"Excuse me, ser," Solas turned to see a stocky man with pierced ears. "There's.. something.. you should see, ser." The man frowned deeply, and Solas was worried at once.
"What is it, Rethoen?" He asked.
"Ir abelas, hahren. You should see for yourself."
"Very well, let's go then."
Rethoen led him through the castle and up the stairs to the bridge overlooking the lake. It was not currently extended and thus, wasn't really a bridge.
There were two people near the edge, but he couldn't make out their forms. As they approached, he noticed one was a warrior he had seen many times, the other a woman.
A little closer and he realized it was not just any woman, but his Rihari.
"What is this?" Solas looked between the three. Her back was still turned to him, but she was turning at the sound of his voice.
This wasn't right. He had expected to see her turn, smiling and happy to see him again. Had expected her to run to him and hug him. Instead, she turned slowly, her face emotionless and stoic.
It was cold. At first that's all he felt. Cold and empty and nothing like the life that had been inside him moments before. The warrior backed away slowly, his eyes wide in fear and sadness as he looked at Fen'harel and the girl that he had brought forward.
The void grew inside of him as he looked at the mark on her forehead. The Others.. they had done this to her, they had made her tranquil. His eyes filled with tears as she stood in front of him, emotionless and empty. She was gone, just gone. An empty vessel that no longer held that beautiful soul.
Never again would she smile so brightly that the sun would stand in awe. Never again would she prod at him with playful jokes. Never again would she kiss him and mean it. Never would she be able to laugh or giggle or smile and any of it be real.
A flame sparked to life deep in his chest. His world had spun off its axis and now barreled off somewhere unknown. The rage grew into a blazing fury. It would consume everything, taking away who he was in its firey blaze.
"Ir abelas, da'ean," his voice wavered as he spoke. The words came out of someone else's mouth, they didn't feel real. None of it felt real.
"All is well, master."
"Stop it." A tear trailed down his cheek. No.
"Specify what you wish for me to stop doing."
"Fenedhis, stop." He looked up at the night sky. A shooting star spiraled across the sky, but in the time it took to blink it was gone.
"Make a wish," she said.
"A wish?" He turned towards her and smiled. "Why?"
"It was a shooting star, yeah? That's what you do when you see one, you close your eyes and make a wish."
"Very well." He closed his eyes, a goofy smile crooked on his face.
"What'd you wish for?"
"You first," he said.
She laughed, pressing her body closer to his as she pressed a soft kiss to his lips. "I wished for us to be together forever. And you?"
"I already have everything I could want," he pressed his lips to her temple.
He squeezed his eyes shut so hard that he saw spots. Solas wished this wasn't real, he wished that it was some bad dream. He opened his eyes slowly, but she was still there, empty eyes and scorched mark.
He screamed. A blood curdling yell that only served to intensify the anger inside of his body. When his screaming stopped, he collapsed to the ground, the stone bit into his knees as he fell and he welcomed the dull ache.
Wake up. He curled into a ball on the cold, stone ground. This can't be real. He wrapped his arms around his knees. Wake up, Solas. Wake up. It's just a bad dream. It's just a nightmare, time to wake up. No matter how many times he repeated the words in his head, it didn't happen. This was his new reality.
She stood nearby the whole while, watching in empty interest as he wallowed on the ground, his heart shattering into a million pieces and fueling the fire that would consume the world. He laid there for hours, waiting for something to show him that this wasn't real. Nothing happened. Nothing changed.
It was quiet, as if the rest of the world had stopped to respect the breaking apart of his soul. A strange calm overcame him and he lifted himself from the ground. He looked at her again, the mark burned into her forehead was a slap in the face. A wolf with many eyes; it scarred the skin and bloched over the vallaslin she had demanded to keep, making it look wavy and clumped. His heart ached, but his resolve was hardened.
They would pay. They would all pay for this with their lives. And what about her? He would undo it, find a way to bring her back, at any cost.
He grabbed her hand, cold from standing out in the wintry night, and pulled her towards the stables. Perhaps, Felaern could connect with her, he thought it was possible -hoped it was possible - but he knew it was not.
Felaern was at first excited at the return of his master, but when he placed her hand on his face, the beast became still, unnerved. It's eyes scanned her carefully and then it backed away, howling out in hurt and fury.
"Get angry!" He yelled at the beast. "We will go to kill those that did this." The griffon halted it's tantrum and it's eyes locked onto Solas. For the first time it acknowledged him as an authoritative figure, respect was growing in its eyes for the first time.
"Rihari," Solas closed his eyes, his world tilted sickeningly as her name came out of his lips, knowing that it wasn't really her anymore. Empty blue eyes looked back at him when he opened his own. "Ar lath ma." This was for himself, and benefited her not.
"Very well, master."
His breath escaped his body in ragged gasps. "Just say it back. Please."
"Very well. Ar lath ma." Her lips said the words but her eyes held no glitter of love nor understanding. Somehow it sounded wrong and lifeless and he regretted making the request.
He had thought hearing it, even if she - no, not she, it - didn't mean it would help, but it only served to deepen the growing void inside of him.
How had this happened? How had she been taken and how had they done this to her? He didn't understand why they would send her back, why not keep her as a token to make him think before attacking. They had intended to break him, and they had succeeded. However, if they thought this would end the rebellion, they were wrong.
Now he knew for sure that they deserved nothing less than a painful death. They would die now. He had made plans to just lock them away. To be rid of them without more death, but this had been taken too far, now they would all die.
Dirthamen, Falon'Din, Sylaise, Andruil, June, Ghilian'nain, Elgar'nan. He listed off the names, uncaring that some had remained neutral in this battle. What had it benifitted them? And the Forgotton Ones: Geldauran, Daern'thal, and Anaris, good as dead. He didn't care anymore about good or bad or tactics or the game. They were all marked off as snakes, better off to cut off their heads so they could not bite ever again.
It was late, everyone would be sleeping except the nightgaurds. It didn't matter to him, he walked into the courtyard and rang the bell. Everyone would wake, ready for battle, but there would be no fighting just yet. He told Rihari to stand beside him, then handed her a sack and asked she put it over her head. She did so without question. He waited for everyone to gather before he spoke.
"On this night, the others have sent us a gift," his heart squeezed at this word. A gift.. He needed them angry though, and the words had to be chosen carefully. He pulled the sack from her head slowly and stilled his heart against seeing her again. Once her face was revealed he turned back to the crowd.
"Wonder not what they will do to you anymore. They have shown us tonight that they will give you a punishment far worse than death," he pointed to the mark on her forehead, his voice breaking, "they took her soul, everything that she was, they made her tranquil." He swiped at the tears gathering under his eyes, now was no time to show weakness.
Some in the crowd gasped, others cried. Those that knew her, or knew that they were an item he supposed.
"They sent her back to break our spirits, to scare us," he pursed his lips. "But we are not dismayed, we are steadfast in our purpose and this.." he looked at her again, "this will strengthen our resolve."
"How can we fight this?" A man said near the front of the crowd. "They will turn us all into soulless slaves!" A menagerie of voices chimed in their agreements.
"No," Fen'Harel's voice rang out over the worried voices, "We will no longer fight them with the respect deserving of another life. We will no longer be apart of this game. We will crush them on every battle field, we will hold nothing back. They will all die."
The crowd was silent a long moment, apparently unapproving of his new ideals but too afraid to speak out. None of it mattered, they were a means to an end. He mentally winced at the thought, but it was an honest one.
"You do not have to fight by my side," Solas said. The words came out like a low growl, a warning. "But know, if you do not fight with us, you are fighting for them. Neutrality is no longer an option."
"Calm yourself, Felaern," Solas grumbled as he put armor on the beast. "We ride to battle, let your vengeance guide you."
The sun was rising over the hills to the east, evaporating the dew that still clung to the pedals of every plant and surface in the valley. The morning was still brisk enough that one must wear a coat, and the animals that had quieted last night chirped and sang happily despite him.
After strapping all the armor on Felaern, he got atop his own armored griffon and rode her forwards, Fleaern following close behind. The army was gathered, ready to march. Rihari was with the children and those unfit to fight, they would stay behind, she would not be as useful in battle now anyway.
Atisha clacked her beak hard and sqwauked. Solas patted her on the neck and she flapped her wings excitedly.
His second in command appeared, solemn as ever. "Where do we march?"
"We go to Arlathan."
The smell of burning flesh was insurmountable, ripping it's way up every nose on the battle field and planting itself inside of their minds. They would never forget the smell, never as long as they lived. Even the griffon Solas sat on snorted and stomped in disapproval at the putrid stench.
"Be still, Atisha," Solas patted the griffon on the shoulder and it huffed again, but calmed it's nervous stomping.
There were innocents in this village. He didn't care, they had chose to do nothing, and thus chose their side. They would tell stories of this moment for a millennia. They would tell of how Fen'Harel had marched across the countryside burning everything in his path. Those that didn't join the ranks of his new army, would perish in a blaze hotter than anything they had ever knew. The fire that burned up the innocent and worthless was almost as hot as the red hot rage that grew inside of him.
He rode on ahead to scout the area. It looked so unaware of his coming, but he knew better. Behind the great buildings and city walls, there would be an army waiting. There would be weapons of great destruction and other death contraptions. The siege would not go easily, many would die, but none of that mattered so long as he could reach those that ruined his life.
At long last, he could see Arlathan, the shining city. The great jewel of Elvehnan, gleaming in the clouds as it caught the starlight and reflected it back at him with a thousand judging eyes.
He smiled as he thought of catching them. The look that would come across June's face when he discovered that he'd been bested, had a strange calming effect on him. He wanted him dead most of all. He guessed that the whole thing had been his idea, he had never liked Rihari, and never respected Fen'Harel as one of his own.
Wiping the grin from his face, he turned back for camp. He had an idea that was forming, but he couldn't do it alone. He would need aid if he wanted to take Arlathan and kill the others. Luckily, he knew just who to ask to help him with this task.
As he landed back at camp and dismounted he tapped the orb connected to the end of his staff with his finger. It crackled in response, excited at the notion of being used. If he wanted to destroy the others, he needed more power though. This much he knew for certain. There was only one way he knew that he could get more power: blood magic.
