie managed to get through her workout and breakfast without issue. She even managed a couple hours of reading before Neria’s freckled face popped into their tent, informing Ellie that Harding wanted her. The slightly eager, anticipatory expression painting the elf’s face did little to ease the sudden sinking feeling in Ellie’s stomach.

This was, arguably, Ellie’s first potential day off since leaving Haven, and she had secretly hoped to do nothing but read and avoid people. Getting summoned to the command tent before midmorning meant that wouldn’t be happening. So much for a day off. The only potential bright side of more work was that it meant blowing this popsicle stand sooner rather than later.

Once Ellie was certain water destroy anything in her absence, she headed off to the only tent with its own flag. In general, flags seemed to mark the important stuff. She took a deep breath before stepping inside, as if that would somehow mentally prepare her for whatever insanity Thedas had in store for her next. You know what this is.

The greeting Ellie had for Harding died on her lips, substituted instead for silence, when she saw Harding wasn’t the only person inside. I don’t want to do this. 

Front and center was the eternally petulant Lavellan, arms crossed over her chest, scowling at anything and everything. With her was a similarly disgruntled looking Seeker, a somewhat tired looking Varric, and the expertly neutral face of Solas. Harding was next to her crate that doubled as a desk, which was topped with notes and a map.

For one brief, hopeful moment, Ellie thought they were going to ignore her, but luck was not on her side. Instead the Herald made a noise suspiciously close to a growl, and, true to her love of humans, half spat the word ‘shem’ when she spoke. “We don’t need the Shem. Who cares how many there are – we can kill them all fine on our own.”

Ellie couldn’t help but nod in agreement with Lavellan. The psycho elf was right. They had plenty of murderous potential without her scrub ass.

The others had given Ellie little more than a glance, save for Varric. A small detail Ellie noticed only when he caught her eye, complete with a raised eyebrow, at her all-too-eager agreement with the Herald. I hate my life.

“Herald, without knowing their numbers for certain, having Lady Roosevelt join us is a matter of practicality.” The Seeker said, jaw clenched. “If you refuse to allow any scouting groups to join us, at the very least let an extra mage come along. Your safety and protection is paramount.”

“That’s what you guys are for. What’s the point in having you around, Seeker, if you can’t protect me.” Lavellan snapped back, “Solas is a mage. I don’t need two. Especially not the Shem – all she’s good for is getting hit by archers.”

Again, Ellie was in total agreement with the Herald. Exactly! I’m useless! One’s a party, and two’s a crowd! I’d just get in the way! I’m a liability if anything, truly!

“I’m sure you don’t -need- her, your Worship,” Harding said, alternating her weight between each foot. “Nobody is questioning your prowess in a fight – you, you’re really something once you get going. Think of Lady Roosevelt like a backup, to put the rest of us at ease. I-I know I’d feel a lot better knowing she was with you.” Midget Lady, you are barking up the wrong tree.

“I don’t care about making -you- feeling better.” Lavellan spat, and Harding’s anxious smile was starting to look closer to a grimace. And, as if Lavellan wasn’t channeling teenage angst strongly enough, she waved her hand in Ellie’s direction irritably and added. “What’s so special about -her-? That’s right, nothing. She’s just some stupid mage.”

Under normal circumstances, Ellie might have been offended, but nothing about Thedas, or her presence in it, was normal. She also really, really did not want to go off and slaughter a bunch the Hessarians if it wasn’t necessary. Everything about the idea, even the not-insignificant part of her that thought they deserved it, was wrong.

“Herald, please.” Pentaghast pleaded, “One person instead of several is a reasonable compromise.”

“Uh, perhaps the Herald could bring Soven instead?” Ellie said, hoping she came across as more confident than she felt. “He’s very capable.” Seriously, this sounds like the sort of recklessly dangerous situation Soven gets off on.

That had been a bad idea. Speaking about her own involvement in a mission turned out to be a no-no. The glares Lavellan and Pentaghast at her alone made Ellie want to run from the tent terrified. Never mind, forget I said anything! Let’s all bitch in circles for another 30 minutes!

Harding was looking increasingly uncomfortable. “Not saying anything is special about Lady Roosevelt your worship - not like you of course. Being special, I mean. Obviously, heh.” Kiss-ass much?

At the increasingly sour expression on Lavellan’s face, Harding spoke more quickly. “I’m no expert on magic or nothing, what with being a dwarf and all, but I’ve seen my fair share of mages in combat, and have never seen anything like what Lady Roosevelt here did. She killed a man just by looking at him.” Harding snapped her fingers, “just like that.” Oh my god…

“After seeing that, and the field reports, if there’s anyone who has a gift for taking out the enemy with ruthless efficiency, it’s Lady Roosevelt. She’s a perfect fit for this!” Harding continued, before looking to Ellie. “Nothing against Soven, my Lady.  He’s one of our best, but he isn’t you.” Madre Maria ten piedad de mí.

Lieutenant Harding clearly meant well, as misguided as her attempt to talk Ellie up was, but Ellie still very much wanted to punch the dwarf in the face. How does this keep happening!? She was going to be sick. If you get any stiller you’re going to turn into a statue. Ellie ran a hand over her hair.

Literally the last thing Ellie needed was someone like a Seeker thinking she could kill people with a look. It was like asking to be handed over to the Templars. She didn’t even want to think about Solas. At least he’ll know it’s bullshit. He has to. You can’t just kill someone by looking at them.

Lavellan threw up her hands with a very Cassandra-esque sound of disgust. “Fine! I’ll take the Shem! Fenedhis, it seems the Shem is fucking dwarves now, too.”

ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS!?

There weren’t words, and Ellie’s left eye twitched. It did not help that Harding’s face went pink at the ridiculous accusation. Apparently no one was safe from the Lady Roosevelt Thedas Sex Tour, year-whatever. Okay, I’m ready to be smited.

Lieutenant Harding chuckled nervously, followed by an unnecessarily loud clearing of her throat. “Now that concerns regarding the Herald’s safety have been addressed,” She flattened out the map on the crate, and both Lavellan and the Seeker took a step closer to see where the dwarf was pointing. “The Blades of Hessarian’s fort is located here. Once it’s taken, I’ll arrange to have our base of operations in the region relocated there as an official outpost.”

The three had a brief discussion over distance, terrain, and details.

Meanwhile, Ellie hung back with Solas and Varric, silently cursing her own existence. She wanted to object to her involvement, to explain that she didn’t want anything to do with a slaughter when they could use a freaking necklace of friendship to let everyone live. But she couldn’t. She was supposed to be an unflappable 80s action movie tier badass. All you’re supposed to care about is stoically snorting coke off hookers and abusing steroids.

Before she knew it, Ellie found herself packing an overnight bag, which was identical to her indefinite trip bag. Neria had been loitering around their tent, and was bummed when Ellie informed her that it wouldn’t be a group trip. It took effort for Ellie not to snap at the elf – wanton murder wasn’t supposed to be fun unless you were Soven.

If you weren’t a mage, none of this would be happening. If people knew anything about magic at all you’d be the last person sent to replace a whole scouting group. You wouldn’t even be a scout. You’d be working in the medical tent snapping at dumb fucks who think bloodletting is a good idea – all the way up until the world explodes.

Ellie trudged to the edge of camp, silently and unenthusiastically reciting the lyrics to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in her head. She was the first one to reach the agreed upon departure location, which somehow didn’t surprise her in the slightest. It gave her the opportunity to practice brooding under a neutral expression.

Varric was the next person to show up, which surprised her. She’d expected him to be more the fashionably late type. He greeted Ellie with a smile, which she almost managed to return.

“Well hey there Twisty, long time no see!” Varric said.

“Several minutes, even. That’s nigh an eternity.” Ellie replied dryly. Small talk. You remember how that works. “How have you been, Varric?” It was a fair question – Ellie hadn’t spoken with him in any meaningful way since Haven.

“Wet, mostly.” He replied, “Not that I’m complaining. A few more days of weather like this and I might finally be able to wash the smell of Val Royeux out of my nose.”

“That sounds terrible.”

Varric shrugged, “We can’t all frolic in forests like you hermit apostates. Speaking of, since when did you decide you were too good to be target practice? Now you’re just killing people with your eyes – how’s that fair?” The words were teasing, but under the playfulness was plenty of that friendly-interrogation style curiosity he and Josephine were so good at.

“That isn’t what happened. I assure you, I still make an excellent target for crossbow bolts.” She managed a small smile this time, despite her inner turmoil and impending ethical trauma.

“I will admit to some curiosity as well.” Solas’s voice spoke up from behind her, and Ellie hated herself for jumping. Fuck!

She spun around to find Solas a few feet away. “Holy shit I need to put a bell on you.” You did not just say that out loud.

Solas blinked. “I would rather you not.”

“I don’t know Chuckles, I think she might be onto something.” Varric piped up jovially.

“Do not encourage her.” Solas replied, giving Varric a flat look. Hey! I’m not that bad!

Varric smirked, “No promises.” The dwarf gave Ellie an obvious wink, which she returned with a blank stare. “So Twisty, what’s the real story? Without the embellishments.”

Oh, right. That. She’d been holding out hope that her idiotic remark might distract them both from that tiny little glared-a-dude-to-death story. At least you know Varric didn’t have a problem with that Dalish blood mage.

She looked between them, then very quickly checked to see if anyone else was within listening range – not that she’d notice them in the first place. Details. When she didn’t see anyone close enough to make her nervous, she looked back to Solas and Varric, answering with a shrug. “Blood magic, what else?”

Varric’s eyebrows went up in surprise, “I didn’t peg you for a blood mage.”

“That’s because I’m not one.” Ellie said, sparing a glance at Solas. His expression was far more difficult to read, but she didn’t think he’d been expecting her to say blood magic either.

“With the Mage-Templar war, and rogue mages left behind in the Hinterlands, Lieutenant Harding would not be unfamiliar with spells of that nature. Is there a reason she did not recognize the spell for what it was?” Solas asked, his skepticism audible. She couldn’t blame him – the only time she’d seen blood magic it was very clearly blood magic. All the floating red blood swirling around in the air was sort of a giveaway.

Ellie scratched the back of her neck, then said, “Harding can’t sense magic. To an outside observer what she described was accurate. I wasn’t moving, and neither was the blood. I wasn’t using the physical part of it, so it didn’t need to.” She shrugged, “It would be obvious to any mage.”

Far from ending discussion on the matter, her answer only seemed to inspire more questions from Solas. She could all-but see them swimming around in his head. You know, for a guy with so many questions, he doesn’t get around to asking very many. She was spared further tag-teaming by the arrival of Seeker Pentaghast and the Herald.

Both Varric and Solas dropped the subject, and knowing they both had the sense not to discuss Ellie’s use of blood magic around someone like the Seeker was a small consolation prize.

If it was even possible, Lavellan’s mood seemed even poorer than it had been in the tent. Psycho Bitch’s dedication to foul moods was beginning to transcend impressive towards demi-god status. Maybe she’s possessed by a spirit of angst. 

“If we make good time, we should be able to reach the fortress and engage the enemy before nightfall.” Seeker Pentaghast said, her tone all business. Well hello to you too.

Nobody had anything to say in response to that, not that Ellie could blame them. Without further preamble, the Seeker began stomping her way east. Ellie made to follow with the others, only to have Lavellan shove her back with unnecessary force.

“You’re the backup, so you go in the back.” The Herald snapped, before turning around to aggressively compete with Pentaghast over who was leading their little entourage. This is the bitch saving Thedas. Gods help us. Or any god other than Fen’Harel, really. And maybe not that death guy, Andruil, the dark whatevers, or the Maker… Scratch that. Could gods please stop ‘helping’, instead? That’d be great.

Once Lavellan’s back had turned Ellie rolled her eyes, pointedly waiting until she was undeniably in the ‘back’ before following after them. Yes, put the least observant person in charge of watching your backs. Great idea! While she had little doubt that everyone else was plenty observant for her, being without Soven made her uneasy. She was hardly a few minutes in, and already missing her seeing eye elf. 

The only thing Ellie was good for noticing was that the Seeker really didn’t walk, she stomped. And with such heavy armor, Ellie wasn’t sure if Pentaghast was capable of doing anything else. It was like she’d been designed to make an ungodly racket, complete with curses when her foot hit a deep pocket of mud.

Ellie’s team liked to tease her about being loud, Soven in particular, and she wondered if the fabulous display of human grace before her was what normal humans looked like to most elves. If it is, then the very act of walking in the presence of elves as a human is officially embarrassing. She added ‘not being a loud, stompy, mother-fucker’ to her grocery list of skills in need of acquisition.

Within the hour, Cassandra’s stomping was overshadowed by the joyous song of Lavellan and the Seeker bickering. Ellie didn’t know what she expected. Considering that the two seemed to get along okay prior to Ellie’s pre-dawn chat with the Herald, the incessant fighting was almost certainly her fault.

It was going to be a long walk to Murderville.

Chapter Text

Whatever understanding or common ground Pentaghast had managed to find with Lavellan, Ellie had apparently nuked from orbit. She was no fan of Andraste or the Maker, but Lavellan was so focused on being angry and hateful that Ellie was starting to think Lavellan didn’t want to learn anything at all.

She did her best to tune out the intermittent snapping, and at some point Varric tagged Lavellan out and it was him and the Seeker arguing. At least with Varric the jabs were playful, instead of cutting, but with how much Pentaghast and Lavellan were at each other’s throats it still grated on her nerves.

As juvenile as Lavellan’s ‘backup in the back’ nonsense was, being safe from the train wreck of conversation ahead of her was a blessing in disguise. An even bigger blessing were the periods of silence – nothing but the stomping of Pentaghast’s boots. Solas appeared similarly disinterested in all the interpersonal excitement, although around halfway through their trek to the Hessarian fort Ellie realized he was still paying attention to it all. Yep, definitely crazy.

When they started to get close to where the fort was supposed to be, things stayed on the quiet end. It was heading into late afternoon when the fort came into view, and the surrounding foliage had been cleared to make any approach visible to those guarding the front gate.

“The Blades of Hessarian are a secret society, hundreds of years old.” The Seeker said quietly from the group’s vantage point. “Those in the order believe it is their purpose to serve Andraste as an extension of her will – to pass judgement in her name.”

Ellie raised an eyebrow at the Seeker’s words, trying to figure out if all secret societies in Thedas were this unimpressive. For a group that had been around over a century, she’d have thought they’d have found the time to upgrade their walls from wood to stone, at the very least. As far as Ellie could tell, the Hessarians were little more than glorified bandits using religion to fill their ranks.

“Well now they can serve a new purpose on the edge of my blades.” Lavellan said snidely. Good Lord.

“We still do not know their numbers. The Blades are fierce warriors with unwavering loyalty.” The Seeker said. Ellie struggled not to roll her eyes.

If the Herald wasn’t such a self-righteous pain in the ass, Ellie would have pointed out that there probably weren’t enough of Hessarians left breathing to pose any major threat. It wasn’t like reinforcements could pop up out of thin air. Heck, Harding probably said as much. Why Pentaghast was treating this so seriously was beyond Ellie.

“That’s what I brought this for.” Lavellan replied, looking rather pleased with herself as she pulled a medallion out of her bag. “If the Scouts are right, they’ll let us walk right in. Then, once we see what we’re up against, we kill them.”

