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Perennial Dues

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Everyone has already gone to bed when they get back inside. Though clearly reticent, Solas leaves her at her door, wishing her a good night in that soft voice of his before retreating to his own room. She observes his withdrawing form, wondering what her revelations have done to his inquisitive mind. The shortage of available rooms forces her and Adahlena to share their space for the evening. A fact that neither of them mind. Exhausted, both by the journey and the tears, she falls asleep while sitting near the hearth, her head on Grief's shoulder.

She expects to see Wisdom. They're back in the mountains, after all, and she's been spending some of her nights conversing with the curious spirit that would visit her dreams from time to time, gladly sharing its knowledge of Elvhenan with her and asking questions on the human world in return. Well, when she wasn't being hounded by nightmares or old memories of her past, that is.

But what greets her is something else entirely.

A Fade replica of Solas' office stretches around her. In the middle, the Inquisitor materializes, seated on the apostate's desk with the latter lodged between her legs, his palms pressing her close to his chest by clutching her behind. The two are attacking each other's mouths quite fervently, unaware of her presence.

Perhaps Felassan's suggestive questioning has brought forth these indecent souvenirs.

The elf's tongue against the Inquisitor's throat seems to be her undoing.

Evelyn can recall everything going on inside her mind at that exact moment, relives it all vicariously through her mirrored image.

She wants him there. There's no one in the rotunda at that time of night. She could seduce him on his desk. It would force the elf to reminisce their moment of passion everytime he would be hard at work. Or try to be. At that thought, her fingers go for his belt.

Firm hands immediately take hold of her adventurous extremities.

"We shouldn't..." he contests, his hot breath tickling her parted lips.

"You always say that," she pants faintly, "and yet your hands always find their way to my buttocks."

"An unfair statement, considering how hard it is to restrain myself in your presence. Something you're plainly aware of," he accuses, prior to nipping on one of her delicate ears.

"What can I say?" she shrugs. "I'm the Inquisitor. Taking advantage of any weakness I can find among my adversaries is part of my duties."

"An adversary, am I?"

"Well, you're the only thing standing between me and what I crave so desperately." She smirks coyly, tugging on his pendant to deliver a swift kiss to his jawline.

"So I should stop resisting and let you have you have your way with me?" His tone implies he wouldn't really be averse to the idea.

"Why not? If we both want the same thing, why not just give in?"

His brows furrow, even as his eyes remain stubbornly focused on her swollen mouth. "The timing is not really appropriate. Perhaps we should wait."

She snorts humorlessly, hands falling back to her sides. "Wait for what, Solas? For all of us to be dead? The end of the world? An hypothetical, universal peace that will never come?"

"I didn't want to upset you," he mildly states, leaning down to stare into her eyes with a sincere, remorseful expression.  "You know how deep my affection for you runs."

"Actually, I don't." She says, suddenly stone-faced. "I think you love who I am, sure, but you obviously have a problem with what I am."

He frowns, hurt. "I do not understand."

She pushes away from him before flinging herself from the desk in order to march to the exit. "You rarely do."

The scene freezes, giving the real Evelyn the occasion to contemplate her ex-lover's troubled mien. The face of a truly clueless man. How could he not realize what his ceaseless rejections were doing to her self-confidence?

On the spur of the moment, she crosses the distance separating her from her old flame. Temptation proves too hard to resist. Fingers tentatively brush his right cheekbone, meeting solid, tangible skin instead of going through it like she'd half expected. A stroke of good luck.

A foolish idea invades her thoughts. There's no one around to scrutinize her behavior. She doesn't have to put up a front here. She can afford to be vulnerable, if only for a minute. With that in mind, she does what she wished she could have done earlier this evening, and embraces Solas. His distinctive smell is sadly missing, but the feeling of his body against hers is familiar. Comforting.

She sighs and shuts her eyes, losing herself in the sensation.

The rest of the night is a dark blur she cannot remember when she wakes up the next morning. Grief and Compassion have taken advantage of her slumber and placed a pillow underneath her head. A warm blanket also covers her clothed figure. Adahlena is already out of bed, painstakingly washing her face above a wooden basin. She seems to be trying to scrub her markings away.

Not the best technique.

"I wish I could get rid of it," the she-elf grouches, probably feeling the human's eyes on her.

Evelyn casually walks up to her and halts her efforts by gripping her wrist. "I might be able to help with that."


----------


Evelyn parts ways with the rest of the group as soon as they reach the Crossroads, deciding to return to the palace while the others make their way to the sanctuary. Solas reluctantly lets her go after five minutes of ludicrous debate over the matter, practically sulking once he realizes that none of his carefully chosen arguments will effectively change her mind.

His Majesty doesn't want to let her out of his sight. She fails to see what kind of danger one could possibly encounter by traversing a few eluvians and wandering through the capital, safest city of the elvhen kingdom. It's not as if she'd be completely alone anyway, her spectral friends stick to her like glue. The depressing content of their last discussion is enough reason for him to treat her like a child, apparently.