Using blood magic would hinder his ability to slip into the Fade, but he didn't care. Why should he? He couldn't afford such luxuries as dreaming while his vhenan was trapped in a souless state.
"Joyn," Solas handed off the reigns to his second in command, "I have something I have to do, stay here."
"Yes sir," he replied. He didn't question it, but Solas knew he was silently judging him for the former day's events. It didn't matter to him either way.
Joyn cocked a brow, wondering what he could need with a different griffon, and at that, one that isn't bonded to him. His silence was a quick inconvenience. "I do not require your suspicion," Fen'Harel stated.
Joyn coughed nervously, his eyes diverting to his own bare feet. "Felaern is tied to a tree outback. He was in a fuss when you left without him, we did the best we could."
"Ma serannas," Solas grumbled. He patted Joyn on the shoulder as he passed him, but he didn't look up from his feet, perhaps too afraid to look.
Atisha clacked her beak in displeasure at her master's departure, even going as far as to give a shrill sqwauk when he got out of sight.
Felaern grunted when he saw him coming, his ropes were wrapped around the thick tree many times in an effort to hold him. He wouldn't judge him for what he was going to do, and that's what he needed. This beast was as angry as he was, and would stop at nothing to get his revenge.
Solas released him from his bindings and the griffon pranced a wide circle around him, pleased at his newfound freedom. He flapped his wings a few times and then stood at a small distance, awaiting his orders.
"I need to go somewhere, to do something, and I need your help."
Felaern snorted and shook his head. He didn't care for this mission, and wasn't afraid to say so. His eyes penetrated into Fen'Harel's soul, searching for the meaning of this request.
"If we are to stop those that siphoned the soul from her, I will need.. help." Solas gnawed at his lip, letting his mind wonder back to why he was doing this.
Felaern sighed as he stepped forwards, once within reach he clacked his beak hard, tilting his head so he could look into Solas' eyes. He didn't waver, and so the beast considered the notion that he would allow him to ride.
With Rihari in tow, he and Felaern glided through the sky on a new mission. They went to meet a warrior he had requested meet him at a specific place. A place where many spirits slipped into the loving world and roamed about. It was a place of great power, and would be a good place for a sacrifice.
Her arms were around his body to keep from falling. Her arms were somehow heavy and dead around his waist. His skin crawled when he thought of how this thing was touching him, its arms wrapped around him just like she would, but it wasn't her, it was basically a corpse that walked and talked and did as it asked.
They landed roughly on the grassy ground, Felaern in a hurry to get this over with. He never was good at landings anyway, preferring to shove his way through life rather than dance through gracefully like most other griffons. Solas cursed at the animal, and it grunted it's response.
Solas stepped off and shuddered as he thought about how her arms had felt once more. He handed the reigns over to the thing that used to be so loving and happy, and turned away from them. He didn't want to see her anymore, and yet he didn't want her to be away from him.
The warrior was there, waiting. He smiled as he greeted Fen'Harel, his field reports were held fast in his hand, ready to be read.
"Andaran atish’an, Fen'Harel," the man smiled again as he shook his hand. "I have a few interesting observations, troop movements, supply routes."
"All very well," he tried to smile, but it felt forced and deceitful so he dropped it. "I require something more from you, however." Solas didn't make eye contact, instead looking behind the man and into the dark ruins of a crumbling structure.
The man's forehead creased in concern and confusion. He held his reports awkwardly, still held up as if he would read them, but now he didn't look at them. "Anything, ser."
"Are you so certain?" This time he did look at him. His original conflicting feelings were dissipated. He was dedicated to the action now, there was no going back. So he hardened his heart against the emotion that swelled inside of him. He stole a glance at the thing that used to be his vhenan, and it pushed his anger back up to the surface.
The man seemed nervous, but replied that he was certain. The reports were still in hand, but now had been dropped to his side.
"I need your blood," he stated coldly. His eyes never left his face, reinforcing the seriousness of the request. Yet he tried to separate himself from the very request. He imagined himself far away from this entire situation.
The man swallowed hard, a bead of sweat formed on his brow, and Solas watched it trail down as he spoke, focusing on it rather than what was happening. "My blood, ser? How much?"
Solas stared at him a long moment, waiting for him to put the pieces together. "All of it."
The warrior took a trembling breath, his eyes held a wildness that made the mountain of an elf suddenly look like a scared rabbit. "Mm-m-my family," the man stuttered nervously.
"You are strong and loyal, your blood will help to save your family."
He bit at his lip, sweating profusely now. "And if I refuse?" The reports in his hand trembled, bringing the sound of ruffling pages. Solas noted that there was no wind, the trembling was from the body.
Solas felt himself smiling at the man's great need to survive, but bit his lip to keep it at bay, seeing that it may be perceived as cruelty rather than admiration.
He took another glance back at Rihari, who was watching without any comprehension of what he was about to do. He wondered briefly if she knew, if somewhere in there she was just trapped in her own body, watching the events in disgust but being able to do nothing.
"If you are not willing to give, I will have to take it from you."
The elf shook his head. "I am a good warrior," a tear slipped down his cheek and he swiped at it angrily, he held his head high as his lip trembled and more tears spilled over. "I do not deserve this."
Solas stepped forward and looked deep into the man's eyes. "You do not deserve this." He pointed back at Rihari, specifically at her forehead and the mark that mangled the skin there. "And neither did she."
The man trembled everywhere, the papers still in his hand were wadded in his shaking hand. His chin wobbled as he held back tears in a way that annoyed Solas somehow, giving him the sudden strength to go through with it. "Sathan... lanaste lasa."
"Ir abelas, da'len." Solas moved faster than the elf could track, removing his staff from his back and sliding the bladed end into the man's stomach.
He flinched, his eyes travelling down slowly and releasing a shuddering breath as he saw the blade in his belly. The papers in his hand were released and they fell to the ground under him, small rivulets of thick blood streamed from the wound. Some plopped on top of the papers, soaking the man's last work in deep red.
Tears streamed down his cheeks freely now as he looked back to Fen'Harel. The elf sputtered as his lips tried to form words, blood spewing from his lips and landing on Solas' face. Regret filled up his being as he watched the man die, struggling to breathe around the blood that pushed it's way up his throat. Solas shook his head sadly. "Ir abelas..". He took a dagger from the strap around his thigh and cut the man's throat to end his suffering.
The death was not extremely violent, and thus the power that would be absorbed would not be as powerful as it could be. He didn't care, this was wrong and disgusting. It was just.. necessary.
The man's body went slack, the blade sliding up his abdomen as his lifeless body became heavier with the weight of death. The blade crashed into his ribcage, spilling most of the contents of his innards. Solas tipped the staff, letting the corpse fall into the dirt. He landed on top of his discarded and worthless field reports.
The blood under the body soaked the dirt, turning it a sickly shade of brownish red. Solas turned up his nose at the sight of the grotesque sight of bloodied earth and the dead man with his intestines and stomach spilling from the large tear in his body.
The blood that stained the ground began to swirl, magical tendrils of dark magic pulled towards the foci that he held over the ground. The tentacles attached themselves to the orb, pulling over every surface and the orb eagerly absorbed the new power.
The wolf crept up to sit across the fire from him. It's amber eyes reflected the firelight and reached out to grab him in its icy embrace.
Solas looked at the wolf in disinterest. "What are you looking at?"
The wolf huffed, it's eyes watching carefully as Solas cocked a brow. From somewhere nearby, a second wolf howled. The wolf's ear twitched backwards to catch the sound, but it didn't reply. Soon there was a whole cacophony of wolves howling and the one sitting across the fire could no longer resist the urge to answer. It lifted its head with a song so heartbreaking and beautiful that Solas could feel this creature's despair flow through him. When the wolf stopped its howl, its eyes fell back on his face.
"You judge me?" Solas asked the animal.
The wolf blinked its reply, but said nothing for beasts of the woods know not of the language of men. Then again, this was clearly no mere wolf.
"Well, it makes no difference to me rather you judge me or not. I will continue."
The wolf yawned and then gave a few unhappy grumbles as it smacked its jowls. Eventually, it settled down alongside the fire, not caring that the blaze was hot and that fire was an unknown.
"Go away," Solas growled, "just go away!"
The animal lifted its head, its ears laid back as Solas yelled and it gave a small yodel of a howl. He noticed that its eyes, now a faint blue, weren't the same as before, perhaps it was possesed by a demon? Or perhaps it was in fact a demon.
"Leave me alone!" He yelled.
The animal jumped to its feet, frightened but not deterred. The hair on the beast's back stood on end. As Solas yelled again and tossed a stick at it, it bared its teeth, a dazzling white in contrast to its dark fur. Solas jumped to his feet, throwing a ball of energy at the animal that somehow didn't land.
The beast took this as an obvious sign of aggression and lunged, its teeth gleaming in the dim light as they came to close around his neck. The animal briefly looking more like himself than an animal.
You will betray them all, Dread Wolf.
He woke with a start, throwing the blanket off his body and gripping his neck. There was no wolf, there was no bite. It was just a dream. He wrapped his arms around his knees, leaning his head against them as he tried to catch his breath.
Felaern gave a half-hearted grumble of concern as Solas stared at him. Solas imitated the sound sarcastically and rose to his feet. "Rihari?"
She turned to look at him from her seat atop a downed tree. "Yes, master?"
He frowned, his heart threatened to squeeze but he swallowed hard, shoving his emotion deep down into his body. "I will take watch. You should rest now."
"Many thanks, master."
"Do not call me that. Ever." Solas grimaced, his jaw flexing with each uttered word.
"Very well, what should I call you?" Her lifeless eyes were peering at him, awaiting his answer as if her meaningless life depended on it.
"Nothing," he replied, sliding down onto the log, "do not call me anything."
"Very well." Her voice was soft, just as before this curse, but empty of all the soul that her body had once held. He didn't watch as she laid down on the bed of leaves and covered her body with the old blanket.
Felaern whimpered sadly as he laid his head back down, staring sorrowfully at her resting face as she fell into sleep.
"She is no longer there, beast, let it go," he grumbled as he laid his staff across his lap.
The newfound magic inside tickled the air around it urgently. He moved his hands around the energy, feeling it prick against his hands, wishing to be used. "Soon," he whispered to the power, which shuddered desperately against his promise. His eyes went to the sky, watching intently for some show or sign that the universe did not, in fact, hate him.