Pentaghast’s eyes widened, “But Herald, they are Honor bound not to attack – the crest is sacred to their order!” Which is precisely why it’s a good idea… all other ignorance aside. If Ellie wanted these guys dead, and didn’t give a shit, she’d have probably done the same thing.

It was a thought that brought her little comfort. What if they won’t fight back? Ellie’s throat tightened, and a fresh wave of dread and nausea washed over her. She tasted bile in the back of her throat and swallowed thickly, not even remotely close to okay with the prospect of slaughtering people who might not lift a hand to save themselves. You’ll be a murderer. A real one. No better than war criminals.

She wouldn’t do it. She couldn’t. If Lavellan asked her to, Ellie would refuse. It was one thing if they fought back, but she could not justify killing people who wouldn’t defend themselves over a necklace. Anyone who was that brainwashed needed rescue, not a dagger in their kidneys.

Lavellan slipped the chain over her head, and sneered at the Seeker. “Good.” Before the Seeker could protest further, the elf straightened and moved towards the front gate, fingers toying with the hilt of her dagger. “Hurry up. You too, Shem.” Dammit.

 Ellie had hoped if she was quiet enough the others might forget about her. With mounting unease, she followed Psycho Elf out from behind the bushes. The others had done the same, and Ellie fell into step beside Solas – or he fell into step beside her. At the moment Ellie’s feet were on autopilot while the rest of her focused on pretending this entire situation didn’t trouble her deeply. You’re a survivor. Whatever it takes.

The two guards at the entrance tensed, raising their crossbows.

“Halt!” One of them commanded, and Ellie wished she’d tossed a shield on before hopping out of the shrubbery to chase Miss Crazytits.

Lavellan didn’t even slow down, instead brandishing the medallion at them. “But I got this!”

The guards hesitated, then lowered their weapons, but did not sheathe them. The same guard shouted, this time over his shoulder, “The invaders have arrived! One among them bears the Crest of Mercy!” Dude, mercy is the last thing this crazy bitch is bringing you.

The Seeker whispered something to the Herald, but Ellie couldn’t make out whatever she said.

Lavellan merely shook her head in response and refocused her attention on the Hessarian guards.

Others were opening the gate wider, to usher them in, and her stomach started twisting itself into more knots. You’ll have the merit badge in no time.

“We will take you to our leader,” The Hessarian continued, speaking only to Lavellan, as they stepped into the compound. “Then we shall see if this Inquisition is truly the will of Andraste.” If there had ever been any chance of the Herald sparing them, Red Shirt #1 just murdered it.

Inside the walls it was less of a fortress, and more of a cul-de-sac. There were three primary buildings, also made of wood, but only the main one was two stories. It was sad for a cult, and downright depressing for a secret society. The only thing it really had going for it were the piles of human skulls. There is a serious lack of hooded robes and polygamy. Talk about sausage fest.

At the far end was an even larger pile of skulls, along with several large rocks and hooded braziers that had been lit. There was even a banner, and some etchings that must have had religious significance. A few men were carrying out iron cages with mabari in them. The things looked heavy as fuck.

More Hessarians began to appear, stepping out from the various houses at the commotion. Their tour guide was speaking unnecessarily loud, leading them towards to the opposite end of the compound where a small group was forming. And by small, Ellie meant small. From the looks of it, most of the Hessarians were already dead.

Maybe a dozen of them had gathered near the braziers, and the space in front of the larger bone pile was now flanked with a pair of caged mabari on each side. Whatever the cultists thought was going to go down, it was clearly supposed to happen here.

Lavellan stopped fifteen-or-so feet short of the skull pile and gathered men, tilting her head towards the Seeker with a smug expression. “Told you we didn’t need the Shem.” She said in a low voice.

The Seeker’s jaw clenched, but she didn’t say anything.

Ellie just wanted to know if that meant she didn’t have to kill anyone. You’re supposed to be a badass, though. And wouldn’t doing nothing be a dick move? There really was no winning with Lavellan. If she helped, the Herald would bitch and moan. If she didn’t, the Herald would still bitch and moan. At least if she killed, without making a fool of herself, it would help prove her usefulness to the inquisition. Seriously, how the fuck does a world with magic suck at it so much only the god realizes I’m full of shit?

Silence fell over the gathered Hessarians, and Ellie followed their gaze to see a man she could only be describe as an ‘aryan hipster’. Everything from the thick blonde beard and manicured moustache, to the mane of hair held back in a low ponytail screamed suspenders, obscure beers, and pretentious smoking from a corn cob pipe.

The man walked to stand between the caged mabari, putting his hands on his hips as if to further assert his dominance before looking down at Lavellan through narrowed eyes.

“At long last, the cowardly agents of the Inquisition dare to seek my audience.” The leader said haughtily. “And they send an elf as their challenger! A small woman thinks they can best me in combat for the right to wield the divine judgement of our noble and ancient order!”

The Seeker stepped up to Lavellan’s side, clearly about to speak, but Lavellan took a half-step further forward and cut her off. “What makes you think I want anything to do with your Andraste cult?”

The Hessarian leader laughed, “Then the leaders of your blasphemous Inquisition are even bigger fools than I expected. Only those bearing the Crest of Mercy have the right to challenge me in combat. Should you refuse a fight to the death, my men will cut you all down where you stand.”

Ellie looked away from the posturing to the surviving Hessarians, and noticed more men had trickled in behind them. It still wouldn’t be enough. She hoped. It was enough to give her pause. Drawing upon her mana, she readied a barrier spell.

“I think you misunderstand, Shem.” Lavellan sneered, fingers on one of her throwing knives. “What makes you think I have any intention of leaving them alive after I’ve finished killing you?”

 There was the glint of silver, and Lavellan’s throwing knife flew towards the Hessarian Leader. He dodged, a sliver of red blossoming from the side of his neck as he drew his battleaxe.

“Kill them!” The Hessarian leader screamed.

Lavellan darted forwards towards her target, daggers in hand, and split off from her group entirely.

The Seeker’s apprehension and desire for backup suddenly made a lot more sense. Pentaghast drew her longsword and swore, charging after Psycho Dalish as the sounds of combat exploded around them.

Ellie felt the familiar thrum of Solas’s magic as she cast her barrier, and jagged spikes of ice burst from the ground. A handful of men on the right scattered as the wall of ice rose, forcing them back from the Herald and Seeker.

Varric turned to the left, shooting a Hessarian in the side, then darted behind Ellie as an arrow narrowly missed his face. That, more than anything, made Ellie pissed. Lavellan could have handled this any number of ways, but she’d decided it was best to announce her intentions before rushing in alone – splitting the group and turning a potentially easy encounter into a nightmare.

Killing a dozen plus men could have been simple, but it didn’t matter how good in combat everyone in her group was if she put her party in a position where they were outnumbered and surrounded. It was like Lavellan had gone out of her way to put them in the worst, least defensible positioning possible.

Someone had let the hounds out of their cages, and they converged on the Seeker. Pentaghast roared as she swung her sword at the first mabari to lunge, slashing its shoulder and front open in a spray of red. The mabari yelped and collapsed to the ground, while the others began to circle. Their teeth bared in viscous snarls. Jesus fuck.

Anger bubbled up over Ellie’s other emotions, temporarily pushing aside her fears and ethical concerns. She could worry about things like guilt and her unknown kill count later. Drawing from her own mana and the fade, she kept close to Solas and Varric – the latter of whom was using her for partial cover.

Staff gripped tightly in her hands, Ellie sent the first bolt of lightning into the chest of the nearest Hessarian running towards the trio. He crumpled to the ground, and the dim inner glow signifying his negligible connection to the fade went dark. That’s one.

Unfortunately, there was more than one Hessarian intent on murdering them.

With Varric and Solas both focused on keeping Lavellan from getting herself and the Seeker killed, Ellie did her best to fulfill her duty as backup. In the chaos of combat, with her wealth of experience, she took that to mean ‘kill shit and don’t let them die’.

In the time it had taken Ellie to kill the first guy, another two had closed in. She stunned the first one, then raised her staff to try and block the incoming swing of the second man’s sword. The edge slammed into her staff, its impact jarring her shoulders. When he raised his arm to swing again, Ellie forgot her role as human shield and stepped backwards. Into Varric. Yep, you totally know what you’re doing.

Varric, as someone who understood how combat worked, turned and shot a crossbow bolt into the man’s thigh without missing a beat.

The Hessarian stumbled, his swing faltered, and Ellie didn’t hesitate. She swung the end of her staff hard into his temple with a loud crack, and he collapsed to the ground. That’s two.

Ellie turned her attention back to the man she’d stunned, only to find him on the ground. He was drowning in a pool of his own blood, a crossbow bolt embedded in his throat.

Up ahead the Seeker had finished with the mabari, leaving a trail of bloody dog corpses in her wake. A short distance further and Ellie spotted the Hessarian leader’s nearly-severed head. Welp. Nearby the Seeker had reached Lavellan, and they stood back to back against multiple targets.

Pentaghast let out a roar, her teeth bared as she hacked into one of the Hessarian’s sides – all while fending off blows with her shield. Lavellan’s daggers were red with blood, her movements fluid as she darted between her opponents, waiting for an opening to strike. A man overstepped, and the Herald sank one of her daggers between a gap in his armor.

As more bodies began to fall, Ellie was met with a new fear. What if she didn’t kill enough? It was absurd, but anxiety began to claw its way through her chest regardless. Unlike the battle on the road, which was large enough for her incompetence to go unnoticed, here it would show. Then they’ll all know you’re a fraud.

It was one matter with Solas – he’d always known. If Leliana finds out, you’re fucked. The bodies were beginning to fall, and Ellie looked around wildly. Her eyes scanning for something, anything, she could work with to prove herself.

Then she saw it. The Hessarians cut off from the fight by Solas’s ice wall tried to run around it, and Solas slowed them further by encasing the man up front in a block of ice. The sudden stop resulted in further clumping, and provided the perfect opportunity for her to use her ball lightning. Are you seriously about to kill steal? From Solas!?

Yes. Yes she was. You haven’t even used it out here before! It didn’t matter. If she botched the spell, it wasn’t like Solas would be surprised. He already knew she had no fucking clue what she was doing. Worst case scenario, Ellie would waste a fuck ton of mana and look like a moron in front of someone who probably thinks everyone is a moron.

But it’s killing people! It wasn’t like they weren’t all going to die anyway.

Ellie focused on a point slightly behind the group, pulling energy from the fade into the space. The presence of the veil made the process more expensive, but not impossible. As she continued to pour energy into it, the compact ball of electricity grew. Steady. You got this.

There was a thunk against the side of her head, and Ellie’s concentration wavered. The arrow bounced off the barrier and clattering to the ground. She’d only lost focus for a split second, but that was enough. In the blink of an eye the ball destabilized, expanding several feet outward. Fuck. Desperate to salvage the situation, Ellie tightened her hold on the spell and tried to pull it back. Hard.

The roiling sphere of electrical energy contracted, and pulled everything else along with it. Terrified, the men tried to run as the spell dragged them towards its center, but to no avail. Jagged shards of ice snapped off from the edge of Solas’s ice wall with a loud crack, and Ellie watched in stunned silence as they shot through the air. The man nearest took the brunt, his cries of pain stifled when a particularly thick chunk impaled itself into his jaw.

Before things could get any worse, she took what was left of the original spell and made the ball explode. This time it worked the way it was supposed to, expanding to half the size of her fuck-up. The electricity surged as it was unleashed, coursing through the Hessarians’ bodies.

Then the spell ended, leaving a small cluster of corpses in its wake. None of them were going to stand back up. Jesus fucking Christ something is wrong with you. This time she decided it would be better not to count. At least for now.

It felt longer, but in truth the whole ordeal had only taken a handful of seconds. She tore her eyes away from the corpse cluster, then, against her better judgement, glanced at Solas.

Their eyes met, and she stilled. Neutral. Blank faced. Go deadpan. He saw nothing! He saw everything. It happened right in front of him. Nothing! He’s blind! Sweet baby Jesus, why did you think that was a good idea!?

Solas was giving her a look. And not just any look, either. No, this was a special look. It meant something between ‘we will discuss this later’ and ‘Lucy, you got some splainin to do!’. There may have also been a ‘stop attacking my ice walls’ in there somewhere. You’re 2/2. Don’t stop now.

Ellie raised her eyebrows in her best impression of innocence, then about faced and looked for someone to shoot lightning at. Smooth. There’s nothing suspicious about you at all! With her mana reserves nearly depleted, she wasn’t willing to cast anything stronger than a stun.

She charged the spell, only for her target to suddenly solidify into a block of ice. It’s coincidence. Solas isn’t making a point, you’re reading into things. Calm down. Having already shoved her face into enough of Solas's business, Ellie launched the stunning bolt at a Hessarian fighting the Seeker. Unable to defend himself, Pentaghast wasted little time cutting the man down.

The ground was now littered with corpses, and one of the few who remained upright attempted surrender, but Lavellan did not show him mercy. Another tried to run, and one of Varric’s well-placed crossbow bolts ended the man’s retreat.

Once the last of the Hessarians had fallen, Ellie took a deep breath. So much for not being a walking death machine. At least it was over.

“Check for survivors.” Lavellan ordered, wiping some of the excess blood from her blades. “If you find any, kill them.”

Ellie gave the field of bodies a cursory glance. None of them glow. There were no survivors.

She was about to say as much, then hesitated. Solas had begun walking between the bodies like the others, pretending to check for life signs – at least she figured he was pretending. If Ellie could tell they were dead with sparkle vision, then Solas definitely could. Well, if he ain’t saying shit, then neither am I.

Mouth shutting, Ellie followed the bald god’s lead and poked a handful of corpses with the bottom of her staff. For all she knew, being able to see that sort of thing wasn’t normal. It wasn’t like anything else about her was normal here. She couldn’t even dream right.

Once Lavellan was satisfied that that everything in the immediate area was well and thoroughly dead, she ordered Ellie to pile and burn the bodies while the others searched the compound. Ellie didn’t mind. Or she hadn’t, until she had to handle the bodies of the men she’d killed.

The death pile, in particular, wasn’t pretty. Their bodies were burned and twisted, mangled in a way Ellie couldn’t have predicted. It wasn’t how the spell was supposed to work. The currents of electricity was supposed to fry people, not rip them apart. Her stomach gave a nauseous lurch, and Ellie shuddered.

But she didn’t look away – she couldn’t. The self-disgust was something she’d have to get over, and their bodies weren’t going to move themselves. You did this, so face it. As much as she didn’t want to, she counted. The guilt of knowing was better than the guilt of not.

Getting the pyre lit was a harder task, considering the endless rain. Ellie considered it a small blessing that, for the moment, it was only a drizzle.

Relying mostly on mundane methods, supported by magic, the flames eventually grew large enough to support themselves. Eight. Ellie watched the flames.

Chapter Text

 

With the bodies taken care of, Ellie turned her back on the fire and headed into the main building. The others made quick work searching through the smaller structures, but if the ruckus from Lavellan and the Seeker upstairs was any indication, they were still working their way through the building.

It was darker inside, the space cluttered with casks and crates either stolen or salvaged. Some bore marks in English, others in Latin - Tevinter. Ellie paused when she spotted one in German. Which country is supposed to be Germany?