First he considers me a threat, and now I'm just a poor defenseless thing.

Felassan—who doesn't dismiss her adulthood, despite his tendency to make fun of her at every opportunity—simply ruffles her hair as a way of farewell and steps through the mirror, the renegades promptly following after him. Solas gives her one last discontented peek over his shoulder before disappearing as well.

Checking on the miners is the first thing she does upon her return to the palace.

According to Solas, three days have passed during their unplanned trek through the Fade. Not to mention their three days of regular travel, which signifies that she has been absent from Arlathan for almost a good week. And if there's one thing her experience as Inquisitor has taught her, it's that a lot of shit can happen in the shortest amount of time.

The makeshift infirmary turns out to be empty. She arrives just in time to watch a heedless, fair-haired woman cross the nearby corridor. From her spot, Evelyn can only distinguish the stranger's singular profile, but there's something somewhat familiar about it. Her identity remains unclear until the ceiling lights hit her dark eyes in just the right way.

Geldauran's host.

"Hey!" the human yells.

The elf doesn't stop, nor turns around to see whoever is calling out to her.

"Hey, wait!" she tries again, rushing after the woman.

Weird, hushed squeaks echo across the hallway. Her chase is abruptly intercepted when she bumps into a solid mass, cold fingers closing around her forearm in order to either halt her progress or stabilize her. Maybe both.

Turning to face the annoying meddler, Evelyn finds Idrilla impassively looking down at her. "In a hurry?"

The interruption has allowed the blond to vanish, making her frown. "I... Where is everyone?" she gestures to the deserted rotunda.

"There's been an update on the miners' situation." The servant's gaze momentarily shifts to her spectral companions. "Let the girl breathe a moment, would you?"

Both spirits glance at one another before gliding to the other end of the corridor.

Idrilla's hand settles at the small of her back, gently directing her out of the room. "Mythal and her people have unearthed lyrium-forging tools from the Pillars that were not being mined. They're trying to find out how to use it now."

"That's... good. Where are we going?"

"You've been gone for nearly a week." The elf's ensuing smirk is a touch too eerie for her taste. "I wouldn't want you to feel too out of touch."

No further explanations are dispensed. Evelyn lets herself be guided to wherever the woman has decided to lead her. She knows it's useless to insist with this one. It doesn't take long for her to recognize the path to their mysterious destination. The throne room's gates are wide open, permitting a pair of voices to drift from their point of origin and pervade the hallways. Some sort of official meeting between Mythal and some influential delegation is probably going on. Just one of many daily occurrences. Idrilla ushers her inside without bothering to wait for the guards' approval. Not that she'd need it, seeing as how she spends her days skulking in every corner of the palace unimpeded.

What they stumble on is incredibly reminiscent of Orlais' grandiloquent atmosphere. Mythal is sitting on her throne, one leg elegantly crossed over the other. She's never looked more imperial than in this setting. Empress Celene herself would not be able to hold a candle to the elvhen deity if she wanted to. Justice is proudly standing next to her, its shoulders squared with dignity. Abelas is there too, positioned on her opposite side like the ever faithful guardian that he is. He gives Evelyn a polite nod before refocusing on the man prostrated at the goddess' feet.

She can't really discern the curved individual due to the flames overlaying his body. She first thinks he's being burned alive, but his composed and quiet demeanor doesn't exactly correlate with that conjecture.

"Have I asked you to bow?" the evanuris inquires to the visitor.

"No, Your Highness."

"Then stand. The People are too quick to bend the knee."

He rises slowly. The elf is clad in a lurid golden robe with an embroidered jet black sun—which strongly resembles the Solium constellation—glistening at the center of his torso. A cloak made of living fire is draped over his shoulders. No fabric whatsoever.

So that's what it was.

"Do you plan to return immediately?" continues the deity. "You should stay a little, make the most of the city while you have the opportunity."

"The All-Father has asked me to deliver his proposal. He did not give me any further instructions, Your Highness."

"Then let me offer you hospitality."

She motions to Abelas, who seizes the casket displayed on a nearby table strewn with exotic items and presents its content to the man. All Evelyn can perceive from where she stands is a shard of raw lyrium dangling from a thin gilded chain.

The delegate eyes it with conspicuous hesitancy. "This is for me, I reckon?"

"Consider it a formality. A guest of Arlathan must be distinguishable from the rest of the crowd."

The goddess gauges his reaction in the same manner a predator stalks its wounded prey: with morbid curiosity. From their last discussion, the human has no difficulty figuring out what game the woman is playing.

The poor fool is being grilled and doesn't even realize it.

"You are too generous, my Lady. I can't possibly accept—"

Mythal tilts her head, a dangerous glow in her eyes despite her everlasting smile. "You would refuse a gift?"