There was no sign.
Sathan... Lasa lanaste: please... Grant mercy.
Ir abelas da'len: I'm sorry child
Ma serranas: my thanks
"I have always supported you and the cause, but this is too far." Joyn tossed his bag of clothes over the back of his horse and busied himself securing it in place.
Solas frowned. He was standing barefoot in the mud, and suddenly very aware that his feet were wet and sticky. The mud squelching between his toes became a quick annoyance and he found that he was actually more annoyed at the mud than he was at his second in command.
"Blood Magic?" Joyn stopped in front of him, his eyes serious and angry. "Have you lost your mind?" His voice pitched, catching the attention of elves meagering about camp.
They quickly diverted their eyes, ashamed for him that he would speak to a so called God like such. They hung their heads, cheeks flushed as they walked deliberately away from such a confrontation.
"Fortunately," Fen'Harel growled, "I do not need your approval."
His toes were caked in mud, quickly drying into a crusty paste and he switched his weight from foot to foot in an effort to make the inconvienice less so, but only served to worsen it. Now the mud was becoming warmer, making it less of a cold and together substance, and more of a tepid nuisance of warm earth.
Joyn shook his head in disbelief. "I had believed that you were better than that. I had believed in the cause. But now.." he trailed. Deciding instead that the rest of the statement didn't matter he scoffed and shook his head again.
"Say it." Solas stepped forward, into new fresh mud and rolled his eyes.
"What does it matter?"
He slatted his eyes. This was a waste of time. "Speak."
"Fine." Joyn turned back. He ripped an emblem from his chest and dropped it at his own bare feet somehow not completely caked in mud. "There is more to this than her. We are-"
"No." Solas cut him off, his eyes had been trained on the emblem, the patch of authority. "She was all that mattered to me." His voice reached a low growl.
Joyn pursed his lips in anger. "Then that is it." He turned away, pulling himself up onto the horse and shoving his feet into the stirrups. "Dareth shiral, hahren."
He imagined that instead she were dead. That by some miracle they had killed her rather than send her back in such an empty state. He could imagine her corpse rotting in a hole somewhere. Worms would writhe over her once delicate features and maggots would eat away at her insides and fat grubs would bust out of her orifices. Her soft black hair would still cling to her dried up scalp, stringy and dirty. And it would be easier to look at that rather than the look on her face right now.
Her eyes were empty and dull, her skin was no longer awash with the blush from some laughing fit or upcoming joke. He bit at his lip hard as he stared into her eyes. And he imagined her dead. He could almost see the fat worms that would wriggle out of those once beautiful eye sockets and writhe back into the hole where her nose used to be, and they'd bring with them black sludge from whatever they had been eating inside of her skull.
He turned away, troubled at his thoughts. Troubled at his wish that she were dead instead. She had only glanced at him a moment, looking over to him as she rode atop Felaern. In that moment all of those things had crashed through his mind like a great boulder rolling down a hill and smashing everything in its way.
She wasn't here anyway, not anymore. She was a body without a soul. An empty vase. Indeed the vase was beautiful, but never again would it hold bright yellow sunflowers or bring happiness to those that saw it sitting there. The sunflowers in the vase, sitting on the table, making people smile as they walked by the sunlit table. But now the vase sat empty, sad and dusty and old. No longer did those walking by enjoy it's vibrancy. Now they just frowned and shook their heads. That old vase, they'd say, it should be thrown out. It is no longer worth flowers or sunlight or attention. It no longer sits on the table and makes us happy. Now all it brings is despair.
He grunted to clear his mind as he turned his eyes to the shining city, so much closer than the day before. He could even see his old castle on the outskirts of the city, it would fall along with the city and there would be no trace of this place ever existing.
The army behind him was much smaller than it had been, Joyn taking many away with his speeches and his declarations. He would die trying to push against them all. Solas didn't feel particularly sad or guilty about his leaving, just annoyed. All of his care went out the window when he saw the mark on Rihari's forehead.
At first he wanted her far away from him, somewhere he couldn't see her so be could almost imagine that it wasn't real. Now he wanted her next to him. She wasn't used in battle, but seeing her deepened the white hot fury growing in his chest and helped him push forward. His anger peaked each time his eyes looked at her, expecting at first to see her there but instead he saw nothing.
They made camp at dusk. The sun dipped low, but did nothing to cool the land. Solas looked up and noticed stars, even though the sun could still be seen. The small spots sparkled in the purple sky like little diamonds. He watched them twinkle until the sky grew deep blue and eventually black. There was no moon this night. That was just as well, it overshadowed the fact that the following day would be dark, just as that day was dark, and the one before and the one after, every day since she had came to him missing her soul.
"May I sit here?" Her voice startled him from his pitiful thoughts and he snapped.his head towards her.
No, no, no. Sit somewhere else, go somewhere else, exist somewhere else, or maybe not even at all. "Sure."
She sat down and looked up to the stars just as he had been. He canted his head, "Why do that? Why look at the sky?"
"Why do you look at the sky?" She returned his question with one of the same.
He frowned. Good question, why did he look at the sky? There was no joy to be found there. Perhaps just a kind of angry peace, the kind of peace that's in the eye of a storm; calm and still, but danger is still on the horizon.
"For..." he trailed. No, that didn't make sense, he reevaluated. "It is.. Calm."
"I see." Her eyes were still on the sky, the stars sparkled mockingly in her dead eyes.
Why did she look? It didn't make sense, she couldn't appreciate it. "You did not answer my question."
"They used to make her happy."
His heart stopped beating in his chest. His world tilted on its screwed up axis and his eyes blurred with confusion and emotion. They used to make her happy. They used to make her happy. She spoke like Rihari, the her of this equation, was a past tense form of being and not a person. He tried to breathe, a rattled gasp coming out as he desperately tried to suck down air that felt sticky and heavy.
"What?" The word came out as a strangled gasp, a strange pitched sound that wasn't at all coherent. He cleared his throat and repeated the question.
"The stars," she said, "they pleased her. She liked the constellations and-"
"Shooting stars," he finished the sentence.
"Correct," she stated.
"But now.. why look? Is she not absent now?"
He had never thought to ask the question, perhaps too afraid of the answer either way. Now he knew he shouldn't have asked. It did not console him that she was not gone, it only made him feel sick. His stomach twisted into sickening knots and he couldn't catch his breath. Sweat pricked at every surface of his skin, making him feel clammy and uncomfortable, but that was little comparison to the tornado of emotion happening inside of him.
"If.." His brain struggled for words, what was the question, what were the right words? "Then where?"
"She is still here," the tranquil said. Her eyes were on him now, but they were empty, the words felt hollow.
"How?" His voice was frantic, he needed the answer now. He needed the answers more than anything ever.
"She is just.. dulled. Different than she was."
Solas' eyebrows stitched together. A shadow crossed over his face, enaounciatimg the hard lines of his structure. "That makes little sense."
"It is.. Like a tree. In the spring, the tree is beautiful and lively and green. But then winter comes and the green leaves fall off and leave the tree barren. The tree is no longer like it once was, but the tree is still the same tree. Even without it's leaves."
Solas sniffed to stop the tears that pricked at his eyes and burned up his throat. It can't be true. It's not true. It's not true. "This.. cannot be the truth."
"No!" He jumped up from his seat in the dirt. Eyes from all around the encampment came to look at him. Their prying eyes were not a concern, little more than an annoyance in actuality.
"No! You cannot be her! You are not.." tears strangled him and he hung his head, his chin hit his chest hard enough to make him bite his tongue. The warm metallic taste of fresh blood filled his mouth. "you're not.." these words came out small, almost a whimper.
"I am what is left."
He couldn't hold the tears. They pushed past his resolve. The dim light from the stars made the tears look like silver gleaming streaks down his cheeks. What's left?
"In time, the leaves may come back."
"What does that mean?! Stop speaking in riddles and say it plainly!" He threw his staff on the ground just from the need to move something, anything. The foci at the end sizzled with the displeasure of disrespect.
She stood and picked up the staff. She held it out to him, but he wasn't looking at it, he was looking at her eyes. He was searching so desperately for "what is left" that he almost didn't hear her when she spoke again.
"When spring comes again.. the sun melts the snow and warms the branches and the earth below the tree and the tree will come back to life."
She moved the staff again towards him and he snatched it away. He tried to not touch her skin, but it was impossible to not graze her fingers as he took it from her. Her skin felt like it should, but it was a lie. He cringed at the touch, disgusted with the way she so mockingly felt like Rihari. He squeezed the wood hard enough to hurt each article of his hand in an effort to squelch the disgust that soured his belly.
"You must be the sun, Solas."
He took a step back away from her. The sun? What did that mean? He turned away and walked. He walked far enough that her and the camp were a distant haze of smoke and silent whispers. There was a clearing with one tall pine tree right in the middle and it cast strange stretching shadows over the dense grass. The wind blew softly, rustling the grass and making the branches of the trees creak.
He slid down the trunk of a large oak beside him and put his face in his hands. Tears came freely, pushing their way out of his body in racking sobs. His heart squeezed hard in his chest, and he pressed a balled up fist there as he tried to find a way to ease the pain of heartbreak. He sobbed until his tears ran dry and his body was exhausted. He sobbed until his insides felt strained and his brain felt numb. A strange calm overcame him as he saw the sun peeking up over the trees on the opposite side of the clearing. A small fennec snuffled in the grass beside the lone pine tree, occasionally digging a bit and then sniffing again.
The sun. Be the sun. He watched it rise slowly, bright orange beams cut through the fog and woke up the forest. A bird chirped in the tree overhead, a whipporwill. Somewhere close, a bluejay sang happily. The sun warmed the damp morning and dried the dew from the grass on which he sat.
The dew. He sat up straighter, suddenly everything clicking into place. At his sudden movement the fennec was startled and sprinted away, tail tucked. The bird above him flew away, startled by his presence as well.
He must be the sun that melted the snow. He had to find a way to cure her. To find a way to love her even if she wasn't the same girl anymore. He just wasn't sure how to do either of those things. How could he love her when she was the literal absence of life? He hated her, and her metaphors of trees and snow and the sun made no difference. He couldn't love her, and it would make no difference to her, she couldn't feel emotion anymore.