Considering how much the Blades of Hessarian seemed to have in sheer volume of random stuff, it honestly made little sense why they hadn’t managed to do better for themselves. Whoever handled their finances clearly should have been fired. Yeah, well, he’s dead.

Ellie frowned. You just fucking murdered people – multiple people – and you’re thinking about how their resources will benefit the inquisition? Who are you? That was the question – or it would be at this rate. She needed a drink. Preferably a strong one. Drink up me hearties, yo ho.

“Has that crate done something to offend you?” Solas asked. Shit.

She blinked and looked up, her expression clearing. “It made terrible insults against my mother. I’ll never recover.” Ellie said flatly, abandoning the mystery crate to join him. Because you totally don’t want to run in the opposite direction screaming.

“Then it should consider itself fortunate that you have not set it on fire.” Solas meant it as a joke, but it still bothered her. It was like being some horrible, destructive force was a good thing. Yeah, so long as you’re the killing for the Inquisition.

“I do have such a penchant for violence.” She said, failing to completely hide her disdain. Ellie scanned the room. She needed to be doing something with her hands.

“Do you?” He asked, and the way he said it caught her momentarily off guard. Is that fucking disapproval? Ellie’s attention snapped back, and she stared at him.

“Are you serious?” Ellie said, in disbelief.

“It is hardly a difficult question.” He said.

Ellie’s eyes narrowed, indignation flaring. That he, of all people, had the audacity to even think about judging her. Him! He didn’t even know her! You don’t even know you. He had no right. None.

“No, I don’t. I despise it.” She took a step closer. Oh yes, get in his face. Mr. Apocalypse should love that. “If you must know, I think what transpired here today was not only unnecessary, but deplorable.” If anyone was going to know, it might as well be him. Why the fuck not. “But please, do continue to make presumptions about me. You’re bound to get something right eventually.”

“That is not- I meant no offense.”

“Then how fortunate we are that intention determines offense.” Oh wait, it doesn’t.

Solas frowned. “If my actions have caused you insult, wronged you in some way, you have my apology.” An apology doesn’t cut it. Literally every problem, every death, that was a result of Coryfuck-face having the orb, was Solas’s fault. And anyone who lived was going to die later if Solas had his way. Those weren’t things an apology could fix. They also aren’t things you can say out loud. Stop giving him reasons to realize you know. Besides, it might not be that simple.

Knowing the situation could be more complicated than it appeared, and that Solas had yet to run off on a giggling murder-spree, did not lessen her current desire to strangle him. He isn’t the one you’re upset with. A minor detail. Right, because you haven’t murdered enough people today. What’s one more?

She clenched her jaw, before taking a deep breath and backing off. So much for being cool. “Sorry,” It was so half-hearted that even Ellie couldn’t bring herself to believe it.

He gave her a flat look. “You need not voice an apology that is empty.”

“Just accept the damn apology, Solas.” Ellie said, shooting him an annoyed look.

“If you insist.” Solas inclined his head, and whatever his irritation, he was doing a much better job at maintaining his composure than she was. He’s also had thousands of years to practice, which is pretty much cheating.

Ellie huffed, allowing herself a final look of disgruntlement, then dropped it. “Does this place have something resembling a kitchen?”

Solas furrowed his brow, then pointed to his right. “Through the entryway, why?” Ah yes, the greatest mystery yet: what does a Shem do in a kitchen!

She scoffed, “The ‘Shem’ is going to make the shemlen dinner.” Had Ellie lost her mind completely, she would have added ‘you can have some too’. I’m also going to find and sample the cooking sherry. Liberally.

It was approaching dinnertime, and Lavellan probably would have made her cook anyways – and if not, she suspected the little monster would come up with something suitably horrible instead. Ellie walked through the entryway to find a significantly more modest fireplace and kettle, a barrel of salted who-knows-what, and more familiar things like root vegetables and cheese.

There was also something that looked similar to a brick pizza oven, which was when Ellie realized she had absolutely no fucking clue how medieval kitchens worked. Or why anyone bothered to have them without refrigerators or a microwave. What the fuck is half this shit? How the fuck did people eat!? Holy shit. No wonder old ladies always talk about single dudes starving to death from laziness.

Ellie felt, more than saw, Solas enter the ‘kitchen’ a moment later. It didn’t bother her, but she still had half a mind to tell him to shoo on principle. Eh, his reality tv options are some Jersey Shore tier shit upstairs, and ye olden day Chopped. That’s hardly a contest. When he didn’t say anything, she decided he could stay. She had no idea where Varric had gotten off to. Skinemax with his crossbow.

Why would you think that!? You do not need to- what with the chest hair- and the- For the love of – just eugh! No! Bad Ellie! 

Determined not to think about -that-, Ellie decided to focus on important things. Like that fact that she was now in a kitchen with a god, and had no idea what that weird, rusty doohickey thing on the counter was. It’s clearly a dinglehopper. She decided it was best not to touch anything she couldn’t name.

After five minutes of rifling around, Ellie found some spices and wine. She also encountered a few vials of mystery liquid and suspicious powder, and genuinely hoped none of it was poison. There were plenty of foods and spices that weren’t identical to Earth, and having Solas around suddenly seemed like a very good idea. Step 4: Season lightly with cyanide, to taste.

Rifling through the kitchen, and having a task that kept her physically engaged, went a long way towards calming her down. Cooking, and thinking about cooking, required enough attention to keep her mind away from other things. Like having just killed a ton of people.

In truth, she knew very little about making food, but she’d participated in enough holiday meals and party prep to have the basics down: salt made everything taste better, paprika was underappreciated, alcohol could be added to anything, and the toaster was never supposed to catch fire.

You cooked regularly enough at home, you can’t be that bad. Plus, you’ve watched a ton of Chopped and Iron Chef. That’s like, almost cooking.

As first order of official cooking business, Ellie opened one of the wine bottles for important sampling purposes. It was sweeter than she expected. After a second mouthful, she offered the bottle to Solas. “Want some? It’s sweet for a red. You should like it.”

Solas accepted it, and he eyed her before taking a sip. “It is... amenable.” He admitted after a moment, returning the bottle.

“From you that’s glowing praise.” Ellie said, taking another swig before adding some of it to a pot. And, while she suspected her dagger had been in more people than the rusty knives she found in the kitchen, it was still the more sanitary option for chopping potatoes.

The dinner was half made when Solas finally spoke up. “Have you explored many different branches of magic?” After several minutes waiting for him to bring up the spell she’d used, it caught her off guard. 

“Not really. Why?” Ellie replied.

“I must confess, blood magic was not something I expected you to possess knowledge of. As it draws its power from outside the fade, knowledge of the school generally requires some form of aid to instruction.”

“Uh,” She looked up at him, and wasn’t sure what to say to that. Reaching out to lyrium had been different, but she hadn’t used it as a source of energy itself. It was more just a surrogate to channel through – a workaround to access more energy from the fade without dying. “Then where does it draw power from?”

Solas gave her the oddest look, as if she’d just declared herself queen of the faeries or asked him to wear shoes. “From the magical properties inherent in blood. That’s why it is called blood magic.” Oh my god I sound like a moron.

Ellie pursed her lips, started to speak, stopped, then found words on the second attempt. “Is it like that for all kinds of blood? What about when you use the blood to interact with the fade?”

“It can be used to interact with the veil, or alongside power drawn from the fade.” He paused, his brow creased. “The use of blood magic weakens a mage’s natural connection to the fade. I know little of the discipline. Should the subject interest you, I will lack the knowledge to answer more specific questions.”

She eyed Solas for a moment, and very briefly considered feigning extreme interest in the subject. With how much he loved spirits and the fade, it would be the equivalent of nuking Christmas and murdering Santa. Calm down there Satan.

“It doesn’t.” It did leave her wondering why the school wasn’t more widely practiced, however. Aside from the obvious stuff like pain, infection, hemophilia, and bleeding to death. That’s easily solved by sacrificing nothing but nugs. Nugmancy. Bam, problem solved. “Solas?”

“Yes, Ellie?”

“How many nugs do you think a blood mage would have to brutally murder to equal a person?” Ellie asked, completely straight faced.

Solas stared at her. “No, there is nothing violent about you at all.”

She smiled, but only a little. Almost. Ellie was quick to scrunch up her face before she risked encouraging him.

In no twisted, fucked up universe would it ever be okay for Ellie to joke about mass nugicide with the future destroyer of world. Stop fraternizing with the enemy, traitor. It didn’t matter how much she wanted out of her own head.

By the time dinner finally came around, Varric had appeared. He had successfully raided the cellar and procured a bottle of unknown, clear liquid that smelled strongly like paint thinner. The dwarf poured the first round of shots before any food had been served, but after today Ellie wasn’t complaining. She downed the caustic liquid readily.

When Cassandra and the Herald appeared, Ellie quietly relocated herself to put as much distance between her and Psycho Dalish as possible. She didn’t care what it looked like to the others, Lavellan was already a big enough handful without encouragement. If there could be a little more peace at the cost of keeping her head down, Ellie would do it. For now.

Ellie felt, in part, responsible for the current nightmare that was the Herald – even if it hadn’t been her intention when she’d tricked Lavellan into recruiting the Iron Bull. Until then, the Seeker was managing the Herald, and Ellie had destroyed that. These people might be dead because of you. Ellie had another shot.

Cassandra scowled when the dwarf was quick to serve her and Lavellan shots as well, eyeing the liquid suspiciously. When she took a sip, it was immediately followed by a disgusted snort as her face contorted. “Varric, this is terrible!”

“People don’t drink it for the taste, Seeker.” Varric chuckled.

Lavellan, on the other hand, downed her first shot with a grimace, and immediately demanded a refill before turning to Pentaghast “What, too strong for you?” And here we see the fierce chihuahua, challenging the female bullmastiff for dominance.

The Seeker groaned, and when Varric did as the Herald asked, she scowled at him. “You should not encourage her.” Someone needs to teach the Seeker reverse psychology.

“Shut up, you’re not my keeper!” Lavellan snapped at the Seeker, emptying her glass a second time. She turned her scowl to Varric, “This shit isn’t strong, it’s like water!” Lavellan, you’re like 90lbs soaking wet. Acting tough is not going to improve your alcohol metabolism.

Ellie made sure food got on the table before Lavellan ended up sprawled out under it.

It came as no surprise when Lavellan ended up quite drunk, and it was unanimously decided that she should not be tasked with a watch. And, since Ellie would be up halfway through last watch no matter who took it, she volunteered to take up Lavellan’s watch, too.

The next morning Ellie learned that a hungover Lavellan turned out to be much less boisterous, and too miserable to be actively difficult – only passively. It made the walk back to camp significantly more pleasant, free of argument, and free of conversation in general. Mostly because when anyone did talk, Lavellan threatened to stab them in the face. For the most part it was a change that Ellie loved, but it came at a price. Right now wasn’t a good time for her to be left with only the company of her thoughts.

Guilt and disgust clung to her, the weight of her actions coiling around her stomach and digging their claws into her chest. A part of Ellie felt like she would never be clean again, and that this time killing had caused her irreparable damage. You should have refused. You should have said no. A part of her had been poisoned, twisted. Their blood left a stain on her soul. Now you’re just being dramatic.

True.

Still, it did annoy the shit out of her that murdering the assholes who hunted Ellie and her group for weeks, refused to listen to reason, and attacked the Inquisition on sight without the right necklace, ended up dead in a way that made -her- the bad guy.

Ellie glared at the back of Lavellan’s head from the safety of her position in the back, as she’d presumed Lavellan’s ‘backup in the back’ mandate still stood, and struggled not to hate her. It was a good thing looks couldn’t kill. Fuck you, Lavellan. The woman was the embodiment of everything Ellie hated about Thedas.

For fear of letting her temper flare too far, or ending up with a Kyle whispering at her, Ellie spent the rest of the hike back to base camp trying, and failing, at amateur bird watching. Yes, actual bird watching. Apparently the Storm Coast had lots of crows. You suck at this.

When they reached Harding’s tent, Lavellan didn’t have much to say on the matter beyond, “They’re dead.”

Seeker Pentaghast was able to provide more useful information on the subject.

Ellie felt completely out of place the more time dragged on. Why am I in here? Should I even be in here? Will I get in trouble if I leave? Was I even supposed to walk into the tent? Nobody had told her to scram, but she’d also been given as much notice as a potted plant.

“Ugh, whatever.” Lavellan grumbled, “What else do I have to do?”

“Right, well,” Harding smiled weakly, shifting her feet. “None of my scouts have located any new rifts, and most of our problems stemmed from the Blades. I’ve sent one group to investigate the ruins along the coast line, but so far they haven’t found anything.”

“So nothing.” Lavellan clarified.

“I-I guess not, your worship.” Harding said, chuckling.

Lavellan made a frustrated noise, “Then we’re leaving. First thing in the morning. Fuck this place.” Deciding that the conversation was now over, Lavellan turned and shoved her way out of the tent.

There was a brief pause, looks were exchanged, and Solas and Varric followed after her.

Once they were gone, the Seeker made a quiet, weary noise before looking from the tent exit back to Harding. “Very well, the Herald and her party will set out at first light for Haven. If possible, I would still like the Herald travelling with additional escorts.”

“That would be for the best. I got a raven earlier today from the Nightingale, warning of another more-serious assassination attempt.” Lieutenant Harding said grimly. Why am I in here!? This isn’t something I want to know about! “Lady Roosevelt and her team will be assigned to help protect the Herald on the journey back.”

The Seeker didn’t look thrilled, and Ellie grimaced. Even if it wasn’t her fault, being around Lavellan gave Pentaghast yet another thing to worry about – as if assassination attempts weren’t enough. Even more frustrating, Harding continually pushed Ellie into close proximity with Psycho Dalish, as if the very real problem of ‘the Shem’ hate didn’t exist.

Then it clicked, and Ellie suppressed a groan. This is Leliana’s fault. I bet Harding has orders to assign me any and every fucking task with distinction out here.

Ellie would have been more grateful if the person behind it wasn’t a soulless ginger who, if memory served, talked about hearing the voice of the Maker with a big ol’ crazy smile on her face in Origins. That, and it’s an accepted fact that psychotic, kill-happy murder nuns are scary.

For a moment, Ellie thought the woman might request a different group, but instead the she-bear nodded stiffly at Harding. “Thank you, Lieutenant Harding.” The Seeker turned to leave, and paused to add “Lady Roosevelt” before exiting the tent.

Ellie managed to return a short nod back before the Seeker was gone, then looked over to Harding. Remember, you’re a badass. You eat assassins for breakfast. Shit’s like having Cheerios. “So, uh, more assassination attempts? That, uh, happen often?” She managed, and her dinner party voice would have to do.

Harding nodded, “So far only one or two have gotten anywhere close.” Only one or two!? Holy shit Thedas! “Stop by here before you leave in the morning. I’ll have an envelope ready with information for you to deliver to the Nightingale once you reach Haven.”

Ellie nodded back, pretending this totally didn’t freak her out at all. Even if it did. Hearing assassination attempts discussed openly made it go from the ‘this happens to other people’ category, and into the ‘this shit is real and could happen to you’.

Which it could. Ellie had plenty of information floating around her head that could get her killed. Like, say, knowing Solas is Fen’Harel? That was sort of a big one.

 “Er, was there anything else?” Harding said, reminding Ellie that she was there.