"...Of course not, Your Highness. I would never do you such grave offense."

And I thought orlesians were the epitome of arselickery.

"I don't understand," Evelyn whispers to the maid. "Why show me this?"

"This is the elvhen court, girl. Your eyes and ears are your best weapons here. Learn how to use them," she suggests, glancing at her askance. "Daggers will only get you so far."

"Like the one concealed into your skirts?"

"Don't be fresh."

With a wave of Mythal's hand, Idrilla steps forward to fasten the necklace around the representative's neck, whose adam's apple bobs up and down as he anxiously swallows. Evelyn also catches the tiny bead of sweat trickling along his temple. The scene reminds her of her childhood, when she'd observe other nobles uncomfortably try to interact with her stern and unpleasable father.

Job done, Idrilla retracts her hands from the elf, who soon finds himself caged between the servant and the Sentinel.

Evelyn has a hard time judging which of the two looks more threatening.

"Thank you, my Lady." He articulates, bowing his head respectfully.

"My pleasure," the evanuris smirks, then finally draws her attention to the human, prompting him to do the same.

"And what is this?" he questions with blatant disgust, his cruel eyes sifting her every aspects.

"A guest, same as you."

"Surely Her Highness would not compare me to a mindless puppet?"

"Mindless puppet?" Mythal's brow arches, demonstrating her amusement. "Does your master think similarly of you, I wonder?" The barb is followed by a discomfited silence. "Show him to his rooms," she orders Abelas.

Shamed, the delegate scurries out of the room, his appointed escort trailing behind him in total apathy.

The goddess' gaze drastically softens once it settles onto her handmaid. "Keep an eye on this one, little mouse."

"It will be done, my Lady."

After a brief curtsey, Idrilla twists around and follows her predecessors' example.

"Little mouse?" Evelyn repeats as the doors discreetly slam shut.

"A mere metaphor," explains the deity. "Can you smell it in the air? The scent of deceit..."

"He's obviously aware of the lyrium's effects. If that's what he's trying to hide, then he's doing a pretty awful job."

"Which means our suspicions were well-founded. All of my brethren have sent word to ask the reason behind the shipments delay. All, except for Elgar'nan. A bit odd, don't you think?"

Stocking Telahn's words in a part of her brain for future reference was a good choice, it would seem.

"One of the slaves we recently rescued used to work at his temple," she tells Mythal. "He told me something strange."

"I'm all ears, child."

"He said that most of his comrades have been transferred to another location for unknown purposes. The healthiest slaves would be commissioned outside of the temple and never resurface. Considering the prerequisites, the motive could simply be manual labor, but I'm sure the slave wouldn't bother mentioning this little detail unless he found the situation truly unusual."

"Did he specify for how long this whole thing has been going on?"

"No, but I doubt this is really recent."

The goddess hums, contemplative. "I have convened my peers to a much needed talk, and my old friend has strangely insisted to hold the reunion at his palace. Normally, I would take this as a form of etiquette. But to me, this seems more like an unauthentic attempt to prove he has nothing to hide. Striving to vindicate yourself is not the first thing someone with a clear conscience does, is it?"

"Not from my experience."

"As I thought."

Instead of falling in a downward spiral of unsolvable speculations, Evelyn remembers why Idrilla brought her here in the first place. "The miners are no longer here..." she evokes, hoping for more clarification on their whereabouts.

"They are safe," Mythal smiles reassuringly. "My priests have scoured the Dreaming for days without satisfying results. I was ready to give up. And then a thought came to mind: if what we seek cannot be found anywhere else, why not look directly at the source? My people started to concentrate their efforts onto the rest of the dead Pillars. The ones left untouched. And there it is." She gestures to the table on her right. "They chanced upon these peculiar implements, and are trying to discover how to properly use them as we speak. I would appreciate if you could take a look."

As she approaches the display, the human's eyes meticulously examine the items. The tools remind her of Maddox's ones in some way, although the craft is definitely more dwarven. Perhaps the Tranquils of her time were inspired by the dwarves' craftmanship?

Her fingertips graze the edge of a weirdly shaped chisel, feeling the illegible inscriptions carved alongside it. Knowing her, Dagna would have sold her own soul for an opportunity to study such an antique set. Perhaps Evelyn could have helped Mythal a bit more if she had taken the time to observe the girl at work back at Skyhold. Watching her remodel random pieces of red lyrium into the rune that lead to Samson's capture would have most likely been useful.

"These are familiar," she admits to the goddess.

"But?"

Foresight is one of her strong suits, manifestly.

"But, I still have no idea how to utilize them."

"All hope is not lost yet. In what substance did the Durgen'len generally transmute lyrium?"

"It was usually shaped into either dust or liquid. The dust would be used to enchant objects and weapons, and our mages would drink potions made with the fluid to increase or replenish their power."