Unless.. He jumped up, his feet scrambling beneath him as he struggled for balance. Unless the cure was loving her? Could the sun's love revive the barren tree? Or was it simply the job of the sun to revive the tree, and maybe it has nothing to do with love, but with duty. Fenedhis, he couldn't be sure if either of those were right. How could he know?
The sound of a twig snapping behind him snapped him from his thoughts. He twisted on the balls of his feet and swung the staff around. The bladed end of the staff missed the small elf's body by a mere inch, even slicing through her blouse. She gasped in surprise, her life having flashed before her eyes.
"My apologies," Solas said.
"No sir, I should have announced myself." She was trembling though, perhaps she had heard of what he had done. Actually, he was sure that she had heard, he was pretty sure everyone had heard by now. Joyn had been sure to preach it to the masses.
"What is it?"
"Umm," she said nervously, "everyone is ready to march. They await your orders."
"And they send you because?"
"Oh," she gulped, "I am Quin, your new second in command."
He canted his head, a smile came up from somewhere deep inside of him and stretched across his face. This small woman? She couldn't weigh a pound over ninety-five and she was meant to be a authoritave figure to the army.
"Very well, Quin. Then today we march."
There's something profound about fear. It's most often accompanied by some other emotion; love, despair, hope even. Fear is a motivator, can even be a inspiration in the right moments. But on this day?
On this day, fear was a consequence. Fear was a punishment. But fear wasn't present in the heart of Fen'Harel. There lived only a deep desire to kill, an absolute despising for those that had enslaved their own people.
A hatred for the Great Ones that called themselves Gods as they climbed atop the corpses of those before them. Those that had the utter gall to put themselves above others on some claim of Godlihood. They had been generals once upon a time. Fighting against an enemy that ironically enough they turned out being just like.
How quickly one forgets what opression felt like. Especially when many worshipped the ground under their feet. None of that would matter. He would end them. It would end here. On this bright and beautiful- fearful and bloody- day.
Trebuchets threw boulders over the battlefield, crashing into soldiers from both sides and crushing them under its weight. Solas cut cleanly through the air on Atisha, shooting magic from his fingertips. Rihari and Felaern rode close behind. Her body remembered how to use a bow, and now she needn't think before firing, so he brought her along.
He told himself that was the only reason, that she was useful in battle, but he knew that was only a half truth. Ever since their last talk he couldn't stop thinking about it. Maybe she was still there after all. Different though- a tree without leaves.
Once he crossed the city walls, he swooped low, crashing into the crowd below. Atisha landed right on one man's shoulders, pushing him to the ground hard enough to crack his skull, and dislocate the shoulders. She swung her head to the side, and slammed her body into others, impaling many a man on her spiked armor.
He trotted forward, not bothering to waste energy on their feeble attacks. Rihari shot most of them down before they reached them anyway, and if they somehow slipped by her, Atisha or Felaern would slam their bodies into them or rip pieces of flesh from bones with their sharp beaks.
The scene on the street was eery. Corpses lay broken or burned down the sides of the road, blood soaked the ground and ran in streams downhill from its source. It was quiet, everyone either gone, dead, or on the battlefield fighting.
The griffons' talons made clacking sounds as they walked down the stone walkway, passing shops and bakeries and then he stopped dead in his tracks. There was the tiny cake shop where he and Rihari had stopped to get treats on their way to catch a magic show at the arena.
He could almost see her walking down the sidewalk, complaining about the taste of the "little purple cakes". He could almost see the wonder in her eyes at the magnificence of the city itself, and then again at those that inhabitted it. He glanced back at her, she stared blankly ahead, unaware of the significance or perhaps just unable to feel it.
There was a great spire ahead. The best warriors would be there, but they couldn't stop him. They would have the thing that he lacked- fear. A man without fear was a dangerous animal, or a stupid one.
"I will go alone," he said solemnly, "you may follow when it is clear."
He pulled Atisha towards a shop front, it's front window busted out seamlessly, and pushed her to go inside. She did as she was asked, but he sensed her unease as her claws crushed glass underfoot and the room became sparse. Even still, Felaern and Rihari followed.
He dismounted in time to see Atisha nose her way into the displayed treats. Solas smiled as he managed to grab an untouched chocolate delicacy.
"Here." He held out the small cake to her. "You loved these."
She took the pastry in her hand and took a small bite. "It is tasty."
"What does it taste like?" She had once told him that they tasted like fluffy slices of heaven. The thought pulled a smile to his lips, and he had hope that she would say the same.
"It tastes like chocolate."
His smile faltered, and his heart was hardened. "I must go. I will call for you when its safe."
He felt anger swelling in his chest. It filled him up and burst through his skin in the form of a beast. A beast that ripped through the small army with sharp teeth and brute strength.
With each man's blood that spilled onto the stone ground, his power grew. The magic within the blood pulled for him and he granted it acceptance into his spirit. Eventually, there was no more blood to spill and no more bodies to feed his hunger for vengence and his beastly form turned back into that of a man.
Solas breathed in deeply, pulling in all the scents of what he had done. Blood flowed down the street like a thick river, soaking the stone in deep hues of red as it made its way downhill. From any looking up towards the castle, it would look like someone was painting the street red, and the artist was the Dread Wolf himself.
He whistled and saw the rest of his party coming a few moments later. There was something unnerving in her eyes as she saw the pieces of men and the blood. So much blood.
"Why do that?" She asked.
He turned towards the door. "Do what?"
She didn't answer, but he knew what she meant. Why slaughter them, why shred their bodies? Was dead not dead? The answer was that they had deserved it, thats what he thought anyway.
Why was she suddenly so outspoken? He had in no way reflected that her inquiries mattered to him. He almost asked this, but decided it wouldn't matter. She couldn't feel anymore, his sharp quip would get him no reaction from her. Even still, why would she care how he murdered? Perhaps, it was strictly from a logical standpoint or maybe was there more to it.
"There may be more inside."
Rihari loaded an arrow on the string of her bow. "Understood."
Solas held a hand up to the griffons to stay them and they did as commanded.
He slammed a blast of energy into the door, snapping it off its hinges like they were made of plastic. To his satisfaction the door flew inward, knocking into a set of guards and throwing them to the ground. Before they could rise, Solas stomped on one of their throats, crushing the man's windpipe under his bare foot. The other man groaned, a groan cut half off by an arrow between the eyes.
The other man on the ground squirmed around gasping for air that would never come. Solas watched in amusement as the man struggled, the magic he had already absorbed from all the earlier deaths cascaded over his skin in delight and he found himself wanting more. More death, more power, more blood to wet the teeth of his inner animal.
Suddenly the man ended his flailing. An arrow stuck out from his temple, and blood trickled down from the small hole.
Solas slatted his eyes at Rihari. "Why do that?"
"His suffering was pointless, it does not further the cause."
Solas stepped closer, his eyes changing from angry to stony acceptance. She didn't get it. She didn't understand his need for them to hurt the way he was hurting now.
"These men are responsible for what happened to you. For what happened to everyone."
"No," she stated calmly. "He doesn't know better, Solas." She looked down at the bodies again. "The others are the only ones responsible."
He scoffed. "They all deserve the same," he said softly as he slid his gaze past the corpses and to the long hallway. If June was here, he knew he would be in the safe room. Cowering like a rat. Solas sneered at the thought of someone who regarded themselves as so powerful cowering away from The Rebel himself.
He didn't request her to follow -thought maybe it would be better of she didnt- but she did. Down the hall and to the right was a wooden door. It was unlocked, but the steel door on the other side was not. Solas rolled his eyes in petty annoyance as he pushed against the door with his hands, testing the strength of the steel. It was thick, and strong, but so was he. He pushed Rihari back and gripped the door with all the dark energy in his body. The magic therein responded and the steel creaked as its hinges snapped one by one. Once it was broken from the hinges he dropped it to the floor.
June was there, along with Sylaise and a multitude of soldiers that stood terrified by his display of strength.
"Ah, June," Solas smiled slyly. The feeling of vengeance settled over him quickly. He had them, and they knew it. "So good to see you again." His words were mocking, and the fear in those present beamed out from their eyes like spotlights.
"Solas, my brother, you don't have to do this," June uselessly pushed Sylaise further behind him. "Its not too late to stop."
Solas snorted, his face twisting into a snarl. "No. You are correct. I do not have to do this." He dropped his staff to the ground, the beast inside of him stretched its legs, begging to be let out. "I want to do this."
He didn't let his inner animal out. He remained as the monster he was as he fought off June's best warriors by hand. He snapped necks, broke noses, bit into necks and tore jugulars. The more brutal, the more blood and flesh, the better. As the men died the magic from their blood was absorbed into his soul and his body ascended ever higher to a point of power perhaps rivaling the Old Ones themselves. Dark tendrils of blood magic promised ever more power so long as he continued to feed it.
June watched in horror as Solas cut a swath through the able bodied men like they were amueturs. He was frozen in place by the brutality of the slaughter, and the witness of such power and such anger.
Turns out a man with nothing to lose doesn't care much about his spirit being blemished, or what of the cost of his vengeance. Solas' behavior was unexpected of someone so connected to the world around them and so invested in the Fade, but his anger knew no bounds and he would do anything to achieve the end he so desperately craved.
Solas snatched June by the throat and pulled his feet from the ground. Sylaise screamed in terror as she went for her weapon. Then she caught sight of Rihari in the doorway, bow raised and arrow aimed right at her. Sylaise's weapon clattered to the stony ground and she went down to her knees defeated. All she could do now was wait her turn to die.
"I will give you a quick death, which is more than you deserve after putting so many through such suffering," Solas growled as he threw June to the ground and pulled a spectral blade right from the fabric of existence itself.
June gulped air as he attempted to beg for his life. Solas' smile was icy as he swung the blade and decapitated the man that cowered on the ground. His head rolled a few feet away, and bumped into Sylaise leg as she kneeled still. She cried harder, snot stringing down to pool on the floor below her and mixing with the blood that flowed from the head of her friend.
He reveled in his victory only a moment, grinning maniacally at the headless body that slumped the the ground at his feet. He soaked up all the feelings of satisfied revenge in the few moments before Sylaise's sobbing ripped through the moment.