“Yes, actually.” Ellie said quickly, only to realize that there wasn’t. Well think of something! “Uh, are you well supplied with healing potions to spare me a few?”

“Sure. I think we have enough…” Harding began going through a satchel, grabbing a pair of vials full of the familiar red liquid. “There a reason you think you’ll need them?”

“I hope not. It’s just a precautionary measure.” Ellie said, forcing a small smile when Harding handed them to her. “Thanks.”

Business concluded, and brain occupied with new terrors to distract her from herself, Ellie left Harding to go inform the troops. In the end, it was Neria that found her.

“There you are!” She said, jogging up to Ellie. “Without you around I got stuck on lookout detail, with Martin.” A flicker of annoyance crossed her face. “Thanks to you and that other mage he’s still confused about bears.”

Bears? It took Ellie a moment for what Neria was saying to click. “Oh, uh, Sorry.” Ellie replied. That had only been a few days ago, but the memories felt miles away. “Do you know where Soven is?”

Neria raised her eyebrows, “Right now?” No, next Tuesday.

“Yes.”

“The fire, I think. Maybe talking to Duncan or Sean.” Ugh, right. He pseudo-socializes.

“Well, track down the others and let them know we’re leaving for Haven first thing in the morning with the Herald and her people.” Ellie said, and the elf nodded.

“Soven too?”

“No, I’ll find him.”

Neria could make whatever she wanted of that, Ellie didn’t really care. Unlike Roe, the archer seemed significantly less likely to tell everyone and their mother a wild theory based off completely wrong assumptions.

Sure enough, Ellie found Soven in the big central tent that allowed for a less-soggy meal area. He was sharpening one of his knives beside the fire, and Ellie sat down in one of the empty spaces next to him.

“You aren’t dead.” Soven said, glancing up from the weapon.  

“Gee, thanks.” She replied. “By the way, we’re heading back to Haven at dawn with the Herald.”

“Yay.” He said dryly. Don’t get too excited, you might hurt yourself.

Other people were there and talking amongst one another, but that was the extent of Ellie and Soven’s conversation for the next forty-five minutes. Unlike on the walk back, around Soven she found the not-talking comforting.

“You okay?” Soven finally asked, stopping long enough to actually look at her.

“Not really.” Ellie admitted. She was so used to playing Rambo at this point, voicing something to the contrary actually felt wrong.

He didn’t say anything, and Ellie realized that was why she’d sought him out. Soven was safe. He was okay with silence. Most people would ask why, or try to say something to comfort her, and she didn’t want that. All she wanted was the company.

It was exactly what she needed.

-

The next morning, Ellie found Pecado exactly how she’d expected: pissed. She’d done what she could to temper his outrage at the ‘injustices’ he’d suffered in her absence, but he was having none of it. Pecado was clearly too good for the filthy squander of shared space with other horses, and he had reached his limit with the weather of the Storm Coast.

When her temperamental brat tried to make a run for it, only for his nostrils to flare warningly when she didn’t let him stampede his way through camp in a glorious rampage, it was time for drastic action. Yes, how dare I deny you the freedom to trample every person and tent in sight. What sort of monster am I!?

Sick of his bullshit and poor attitude, Ellie stormed over to a nearby bucket filled with rain water and dumped it into Pecado’s face. “¡Oh, lo siento! ¿Hice yo eso?

Pecado did not appreciate that. Good. She didn’t have fruit, or any more patience for his bullshit.  Considering how impossible the beast was, she had been more than accommodating to his whims up to this point, and she wasn’t having more of it. Not right now.

The abomination clacked his teeth threateningly, and stomped the ground. Ellie raised her eyebrows, brandishing the bucket. “Si no te comportas, te haré vestir el sombrero de la vergüenza.

When Pecado didn’t heed her warning, and continued to be an insufferable pain in the ass, Ellie was about to shove the stupid bucket onto his head when Soven spoke up behind her. “What the fuck are you doing?”

She stopped and turned around to find the elf a few feet away, and slowly lowered the bucket. Go away! This is between me and Señor Stompy-feet! “Uh…”

Considering it was Soven, he remained silent and waited for an explanation. Expectantly. Stop that! There’s no way for me to explain this without making you question my sanity. What Pecado and Ellie had transcended language and understanding. It’s a fucking horse.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Ellie countered, raising an eyebrow mysteriously. This is hardly enigmatic. Neither you, nor your eyebrow, are mysterious.

“Assaulting your horse with a pail.” Dammit.

“Well… looks can be deceiving.” She was convincing no one. “I am told Pecado is very fond of this bucket. They are dear chums.”

As the bucket route was no longer an option, Ellie set it down outside Pecado’s reach. She had little doubt the thing would be immediately destroyed if the horse was able to get a hoof to it.

In time Pecado seemed to realize that there really weren’t any treats, and he begrudgingly permitted Ellie to saddle him up and hop on.

Chapter Text

 

Pecado did not make the day’s journey easy. Navigating the Storm Coast on horseback was a pain in general, owing to the uneven and unstable terrain, but on top of an angry horse it felt impossible. Ellie had long ago accepted that, ultimately, it was the horse, not her, calling the shots. When said horse was furious at her, their usual arrangement of Ellie giving him a direction, and Pecado choosing how they got there, didn’t work.

Considering she was expected to be up front, that was a problem. When Ellie wanted him to go left, Pecado went right. If it was time to go up the hill, he wanted to go down. Lavellan snickering in the background didn’t help. I’m too old for this shit. There is a fucking hole in the sky, the world is on the fast track to ending, and its savior is too busy playing bully to give a damn.

When the hellbeast beneath her showed no signs of behaving, Ellie decided to try a new tactic: she pointed him in the opposite direction they needed to go, then pretended to be upset when Pecado rebelled and did exactly what she wanted him to. Well, at least now we’re going somewhere.

Outsmarting a horse wasn’t exactly something to be proud of, but it was hard not to feel a little smug. Especially when Pecado seemed increasingly more pleased with himself over his continued defiance. Well done Pecado, you’re so clever! Eventually the horse started doing what she wanted, which caused another brief period of chaos, but the animal didn’t seem to realize he’d been outsmarted.

Instead Pecado held his head high, bruised ego soothed, all too delighted at having successfully reminded Ellie who was boss. Yep, you sure showed me. How fortunate I am to have such a kind and benevolent master, o king of horses. You glorious prince of overinflated ego, you. When he gave a particularly self-satisfied huff, Ellie rolled her eyes.

Well done, you’re smarter than a horse. Have a cookie.

Okay, so it wasn’t something to celebrate over, but at least it got Lavellan to shut up.

With her horse finally under control, Ellie glanced over her shoulder to check how the other animals were faring. The Storm Coast’s abysmal weather and unstable terrain did not make it horse-friendly, and it was important for her to keep an eye out for any signs one of the mounts was struggling.

Ellie’s eyes slid over the animals, pausing midway on Seeker Pentaghast’s mare. For the time being the horse was handling itself admirably, but the Seeker was a giantess in full plate, and fatigue could easily result in an injury. Varric’s chestnut pony looked as though it would have the easiest time, weighting significantly less than its larger counterparts.

Solas had been given a dapple-grey mare, and Ellie couldn’t put her finger on why, but it suited him perfectly. She frowned slightly, regarding the animal, then looked up to find Solas watching her. Because of course he was – why wouldn’t he be?

Their eyes met, and Ellie pressed her lips together.

Solas raised an eyebrow.

She felt her face begin to go warm and quickly turned around.

It was stupid, beyond stupid. Stop acting guilty when you haven’t done anything wrong! But she had done something wrong. Lots of somethings wrong. She’d killed people – murdered and slaughtered them. Get a grip.

She bit down on the inside of her cheek until it hurt, and forced her attention forward until the tightness in her chest and throat lessened. You’ll do what it takes. You always have. No, she hadn’t. She didn’t do what it took, she went above and beyond. She would push herself until she achieved her goal, got what she wanted, or fell apart in the process. And people get hurt because of it.

She’d decided to make herself a weapon, and now she was. What if you don’t stop? She would. She knew firsthand how terrible a thing determination could be in the wrong hands.

You need a vacation.

As if Spymasters in this horrible, pre-apocalyptic world had employee benefits or paid time off. The only perks of working for Leliana were an increased risk of death and a potential fast track career into the joys of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Here at Left Hand Inc., all employee retreats are located in the idyllic backdrop of a rustic Soviet gulag. Team building exercises include, but are not limited to, the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Ellie couldn’t help it, she snorted.

“What’s so funny, Shem?” Lavellan demanded, her antagonistic behavior rapidly approaching Draco Malfoy levels of pettiness. She does have that whole ‘pure-blood’ thing down.

“Nothing of importance, Herald.” Ellie replied blandly. Kindly go fuck yourself.

“You think it’s funny? You think you’re something special, just because you’re a human leading a Dalish?” Lavellan blurted out. Holy insecurities Batman.

Momentarily at a loss for words, and seriously wondering on what wavelength this crazy bitch operated on to get -that- out of a fucking snort, Ellie could only look back at Lavellan with an utterly dumbfounded expression on her face. “Uh…”

“Well, you aren’t special! I’m Dalish, and I grew up travelling through the forests of my ancestors! I don’t need to have been here to know how to navigate through it! This stupid rain means nothing to me!” Oh god not this again.

Ellie could see the crazy building up, the speech of Dalish greatness and years of indoctrination on the tip of Lavellan’s tongue. Hoping to cut off the madness before it got going, Ellie said. “I agree completely. I welcome the opportunity for you to demonstrate your Dalish prowess.” Afterwards we can grab a ruler and compare dick length.

Lavellan’s eyes narrowed, and she scowled. “Don’t mock me, Shem.” I wasn’t. Much. “Ugh, whatever Shem, get out of the way!” The elf scowled, then urged her horse to take the front.

Ellie wasn’t complaining, and was more than happy to wrangle Pecado aside to let psycho tits pass. And just like that, her job as wilderness apostate scout and tour guide extraordinaire ended. Lavellan took her rightful place up front – which is probably where she should have been all along.

The Seeker gave Ellie a harsh look as she passed, apparently disapproving of this development. What, is Lavellan the only Dalish that gets lost in the woods or something?

Not that Ellie was an expert or anything, but she was willing to bet a fucking Dalish elf knew a helluva lot more about navigating through shitty wet terrain than she did. The only reason Ellie had any right playing leader at all was because she’d already been through the area.

If these people knew they’ve been trusting my scrub ass in the wild, of a continent I’ve never been on, in a world I know fuck-all about, the Seeker would have an aneurysm.

As the horses passed, Ellie had hoped to hang back until she could join up with Soven at the end of the group, but Pecado had other ideas. Already displeased he was no longer leading, he only allowed half the train to pass before staunchly refusing to remain still a moment longer.

God dammit, you stupid horse!

“An exceptionally proud animal.” Solas said evenly, and Ellie jumped. Fuck.

She turned her head to find none other than baldy himself pull up alongside her. His tone had been polite, and there was nothing about his expression that was overtly concerning, but he had an odd, calculating look in his eyes that Ellie didn’t like. It put her on edge, and a fresh batch of anxiety bubbled up in her chest. You’re Rambo. Act like it.

“Yeah, well, you know what they say.” Ellie managed a weak chuckle, that ended up sounding more tired than nervous. You should have gone with stoic. When she realized how vague her statement had been, she clarified, “About pride.”

“Oh?” Solas asked, “And what is it they say?” There’s no Bible in Thedas, genius. Shit.

“You want the short version, or the pretentious one?” Ellie replied. It’s just talking, and he won’t bring up anything damming in front of everyone. Even if Solas was Fen’Harel, he had shown a surprising amount of consideration in what he said around others. He’d kept quiet about her inexperience, and even been helpful.

She wasn’t naïve enough to believe he didn’t have his reasons, but it was when they were alone that the conversation headed in directions to justify the current state of her nerves. Right now, he should be okay. No, he’s a trickster god. Fucking Fen’Harel. He’s still dangerous.

“Is there a reason I cannot have both?”

“Nope. ‘Pride comes before the fall.’”

Solas raised an eyebrow, “…And the pretentious version?”

Her brow furrowed. It had been a while since she’d read the verse. Heck, with each passing day her old life was turning into an increasingly distant memory. “Pride goeth before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Ellie had expected Solas to ask who, supposedly, said such things – considering she’d just quoted a book that didn’t exist. Or for him to make some remark about spirits of haughtiness he’d encountered in the fade. Instead, under all his composure, he grimaced. What the fuck?

“Wise words.” Solas said, far too solemnly. He may deserve torment, but this hadn’t been her intention. It was just some stupid bible verse referencing Lucifer’s fall in the middle of other lines talking about how damned important it was to kiss a King’s divinely ordained ass.

No matter how well he hid it, seeing someone, even him, look as miserable and burdened as she felt for even a moment was too much. Can’t you do anything right? Apparently not.

Desperate to make it stop, she hid behind a laugh. “I guess Pecado should consider himself lucky that I like him so much.” Ellie then looked to the horse, adopting an indulgent tone. “Te daré un beso de despedida cuando te vayas al matadero, ¿sí?

When she looked back at Solas, he was watching her with a very odd expression. “You are speaking of the horse.” This is the part you play dumb, to make up for being dumb.

Ellie’s brow furrowed, “Who else would I be talking about? Have you seen the havoc this animal wreaks when given the opportunity?” What are you gonna do, call yourself out?

Okay, so maybe quoting a verse from Proverbs about pride leading to destruction, to a fucking god planning on causing destruction, hadn’t been the brightest idea. Gods were only the most arrogant motherfuckers ever – it didn’t matter who they were. Even a god of freaking humility would figure out a way to be simultaneously cocky. They’d be god of the humble brag.

“Forgive me, I mistook your statement as a reference to the fall of Arlathan.” Solas pursed his lips, eyeing her for a moment before continuing. “Within the fade I have witnessed much of The People and what has been lost. Memories of the past, the glory of Arlathan, beheld in wonder… I did not anticipate you applying a quote on the fall of Elvhenan to your horse.”

Ellie had forgotten how big a boner Solas had for the ancient elves and Arlathbla. Well, at least he can joke about it. Sort of. You know, between lectures on the history of Arlathan Algebra 101. In truth, he still looked a little miffed. “I did warn you about presumptions.”

“You did.” This is awkward.

She wasn’t sure what to say after that, or if she should say anything at all, and the conversation stretched into silence. Which was probably for the best. It was hard for Ellie to listen to Solas reminisce under the guise of the fade, when she couldn’t say a damned thing about what she’d lost. At least Solas was lucky enough to still be on the same planet. Convince him not to destroy the world with your bitterness. That’ll work.

This is an opportunity, dumbass. Use it.

Ellie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. This was a terrible idea.

“Could you show me, in the Fade?”

Solas’s blinked, pulled out of whatever he was contemplating. Judging from the look on his face, he was currently questioning if he’d heard that right. He regarded her almost warily, and took his time before replying. “I was under the impression that you did not wish to explore the fade. When I pressed on the subject, your refusal was adamant.”

“I don’t,” She said, a little too quickly. God dammit. “What I mean is- ah, well- Couldn’t you just show me in my dream?”