The evanuris strokes her chin, seemingly pleased with this information.

"A word of warning," Evelyn cautions. "The tools are a great improvement, but it might not be enough. As I've said before, lyrium in its raw form will be fatal to anyone capable of wielding magic, which means your people are still at risk. If you want to use them safely, you will still require the dwarves' help. Unless you know someone whose ties to the Dreaming have been severed..."

Did ancient elves have Tranquils of their own?

Highly unlikely.

Mythal cants her head, curiosity piqued. "Your world contains such individuals?"

"It used to. Mages deemed too dangerous to society were cut off from the Dreaming as a preventive measure."

"As you are?"

"No, their conditions were far worse than mine. These people would no longer be able to use their magic, nor dream. They were stripped of individuality, of inspiration and passion. A lobotomy of the soul, to put it simply. Their memories, logic and free will are all they have left, after such a rite."

"A fate worse than death."

"It was barbaric, and the practice has since been prohibited."

All thanks to Leliana and Cassandra.

"Barbaric certainly sounds like a suitable term," agrees the grimacing goddess.

Something Varric had once mentioned during one of his 'I hate this red lyrium crap' monologues nudges her memory.

"Your people should make sure the lyrium is kept in lead-lined containers. If you want a foolproof solution, nesting them inside each other is the best way to go about it."

"I'll see to it," Mythal guarantees, lips curling into an agreeable smile. "You're proving more and more useful to have around as time goes by. You arrived at the right place, at the right time." Golden eyes drift to the ceiling, as if they were seeking counsel from the very heavens. "Is it fate or chance?" she mutters to herself. "I can never decide."

"Fate is often mistaken for luck."

A quote from Morrigan's mother. One the deity would undeniably relate to.

"Indeed it is."

Overlooked until now, Justice eventually interposes itself between the two women. "My Lady, the accused is still waiting for his judgement."

Mythal turns back to her for a second. "Have you ever had to judge anybody? Decide the fate of an offender?"

"Why would I hold such power over anyone?"

"Such things are expected of a leader."

The insinuation gives her pause. "...What makes you think I'm one?"

"Your posture, for starters. The straight back, the chin raised high in all circumstances... You never mind your tongue around people that would consider themselves your betters, and stay levelheaded in crisis situations. Being part of the nobility often comes with liabilities anyway. The deduction was easy to make." The deity's nails drum against the arms of her seat. "But you did not answer my question."

"It might have happened a few times, yes. I did not ask for the responsibility. It was forced upon me by my people."

"And how did you proceed? Did you show force? Clemency?"

"Depends. If they showed true remorse, I would give them a chance to repent. If they were incapable of contrition, I would simply give them a taste of their own medicine."

"Did you ever sentence someone to death?"

"Never."

"Why not? Surely, you must have had to deal with murderers or other lunatics guilty of unforgivable crimes..."

"I don't consider death a punishment. Ending someone's life does not teach them any valuable lesson. They simply cease to exist. It is not my place to decide who should live or die, anyway."

"Give me an example. Who was the last person you sentenced? What verdict did you settle for?"

"The last I can recall was a duchess, cousin of a queen that she had planned to assassinate for her own selfish interests. If there's one thing nobles hate, it's to be forced to commingle with the 'filth', as they like to call it. I sentenced her to work as a farmhand for the rest of her days, to serve the people she had carelessly endangered."

"The wretch would have preferred death," confirms Justice, presumably after ferreting through her mind.

"Perhaps there is more common ground between us than I originally thought," Mythal says thoughtfully. "Any person possessing any degree of power usually has a title. What was yours?"

"My people called me Inquisitor."

"Interesting," she drawls. "Quite fitting to such duties."

"You owned many more names, all whispered with hope and devotion." The spirit rectifies. "Her Worship. Healer of the sky. A holy hero sent to save us all."

Evelyn scowls at her friend. "One Compassion is enough, you know."

The goddess raises an eyebrow. "You like to minimize your importance, I see. Since you have experience in these matters, why not tarry a bit while I take care of this?"

A magically shackled man is dragged inside the room, trapped in the unyielding grasp of two Sentinels.

"Thank you but, in case the smell hasn't betrayed the fact yet, I am in dire need of a bath."

And I've witnessed enough of this court-related bullshit for one lifetime.

Mythal laughs, a sound simultaneously melodious and rich. Akin to Flemeth, but with a lighter, airier tone. "Don't let me keep you then."


----------


Two days have passed when she visits the sanctuary again. Solas has been hard at work during their absence, if all the bare-faced slaves are any indication. She finds Than in the company of a child. Both are seated on the outdoor grass, backs against a tree, sheets of paper and charcoal sticks occupying their hands. The oldest waves Evelyn over as soon as she spots her.

"I found a new name while you and hahren were away!" she announces with a huge grin.

Her skin has gained the healthy glow it previously lacked.