Solas frowned as he looked over at her small body, cowering away from the still bleeding head of her brother-in-law. Fen'Harel discovered that he didn't want to kill her. She had been a friend, and an advisor. He had loved her like one of his own family. She had made mistakes, like everyone, but the biggest mistake she made was choosing the wrong side to ally with. He didn't have an option, she was as dedicated to her path as he was to his own.
He walked behind her and kicked the head away, he didn't want that to be the last thing she saw. "I always liked you, Sylaise." He placed a hand on her shoulder. She flinched at his touch at first, but then sighed in relief as the calming spell he cast took effect. "Unfortunately, I cannot allow you to live and continue in June's plan."
She nodded solemnly. He drew a dagger and shakily slipped the blade into the base of her skull, killing her instantly. Her body slid from the dagger by the means of gravity and plopped to the floor. Solas took a deep breath as he looked to Rihari in the doorway, her face was emotionless, but she shook her head in dismay.
"They had to die."
"Not like this." She turned and left silently, leaving him alone with what he had done. His eyes welled with tears as he looked down at Sylaise corpse. Why had it come to this? Why couldn't they have just left her out of it?
He took a shaky breath as he retrieved his staff from the bloody floor. A single tear fell from his cheek and plopped into the blood leaving a small marbled spot in the sea of red. Before leaving the room, he pulled up June's head by the hair, and did all he could to not look at it. He considered briefly taking Sylaise's head as well, but couldn't bring himself to do it.
The blood was sticky around his fingers now that it cooled and he was acutely aware of the feeling of cogulated blood between his toes. He ignored the discomfort and carried the head and himself back down the hall and outside into a new nightmare.
There were many spears here, and he impaled the head on one, then stuck the butt end into another dead mans chest. He swiped at his ear as he examined the scene. The blood on his hands meddled with his own as he felt for the annoyance. There was a knick on the length of his ear where one of the earrings had been ripped out during the battle.
He dropped his hand from his ear with a sigh. He had hoped that this small victory would alleviate some of his suffering, but no such luck. If anything, he felt even more empty than before. He shoved his feelings away as he worked on the scene.
But as hard as be tried, his mind continued to wander to that dark hole in his heart where a piece of him had been cut out. His hands absently swiped into the blood on the ground and he used his fingers as a paintbrush to leave a message.
"Fen'Harel enansal," he read aloud as he finshed painting the words in blood above the broken doorway. The Dread Wolf had only one blessing now, a blessing of death. Death of others, and death of all that he had once been.
He didn't look back as he stepped up onto Atisha and took to the sky. After all, there was more killing to be done on the battlefield. The war was far from over. Maybe, when it was at its end, the emptiness inside him would fade and he would be alive again.
Fen'Harel enansal: The Dread Wolf's blessing.
She followed the game trail through a clutter of briars and came out to see a small stream. Just in time too, her canteen was way past empty. She crept up to the stream carefully and looked both ways down it, even examining the trees on the other side for any sign of danger.
Once satisfied that she was alone, she dipped the canteen into the water. Her mouth felt dry as she watched the air bubble out of the canteen as water rushed in. She tried to swallow, but it felt like scraping sandpaper down her esophagus.
She pulled the canteen from the stream, not yet full and gulped down what it did hold, then placed it back in the water to refill. After another half of the canteen drinked, she refilled it and put the top back on. She stepped carefully into the water and to the other side, resuming to follow the trail.
Rihari was convinced that there would be some sort of animal near or on the trail, but there had yet to be any proof of that. She walked silently, her bare feet barely making any sound as she took careful steps through the leaves and underbrush.
She listened to the sounds of the forest for signs of disturbance or danger. A twig snapped somewhere to her right. She turned her head in that direction, magic already flowing through her body like adrenaline as she pulled the bow from her back and loaded an arrow on the string.
She scanned every inch of her surroundings, not seeing anything. Then another snap, to her left this time. She whirled quickly, drawing back the string as she did. She saw a squirrel, squattimg innocently amongst the branches and fallen leaves. Relief flooded her body and she let the arrow fly.
She held up and spun the squirrel around on its stick. She prodded at it with a finger and it felt tender enough so she pulled a strip of flesh from its thigh. It was hot, but she chewed slow anyway, letting the meat scorch her tongue as she chewed. After eating the whole squirrel and sucking the bones clean she flopped onto her back and looked at the stars peeking through the leaves of trees overhead.
"Thanks, Mr. Squirrel," she yawned. For the first time in days, her belly was full. The comfort of such a feeling tugged her into sleep quickly.
There was so much blood. It poured from every orifice of the man's face as he reached for her with broken fingers. Bone stuck out from flesh and twisted in impossible angles. Rihari cowered away from his reaching appendages and buried herself into something hard behind her.
The man staggerred forward on crushed legs, blood bubbling from his lips and trickling steadily from his bulging eyeballs. She clenched her eyes shut and shook her head. It wasn't real, she told herself, the dead don't walk, not like this. His uneven footsteps got louder as he stepped closer. Then suddenly, silence. She opened her eyes and screamed.
The man was inches from her face, a disgusting grin broke his face. Blood flowed from his mouth, pooling under her feet. She tried to pull back, but there was no where to go. He reached out with broken fingers and snatched her up by the neck.
She swung her arms wildly, shoving and gouging at him with everything in her, but her punches had no impact, and her shoves were weak. He tossed her to the ground, knocking the air from her as she scrambled to get to her feet. The man that was dead but somehow still walked, staggered towards her impossobly fast and dropped down on top of her.
The man suddenly began to melt, all of his skin and all the blood it held slipped right off of his skull and plopped straight into her screaming mouth.
She sat up, kicking and shoving as she scrambled to her feet. In her frenzy she slammed into a tree. Her shoulder took the brunt of the hit, and she somehow bounced from the surface and hit the ground hard. She groaned, gripping her arm as pain shot up and down and out in every angle from her shoulder. Her tailbone throbbed from its impact as well.
"Fenedhis lasa," she cursed as she pushed herself to her feet.
She snatched up her bow and arrows and slipped them across her chest, being careful when she lifted her damaged arm. Time to move.
If she was quick, she would be to the castle in another two days. Solas had told her to stay at the camp, but she had fled despite his wishes. The people there had thought she knew more than she did. They had put her in a position of power that she didn't want or know how to manage anyway. She wasn't a leader, not here.
The castle peeked out from the trees. She would be there soon. Anticipation bubbled in her belly at the excitement of seeing Solas and she smiled as she stepped out of the treeline. She stood a moment, watching as people mulled about the stony grounds. She sighed, the end of a long journey was always the best. She took a step forward.
Suddenly, she was snatched backwards, and slammed to the ground. She whimpered at the pain that shot out from her earlier injured shoulder. A muddy elf with bright green eyes straddled her, a sharp blade pressed to her neck.
"What have we here?" The woman asked, her green eyes seemed to swirl in time with the pounding in Rihari's chest. "The Dread Wolf's lover?"
She swallowed hard, making the blade dig into ger skin a little too hard. She felt the skin part as it sliced. Her bow was pinned underneath her, but she could probably reach the dagger on her thigh. Could she do it quick enough though? She wasn't sure she could, so that left only magic.
"This will make the Gods very happy." White teeth gleemed impossibly bright as she smiled.
Rihari resisted the urge to roll her eyes as the woman pulled her to her feet. She kept the blade still pressed to her neck. "Drop your weapons."
She did as asked and the woman let down her guard a little. Enough. Rihari shot flames from her fimgertips, scorching the girls leg even through the caked on mud. She squeeled, slashing at Rihari with the blade, but pain made her sloppy. Rihari threw her weight into the woman. Tears pricked at her eyes when the bruised shoulder banged against her bony form.
They tumbled to the ground, the blade falling from her grip as they hit the dirt. Rihari climbed on top of the woman and swung for her face. The elf threw her weight to the left, rolling Rihari over. They both scrambled for the knife glinting in the afternoon sun but the woman reached it first then turned to slash at her.
Rihari scrambled away, shooting flames at her attacker again proved worthless as now she was prepared for it. Her bow was her only hope. She shoved off of the ground sprinting, and slid into the pile of her weapons.
She grabbed the bow, but there wasn't enough time for an arrow. Her attacker slung herself at her. Rihari swung the curved side of the bow at her, missing as the elf ducked. She sliced at her with the dagger, but Rihari jumped away too fast.
Her eyes darted to the quiver of arrows. She just needed one. The elf squinted her green eyes, watching her carefully as Rihari walked a big careful circle, holding up her empty bow as if it were a sword.
Could she make an arrow from magic? If she could, she didn't know how. What about time magic? That existed, but she hadn't learned the spell. "Just leave, lethallan. You don't have to do this." Maybe she could appeal to her better nature?
The woman snarled. "Lethallan? As if."
Or maybe not.
"Why follow them? They want to keep you a slave. The lowest class citizen. I can see the vallaslin of June peeking out from that mud.. you don't have to fight for them."
She slatted her eyes and laughed dryly. "And the alternative is to join a rebellion and destroy the world?"
Destroy the world? "What? No.. we aren't-"
The elf moved fast, darting forward and slicing out wide as she got close. The blade cut through her flesh easily as she tried to roll away. She didn't stop to evaluate the wound, and instead straight lined for her arrows.
She reached the quiver and grabbed an arrow with trembling fingers. Blood made her fingers slick as she balanced the arrow on the string of her bow.
The elf cocked a brow. "One arrow? What if you miss?"
Rihari gritted her teeth against the tremble of her hand. Her shoulder ached already from the tension, and her hand was slick with blood, making everything harder to do. She grinned and pulled the string taut. "I never miss."
The elf didn't have time to react, the arrow whizzed through the air and struck her in the eye. Her body went slack as she fell to the ground, crumpling up into too small a form for anyone. Rihari grunted and looked down at her arm. Blood pulsed out from a deep gash. It left a puddle of sickly red below her in the dirt.
She yanked at the fabric of her blouse and tore it open. She placed her fingers on the wound and called on the magic of healing. The flesh stitched itself together crudely, leaving a jagged mark in the sticky blood.
She swiveled quickly, snatching up her quiver as she moved. Her eyes landed on a man, braided brown hair, an old scar around his neck. She slatted her eyes, her fingers itched to reach for an arrow.