“I could. But then you would be limited to my perspective alone. Your reluctance to leave the confines of your dreams, or to walk the shifting paths, raises questions.” Solas replied, and she did not like the way he was eyeing her. “You also made it evident that you do not appreciate intrusion into said dreams, and I would not wish to trespass. Has there been something to change your mind on the matter?” Unbelievable pain, for one.

“Presumptions.” Ellie said, but Solas wasn’t buying it this time. Stupid nosey elf gods. “Perhaps I simply enjoy the solitude.”

He gave her a flat look. “And I am expected to believe that?”

God dammit Solas. Don’t give me this aloof, indifferent bullshit! I can totally tell you’re half-ready to whip out a pillow and smack me over the head with a club! You’re a helluva liar, but you ain’t good enough to hide the way your stupid blue eyes lit up like a god dammed Christmas tree at the prospect of fade show and tell!

“It was only a request. If you don’t want to show me Arlathan, that’s fine - I’m sure I can get Sandy to.” Ellie said, because that was totally going to work.

Unfortunately, Solas wasn’t Lavellan, or an idiot, so it didn’t. Shocker. “If your friend is so forthcoming with you, then I expect so. However, would she not have to be around to do so?”

Ellie’s eyes narrowed. It had been several days since she had last seen Sandy in the fade, and if that was because of Solas she was inclined to shove his stupid face off his horse. “Are you the reason why?” It isn’t like she hasn’t vanished before.

 Solas frowned, “I said I would give your friend space, and I have.”

“That isn’t an answer.”

“No. I would not prevent her from seeking you out, regardless of any concerns I may have. I simply pay attention.” He said, before glancing slightly behind her. “We may discuss the matter further, if you wish, later tonight.” Oh look, the Dread Wolf Fen’Harold has conveniently come up with a way to show up in my head with the intent to talk and pry! Fantastic!

Ellie huffed, but acquiesced when she realized others had taken notice of the conversation. Martin and Neria were casting them both glances, and at some point Varric had scooted his pony halfway up into Pecado’s ass. Neither she, nor Pecado, particularly appreciated this, but all the flat look she gave the dwarf did was make him raise his eyebrows innocently. Yeah okay, maybe not the place for spooky fade and spirit conversations.

“Fine,” She grumbled, looking back at Solas. “But there better be some crystal spires and floating castles.”

For whatever reason saying that, of all things, was what seemed to surprise Solas the most. Ugh, I give up.

-

By the time they’d set up camp for the night, Ellie had managed to work herself up into a proper state of anxiety. She’d survived visits from him in the fade before – they could even be nice if she didn’t spend them freaking out. You can’t -like- spending time with fucking Fen’Harel. He’s a bad guy! If he wasn’t, there’d be nothing for you to freak out about in the first place! Immortal, god factor aside. Of course.

It didn’t help that Varric spent most of the evening hovering nearby whenever Ellie and Solas were anywhere near each other. When she was finally climbing into her bedroll, it occurred to Ellie that Varric was a dwarf, and might not have realized that ‘later tonight’ was Solas speak for the fade.

Sleep didn’t come as easily as she’d grown accustomed to, and when she finally did feel herself begin to drift from the waking world a part of her hoped that her mind would be pulled into the same nothingness that the dwarves had when they slept. But Thedas hated her, so that didn’t happen.

The fade swirled into being, painting a dream that fell apart as quickly as it had arrived. Her mind too alert, too quickly, for anything to take hold. Partially formed images faded into dissolving ribbons of color, until it all bled away into eerie white nothingness. Now all Ellie had to do was wait. The mounting anxiety bubbling up in her stomach and tying knots in her chest did not help.

It isn’t a big deal. There’s nothing to be scared about. Nope, nothing to be nervous about at all. She definitely, totally wasn’t doing the opposite of what she’d been trying to. Again. Doing everything backwards, as always, it seems. How are you even still alive?

Ellie felt Solas before she saw him, and she forced an appearance of calm she didn’t feel. He appeared a short distance away, dressed in his usual humble apostate getup. That sweater really is ridiculous. Talk about picking a color that will show every drop of blood and grime.

He didn’t say anything immediately, instead looking out into all the white nothing as if he were looking for something. Ellie wasn’t sure what he expected to find, given how obviously empty it all was.  

“Something the matter?” Ellie asked, when it was starting to look like he was getting lost in thought. Dude, there’s nothing there. How the fuck is nothing, literally nothing, a distraction?

Solas blinked and looked back to her, “And you no longer object to my manipulation of the fade in this place?”

“Tonight I don’t care, knock yourself out. But no, it isn’t an open invitation.” She said, “Do I get an answer to my question?”

He didn’t answer immediately, and glanced back out at the whiteness briefly before turning his attention back to her. “The stillness, I find it unsettling.”

“Oh.” Ellie said lamely. That’s… understandable.

All the white nothing, and even her dream version of the Rocky Mountains, could, at times, get quiet in a way that was a little creepy. The white space was significantly worse about it, but after weeks of nightly visits, she’d gotten used to it. Mostly.

Solas lifted a hand and their surroundings shifted, and trees and earth rapidly swirled into unreality around her. Where there had once been nothing but the vast and vague groundless white, there was now a large and towering forest.

It wasn’t like the scene she’d grown accustomed to, where everything was still and clear and crisp. Some of the shapes were hazy and shifting, less defined and liquid than they would be in the waking world. A memory. Thin wisps of mist still remained, and it was much closer to what she’d seen when Sandy threw her into the normal fade.

For the first time ever, Ellie wasn’t stuck dreaming in a stupid Matrix-esque loading screen or a mountain – misadventures thanks to demon Sandy aside.

Wherever this forest was, if it still existed, it wasn’t anyplace she’d seen. Not that she’d seen much of Thedas to begin with. The guy has thousands of years of forests to choose from, the scary part would be if you did recognize it.

“Does it not unsettle you, to dream in such stillness?” Solas asked, far too casually for Ellie to think it innocent.

See, not even a minute in and he’s poking at your head. Fantastic. She shrugged, “Would it matter either way? It isn’t something I’m able to change.”

“So you have said. And it is a matter on which I remain unconvinced.” Solas said.

“You think I’m lying?” Don’t cross your arms. Don’t look defensive.

“No,” Solas began carefully, watching her. “I think you believe you cannot, because you do not wish to believe otherwise.”

Inwardly Ellie bristled, and she bit the inside of her cheek. Yeah, well, what do you know anyways!? Stupid.. old.. god guy that knows like everything. Fuck you! “Think away, then. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” She put her hands on her hips, because arguing with the guy who spent half his life in the fade, about the fade, made total sense. Duh.

He raised an eyebrow. “It would appear so.”

“Hey, if you want to prove me wrong, by all means, go for it. It’s not like I haven’t tried. Repeatedly.” She said, emphasizing that last bit before changing the subject entirely. “So, judging from the lack of sparkles, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t Arlathan.”

“This memory is a part of the surrounding forest.” He clasped his hands behind his back, and hesitated. “I’ve wanted to ask for some time, but outside of the fade there has been little opportunity to do so in a manner I felt appropriate.” He began tentatively, choosing his words with care. “I realize such questions are often considered… sensitive subjects. I hope I do not overstep in asking such a personal question, but are you elf-blooded?”

For a flickering moment Ellie had prepared for the worst, her heart racing in the expectation that he would where she was really from, or reveal that he knew she knew he was Fen’Harel. So much so, that it took the words a moment to register upon hearing the question.

Ellie’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Elf-blooded?” She stared at him, frowning slightly. “Wait, are you asking me if I’m a half-elf?” She exclaimed, dropping all pretention for sheer incredulity. Where the hell would he get an insane idea like that?

“I am asking If one of your parents was an elf, yes.” Solas confirmed, his expression and words carefully neutral.

“Uh… do I look like a half-elf?” Like, duh? I mean.. I don’t exactly have the ears. Pretty sure I’d’ have noticed that. “I’m allowed to be curious about elf things without being an elf, you know that, right?”

It was Solas’s turn for his brow to furrow, and he was giving her an even odder look. “That has very little to do with my reasons for asking, I assure you. As for your appearance being that of an elf-blooded individual, an argument could be made.” Oh, fuck me and call me Susan. I’m flattered that your crazy bald head struggles to comprehend a human that can pronounce ‘Elvhen glory’, but seriously!?

“If I was part elf I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed.” Why are you looking at me like that!? She gestured dramatically to her ears, “You know, super round ears. No night vision. And I’m way heavier than I look.” Did he smirk!? That wasn’t a fat joke! Her frown started heading into scowl territory. “I’m just me.”

“That was never in question. You are certain of what you are, then?” Ugh, what kind of question is that? Yes, Fen-Fen, I’m an alien! Ellie wanted to snap in reply, the Shem from the milky way! If he was going to ask weird questions, she wanted to give weird answers. That he found her totally legitimate answer to such an absurd question funny was beyond frustrating. Well fuck you, too! My thetan levels are off the charts!

“That I’m a person? Yeah.” Ellie had been about to say ‘human’, then thought better of it. If the crazy elf god wanted to believe Ellie was a half-elf, half-bear, and half-pig, she didn’t see any reason to stop him. There was obviously a trap in this somewhere, but she didn’t have a clue what it was. Or how she’d walked into it. All she knew was the uneasy feeling in her gut that told her she had.

Can’t he just do what he’s supposed to in the fade, and whisk me off to some stupid meadow where we weave flowers into my hair and dance? Then after we look up at some fake fade stars and I listen to him talk all night about Elvhen glory – which is really just a thinly veiled metaphor for his dick? It works great! I can nod along, pretend to give a shit, and silently consider various methods of suicide while he waxes and wanes about his giant, stupid elf-god penis.

Ellie knew how this was supposed to go. She’d suffered reading through Earth Sandy’s fade playdates plenty of times. In phase one she was supposed to magically end up in an extremely impractical and elaborate gown that made her look like a Disney princess. Phase two involved Solas blushing furiously while wearing a daisy crown. All she had to do was jump off a cliff before the clock struck midnight, where phase three had Solas desperately trying to magic her clothes off.

With some difficulty, she managed not to burst into a fit of hysterical laughter that would have spoken volumes to her current mental state. Being more relaxed in the fade was not helping her tonight, and she knew she was making mistakes. Just be a fool.  

That required knowing what a fool would say. Wing it. Ask something obvious, but ridiculous.

She refocused her attention on Solas, and steeled herself. Intentionally messing with an Elvhen god really wasn’t a good idea. When you make one mistake, you aren’t supposed to fix it by making a bigger one. “Hey Solas?” She paused, forcing herself to look at him instead of anywhere else. Gotta sell it. “I know you aren’t Dalish, but with how much you know about Elvhen history do you worship the elven gods like they do?” For the love of god, keep a straight face. “Have you ever considered getting a vallaslin?”

Chapter Text

Solas stared at her, and Ellie saw the muscles in his jaw spasm. She may have touched a nerve.

Alright, you got this. Shoulders relaxed, but not too relaxed. If he calls you out, play dumb. Feign curiosity, but not innocence. You normally ask questions, so do. Do not make all the questions good ones.

She could tell he was not prepared for the question. It was like an emotional clusterfuck had exploded all over his face. Money shot. Ellie, right now is not the time! Capitalize! If he’d been caught off guard, he could make mistakes. Now wasn’t the time to let him think.

“Uh, Solas?” Ellie pressed, raising an eyebrow. “Have you?”

“No,” Solas snapped, “I have not.” Just a little further. She’d have to piss herself in terror later.

Ellie bit her lower lip with a grimace, determined to play the role of an idiot too curious to shut up. “Well, uh, why not? I mean, I know the Dalish don’t get everything right, but -”

“You would compare me to the -Dalish-?” Solas interrupted, his expression a conflicted mess of frustration under a slipping mask. “A people who are so ignorant, that they take pride in their own self-indoctrination? Whose histories are so marred with inaccuracies, that they bear the markings of false gods as symbols of honor?” He practically spat the last words out.

Wait, false gods? Hold the fucking phone. FALSE!? The man, the fucking honest-to-god immortal mother fucker planning to DESTROY THE WORLD, who created the fucking veil, thinks the Evanuris aren’t fucking gods!? Holy fucking shit. He really was crazy. Fen’Harel must have gone full on messiah complex or something, and decided he was the only god who should be allowed to exist. That, or he had some seriously confused views of what constituted godhood. Or, at the very least, demi-godhood.

“S-So, you don’t, uh, believe in the creators?” Ellie asked, hoping he’d confuse her mind being blown for surprise in something that didn’t involve Fen’Harold, fucking psycho-ass god, calling his family false gods. “You, uh, don’t think they existed?” This was too surreal. Hi Fen’Harold, I’m sorry to bother you, but do you exist?

“I -believe- that they were simply very powerful mages, who grew in power and influence until they were hailed as gods. People who became tyrants, consumed by their own endless greed until it destroyed them.”

If Solas was trying to pretend none of this was personal, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Sure, he wasn’t waving his arms or foaming from the mouth in a fit, but there was steel in his eyes. An edge to his raised voice that was desperate to make her understand the details he’d left unspoken. The explanations he couldn’t share, because doing so would mean admitting who, what, he was. It was too raw to be faked, and, for the first time, she believed him. Really believed him - none of that conditional belief crap.

Whatever insane god-shit had gone down on Elf Olympus, Ellie believed Solas’s dislike of the pantheon, and their abuse of power, was sincere. How he justified those beliefs when he was guilty of the same abuses, and would continue to be guilty of them, was another matter.

“What, so Fen’Harel didn’t lock them away, they all just killed each other?” Ellie said, putting her hands on her hips.

“Yes, of course!” Solas said, his sarcasm laced with bitterness and scorn. “The possibility of one’s destruction can only exist in the most literal, and lethal, of definitions!”

“Then enlighten me, Hahren.” She knew she was pushing her luck with the snark, but intel was intel. “I clearly know nothing and humbly await your wisdom.”

Solas opened his mouth to reply, now well and truly pissed, but hesitated, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. Shit. “-That- you have made abundantly clear! I congratulate you on the depths of your ignorance!” Ouch. Fuck.

“Well I’m sorry for not being elfy enough to get to know otherwise!” Ellie said, raising her voice. Her stomach coiling with guilt. It was a low blow, and doing this on purpose was wrong. Intentionally taking advantage of a sensitive subject, angering him, then twisting his words to make it about race, to put the blame on him, was wrong. It’s efficient. It was manipulative. Easy. A mistake.

“I- That is not-” Solas said, his eyes widening. “What you are not has nothing to do with it!” He believes you. The anger and frustration on his face was now marred with conflict, and the horrible realization of a person who made a mistake. No, please don’t. You did nothing wrong Solas, not here. It made everything worse.

She needed to leave. She was losing herself, falling, and this was not the person she wanted to be. Monster. Upsetting Solas hadn’t been done out of need - it wasn’t necessary. She’d done it to get what she wanted. Because she’d wanted to. There were other ways she could have done this – ways that didn’t rely upon self-betrayal.

Ellie focused inward, to the connection between the fade and the waking world, and pushed.

The fade fell away, ancient trees and ancient elf vanishing, and in the briefest instant before waking Ellie met his eyes and saw a deeply flawed and fallible man instead of the Elvhen god Fen’Harel. She saw a person. Fuck.