"What should I call you from now on?"

"Sylvas."

Freedom's breath, uh?

"It's a good name. Meaningful. It suits you well."

"Thank you," she smiles.

Quiet and observant, the little girl has her attention set on the human. A knavish glint dwells in her eyes, conflicting with the innocence of her round, rosy cheeks and auburn pigtails.

"She wanted me to teach her how to draw animals," Sylvas gestures to the little one. "Would you help?"

"Um... I'm not really what you would call an artist. I have no talent for these things."

The elvhen woman chuckles. "It can't be that bad."

"You'd be surprised," Evelyn deadpans.

She ends up helping nonetheless. The ex-slave reveals herself to be notably gifted. A side effect of the maddening boredom that comes with being locked up in a room for most of your existence, according to her. The child listens attentively to her teacher's advice and does her best to reproduce the majestic halla taking shape on her sheet.

As for her, Evelyn's results are... discouraging, to say the least. The young'un doesn't look very inspired by her efforts but seems willing to give it a chance anyhow. Most likely as an act of courtesy.

Felassan happens upon the three of them half an hour later, and of course, cannot stop himself from giving his opinion on the human's drawing skills. "What kind of tree is that?"

"It's a cat," she answers, waiting for the inevitable mockery that will assuredly follow.

"Since when do cats have branches coming out of their—"

"It's its tail!"

He frowns, visibly confused. "Then why does it split like this?"

"I think those are its hair," Sylvas suggests, looking down at the sketch over Evelyn's shoulder.

"It looks like one of Ghilan'nain's creatures," the mage opines. "The monstrous sort."

"I did my best, alright!"

He scrunches up his nose. "Sweet Sylaise, if this is your best woman, I don't want to see your worst."

"It's okay, human." The little one cuts in. "I like your rat."

"Cat," she corrects in an indignant tone.

"Children are the masters of humiliation," Felassan snidely remarks. "I often forget."

Evelyn has no issue acknowledging her weaknesses, most of the time she'll even be the first to point them out aloud. Yet something about the purple-eyed elf—perhaps his unbounded smugness—never fails to drive her wild.

Her sullen expression doesn't escape his notice. "It's fine, little partner. We can't be good at everything. I'm sure your expertise at poisoning people and slitting throats will suffice."

He then nonchalantly slips away before she can respond to his blatant sarcasm.

After ten more minutes of ineffective struggle, the human decides to call it quits. She's about to enter the adjacent building when she espies Telahn across the courtyard, busy teaching the art of archery to another slave by correcting his stance and the position of his bow when necessary. The sight reminds her of her recent morning hours, spent training under Abelas' watchful eye. An 'exercise' which mostly consists of Justice sparring with her while the Sentinel shares his brutally honest opinion of her flawed tactics in his trademark, phlegmatic tone.

He turns to glance at her, presumably able to sense her gaze on his back. She sees him mutter a few words to his pupil and pat him across the shoulder blades. Barely a second later, the trainee is left to his own devices.

"I was wondering when we'd see you again," the redhead tells her as he shortens the distance between them.

"Where's your brother?"

"At home, with our mother. Oh, here, she wanted me to give you this." He hands her something enveloped in a smooth handkerchief. "She wished to thank you in person but, you weren't there when we returned."

"That's very kind of her."

She nudges the tissue to the side and discovers an appetizing pinwheel biscuit filled to the brim with jam.

"It's the least we could do. Well, she made it, but we're grateful as well. It's a speciality of hers. Felassan got one as well, he seemed to like it."

She brings the dessert to her nose, appreciative. "It sure smells good."

"I had to see it to believe it," someone scoffs beside them, just as she carefully shoves her reward in her coat's inner pocket.

Their eyes dart toward the voice. Elgar'nan's envoy is walking up to them, a tattooed lackey on his heels. "How low the wolfling must have stooped to support the whimsical fancies of a few lazy slaves."

"Says the one who needs the assistance of said slaves in everything he does," Telahn snaps back.

"Still haven't learned any manners, I see... Maybe the back of my hand would do the trick."

"You're welcome to find out, if you don't value your life."

Sensing the alarming shift in mood, Evelyn worms her way into the high-strung exchange. "We were having a private conversation before you so rudely interrupted us. Aren't you the one without manners?"

It's enough to divert the jerk's attention from her companion. "And there is the brainless maggot again. I've never seen one such as you before. Which dark hole have you crawled out of, I wonder?"

"My mother's."

The bigot winces, disgusted. "Charming. Why Mythal would waste her time conversing with a worthless puppet is beyond me."

"Perhaps this 'worthless puppet' is far better company than the likes of you," Solas' voice chimes in. "Funny how something supposedly brainless owns superior ethics to the allegedly virtuous representative of a god."

His course halts once he reaches their level, his eyes refusing to budge from the interloper.