"Rihari, my dear," he spat, "What a pleasure."
He took a small step forward and she notched an arrow quickly, before he could step any closer. "Move any closer and I'll put this through your fucking skull."
He smiled nonchalantly. "Be still, Rabbit."
"Don't call me that," she screamed. She pulled the string tighter, her arm quivering as she did so.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said softly, an animalistic smile pulled his lips outward.
His eyed flitted briefly to some spot behind her. Her heart dropped into her stomach. An ambush.
"Sleep," a soft voice said into her ear. She struggled against the wave of exhaustion that overwhelmed her. She let the arrow go by accident, and it twirled lazily through the air, digging into June's thigh. He grunted in pain as she fell to the ground. Her body was too heavy to move, but she tried anyway. She reached drowzily for her bow, but her fingers couldn't grasp it. The world around her was fading.
June was speaking to someone, probably the person who had bewitched her. She couldn't focus anymore and her mind was pulled into deep sleep.
"That is absolutely inappropriate." A voice. Somewhere close, yet so far away.
It's dark. That's the first thing she thought. Then she opened her eyes. It was still dark, but somewhat less so. The grey stone wall in front of her had markings on it. Her eyes were blurry and her brain was fuzzy, but she thought they were tick marks. Someone had spent a lot of time here, years even.
Her heart pounded in her chest and brought her to life. She pushed herself sloppily to her feet, stumbling forward into the marked up wall. She rested her head against the deep grooves of the scratches and took a deep breath.
Someone was replying to the first voice. She couldn't discern the words, but they sounded harsh, coming up like jagged edges that cut up the woman's throat on the way out.
Her head throbbed with every fluttering beat of her heart. Her neck hurt where she had been cut, and her knees were bruised. When she swallowed it felt like sandpaper on gravel. The absolute dryness of her mouth and throat choked her, and she coughed.
Her cough was dry and brought tears to her eyes. Or she thought tears, but really they just stung. She was too dehydrated for tears. With the sudden realization of her circumstance she slid over to the bars and tried to call out.
"Help!" She tried to scream, but it came out something like a whispering frog.
She swallowed hard, closing her eyes against the pain that shot through her head. Her brain screamed at her to try again.
She licked her chapped lips with a dry tongue and called again. "I need water!"
This time her voice carried a little further and she heard the voices quieten. Soon after someone walked into her view from the left and stood in front of her. She reached feebly for them, her fingers brushing against the silky edge of their coat.
"Please.." she croaked, "water."
The figure didn't move for a long moment, then snapped his fingers to someone out of sight. Soon he pushed a metal cup of water into her hand.
She tried to still her trembling fingers as she pulled the cup towards herself. Some small droplets did spill over the lip of the cup as she brought it through the bars, and she whimpered as she watched them fall.
She gulped down the water. The cool fluid rushed down her throat and seemed to bring her body back to life. Once her cup was empty and she licked it clean she looked up to thank her savior, looking straight into the eyes of an enemy.
Her thanks hung from her tongue, unsaid, as she looked at June's smug face. Her heart thudded, reminding her that she was still alive, and it pushed her into action. Her feet carried her away from him.
The words that had previously been said outside of her cell rushed back to her. The woman suggested they give her to the people, let them have their way with her in an attempt to rally them. June had called that inappropriate, and she had replied that allowing a violent end would break the Dread Wolf.
A third party had suggested something far worse than death. The voice was familiar, but she couldn't place it at first. Now she knew it was Dirthamen, master of secrets, for how else could he know the horrible mechanics of Tranquility.
"No," she whimpered.
A smile twitched at the corners of June's mouth. "Oh, yes."
Her brain grasped for an answer just out of reach, but not soon enough, not before two men came in and pulled her out by her arms. She struggled against their grip, but they pulled her along.
"I thought perhaps," June stated as they pulled her through some doors and onto a balcony, "that you may wish to enjoy the warmth of the sun once more."
He was right. The sun was a warm comfort on her skin, until she looked down from the blue sky and saw a multitude of people below. They all looked up expectantly at June and Dirthamen. Rihari determimed that the woman had been Andruil. She looked beautiful in a full suit of leather armor that hugged every curve perfectly.
Dirthamen looked disgruntled, probably because of the vallaslin that marked her body. Or maybe because he regretted spilling the secret. After all, he and Fen'Harel had once been friends.
June was speaking, telling them of how they would take her soul before sending her back to her lover. Andruil joined him by saying that it would cripple their rebellion once they saw what had been done to Fen'Harel's most beloved.
Her emotions ran wild. Fear first, a need to bolt, she tested the men's grip on her arms, but it was strong and sturdy. A woman to her right was holding something into a fire created by her other hand. It appeared to be a metal rod of sorts.
Then anger came. It burned through her body with a blazing fury. She wasn't going to just give up, she had to fight. She tried to call on magic, but her mind and body were weak. Small sparks sizzled at her fingertips, but she could bring nothing more.
Hope came next. How long had it been? Hours? Days? She wouldn't have any way to know. Solas would be looking for her by now right? He would find her. Any minute now they would crash through the crowd and save the day. She realized when the woman pointed the metal rod at her that her hopes were just a distant wish.
The glowing tip of the brand was a wolf with six eyes. It was to be a statement, look and see what your leader has caused. The crowd below cheered as the hot metal came closer to her forehead.
Rihari swung her head wildly, tears streaming down her face.
"Hold her!" June bellowed. Another man stepped forward, snatched her by the hair and snapped her head back. His other hand closed around the back of her neck, holding her stiffly in place. The brand came close enough that she could already feel the heat.
She crossed her eyes to watch the metal as it closed in on her forehead. Hot searing pain sprang through every inch of her body as the skin of her forehead blistered and then crisped. She thought she was screaming, but couldn't hear anything over the feeling of every nerve in her body firing at once. And then the metal rod was gone and her body was dropped. She hit the floor and curled up.
There was no use in fighting, it was over. Suddenly, a man tugged her up by the arm and pushed her forward on her knees. Her knees scraped the stone ground as they pushed her, but it was a mute pain in comparison to the pain of being branded.
Dirthamen kneeled in front of her and started saying something, but she wasn't listening. She already knew what was coming. Instead of wonder about what was next she let her mind drift to Solas. She let herself be filled up by the feeling of love that they shared.
It was the last thing she felt before Dirthamen touched her forehead. She could feel all of that emotion and all of the things that made her who she was being pulled away. She tried to hang on to it, but it was like holding onto water; the harder she grasped, the quicker it fled until there was nothing left.
It was over so fast. The skin on her forehead burned intensely, but that was the only thing she felt. There was nothing inside of her that had wants or needs. She simply was. Thats not to say she couldn't think for herself.
She thought this was unfair and wrong. She thought it was cruel and she wondered what came next, but none of those things were felt, only thought. She couldn't remember what anger felt like. She couldn't recall exactly how love had felt, or what made one laugh. It was strange. She thought it was strange to be so full of every emotion one second, and the next they were gone.
"Get up," June grunted in her ear.
She stood. Tears still streamed down her face from the pain on her forehead and her battered body only.
"You have to go back to him now."
She looked into June's eyes. She wanted to be angry, she wanted to spit in his face and scream, but she couldn't feel anger or hate. All she knew was that she had hated him a few moments before.
"Why?" His request didn't make sense to her. Why would she go back now? She could just as easily be tranquil here as there.
The elves about the platform laughed. Why? What was so funny?
"Because he loves you."
"You going back to him now will break him," Andruil chimed.
"Break him?" Rihari scrunched her brows. "Why?"
June rolled his eyes and punched Dirthamen in the arm. "This was a waste if time!"
"No! It worked! It's... amazing!" Dirthamen grinned. "Rihari, stop asking questions. Do what we say."
She had no want to resist. "Okay."
"Okay, master," Dirthamen corrected.
He smiled again. "See? She no longer has desires."
"Very well," June grumbled, "I'll take her to the crossing. One of his scouts will pick her up there."
June shoved her off the griffon. Her feet didn't catch the ground right, and she fell to her knees. The rocks dug into her kneecaps and shot pain up and down her legs. She got up quickly and wiped the pebbles away.
"Follow the trail north." He pointed in the direction of north. "They'll see you and take you to him immediately."
"Very well, master."
She turned and started walking. She walked for three hours and then some men hollered from somewhere to her left. She turned and a man with a staff ran forward. Magic crackled in the air, and then he saw her face. He dropped the staff to his side.
"My lady! What are you doing out here?"
His forehead creased as he stepped closer. His eyes scanned her face in the darkness until he noticed the disfigured skin. He snapped his fingers, bringing forth a small flame and held it up to her face. His mouth hung open, his face turned white, and goosebumps crawled over his skin in waves.
"Who did this to you?"
"June, Dirthamen, Andruil, and a few others."
"Why?" He asked.
"To break him," she replied cooly.
"What's wrong with you? You don't care?"
She looked at her feet. She thought she should feel bad, but didn't know how. "I am unsure how to care, master."
He swallowed hard as he turned to the man still back at their station. "I have to get her to Fen'Harel now. This is.. evil." He dropped his glowing fingers and requested she follow him.
He hurried her onto a horse, and galloped a few miles over to a stone ruin hiding in the vines and moss of the forest. They unmounted and he pulled her inside. There was an eluvian there, he tugged her through it. A twinkle of magic tingled on her skin as the glass shimmered and let them through.
They walked briskly down the winding path until they came to a dead end with another eluvian. Dark. Broken. The man cursed and turned around. They followed a different path to a fork and he steered her right. Eventually, after wandering through the Between for what seemed like hours, he pulled her through another eluvian.
They were in a castle now. It was quite and dark. Empty. Vacant. She realized it was one of the castles she had previously been to, one of Fen'Harel's. The one he had pulled her to once upon a time.
They passed by a door, knocked from the hinges. A memory wafted around the seams of reality. He had led her there, into the study, he had kissed her for the first time there on that torn and dusty couch.
Something in her chest felt off, her heart beat elevated a little as she recalled the memory. Was that love? Your heart just beat fast? She didn't understand.
"This way." He pushed open a creaky door and walked up to a dark eluvian. "Fen'Harel enaste," he whispered. The glass lit up and he grinned back at her, then quickly dropped it. This was a sad day for the rebellion.