-

Ellie jolted awake to find herself coated in sweat, and her heart thundering in her ears. There was enough adrenaline in her veins to jump start a racehorse, and she clasped a shaking hand over her mouth, struggling to suppress the impulse to both laugh and cry. You really are a fool.

She didn’t even know why she’d done it – what she was trying to prove. It wasn’t supposed to actually work. At least, not that well. If he realizes what you were doing, you’re fucked. It wasn’t a comforting thought. Ellie remained in her bedroll, waiting for her breathing to settle, and the fear to pass.

Out of the fade, and away from him, it was hard not to feel a little excited. Successfully tricking Fen’Harel, even if only briefly, carried a familiar thrill that came from knowing she’d managed to outsmart him at his own game. Games you aren’t supposed to be playing. It was the same sick and twisted delight, that giddy elation, that whispered in her ear and reminded her how clever and dangerous she could be. And that’s why Ellie hated it. You have to.

Once her breathing calmed, Ellie put an arm over her eyes and refocused her attention on falling asleep. When she felt the tug of the fade, she told it to kindly fuck off. Repeatedly. For all that she’d read about the difficulties of entering the fade, Ellie couldn’t seem to fall asleep without going there.

Incapable straddling the boundary between the waking and the dreaming all damned night, Ellie crawled out of her bedroll and walked to the cave’s entrance they’d used for shelter. Martin was on watch, and when she came into his field of vision he jumped.

“You can head back to bed, I got this.” She told him, nodding in the direction of the camp.

Martin’s brow furrowed, and she half expected him to refuse, to say it was his duty, but he didn’t. Instead he gave her a nod, and left her to listen to the steady downpour of the Storm Coast’s god-forsaken rain. 

Come morning, Ellie was tired, and things between her and Solas were, well, tense. At least that was how it felt. A combination of guilt and fear kept her from looking in his direction, afraid of what she might find. Breakfast was had in relative silence, and by the end of it both Varric and Neria were giving Ellie furtive glances. Great. 

She didn’t want to know. She really didn’t. But the sideways glances while she was saddling up Pecado, and the sympathetic look Seeker Pentaghast, of all people, gave her, was not making things easier to ignore. Nothing happened! As if the whole thing couldn’t get any weirder, Lavellan hadn’t said a word. If anything, she seemed -chipper-. I hate my life.

“Soven,” Ellie asked quietly, leaning towards him. “What exactly does everyone think happened?”

Soven glanced up from his own horse, and murmured back, “That Solas rejected you in the fade.”

“What!?” She spluttered, “What even gave them- Why would they think that!?”

He shrugged, checking his horse’s bridle. “Because you haven’t looked at him once, and you’re both acting funny.” From the sound of it, Soven couldn’t care less.

 Ellie grimaced, then, against her better judgement, risked a glance towards Solas. He’d already finished with his horse, and was waiting near the cave’s entrance. He looked like he always did at this time of the day: one foot in the fade and half-awake. The real, most noticeable difference, as far as Ellie was concerned, was that they were both holding their magic closer - or auras, goop static - whatever it was called.

Not that they’d been mingling auras beforehand in some weird, pervy sense. It was more along the lines of having a general magical presence. Pulling back meant dialing down how ‘loud’ you were, in the same way having a depleted mana pool did. Ellie didn’t like the feeling, or undercurrent of tension, that resulted, but it was the mage equivalent of giving one another space.

“Guilty conscience?” Soven asked, and Ellie looked back at Soven to find he’d stopped readying his horse and was watching her.

“No.” Ellie said belligerently.

“Mm-hm.” He didn’t press further, and went back to his horse. If he had any interest in her stupid drama, he hid it well.

“Actually, speak-” Her words were cut off by a sudden and painful yank on her hair. “Ow!”

Pecado, apparently tired of being ignored, had grabbed her bun with his teeth. She swore loudly, smacking him hard on the nose, “Fuck! You stupid fucking horse!” Ellie shouted, pulling her head away the second the beast let go. “I don’t have any fucking fruit!”

Pecado’s nostril’s flared with an irate huff and stomp of his foot, ears going back as she glared at him. Which may not have been the wisest move, as the horse weighed half a ton. Ellie did it anyways, and Pecado eyed her right back, bobbing his head with another demanding huff.

This only seemed to piss off his horsey lordship further, because, apparently, eye contact was supposed to make Ellie magically hop to eagerly do his bidding as king of the universe. Ellie continued to glower at him, determined not to blink. “No fruit, sorry! You’re just going to have to suffer along with the rest of us your Royal Highness!”

What followed Ellie could only describe as a stompy-footed horse temper tantrum. Pecado stomped all four of his feet in rapid succession, like that football drill where you run in place, and tossed his head around angrily. This went on for several seconds before Pecado stopped, stilling completely and turning to look his head back at Ellie, as if -that- was somehow going to convince her. It didn’t.

Pecado’s nostrils flared, and he gave a particularly loud huff before turning his head from her completely. Ellie was no longer worthy of his attentions. The horror. It was like dealing with the world’s most spoiled 4-year-old having a fit over applejacks in the cereal aisle, combined with a passive-aggressive coworker giving the silent treatment over not bringing in doughnuts.

“Today, Shem.” Lavellan called out impatiently, and Ellie looked over to find her waiting to leave. Which brought the total population of those ready to depart up to four, as Neria and Sean were ready as well. Ellie was hardly the one slowing them down - that went to Seeker Pentaghast. Full plate took time to don. She was also the only warrior, with full armor, in a group that consisted primarily of rogues.

Ellie rolled her eyes and turned back to her demon steed.

“And you, fla-Solas,” Lavellan added a moment later, speaking loudly. “I want you riding up with me today. Tell me all about the fade and your demon friends.”

Ellie forgot about her demon steed completely and looked over her shoulder, momentarily forgetting the fact that she was avoiding Solas, because holy shit.

“Spirits.” Solas corrected her immediately.

“Whatever.” Lavellan said, turning to climb onto her horse. You dismissive bitch! That’s like the only thing he cares about!

Solas eyed the Herald, not at all amused. “Ma nuvenin.”

He moved to climb onto his own horse, then glanced in Ellie’s direction.

Their eyes met, he blinked, it was all terribly awkward. What is he looking over here for!? What are you looking at him for!? Wait, is he surprised? Oh my god you utter retard look away!

Ellie looked back to Pecado, but the damage was done. Heat rushed to her traitorous stupid face, which, for whatever reason, had always been confused about when it was appropriate to blush like a moron. Great. Now anyone watching really is going to think I like the god damned maybe-psychopath. Fantastic.

She forced her attention back to readying her horse, silently cursing her existence. At least with Pecado ignoring you, he’s easy to prep for once. And he remained easy all the way up until he was expected to move. Pecado didn’t want to move. He was on strike.

She ended up having to half drag him from the cave. And it wasn’t until he was wet that Pecado begrudgingly deigned to move his fat black ass.

The group had hardly left the cave when Varric’s pony sidled up next to Pecado, and Ellie gave the dwarf a sideways glance. “What do you wanna know, Varric?” The words came out blunt, and tired.

Varric winced, and she hated the sympathetic, understanding smile he gave her. “Aw, come on now Twisty, it isn’t like that. Things don’t always work out the way we hope they do, but sometimes that can be a good thing.” Ellie schooled her expression into something blank, struggling to maintain her composure. Varric, I’m a fucking alien, from a different fucking dimension. Please, tell me more about things not going as planned. She was starting to think that ‘42’ guy might be onto something.

He steered his pony closer, only to veer back when Pecado immediately snapped at the poor thing. As a substitute Varric leaned in his saddle, dropping his voice conspiratorially. “If it’s any consolation, I’m still rooting for you. And if Chuckles can’t see how good the two of you fit together, then it’s his loss.” WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!?

Ellie bit down on the inside of her cheek, staring straight ahead. Being told she fits together well with an Elvhen god carrying enough emotional baggage to, quite literally, wipe out a planet was not something she wanted to hear. “Varric,” She said tersely, “I don’t know what you think is going on, but I fear you are the only one of us who has given thought to the idea of Solas and myself being anything more than associates” Right, because denying it totally doesn’t reinforce his preconceived notions.

“I’ve seen the way you two look at each other. All those nervous glances.” He gave her a significant look. “Private meetings in the fade.” Maker smite me. I’ve been blasphemous. I promise.

“Varric, there was nothing happening, there is nothing happening, and there will be nothing happening.”

“Alright, let’s say I believe you. Is there a reason you haven’t considered it? It would make a great story.” Varric said, giving Ellie an impish grin, eyebrows raised, when she frowned at him. “I’m not against splitting royalties.” And I’m not against feeding you to my horse.

Ellie eyed Varric, her frown deepening. “…you made a bet, didn’t you?” At least someone out here doesn’t think I’m crushing on Solas. “With Soven?” He made the most sense.

Varric grimaced, giving her an apologetic look. “Afraid not, Twisty.”

Her brow furrowed, “Duncan and Neria?... Sean?” He shook his head. There is no way Varric lost a bet to Martin. “…The Seeker?” Ellie asked hopefully. She stared at him. “You did not seriously just lose a bet to Lavellan about my supposed love life.”

The look on Varric’s face answered the question for her, and Ellie was beginning to seriously wonder if there was some cosmic power out there laughing its ass off. “You -do- realize Lavellan isn’t the only person capable of stabbing you, right?” Forget Fen’Harold, Varric is officially in the dog house.

He lifted up his hands, “Hey now. It wasn’t my idea, honest! And I’m on your side!” She didn’t have words, she’d lost them all in a rift. Along with what little remained of her sanity. “How’s about a few beers to make it up to you?”

That doesn’t help me at all! That’s what you want you conniving midget! Ellie glowered at him. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then gave the rest of the party up ahead a glance. Soven and Sean were closest, and they both understood the concept of keeping their mouth shut. Come to think of it, you don’t know anything about Sean at all.

With the rain, it was unlikely anyone else had the opportunity to overhear her conversation with Varric, and Ellie realized she didn’t mind if Soven knew about this either way.

Ellie looked back at Varric, considering him. “How about sending a letter for me instead? Quietly.”

“That depends.” Varric’s said, and he very carefully inched his pony a little closer. “Who are you looking to send the letter to?” The pony looked terrified.

“Merrill.”

The dwarf’s eyebrows rose, and he eyed her shrewdly for a moment. “Any chance you’ll tell me why?”

“Nope. None at all.”

“Deal. But only if I get to still buy you those drinks.”

They reached the road to Crestwood around noon, and rode past nightfall to reach the town instead of making camp. Staying at the inn meant no keeping watch, which meant Ellie got her first night of un-fucked up sleep since Lavellan’s arrival. It also meant she could get thoroughly ripped-off buying more dried fruit. A peace offering to spare her further torment at the hoof of Pecado.

She was a little too excited by the prospect of eating meat other than bear, and sleeping on some horrible straw mattress trying to pass off as a bed. She liked to think she hid it well. Really, the most exciting part was being dry.

Pentaghast made a point of refusing to allow anyone their own rooms, saying it was an unnecessary use of funds, catching Ellie’s eye with a sharp look when she’d opened her mouth to pay for her own. Oh right, assassins. It wasn’t ideal, being crammed into the same room as the other women, but she’d had a pint over dinner and was out within minutes of her head hitting her slightly-moldy pillow.

-

She was sitting with her father in the living room, at the small table set off to the side of the room for ‘family activities’. Most evenings, that meant Ellie’s homework, or playing chess. Her little brother had been put to bed, and her mother was off at the Hospital, being important. Her feet didn’t quite reach the floor yet, and she stared down at the board, face contorted in concentration.

Her eyes roved the board, trying to make sense of it, going through the motions of a dream that always ended the same. Anxiety blossomed in her stomach, and she tentatively grabbed her remaining rook, glancing up at her father’s face uncertainly. She always did – looking for some reassurance that she was making the right move. Some indication, or minor detail, in his expression that could tell her what to do. And, as always, he raised his eyebrows slightly, hands folded under his chin, a branch tickling his nose, and gave her nothing.

Something prickled in the back of her mind that something was off, but she looked back down at the board, capturing his bishop, fingers hesitating before finally letting go. The splintered and broken branches coming through the wall casting a kaleidoscope of shadows over the mess of stuffing that had once been a couch. Wait, what?

Ellie straightened, brow furrowing as her attention flitted back to the board. Her mind felt sluggish, something was off. She looked back to her father, who gave her a small smile, and Ellie held her breath.

“Clever girl, Eleanor.” He said, before moving one of his own pieces. This time it was his queen. “But you’re not supposed to be here.”

Wait a minute, he isn’t supposed to say that. She narrowed her eyes, but he didn’t seem to notice. The piece of tree still poking his nose, and bouncing off the side of his face as he moved.

“Checkmate” Ellie’s father said, and she looked down at the board. Sure enough, he had her king cornered. Like always. “Now,” He began, resting his arms on the table and leaning forward. “Tell me where you went wrong.”

There it was, the impossible question. She didn’t know what mistake she’d made, and she never did. You’re dreaming. It didn’t matter what piece she moved, or how the board was arranged, she could never spot what she’d missed. She could never give him an answer, and she could never win. You’re dreaming.

She blinked, the rest of her brain catching up with her thoughts, and scowled, hopping out of the chair. “Oh fuck you, Thedas!”

The first time she’d had this stupid dream in high school, Ellie spent a week going over piece configurations until Sandy grabbed the notepad out of her hands one afternoon and set it on fire. They then spent the remainder of their afternoon panicking over how to get scorch marks out of floor tiles.

However, the splintered branches and trees all over the place were new. Still trying to get her bearings, she looked around. It looked like her living room had crash landed into a forest. Wait a minute…

The dream fell apart, broken walls and god-forsaken chess board fading away into nothing. What didn’t fade away were the trees. Shit. Ellie found herself standing in the middle of broken branches and bowed trunks, and, from all sides, it looked like a bomb had gone off in the Arlathan forest.

“Come on!” She shouted, “This doesn’t even make sense!”

Ellie stilled, a spike of fear shooting through her and she focused her senses outwards, looking for another presence that could provide an explanation. But she didn’t feel anything. There was nothing to indicate she had company, or that weird feeling in the back of her mind that felt like she was being watched. And considering she’d just murdered Ferngully, she doubted Solas was involved – at least not intentionally.

Groaning, she found a relatively splinter-free spot of earth to flop onto and rubbed her face. “Maria madre de dios, how am I supposed to explain -this- the next time Solas shows up?” What’s that Solas? You want to know why I’m standing in the scattered remains of your homeland’s forest, violently torn apart? About that - funny story! She didn’t know where to begin.

Ellie was pretty sure that her nights in the fade were already abnormal to begin with, and all her experiences in the fade, her talks with Solas, Sandy’s writing, and even the occasional comments by Sandymon – her name’s Vexan – had Ellie pretty damn certain that dreams and memories weren’t supposed to physically crash into each other. Yeah, because this is a fucking immaterial magical realm based on will and impressions.

Maybe it’s a dreamer thing? A somniari thing? That might explain it, but it only raised more questions. The memory – this memory – that he’d used to shape her dream last night had absolutely no reason to perpetuate into this one. Hopefully this was something Vexan could get rid of before Solas showed up. If he shows up.