"Spare me your silly assumptions, trickster. So this is the heart of your ridiculous rebellion? I had heard of your newfound hobby, yet I thought you too brilliant to reach such absurd lengths. It seems I was wrong. Do you know what the leaders have been calling you behind your back?"

"I do not care for the petty wit of would-be gods."

Telahn pays no heed to the ongoing verbal feud, focusing instead on the tight-lipped servant, which drives her to do the same. There's something disturbingly uncanny about the boy's blank stare, or how his face seems perpetually stuck in an emotionless state. To say that he looks completely unaware of his surroundings would be a euphemism.

The delegate notes their obtrusive gawking and apparently sees it as an occasion to further provoke his elvhen counterparts. "Do you want to save it?" he sneers. "Sadly for you, this one actually knows its place. Isn't that right, slave? Aren't you happy to serve? Would you rather do anything else?"

"Nothing could please me more, master." The boy replies in the most lethargic voice she's ever heard. "Your happiness is mine."

Is this mere brainwashing, or something else?

Fists clenched, the young god steps close to the self-important halfwit, his menacing aura imbuing the air around them. "You are not welcome here. Do not force me to remove you from the premises."

And there's the hot-headedness I heard so much about. 'Always ready to fight' he'd said.

An unimpressed snort later, the pompous elf departs, attendant in tow.

"Snotty prick!" curses Telahn.

"You know him?" Evelyn pries.

"He was the one who selected my peers and sent them off to be sacrificed, like cattle to the slaughterhouse."

"Sacrificed? I thought you didn't know wh—"

"I don't need to," he bristles. "We're slaves, we're disposable. When one of us gets dispatched to some godforsaken place, it will always mean death. And if not that, then worse."

She blinks, at a loss for words.

His gaze leaves hers and lowers to the ground, profoundly abashed. "Forgive me, I lost my temper." He sighs, glancing back at the elf he was training earlier. The poor thing's arrows seem to be hitting anything but his target. "I should go back to him," he declares, his signature smile slipping back into place. "Don't forget to tell me what you thought of the gift, mother won't stop harassing me otherwise!" With one last friendly squeeze to her shoulder, Telahn saunters away.

[ * ]

And just like that, she winds up alone with Solas, who looks at the retiring redhead the same way his older self would look at Cullen whenever the dashing commander would dare to blush around her. She's never understood his hostility towards the blond, neither the reason why the latter would transform into a stuttering mess out of nowhere.

"You're fitting in well."

She'd think he's just making a casual observation if she hadn't detected his bitter undertone.

What's his problem? Does he want everyone to treat me like a pariah?

She scowls at him and lightly tugs on her bracelet, wishing she could pull onto something else.

Like his hair.

That would give him cause to act like a sourpuss.

Her action draws his keen eyes to her wrist. "Where did you get this?"

"The children at the orphanage made it. One of them gave it to me."

He stares at her in this strange fashion of his, the way he does everytime he learns something that manages to puzzle him.

"May I?" he nods at the jewel, slinking closer all the while.

She hesitates at first, scared at the prospect of physical contact between them.

At last, she accepts his request.

She proffers her wrist for him to inspect and he traces the threads with his index finger, delicately brushing her skin in the process. She prays for goosebumps not to rise across its surface as his touch causes discreet shivers to travel down her spine.

Hazardous thoughts infiltrate her mind, breaking down her mental defenses without qualm.

She looks at him, truly looks at him, and can't help but wonder.

How does young Solas love? Is he just as his future self, a complex combination of ardour and reserve? Or would timidity predominate his actions? Maybe his youth would make him free of inhibition? How many in this world have learned firsthand the answer to those questions? Evelyn knows she wasn't the sole flame of his neverending existence. That others came before. And contrary to the past, these people might very well still be alive. That possibility is enough to make her insides twinge.

Stop it.

"Clever child," he smiles, eyes fixed on the trinket.

His enigmatic comment compels her to frown. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing," he calmly dismisses. "Did you know Mythal was the one to order the orphanage's construction? Of all the pantheon, only she cared about the consequences of her actions. Of what their petty infighting would entail for the rest of our people."

That's the fastest topic shifting I've ever witnessed.

His propensity to leave her in the dark about certain things is unfair. But so is she.

"If she really cares that much, why not keep her kin from waging their inane wars altogether?" she counters petulantly.

In this world, her mood swings probably seem unjustified. This Solas has never betrayed her, after all. He's never done anything wrong, to her or her people. She has no valid excuses to vindicate her behavior here.

But all the anger and resentment trapped within her for years has to come out at some point, doesn't it?

"Even gods have their limitations," he retorts coldly. "I'm sure humans weren't above reproach either, considering their fate."

...Welp, I guess I asked for it.

The elf realizes his mistake straightaway. "That was harsh of me. I can't even imagine what I would do if I was in your place. If my people had gone extinct from one day to the next..."