They walked through and came out on the other side of a stone bridge, the middle of it missing. He raised his head and howled. Somewhere on the other side of the bridge, came a return howl, then the middle of the walkway came up out of the lake. He led her across the walkway slowly, dreading every second of what was to come.
"I need to see Joyn," he said softly to the sentry.
"Joyn is out on a mission. Retheon is second in command currently."
"Then get him!" He snapped.
The sentry nodded and shuffled out of sight. A few moments later, Rethoen followed the sentry back around the same column he had originally disappeared from.
"What's this about, scout?"
"It's Rihari." Her escort nodded towards her. "They did something to her."
Retheon looked ghastly as he heard the news. "I'll.. go get him." He turned slowly, head hanging low between his slack shoulders as be sombered off to get Solas.
She was looking at the dark forest. She had been right there earlier. Had almost made it here. Now none of that mattered.
"What is this?" Solas asked from behind her. She turned to look at him.
He stopped dead in his tracks. The color left his face as his eyebrows stitched together. He took a small step back as his eyes locked onto her forehead. Every emotion flashed over his face as tears welled up in his eyes.
There it was again. That pounding inside her chest as her heart picked up a beat her soul couldn't remember. She was still her, she was still in here. She just didn't know how.
She slept so peacefully, as if right outside their tent, just a few miles away, the battlefield wasn't still burning. Her soft breathing did little to comfort his spirit in the way it once had. Now it only served to annoy him. She had been so quick to speak out when he had displayed such viciousness, but now she slept like a swaddled baby, long forgotten the brutality of the day.
Solas grunted as he rolled away from her, to the farthest edge of the bedding and wrapped his arms around himself. He took a deep breath, tainted by the scent of his formerly blood soaked skin. The soft scents of dirt and smoke were present as well, but not nearly as strong as the distinctive coppery smell of old blood. He dropped his arms away from his chest in disgust. His movements were accompanied by the soft grating sound of blankets sliding over skin.
His body was exhausted, his mind foggy, but sleep was far from him. He rolled around for what seemed like hours before leaving the tent. The crisp morning air filled his lungs with the hope of a new day, a better day. A day with two less villains in the world. In the distance smoke wisped into the still dark, but brightening horizon.
He quickly diverted his eyes to anywhere else, they landed on a group of tents with a small fire, dwindled to just embers. He ambled over and sat in the dirt beside it. The pulsating colors of the wood as they burned from the inside out helped him focus his mind.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The scents of smoke, dirt, pine, and dew in the air assaulted his senses. Crickets buzzed maniacally and nighttime fowl made their last caws and hoots before settling down. He focused on each stimulus individually and pushed his mind to wander far from his predicament.
She was quick to judge him. Quick to think his anger, his blood thirst, was unjustified. It was unfair that someone without the means to feel could decide rather or not he had reason enough for vengeance. She couldn't even comprehend what he was going through, she didn't have the capacity.
It was so despicable what they had done. They had taken the one thing he had to live for and sent it back empty, wearing her skin. As much as he tried to hate her, he couldn't. He still imagined her smiling sometimes, in fleeting moments before she turned away. He imagined that she might reach over and touch his hand, pull him in for a kiss, but she wouldn't.
His eyes had come open at some point during his wondering and now focused on the brilliant orange and red colors of the wood as they flowed over each other in a perfectly synchronized dance. His heart ached without bounds, pounding slowly in his chest. Each beat reverberated inside his head impossibly loud.
He took his breaking heart and shoved the feeling as far away as he could. There was nothing to be done about it for now. He closed his eyes again, desperate for the release of the Fade. He took deep, planned breaths and tried to clear his mind of all thought.
His spirit stayed planted firmly in the dirt with his exhausted body, unable to wander. Blood magic could prevent one from easily slipping into the Fade. He wondered if that was what held him from sleep, but only briefly as the gruesome scene of heads rolling and limbs being cut and ripped from their bodies played in his head for the thousandth time that night.
He opened his eyes and tried to breathe but it felt as if something was clamped around his windpipe. He scrambled up to his feet and stumbled towards the treeline, his eyes becoming blurry with every step. He tripped as he crossed the treeline, falling chest first onto the fallen sticks and leaves. He crawled over to a nearby tree and pushed himself into a sitting position against it.
The rough bark dug into his skin painfully even through his shirt. He pressed against it harder, grounding himself as his body began to tremble, his fingers becoming useless sticks connected to his heavy arms. His heart thudded in his ears and drowned out every sound other than his ragged breathing.
He couldn't see through the tears that streaked down his face and wriggled their way into his mouth coating his tongue with salt. He swallowed them, down past the lump in his throat.
Visions of burning bodies flashed through his mind, their faces permanently pulled into grimaces. He tried to swallow again, tried to push the images far away into some recess of his brain. However, those images were replaced by new images. Images of elves being speared off of horses and trampled by their own comrades, or bodies being crushed under massive rocks played in his head.
Cold beads of sweat coated his forehead and the back of his neck. His mouth began to water as his world tilted sickeningly. He pushed himself up and bent over as stomach acid and last night's stew lurched up his throat. He spewed his stomach contents onto the dead leaves and wiped his mouth with the back of his still shaking hand.
With a deep sigh he settled back down against the tree. His appendages felt fuzzy and disconnected from his body as he came down off of the adrenaline high that the panic attack had brought. He closed his eyes, trying to bring his breathing to a steady rhythm.
A cold drop of rain plopped him on the nose. He looked up through the branches of the tree, to the rolling clouds beyond. Another fat raindrop fell onto his forehead. Suddenly the sky opened up and dropped its contents onto his head.
He pushed himself up as the thunder clashed and the sky seemed to open a second flood gate. Water washed over him steadily, it's cold fingers wiping away the panic attack and replacing it with a desperate need to get inside. He jogged back towards camp, stepping over the dead remains of the campfire and towards his tent.
He threw back the tent flap and stepped in quickly, crashing into a form hard. They both grunted as they fell to the ground. His ribs found a jagged rock as they landed and he gasped, rolling carefully onto his back as the form on top of him pushed themselves up and came into view.
Bright blue eyes. It's all he could see. He couldn't breathe; he forgot where he was - when he was. He chuckled softly, his wet hand came up to touch her cheek, his eyes travelling up with the movements of his hand. His fingers traced a delicate line along her jaw and tucked a braid behind her ear. His fingers lingered, his brain catching up with the moment. His hand dropped lifelessly away as his smile was replaced with hard lines.
He grunted as he pushed himself up, she got off of him quickly and picked up her bow.
"I woke and you weren't here."
He nodded. "I went for a walk."
"In the rain?"
He rolled his eyes. What's with all the questions, he wondered. "No. It started raining while I was out." Why did she care anyway? He started up and she offered her hand to help. He took it firmly.
"I was worried," she said. She released his hand and pulled back the flap to check the progress of the storm, and to give him privacy as he changed.
"What?" He dropped his wet shirt to the ground. The sound it made reminded him of the sound of the blood soaked earth of a battlefield as his feet would sink into it. He felt bile rising in his throat again.
"I was worried," she repeated. She stole a glance back at him, her eyes lingering on his bare chest before looking away.
"How?" He was eager to focus on anything other than death.
"Ser!" Quin threw back the tent flap. "Some men are approaching."
"Under what flag?" He tugged on his leather armor quickly.
"None, my Lord."
Fen'Harel frowned as he dropped his wet pants. Quin blushed and dropped the flap, hiding the sight of her leader in his loincloth. He snorted at her display, tugged on his new pants and snatched up his staff.
"Ready?" He inhaled deeply, changing himself from Solas with feelings and emotion to the true essence of Fen'Harel in a moment. His heart was hardened. He brought out his inner blood thirsty animal. It licked its lips in anticipation of the fight.
Rihari nodded, she placed an arrow on the string of her bow. "Ready."
They stood silently in the rain, watching the slow approach of the unknown army; a small group for such bravery. Solas - at the front of his own small yet powerful army - scanned the ranks of those that trotted ever closer. He saw no one that struck him as familiar.
Tension built as they progressed. When they were at least three hundred yards out, Solas felt the thrill of the fight building inside of him. Electricity flowed over his skin like cool blue waves. It filled his body with a magnificent need to expel the energy. He stifled a smile as it flickered behind his eyes, pulsing with absolute urgency.
At two hundred yards they halted in unison. Silence forced it's way over the field, even the rain seemed to break for this moment. But lightning still flashed across the pale purple dawn, and thunder still clashed distantly.
A single woman, bearing no vallaslin, stepped through the bodies making up the front line. Her hair was a vibrant silvery shade of blonde, flowing down in delicate locks that embraced her body.
She was a magnificent creature, delicate and fierce in a very sophisticated way. She held herself with pride and her very presence demanded attention and respect.
She stepped deliberately, every step seeming to have a point to make. She stopped exactly half way between the two armies and waited for Solas to come the rest of the way. He sighed, locking away the power that had made him so giddy a moment earlier.
"Harea." She smiled, teeth gleaming fantastically as she offered her hand to be kissed.
He took it carefully and kissed the top of her hand. Smiling slyly at her as he did so. "Harea," he repeated. "Ironic, yes?"
She chuckled dryly. "I suppose so."
Fen'Harel smiled, magic in the area pushed against him desperately. She tilted her head slightly, sensing his pull on the elements. She grinned again.
"I have come bearing a warning."
"And what might that be?" He asked.
He snorted, but offered no reply. He had no plans to stop until his thirst for revenge had been quenched. He offered a small smile, not unpleasant or malicious in any form. In honesty, he admired her tenacity; thinking that she might succeed in fighting against him. None other ever had.
"I am not the one who has done this," he said at last, "not the one that has brought so much fear upon the world."
She canted her head, long waves of hair swayed along with her movement. He noted that her hair was dry even though the weather was unsightly. A spell perhaps. Maybe it wasn't any such magic and this was just her physical form. The physical form of a spirit of justice. He took a deep breath, yes, that was it. She was no woman, she was a spirit.
"Are you not the one known as Fen'harel?" She gleamed. "One calling itself the Dread Wolf, is not one that inspires fear?"
"If you have come on behalf of my namesake you are mistaken. This is a rebellion. All is fair."