He would, eventually. Ellie had no doubt of that. It could even be cordial if she apologized before circumstance made his visit a matter of necessity. And she would apologize, eventually. She just needed to sort out her feelings on him, life, the universe, and all of fucking Thedas first. You know, normal everyday stuff: do the laundry, get groceries, have an interdimensionally triggered crisis of self.

She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to will away her surroundings into something that didn’t serve as a constant reminder of her guilt. But the air stayed cool, rich with the scent of damp earth and recently brutalized trees. He shows you one of his memories, and you decide to poke at the one potential weakness you know he’s got. It was a small wonder she hadn’t attracted a demon of guilt or remorse with how worked up she felt. This was definite Kyle and co. territory.

If her body weren’t currently sharing a room with two elves and a Pentaghast, Ellie would have been crying and screaming. Stubbing her fade toe on a fade rock and cursing furiously would have been an experience to cherish. But she couldn’t risk tears around Lavellan, and definitely couldn’t risk attracting anything malicious so close to the Seeker.

Practicing magic was the last thing Ellie felt like doing, but not doing it would only further unravel her already tenuous equanimity. Her form was shitty, and her focus abysmal, and once it was clear she wouldn’t be making any progress with offensive spells, Ellie decided to enter the more experimental and less serious realm of magic.

Since her light spell was the closest thing she had to combining magic with fun, Ellie spent the rest of her night in the fade attempting to create a black light spell. She also decided it was a valuable use of her time to figure out how to treat light like glowing finger paint. Her progress with both was negligible, but it left her feeling calmer. At the very least, the latter would put her one step closer to being able to draw glowing dick graffiti on ancient Arlathan dream trees.

Ellie would never do such a thing, but it was the sort of absurdly juvenile nonsense real Sandy would have approved of. The idea gave her some small comfort, and she needed all that she could get.

Chapter Text

Come morning, nobody had been beset upon by ninja assassins in the night, and Ellie would be lying if she said she wasn’t surprised. The early morning light peaked through the shuttered windows, and she sat up groggily to a room of sleeping shemlen.

Keeping a close eye on Lavellan’s sleeping lump, Ellie went about dressing as quietly as her heavy footed human self could manage. Whatever gods were out there – beer gods by the smell of it – were smiling down on her, because the only person who stirred was the Seeker. Silently navigating the greyed floorboards, and getting out the door, was a closer call. The Herald muttered something violent sounding when the door creaked open, and Ellie didn’t risk breathing until it was safely shut behind her.

Ellie got as far as the head of the stairs before a passing elf servant, her arms laden with linens, spotted her and made a frightened squeaking noise. Yeah, you probably look scary. One glance down at her shirt, generously covered in faded blood stains and sewn closed holes, confirmed her suspicion. At least half of it was from bears. It’s not my fault protein doesn’t rinse out easily!

She still had no clue how to navigate the racial inequality issues either, because Ellie followed up her nightmare-inducing presence with the horrors of common decency. Stepping aside, and motioning for the person with their hands full of shit on the stairs to pass, was evidently insane.

The shorter woman half clamored up the steps, nearly tripping on the last one in her hurry to get out of the way. Good job. If Ellie wasn’t already playing Rambo, she probably would have grimaced. It was a frustrating reminder that civilization in Thedas did not default to treating others with equality, but actively discouraged it.

Downstairs the tavern was smattered with a handful of locals eating breakfast, and Ellie was surprised to find Soven off alone in a corner. She procured tea and a bowl of porridge, both Thedan primary food groups, and fell into the chair next to him with a nod.

“Are we up early, or is everyone else up late?” Ellie asked, grimacing the instant she shoved the first spoonful of gruel into her mouth. Eugh, what is this? Porridge should not be greasy. Breakfast would be heavy on the tea, then.

“Both.” Soven replied, “The dwarf bought drinks and dealt cards.”

Soven was beginning to look a bit scruffy, the circles under his eyes more pronounced than usual. For one surreal moment, Ellie half expected someone to approach them with a mission about their missing dog, child, wife, or other. She couldn’t look any better, which meant she actually looked like some grizzled adventurer. Holy shit, I survived level 1.

Thankfully, nobody went anywhere near them. Ellie liked to think it was because they were scared of her resting bitch face, but without her staff Soven, essence of rogue, was the obvious guy to be wary of. For one, he was visibly armed.

She suffered a few more mouthfuls of ick, before giving up on the meal and sticking to tea. It was really hard to fuck up tea. “Hey, Soven?”

The elf turned his attention away from the level zero commoners, although Ellie noticed he kept an ear angled to their surroundings. Dude is like a freaking security alert system. Soven didn’t say anything, but he did raise an eyebrow inquiringly.

“Is there a reason someone would ask me if I’m elf-blooded?” She asked quietly. The question had been bouncing around in her skull since Solas brought it up, and this was likely as good a chance as she was going to get to ask without being overheard.

Soven stared at her blankly, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Humor me?” Ellie asked, shrugging her shoulders.

He watched her for another second, both eyebrows going up now. “You mean aside from the fact that you know more elven than I do, wear footwraps under your boots, tell stories about the creators, mention Mythal when you curse, and joke about the Dread Wolf? You’re more elfy than an alienage.”

Ellie chuckled nervously, trying to pretend her face wasn’t flushing with embarrassment. Awkward… “Yeah, but, I mean… I don’t look like one. Do I?”

Soven gave her a very odd look, and she knew she’d said something wrong. “No more than any other human. Although you -are- surprisingly hairless.” Oh shit. He paused, frowning slightly when his usual dry humor failed to elicit an appropriately dry response. “Please do not make this conversation weird.” Too late.

Shifting uneasily, Ellie tried to pretend tendrils of dread weren’t curling into her chest. “Do you think I’m elf-blooded?” She had to ask. Insecurities and fears be dammed.

His expression went flat in a way that very clearly said she was making shit weird. “Only if you want me to.” Gee, thanks for the non-answer. 

Ellie didn’t know what to say after that, and Soven wasted little time returning his attention to their surroundings while she became extremely fascinated with drinking tea. ‘No more than any other human.’ Fuck! Soven’s words were going to haunt her. They were going to haunt the shit out of her.

In fact, now that she thought on it, Ellie couldn’t remember seeing anything distinctly half-elf since arriving in Thedas. Instead of considering the possibility that things worked differently here, she’d assumed inter-race banging would work the same as every other fantasy world. Ellie had attributed the lack of obvious human-elf hybrids in Haven to cultural stigma and the small population sampling size.

And your argument to Solas regarding your parentage was founded on not looking like a half-elf. A race that doesn’t exist. That isn’t going to stand out at all! No wonder Solas had looked so amused. She may as well have confessed to having no fucking clue how making babies worked. Ellie had unwittingly admitted to not knowing something basic and inherent to Thedas. Something everyone, even children, would know. Fuck!

Maybe Solas didn’t notice? Fat chance.

There was no simple way to explain Ellie’s familiarity with the Evanuris, or her knowledge about vallaslin, when she didn’t know that a human and an elf who love each other very much shoot out human babies. How the fuck is that even supposed to work!? Are elves made of fucking fairy dust instead of DNA? Are genetics considered strongly worded suggestions?

It was possible she’d misunderstood, that Soven had meant something else, but her gut and the evidence did not support that much-desired possibility.

Fuck.

Ellie drained the rest of her tea, and her stomach churned in a way that had nothing to do with her unappetizing breakfast. Considering the enormity of her misstep, she was suddenly very glad that her and Solas were avoiding each other. The gnawing guilt was a small price to pay for the space it afforded her, and she needed time to think.

-

Between the potentially terrifying, and Fen’Harold-y, implications of Thedan reproduction laughing in the face of phenotypology, and the pending threat of assassins, Ellie was on edge. She didn’t know what to do, and Ellie found herself tensing whenever the group hit a bend in the road, or passed by an outcrop of rocks ideal for an ambush.

An elite troupe of kamikaze killer robots jumping out of the shadows to kill everyone would almost welcome. You mean Antivan Crows. Same difference. It would mean an immediate threat, where she’d be forced, yet again, to kill or be killed. She’d hate it, and herself – but at least she’d know what to do.

But nothing happened. The the day passed uneventfully, in relative quiet. As did the next day, and the day after that. It was enough to make Ellie want to scream.

It didn’t help that the entirety of her travelling party believed Ellie was nursing a bruised ego and recovering from the sting of rejection. The Seeker kept sending her meaningful looks, and Duncan and Neria repeatedly drew her in conversations she cared nothing about – no doubt out of some misguided attempt to keep her mind off things. Everyone in Thedas is insane.

When they broke for camp at the end of another day’s ride, Ellie was no closer to arriving at an explanation for her elf-blooded idiocy than she had been when they left Crestwood. The only thing that became clearer with each passing day was that she needed to apologize to Solas. Not for him, although he certainly deserved to hear it, but for herself. 

How she was supposed to do that without drawing attention, when everyone was waiting with bated breath for them to reconcile, Ellie had no clue. She had made no effort to talk to Solas, and he had made no effort to speak with her. They were both still avoiding each other, to a stubborn degree, and since everyone else seemed to think this was all Solas’s fault, he, unlike Ellie, was being left relatively alone. Disapproving looks from the Seeker not withstanding.

That bothered Ellie. A lot. For one, he hadn’t actually done anything wrong – she had. For two, leaving a confused and potentially angry man-god alone to fester was a terrible idea. There was such a thing as having too much time for reflection, and for a dude prone to starting apocalypses when left to his own devices, reflection was not something he needed more of. The man had repeatedly proven himself allergic to good decisions-making.

She removed Pecado’s gear and brushed him down as quickly as she could, dodging two attempts he made to knock her over in search of dried fruit. Ellie had been attempting, with mixed results, to slowly wean over the beast into receiving rewards for good behavior, instead of demanding payment or bribes under the threat of misbehavior. The horse clearly hadn’t gotten the memo on operant conditioning. Chiqueado.

After the hellspawn had been properly appeased, she darted into the trees for firewood before anyone had the opportunity to suggest something terrible like the buddy system. Not that she thought they would, but she didn’t want to risk it. This was the only part of each day she had to herself, where she could be truly free.

Ellie took her time finding a variety of sticks, branches, and larger pieces of wood as she continued to wander further from the camp. The time she spent gathering firewood had steadily increased over the past few days, and with it the distance she travelled to gather it had grown exponentially. She looked down at the tinder in her arms once they were full, before glancing over her shoulder in the direction of camp. You could always run. They wouldn’t be able to catch you.

She wanted to. It would be so much easier to flee. Ellie little doubt that her more observant travel companions had noticed this development. At least she assumed they had. You could vanish. Disappear. Spend what time you have left making the best of this hell. Ellie looked down at the pile of wood in her arms and considered it.

Magic made the most difficult aspect of living in the woods, surviving, child’s play. Ellie looked back at the wood in her heads, swore under her breath, then turned around and stomped back to camp.

Once she drew near, Ellie shoved the mask of Rambo back on, stepping back into the guise of a person accustomed to war and death and taking lives. It chaffed. Be neutral. You’re a badass.

When she stepped out of the trees, Sean had already cleared a space of debris for the fire. He caught her eye and gave her a look similar to the one she’d gotten after letting the cave spider ride through a waterfall on her horse. Ellie ignored it. She crouched down and arranged the branches and logs, then channeled her mana.

Fire still didn’t feel as natural as light or lightning, but willing flame into this world grew easier with each passing day. Electricity and fire both held heat, and enough of it could make most things combust. Technically, it wasn’t the same as conjuring actual flame, but the result was the same, and this was easier than raw fire. It also used less mana.

Smoke came first, followed by the first flickers of light and the curling orange of flame as the wood caught. A gentle urging, a reminder that there was plenty of air for it to feed on, and the fire crackled to life, warm and bright. Ellie felt the tug at the corner of her lip as she allowed herself a moment to watch. This was how Ellie wanted to use her magic – as something gentle and patient.

Little moments like this were as close as she got to actual smiling, but the urge died just as quickly. Magic was supposed to be something wondrous and beautiful, and Thedas took its gift and twisted it into an ugly and terrible weapon. All the good it could do was squandered. Maybe these people deserve to die.

With a forced smile and a nod to Sean, she straightened and left the fire so Sean and Neria could start on dinner. I mean, why not? Even the ‘good guys’ here are terrible people. Ellie grabbed her bag and settled down on the ground. I mean, here I am, bending over backwards for these assholes, and their idea of being good to me includes not killing me outright. She reached into her bag and grabbed one of the leather-wrapped tomes, then stopped. Even the nicest people I’ve met don’t seem to have qualms about killing first and asking questions later. She couldn’t do it.

Ellie was tired of rereading chapters to avoid conversations around the fire. Roe would rather kill a blood mage than let him surrender. She was sick of pretending to be put together when everything on the inside was falling apart. The closest thing I have to friends are a spirit of Vexation and an ethically dubious assassin. She was sick of everyone pretending Lavellan wasn’t a bloody psychopath because Fen’Harold’s magic made as big a mess of things as he did.

She was fed up with hours spent in the fade with nothing but silence. I can’t even get the fucking fade to work right! She was finished. She was done. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. I can’t.

Ellie had tried, and she’d pushed. And pushed. And she’d finally hit a wall. This wasn’t something that would wait for Haven. All her grief and sorrow, the pain and unspent tears – those she could hold. Barely, but she could. The rest, however, the rest she couldn’t.

Her home was gone. Her life was gone. Everything she had ever known, and ever cared for, was gone.

This horrible world had taken everything from her, and it wasn’t enough. Thedas, and its people – it’s stupid Inquisition – wanted more. And, like an idiot, she’d let them have it. Ellie had killed people. Committed murder. She had watched the Herald of Andraste, a Dalish elf who loathed the very people that worshiped her, grin while sinking daggers into a man’s neck. How the fuck is that supposed to be okay!?

She’d watched a mage bleed to death because his pleas of surrender went ignored, and a Hessarian try to flee only to be shot in the back. She’d been lied to, threatened, bullied, and used by the people who were supposed to be the good guys. And for what? Am I supposed to just smile and keep going along with it? Is this supposed to endear me to them? Am I supposed to be thankful for this shit?

Lavellan might not be learning, but Ellie certainly was. And she was angry. So very, very angry.

Days without combat left her with more mana than she’d had in weeks. It hummed under her skin, swirling plasma asking to be set free. The static of her aura bristled, and she smelled ozone. Clenching a fist, and biting the inside of her cheek until it hurt, Ellie got to her feet and started walking out of camp.

“Lady Roosevelt, where are you going?” It was the Seeker, her words a demand as much as a question, and Ellie scared herself at how easily her expression stayed calm when she turned around. She was pretty sure she was losing her mind.

“I’m going for a run.” She replied, each word its own statement of intent. And you will let me.

The giantess’s brow furrowed, a scowl forming on her face, “A run? You cannot be serious.”

Ellie raised her eyebrows. “Well, I am. I’ll be back before dawn.” Because taking off on a run, while the sun is setting, is totally normal. Ellie didn’t care. She couldn’t. She’d run out of fucks to give days ago. At this point Thedas owed her fucks. Several of them. And pleasurable ones. A tent of elves worth.

“You cannot simply run off when it suits you. And at night? Are you mad?” The Seeker said. Very.

Lavellan, who was sitting on a rock beside the Seeker, scoffed. “Let the stupid Shem go. Why do you care? Dread Wolf take her.”