Nothing good, believe me.

She shrugs, trying to appear unaffected. "At least now I can pretend to be unique without getting ahead of myself," she jokes, awkwardly clearing her throat as he seems unreceptive to her dark sense of humor. "Sorry. Between my preachy criticism and my constant outbursts, you must think me insane."

Sunlight hits the back of his tilted head, encompassing his face in an amber halo that highlight his features. He's so young and boyish, compared to what she's accustomed to. Yet the jawbone hanging between his skull and forehead gives him a predatory look that even the Solas she used to know did not possess.

It's especially notable with him standing so close.

"I think you are very brave," he confesses, gaze intently locked with hers. "Even after losing everything, you still found the strength to keep going. Just look at you now, fighting for the freedom of others, even those who look at you as if you were lesser than them."

Hearing his laudation kills her from the inside.

In this reality, the affection she once felt for him should not matter. It does not change anything. Certainly not the might of her resolve. She cannot allow herself to be swayed by pretty words.

She must—

A viridian wall of magical essence materializes out of thin air, brusquely dividing them.

Confusion quickly turns into comprehension, and dread threatens to burst through her callous facade.

"Sorry, I—I have to go."

Panting, she rushes into the building to find a secluded spot and stops there, a hand over her racing heart. She backs herself up against a random pillar, the back of her head thumping on the stone as she desperately attempts to regain a semblance of composure.

I'm so fucked.


----------


She dreams of her childhood bedroom that night.

Of tall bookcases and silky red sheets spread on a huge canopy bed.

The decor brings back many recollections to mind. Her mischievous escapes from the servants whenever her father would order them to force her to recite verses from the Chant of Light before going to sleep. Days spent contesting her parents' authority and avoiding her infernal siblings, or reading books pertaining to various myths and legends while hiding in the remote corners of the Trevelyan estate.

The atmosphere at home had often been tense and unbreathable.

Thankfully, she would always find refuge in her governess' skirts.

The woman was a tad dour and secretive, but the way she'd look at her told her she felt pity for her. Probably because she was an elf, who herself despised the idiotic religious quirks humans loved to subject themselves to.

For her genitors, Evelyn had never been more than another heir. A pesky child destined for chantry service, regardless of her personal feelings or motivations. Doomed to preach about a Maker she never even believed in and backward ideals she's never shared. From early on, Evelyn had decided she wouldn't let her parents dictate her future. And if getting disowned by people she abhorred was the result, so be it.

Her magic had never manifested before her tenth birthday. A day that had marked a significant turn in her life. Which might be why she's currently stuck staring at her old nanny sermonizing a smaller and younger version of herself.

"You know what your family think of mages, girl. As soon as they learn the truth, they'll send you away to some pathetic circle tower. They'll lock you away forever, treat you like a freak of nature. You have to stay quiet about this."

"But I don't even know how to control it," protests little Evelyn. "Shouldn't I at least—"

"No magic. Focus on your combat training, and don't think about this. At all."

The woman had been the only person to nurture her budding interest in weaponry and the tricky art of dual wielding.

"Wait, how do you know abou—"

"I ain't blind, child. Think I don't notice you shirking your afternoon lessons and sneaking out to go fight with the village boys? Your tutors ransacking the whole manor for hours is kind of a telltale sign."

"But they don't know where I go, so how do you? Are you a witch? Like those that live in the wilds?"

"I don't need powers to understand little she-devils like you. And your father's blades always disappear from their display case at the same time you do."

"Damnit!" curses the girl.

Her father had found out eventually, about her little excursions into the city and the brawls that would ensue. 'You like weapons and fighting?' he'd said, 'Fine then, we'll make a templar out of you!'.

Oh, the irony...

But no one at home had been willing to teach her how to fight, so she'd had to make do with the options at hand.

"Listen to me." The governess mildly grasps the child by the wrist for the purpose of bringing her closer. "Hiding this from your family will be difficult, but we don't have a choice. If you ever struggle to repress your gifts, come to me for help. No one else. Do you understand, girl? Your father took everything from me. But he sure as hell isn't taking you."

"Sooo, does that mean you love me?"

"You're an insufferable brat."

"But you like that brat, right?"

"Mythal have mercy on me for my lapse in judgement," huffs the woman.

"I'll get you to admit it one day. Just you see!" The girl proclaims, grasping her nanny's face between her hands and covering the branches tattooed under the elf's eyes with her fingers in passing.

The reenactment suspends itself, and someone behind the authentic Evelyn clears their throat.

She whirls around, winding up face to face with a very real and very conscious Solas. He can't have seen much from where he's standing, but no doubt he's heard plenty. Luckily, his inability to understand her native tongue comes in handy in these situations.

Anyhow, she can't exactly pretend to be ecstatic to see him here after what happened a few hours ago. She'd hoped for some respite from her troubling emotions, but who cares about what she wants, uh?