Harea leered at him. "Nothing is so simple." Her jaw flexed.
The image of a young man, skewered to the end of his staff hurtled through his mind, followed by the deaths of many others, undeserving of such a demise. He frowned at the spirit for its display. "Why not show yourself for what you really are? A spirit of Justice."
Harea wore a sad smile. "This is your only chance, Solas," she stated. Then she turned and retreated back towards her men. "End this madness."
He watched the army turn and go back the way they had come, Harea dissolving into the mass of bodies as they marched in unison. "It is too late," he answered softly.
"Where did she come from?" He asked. Thunder crashed outside angrily as they huddled under the makeshift tent. The wind blew chilling drops of rain into their faces.
Quinn wiped her cheek clean of the water. "We don't know, ser. They were not seen by any scouts. Perhaps they have a base nearby. Underground perhaps or in some hidden cavern."
"It is possible," Rihari mumbled offhandedly.
Solas stepped closer, one hand on his hip in a sort of impatient way as the rain pelted the tent and tugged at it's small overhangs. "What are you thinking?"
Rihari didn't react to his attitude. "This area," she pointed to a spot on the map a few miles away from their current position. "In my own time it's called the Fallow Mire."
Quinn looked at her oddly, unsure of what she meant.
"And?" He asked.
"It is an unpleasant place full of old ruins, marshes, and the stench of the undead."
"Ah! We call it something else.." Quinn grinned at her inquisitiveness. "And it is quite pleasant actually. Rainy and swampy, but there are villages."
"What is your point?" Solas pinched the bridge of his nose.
"There is a keep there. It's a possible hideout."
"We can send out a small team to scout the area." Quinn stated.
The wind whipped through Fen'Harel's hair. "No. I will go."
"Rihari will come along since she knows the area well. We will go on foot."
Rihari's eyes held a flicker of curiosity. Griffon or horse would be faster, why walk?
The bog was not as disturbed as it had been during her last visit. Clouds hung low in the sky, fat with rain that hadn't yet started to fall, and there was no stench of the undead. There were no bodies laying half burned along the small walkways, and demons didnt burst from the sky to attack.
Thunder sounded distantly, so distantly in fact one might not have heard it if they weren't listening. Rihari walked behind Solas, practically stepping in his footprints as they made the journey to the nearest village. He had changed into modest clothing and even wore a hood. A simple braid peeked out from beneath the hood and snaked it's way down past his collar bone to rest on his chest.
"Not much further," he grumbled back at her.
They came around a corner made entirely out of cattails and stopped. A statue stood here, familiar as ever. Moss didn't cover its stony surface however and there were no demons drawn to it.
Solas frowned at her and then at the stone. "What is it?"
"It's just interesting that these still stand."
"Do they?" He stepped closer to the stone, reaching out to graze his fingertips along an inscription. The stone seemed to respond to his touch by spewing energy that could not be seen, but felt.
"Indeed. What are they for?" Her skin pricked at the sensation of the magic as it flowed out of the statue.
"As a guide, for elves and spirits alike."
"I see," she said softly.
He dropped his hand from the stony surface and the entire world seemed to sigh in its absence.
"Come," he motioned, "we must proceed."
She didn't protest.
They made it to the village right before dusk. Crickets had already came out of their hiding places to sing sleepy love songs. A fat toad plopped into the murky water beside the walkway as they approached town.
He led them to the tavern, a modest little building with a slapped together wooden roof. He wondered briefly if the shanty ceiling could even hold out the rain that so plagued this area.
Thunder rolled again, now a little closer, accented by the sound of the taverns owner putting a log on the fire.
A group of youngsters bounded through the door proceeded by laughter. One of them accidentally bumped Rihari on the shoulder as he passed and promptly apologized.
They sat at a small round table with mismatched chairs. Solas scooted up in his chair and leaned closer. "I have a plan."
Rihari snapped her attention away from the people of the bar to look at him. Her eyes held a question, but no words were said.
"The Others.. they have quite the army building," he frowned, "How that is, I'll never know."
Rihari pointed at her forehead. "They have access to new things."
Solas frowned. "You think they're making others Tranquil?"
She looked back towards the bar. Her brain was a weird scramble of things. An abundance of unhinged memories that brought up no emotion that she could understand anymore, along with a new sensation, curiosity.
"I have no idea, but if they have the means to make me Tranquil.. what have they done to others?"
Solas frowned as he pushed back in his chair. He supposed it made sense, but on such a grand scale? No. It was simple brainwashing; it had to be.
"Hungry?" He asked, changing the subject.
"Yes," she replied curtly. He could have sworn he saw her almost smile.
Frogs and crickets and the astonishingly loud crashing of thunder was all that could be heard outside the creaking walls of the small room they rested in.
"We made a good team didn't we?"
Solas rolled over in his bed to look at her. Details were difficult to make out in the dark, but lightening flashed briefly and lit her face. Her eyes were closed but she was facing him, arms crossed under her head.
"Yes," he said softly.
Water dripped from the ceiling and into a metal bucket. Drip. Drip. Drip.
"We have to stop them."
"We will, da'ean, but first sleep."
Harea --> she who removes fear.
Da'ean --> little bird
He regarded her absently as they walked. Her boots made soft sounds against the damp ground, her breathing was slow, unbothered, even as they grew closer to this may be hide out.
"What is the plan of approach?"
Solas grunted. "We should be cautious, she is unpredictable. We cannot even be sure that she will be here, or that she even inhabits a place. She could exist solely in the Fade, and only make visits to the waking world when she sees necessary."
Rihari nodded. "If that's true then this trip may have been for nothing. She could be watching us now. Or at the least keeping tabs."
He nibbled at the inside of his cheek, the soft flesh peeling away easily and satisfyingly. She was right, he had rushed in without thinking this through. Most likely she wouldn't be here, but her army men could be.
For now they should proceed.
"Why come on foot, Solas?" Rihari asked.
He sighed. "It is a quieter approach, one that does not invite suspicion of our identities."
She hummed in understanding. "Why wouldn't we want to be noticed? Some may join our fight."
"Quiet," he snapped.
She was instantly silenced. Inwardly she tugged at the tangled mess that were her thoughts. How everything became such a mess, she could only guess. She supposed that losing the ability to feel took away her right to strong ideals, leaving her thoughts a jumbled mess of facts and hardly any real opinions to speak of.
"There," he pointed, "is that it?"
The castle was shanty to say the least. The roof was in shambles. Mud caked the bottom two feet of the walls, mostly dried except for the last few inches where the wall met the soft ground.
"Yes," she stated, "but I don't understand. It doesn't look this bad in my own time."
Solas frowned. "Maybe they rebuilt it?"
"I suppose. That's just usually the opposite of how buildings age over a millennia."
It was true, though it was not out the realm of possibility that someone stumbled upon it and thought it was worth saving; that it was worth rebuilding it.
They made a slow and careful approach, moving deliberately and silently as they crept closer. There were no guards to be seen, no sentry by the door either. Rihari glanced up at the watchtowers and found they were empty also.
"I do not believe anyone is here," Solas whispered.
"It doesn't appear so," Rihari agreed.
"Wait a moment." He held a hand up as if holding the time he spoke of in place.
A moment turned out to be something closer to half an hour. Rihari watched the sun inch closer to the horizon as the climate of the marsh turned sticky. Moisture from the air was sucked down with every breath, thick and heavy with the sickly sulfurous smell of the swamp. Even still, she preferred this smell over that of the undead rising from the water. The stench of their waterlogged bodies as they got closer was still a vivid memory, a scent locked away in her brain forever, linked to this place.
"No one is here, Solas," she stated.
They made a cautious approach regardless. As expected, no one was there. Solas rested his hands on his hips and sighed. "Came a long way for nothing."
"So it would seem."
He waved towards the castle. "After you."
After carefully scouring the ruins and coming up empty, they returned to the crumbling entrance. Solas looked back towards the way they had came. The setting sun made his blue eyes seem almost translucent.
"We could stay the night," he stated.
"I'm sure this place has some fascinating secrets, yeah?"
"Certainly," he mumbled offhandedly. Was this some attempt at caring? He couldn't be sure, though the idea of walking the Fade in this unknown place was intriguing.
"Well enough, we will stay here the night." He turned from the sun, taking the vibrancy from his eyes with him.
She felt something in her stomach. A flutter. Was it emotion? Was it a sliver of feeling surfacing deep inside? Her stomach rolled as if on cue. Not emotion, just hunger.
A too large rat was skewered over a sputtering flame. She swallowed down the drool gathering in her mouth as she watched it turn slowly, moved by an unseen hand of magical tendrils.
Solas' voice was pricking at her focus on the rat, dragging her out of her trance slowly.
"Are you listening to me?"
She sat up straighter and pulled her eyes over to where he was standing. She nodded, just a small white lie.
"They are simply evil," he mumbled. "You were all that I wanted. I would have given up everything else to just be with you, just to have you back."
He sat down hard onto the dirty stone floor. "And what's more, they knew that. They knew I would have given up the fight, so this was just an act of unbridled hate. Unnecessary action."
"They wanted to hurt you," she stated, "they said so themselves."
"Well, mission accomplished." He slid his hands over his face and let them fall back to his lap with a plop.
He peered into the growing fire without blinking. "Why even bother fighting anymore?" He sighed deeply, "none of it matters anymore."
"They have to be stopped, Solas." She scooted closer towards the right of his form.
He pulled his knees up to his chest. It gave him a small and vulnerable quality that Rihari deduced her former self would have thought adorable. In reality it was him putting up a defense against the too close proximity of her body.
"You look like her. You technically are her.. but they took everything that made you special away."
He tossed another piece of wood into the fire. It hissed as the moisture in the wood was smoldered out. "As much as I want to hate you, I just can't."
He glanced over at her before diverting his eyes back to the flames, now licking at the rat, making its skin hiss as greases leaked out.
"As much of you that they took away, I know that the rest of you is here, that this is all that's left. I cannot let that go. So as much as I want to hate you, I can't because I still love you. Or what's left of you. A shell of you is better than nothing at all."
"I think I understand," she said. "I'm sorry."
"You have not done anything to be sorry about," he mumbled.
"No, but I want to love you. I just don't know how."
He pressed his head against the top of his knees. "I know."