“He’s certainly welcome to try.” Ellie muttered dryly. Oh, well done. Brilliant! Yeah, she was probably going to regret that. You got a gift, you know that?  Ten bucks said the pair of eyes she felt on the back of her skull belonged to Solas.

The Seeker turned to the Herald, “Must you always be so difficult!” Then she looked back to Ellie, half growling, “Fine! Go before I change my mind.”

Ellie didn’t need telling twice. Taking advantage of what little sunlight remained, she sprinted into the trees. She tried not to think about the pair of eyes that she was certain followed her.

Ellie ran as fast as her legs could safely carry her, over rocks and fallen branches, until the adrenaline kicked in and her lungs were on fire. Then, just before it was too much, she slowed to a normal pace, savoring the chance for her heart to thump wildly without the immediate threat of death.

Heart pounding in her ears, Ellie let her anger and mana broil into the surrounding air. The way the air around her hummed reminded her of power lines and the static of snow on an old tv. This time she could feel the spirits and demons, pressing into the veil and whispering through the space inside her. Their vague shadows and outlines flitting around her behind the glittering wall.

Magic replaced sunlight when darkness fell, and the unnatural white glow inspired by computer screens and fluorescents sent shadows skittering into brambles and brush. Ellie ran until her legs ached, and tears poured freely down her face. Until she had to stop running, because it turned out sobbing and cardio didn’t share lungs well. Cry harder, you’re the poster child of composure.

By then she was miles away from the camp, and Ellie rested her hands on her knees as she gasped for air. Ellie closed her eyes while she tried to catch her breath. The flurry of voices she’d attracted in the fade swirled around her, vying for her minds attention as they offered escapes with the promises of impossible things. Under it all was the same chant, and a sense of desperate need. Let me in.

“Continue speaking over each other. I enjoy understanding none of you equally.” Ellie said between gasps. It was a poor attempt at humor. It was also a lie.

Some of the voices spoke louder than others, their presence strong enough to make her hair stand on end. Ellie could feel them grabbling and clawing at the back of their mind, their fingers slipping as they looked for purchase.

Loudest of all was Despair.

It’s too monumental a task. Everyone has limits. You need to learn yours.” Its voice purred, and the words felt like ice water. “Outsider. Alone. Out of place and out of worlds. Nothing will make it better. You don’t belong here. You never will. Why try to save them? You can’t even save yourself.”

Ellie tried to mentally shake it off, and she laughed weakly. You know he’s right.

“Your parents won’t understand. They’ll blame Sandy, and she’ll believe them. It will eat away at them, wondering what happened to you – where you are. ‘Is she okay? Is she alive? Why didn’t she say goodbye?’ Your fault.”  

Fuck off. It hurt. Despair’s voice grew louder, and Ellie felt the beginnings of panic. Its claws sank further, and she looked around her wildly for something to focus on other than the growing sensation of hopelessness. The air felt heavy, thick. Ellie felt like she was drowning in ice.

“There’s nothing you can do. How are you supposed to defeat a god, at his own game? It’s impossible.”

Don’t you have to be willing!? Fuck, go away! She looked around, but there were only trees. Right. Trees. She could do things.  She could climb trees. Ellie walked to the nearest one, and started climbing.

Despair paused, “Let me in. You only delay the inevitable. This is not your world. I cannot be so easily banished here.”

Ellie shuddered, focusing on the bark under her fingers as she pulled herself higher. Sap clinging to her fingers and clothing when she contacted it. Wait, here?

I have seen your mind. I know your heart and the depths of your pain. Your land may have learned to keep me out, but there are no spirits of Prozac here.”

Ellie’s grip slipped, and she nearly fell out of the tree, clamoring onto a branch like a lifeline and hugging to it while her feet dangled beneath her. Oh my god. It had clearly been meant to reinforce how fucked and possessed she was about to be, but Despair clearly had no fucking clue how anything from her world worked. Yes, the great peoples of America have banished despair via television commercials. Bayer is the destroyer of nightmares. Mayhem has been defeated by Allstate.   

With some difficulty, Ellie managed to pull herself safely onto the branch, before laughing her ass off.

Chapter Text

 

Hot tears continued to run down Ellie’s face as she laughed, mixing with the layer of salt and sweat already present. Her face an ugly mess of anger and grief suddenly overcome with the happiness of bittersweet memories. Ellie laughed until it hurt, and she was gasping for breath, clutching her stomach and trying desperately to breathe while Despair scrambled.

The demon’s grip began to slip, the painful cut of its influence over her mind waning, despite the vast ocean of unaddressed misery that still clung to Ellie’s mind and heart. Remembering hurt. The memories of what Ellie had lost were cold and sharp like a knife in her chest, tearing at the raw and ragged edges of her grief, but through that pain there was comfort. The sharpness of her loss was dulled by the very act recollection, and Despair’s unintended reminder of the little things that made Earth the hilariously strange place she called home.

“You’re lost, abandoned! No way home! Everything you love is gone!” Despair said, “It isn’t a pain that can be healed. It will never go away. Let me in! This is the world where you’ll die, worthless and forgotten when you fall!”

Ellie made a sound halfway between a chuckle and a sob, and smiled. Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!

“This pain will never leave you. Why continue to suffer pointlessly? I can take it away if you give in. You can’t escape it alone – why resist?”

It builds character. Ellie’s sides hurt, and she tried to steady her breathing. Despair didn’t respond immediately, but she could still feel it clutting at the back of her mind. I don’t want it to go away. It’s okay that it hurts, and I don’t want to escape it any more than I want to give into it. I’ll carry it, and learn to live with it, because that’s what people do.

“You can’t,” Despair replied, “The weight of it will consume you.”

I’m willing to take that risk.

Ellie wasn’t sure if Despair understood it was actually helping at this point. The demon seemed so focused on keeping its claws in her, and to be let in, that everything else was irrelevant. Why do some of these things want in so bad, anyways? What’s the fucking deal? Vexan and Wisdom don’t.

“To experience life. To feed. Grow. Become more.”

Wiping her face, Ellie didn’t have much of a reply to that. Despite spending every night in the fade, all of her interactions with spirits – or demons, Ellie wasn’t sure if there was a difference anymore – had been while she was awake. Vexan being the exception. Well, uh, maybe you’re doing it backwards?

“No, that’s you.”

Oh, for the love of- Mind telling me what that means!?

“I could show you.”

I’m sure you’d love the opportunity. Tel’-whatever. That means no.

Despair and the other voices were getting quieter, more distant, and some looked as though they had left completely. Her aura was still wild in the air, but the dangerous snap in it was gone. Leaning up against the trunk of the tree, Ellie closed her eyes. Her face was still leaking, but without anyone around to see it, that didn’t bother her so much. The fingers in her metaphysical neck, on the other hand, did bother her. It was like a misplaced brain freeze that wouln’t go away, and a painful one. However the way it hurt was similar to how she felt, and she had no idea how to make it stop, so Ellie tried not to dwell on it.

Exhausted both physically and mentally, Despair continued to try and talk her into possession, and she asked the spirit-demon-thing to explain what ‘doing it backwards’ meant. Not reverse cowgirl, I take it?

Despair didn’t get the joke.

Ellie felt drained, and she began to feel the tug of the fade. She pushed back, not wanting to go there only to spend another night alone with only the company of silence. The fade began to pull harder, and something nagged at the back of Ellie’s mind as the cold crept closer. Wait, cold? Fuck! Her eyes snapped open and she sat up.

The other spirits were gone, and she wasn’t certain how much time had passed, but Despair was still there. Its presence once again heavy in the air. What the fuck!? Her pulse quickened with a sudden surge of fear, as Ellie realized the damned thing had been feeding off of her, and she’d let it. Fuck!

Unsure of what to do, Ellie reined her aura back in. She took the feelings of sorrow and pain, and packed them away, ripping them from the forefront of her mind and burying them. All the anger, her rage and bitterness – she reached out to the part of her that had been calmed and soothed by Despair’s earlier botch up, focusing on it instead.

Despair’s claws lost their grip, slipping and sliding over the surface where they’d once found purchase. It was speaking to her, but she couldn’t hear it anymore. It’s vague shadowy outline phasing in and out of her vision from the other side of the veil as it pushed and pressed.  Jesus Christ what the fuck!? I’m not willing! If you want in so bad, go and posess a fucking field mouse, or a tree. Why not a goat? No, a nug! Those fuckers -deserve- some despair! It would be great! I’ve never seen a creature so hopeless and pitiful!

There was a pause on the other end of the veil, the demon of despair’s unfocused outline stilling. Then it was gone, the press of the veil easing as the air around her sighed.

Eyes wide, she shivered, the memory of Despair’s chill, more than the night air, cutting through her skin. You don’t even have your staff. What sort of weirdo mage runs off without a freaking staff!? Cupping her hands, she drew from the fade for heat, silently praying that she didn’t set herself on fire. After two tries, and a hiss of pain when the air inside her palms nearly burned her, she found a comfortable middle ground.

She stayed like that for a time, allowing magic to radiate warmth until the rest of her forgot the chill of Despair’s clutch. It was a reminder of how much she didn’t know and understand. And, as heavy as her eyelids were, she continued to wrestle off the urgings of sleep.

Off in the distance Ellie heard the first howlings of wolves, which gave her pause, but she shrugged it off. Now you’re just being paranoid. Wolves were commonplace in Thedas as much as they were in the Americas prior to being hunted and exterminated mercilessly. Hearing wolves howl was, quite literally, a nightly occurance.

Right. You’re in another world, sitting in a tree, fresh from your most recent encounter with attempted possession, reminding yourself that wolves howling does not mean the confused elf god is involved. What the -fuck- did you do to get here? If Ellie’s parents had even the slimmest idea that she was in the world her best friend wrote elf porn about, they would have lost their collective shit. So, what are you going to do about it?

That was the question.

Still pissed? Check. This world sucks. Still miserable? Yup. Having a mental breakdown? Concerned about the other impending apocalypse after this one? Scared shitless about whatever untold horrors undoubtedly await me the moment I think shit might not be completely fucked? Check, check, and check.

Ellie rubbed her face roughly and made a frustrated noise. Here she was, rapidly completely falling apart, utterly overwhelmed, and she didn’t even have a towel. That shit should be complimentary upon arrival. If Ellie ever figured out how she managed to end up in Thedas, she would have words with whoever, or whatever, was responsible.

One thing was for certain: Ellie couldn’t continue the way she was. Something needed to change, or she was going to change - and not for the better. If Ellie were to look in a mirror at this moment, she wasn’t sure she’d recognize the person staring back. The Ellie she knew had fears, but she wasn’t a coward. She didn’t panic, hide who she was, or let others intimidate her into anything. Ever. Even with the concussion you had more balls around Lavellan in Haven than you do now. This isn’t you. But that was before.

Pretending to belong had been easier before the realities of Thedas had a chance to sink in. That had been before she’d left for the Storm Coast. When Leliana decided to use you as a pawn in her games. That was when she stopped being herself, and when things started going sideways. Ellie hadn’t wanted to play, but she hadn’t been given a choice. There’s always a choice.

Ellie’s options hadn’t been very good back then, but with any luck, they’d be better now. They had to be. She sat there and hesitated, the familiar bubbling of anxiety and fear rising up in her gut. At the crux of it all was the same problem, with the same answer, that Ellie didn’t want to acknowledge. Monster. It wasn’t that Ellie didn’t trust herself, because she did. No, you don’t.

Well, she used to. On most things. How the fuck am I supposed to trust myself when I have no idea how anything fucking works in this land of murderous assholes? Okay, so maybe current circumstances weren’t the easiest situation to muster up a convincing internal dialogue on being true to oneself. It wasn’t as if she understood Thedas. Then learn. She was working on it.

But in the meantime? What am I supposed to do? Her thoughts were beginning to loop. Things couldn’t stay as they were, but she didn’t understand enough to make informed decisions on what to do differently. It was too easy to say the wrong thing, or to ask the wrong question. So? Play the fool. You make a mess of everything anyways. People already think you’re weird. Who the fuck cares? What are you scared of?

Great, now she was asking herself rhetorical questions, as there was clearly a great deal to be scared of. An insanely huge clusterfuck of it. Let them think you’re odd or crazy, you can’t hide everything you are without losing sight of it yourself. You need to show a little more of you. Otherwise this will be you.

 She might not be able to share the truth behind who she was, or what made her the person she was when she arrived, but Ellie could let them see more of the result. Assuming there is enough left to show. Ellie pushed the thought from her mind, knowing perfectly well that it would lead her right back to where demons of despair would show up to eyeball her like a buffet. There was enough of her left, and she could risk showing more of it.

For one, Solas had yet to fuck her over. Yeah, but he’s also got plenty to hide of his own. He might be too worried about what you know to out you, but too curious to kill you outright as a threat. Everything about you is questionable, but that doesn’t mean he thinks you could pose a threat to him. Right now you -don’t-. You won’t until after Corypheus is out of the picture. Of course he isn’t going to fuck you over -right now-, you idiot. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’. That shit’s like Machiavellian 101, you know that.  

At this point Ellie didn’t know what to make of the humble, ‘not-a-god’ apostate. The parts of Sandy’s fanfictions that were more serious, and not about Solas conquering Lavellan with his dick, had always given Ellie the impression of a man too blinded by his own ego to realize, or care, that he was the bad guy. Sure, he’d say he cared in the dialogue, but Ellie never quite bought that he did. His actions never reflected his words, and actions were the part that mattered. There was a big difference between saying you regretted something, thinking you do, and actually giving a damn.

As far as Ellie had always been concerned, Fen’Harel was a psychopath in denial that came in two flavors. Either Sandy wrote him as some kind of sexy dark lord, rebuilding his kingdom from the ashes and sipping fancy wines while twirling his metaphorical moustache, or a mopey zoo lion that made his fall into darkness a consequence of his own tortured guilt and remorse. Regardless of the direction Mr. Crazypants went, the endings were, more often than not, bittersweet or ugly. Good endings only happened when Lavellan relentlessly pursued him, and the power of love was enough to covercome all. It was only through her devotion to him that the god saw the error of his ways.

While Sandy’s version of a regretful Fen’Harel full of pain was supposed to paint him in a better light, Ellie never considered him any better than the cackling, crazy, and blatantly evil one. Either way, he was very clearly a bad guy, and the only difference between the two was that the latter version of Fen’Harel didn’t realize guilting himself over his choices, when he had no intention of changing his actions, was ultimately meaningless and self-absorbed. If anything, Ellie thought it was worse.

It was yet a further continuation of his insane god-teir ego, where he made the focus his guilt and remorse, instead of the people who were paying the price for his actions with their lives. He made it about him, and all the horrible, hard choices he made. It was always about his shame, his mistake, his tormented self-flagellation and martyrdom. Him.

It was also -exactly- what Ellie would do if she were in Fen’Harel’s shoes, determined to make his choices, and willing to do whatever it took to reach her goals. Using Lavellan’s own love for him against her was both practical, and clever. It was smart. Shit, it’s practically modus operandi for the trickster and god archetypes. And, unlike in Sandy’s rose-tinted happy endings, love very rarely conquers all. If there was anything consistent about Sandy’s versions of Solas and Fen’Harel at all, it was that his character understood that.

When Ellie had eventually voiced her opinion on the subject, Sandy said she had missed the point entirely. Naturally.