Certainly not the Fade.

"I'm sorry for intruding," the god starts, voice soft and feeble. "I wanted to make sure... You left in quite a hurry earlier today. Did you lose control again?" She nods, gaze glued to the wooden floor. "There's no need to be embarrassed over this," he smiles gently, utterly oblivious to the root of her mishap. "Is your magic going rampant a common occurrence?"

"Only here, it would seem. Back in my world, this sort of thing didn't happen. It was much easier to suppress it."

Probably because the Fade isn't held back by a barrier, this time around.

"Suppress?" He blinks, eyes widening. "Why would you suppress something that is part of you?"

"Magic wasn't seen in a very good light where I come from. Using it would generally lead to all kinds of trouble. Troubles I'd rather avoid altogether."

He hums, mulling over something. "Mythal told me you possessed a 'repressed spark', after your first meeting. I see she was right, as always." He then transfers his attention to the frozen duo. "This is you..." he realizes, both intrigued and amused by the sight of her tiny double. "And the elvhen woman?"

At least her younger self is concealing the woman's vallaslin. She'd have quite a bit of explaining to do, if it wasn't the case.

"The one who raised me and took care of my education," she introduces grudgingly.

This Solas ignores that he knows this woman. He ignores that she's the sole reason why his older self has taught Evelyn how to remove slave markings from elven skin with the help of a spell. Or that he'd met her on her deathbed.

Not my fondest memory. Or his, for that matter.

"I had wondered if your world contained elvhen people," he tells her. "You knew about the Durgen'len, after all, so it would only make sense."

"Our worlds share plenty of both divergences and similarities."

"Like magic?"

She ponders, just for a second. "...Like magic."

Curious, his blue orbs sweep over the entire room. "Is this where you grew up?"

"Yes. I wish I could make it go away..." she exhales, tired of this sempiternal ritual.

Knowing that some unknown entity is without fail dissecting these echoes of her past doesn't make the experience any more attractive.

He purses his lips, thoughtful. "You could, hypothetically."

"How? I'm not a dreamer, like you."

"Your mark," he hints, motioning to her palm.

"Oh..."

He might be onto something. She had managed to seek Solas in dreams before, as Inquisitor, something she'd never been able to do before possessing the anchor, even if she was a mage. But she'd done it unintentionally, and since her ex-lover had been undercover, he had never offered to show her how to properly use her new powers.

His powers.

"It shouldn't work any different than normal magic," the god indicates.

"I'm not very good at normal magic either," she reminds, cocking an eyebrow at him.

"I could teach you, if you want."

Her eyes shift left and right, showing her uncertainty. "...Maybe."

"Close your eyes." She stares at him for a short moment, then complies. "Take a deep breath and picture what you were seeing seconds ago."

"I have it."

"Now imagine it fading away."

She does as instructed. Feels the palm of her marked extremity heat up briefly. When she opens her eyes again, the memory has vanished.

"How does that work exactly?" she inquires.

"Think of what the Dreaming does as a kind of universal resonance capable of traveling across time. Like us, it learns and adapts. It will collect memories of past events and attempt to mimic whatever happens in the Waking. People, places, even feelings, usually by means of spirits."

His pontification makes her mind reel. "But why does it do that?"

"Who knows?" he shrugs in a unconcerned manner. "Must we have the answer to everything? Do you ask a bird why it can fly, or a snake why it lacks legs? Many mysteries surround the Dreaming. I doubt we'll ever be able to answer all of them. The way this place operates is nonetheless fascinating." He suddenly casts a playful look her way. "Wouldn't you agree, Inquisitor?"

She sighs, shoulders slopping dramatically. "Is there anything you two don't tell each other?"

He chuckles at her crusty tone. "I have not spoken of what you have imparted to me. To anyone. I think you should be the one to tell her, when you're ready." He smiles smugly, knowing his answer is not what she expected.

A pleasant surprise. One that leaves her gaping for several seconds.

"Thank you," she lets out.

His smirk is still in place when she forces herself to wake up, the view of her actual bedroom greeting her half-open eyes. She dallies a bit before attempting to doze off, unwilling to cross paths with Solas again. A bad idea. The night ends with her tossing and turning, and unable to fall asleep. Restless, she resigns herself to get out of bed.

It's barely past noon when Idrilla barges into her room. "Pack your things, girl. You're coming with us."

She raises her gaze from the tome she was browsing. "What? Where are we going?"

"To Elgar'nan's lands. The leaders are congregating to talk about the lyrium issue, remember? Mythal wants you there, since you've proven yourself to be proficient on the subject." The servant marks a pause, noticing her surly countenance. "I'm sorry, did you have other plans?" The human nods, naively hoping for a way out. "Too bad. Should have kept your mouth shut then."

Evelyn grunts her displeasure.

Idrilla simply responds by tossing her knapsack at her face.