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Perennial Dues

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"Don't go back to that golden place then. Ever."

"It's not like I have much of a choice," she protests. "I don't go there intentionally, it just happens."

Compassion frowns, more and more upset at the inadequacy of her elaborations. "This entity... do you think it could be a spirit?"

"Most likely. It wasn't a person, that's for sure."

Something with no physical or perceptible form, that can transmute spirits into fully fleshed-out human beings.

That treats everything as its own children.

The Chantry's Canticles fleet through her mind. She chases them out. She knows exactly what this sounds like.

An eventuality she refuses to even consider.

"I don't know of any spirit or demon that can kill and resurrect people at will," the phantom reflects. "It must be extremely powerful, whatever it is."

"Who says it even had to resurrect me? Perhaps I wasn't truly dead yet. You said it only lasted for a couple of minutes."

"No breath, no heartbeat, and an absence of soul. I don't know about humans, but to the People, this is the definition of death."

Evelyn sighs.

She can't be completely truthful with her friend and tell it that the only reason why that mysterious entity interacts with her is because she comes from the future and is here to preclude Mythal's murder and Solas' subsequent rampage. Yet she has to divulge enough to keep the spirit from alerting the goddess and her contingent that the human foreigner they've welcomed in their midst tends to die and come back to life while she sleeps.

Past, present or future, the universe just won't let her perish. Varric always liked to point out the improbable number of lethal predicaments she had managed to overcome, even with all the odds against her.

"Everything that happens to you is weird."

She thumbs the edge of the glass Idrilla had given her, observing the melting ice inside and wondering if she was really the one who'd froze it.

Probably pulled it off while I was falling asleep. Good luck doing it again, moron.

"Well," she begins anew, "whether I truly died or not, I feel pretty alive right now, and I don't seem to suffer from any after-effects, so we can cross necromancy off the list. Why does it matter anyway?"

"It's troubling! You don't understand, mortals are so fragile! What if it happens again? What if you don't come back this time?" The spirit huffs, pacing anxiously and shaking its head left and right. "He was right..."

"Who was?"

It rushes back to her, paying no heed to her question. "You can't see that thing anymore!"

"Compassion, you need to relax. Come here," she beckons softly, abandoning her glass to lock her friend in a consoling embrace that is eagerly received. "I doubt it wants to hurt me. I doubt it wants to hurt anything, really. I've always had a very peaceful and loving feeling from it."

"I don't care!" Compassion exclaims, withdrawing from her arms. "I don't trust it! If it tries to contact you again, you have to tell me."

Evelyn snorts. "And what will you do? Harm it? You're too kind. You'd let a swarm of mosquitoes bite you to death just because it needs to feed its young. It's a good thing you don't have a body, you'd never survive this world otherwise."

"I can be very threatening if someone hurts my friends!"

She can't contain the fond smile that flourishes on her lips. "I don't know about threatening, but you're certainly pretty adorable at the moment."

"You'll no longer be sleeping alone from now on. Not on my watch."

"What mother says goes."

"Wait until the others hear about this. We'll see if you find it funny then."

She frowns. "No one can know about this. Neither Solas nor Mythal. Or Grief... Justice as well."

"But—"

"Compassion, this is the one thing I won't yield on. No word of this to anyone. It will only complicate things and bring forth questions I don't have the answers to. I know you're mad right now, but if you break my trust, I will never confide in you again. Do you understand?"

"...Yes," the spirit pouts.

"Good."

"If it truly means no harm, why kill you at all?"

"A wild guess? It said I 'couldn't come through'. Not as I was. Perhaps it needed to completely sever my soul from my body in order to bring me where it did. You did say you couldn't find it anywhere. That I was empty. But I was obviously conscious somewhere else."

"What did you see there?"

"...Everything."

Compassion blinks. "That is confusing."

"It was. I can't exactly put what I witnessed into words. There'd be too much to say. But it was... beautiful." The most beautiful thing she's ever seen. Enough to move her to tears. "And..."

She hesitates, and in the end, decides to willfully omit her speedy excursion to the Void.

That kind of confession would only worsen her friend's disquietude.

"And?" it presses.

"As interesting as it was, I'm more concerned about what the entity actually told me." The spirit begs for further details with a simple look. "Cryptic and ominous stuff. Something about 'shadows thriving in the absence of light'. It warned me of tribulations to come, without being more explicit."

"Do you think it would be wise to heed its warning? What if it was lying?"

"I don't know, but I don't see the harm in being prepared for trouble. It also hinted that cooperation between the People and the Durgen'len will be crucial. To make it a priority."

"So it wants everyone to get along?"

"It would seem, yes."

"That's good, I guess..."

"It's an idea I can get behind."

"Still, you better be careful."

"I promise you I will."


----------


Although the existence of red lyrium and the discoveries made in Elgar'nan's temple still remain a closely guarded secret that only a selected few have been made privy to, the gods have no objections to informing the general public of their prior confrontation with the dwarves, and the conceivable collaboration that could result from it. People do not take well to the news, at first. Disgust, in particular, has a lot to say on the subject. That associating with unhygienic creatures that crawl in caverns all day long should be considered a health hazard, or that the leaders must have been infected by some dwarven parasite that has taken control over their brains. The populace also has opinions. Loud ones. Ultimately though, their faith in Mythal's judgement allays their preoccupations.

According to the hearsay that spreads among the palace soon after, the goddess intents to return to Arlathan. Idrilla confirms it when she asks, deflecting all the inquiries that stumble out of her mouth.

"It is not my place to question Mythal and her resolutions," the maid tells her. "If you'd like to do so however, be my guest. You know the path to her chambers."

She does, and she proceeds to do as suggested.

To her surprise, no Sentinels are guarding the entrance's gates, which have been left ajar.

"It wouldn't affect them," Mythal's voice ricochets across the corridor.

Evelyn's gait slows down once she realizes that the deity already has company.

She espies Elgar'nan through the sliver of space formed by the opened doors, standing two feet behind his counterpart.

"We could make it so," he demurs. "That's why this research is essential. They are not going to sit around and wait for us to die off to strike back."

"Yet still, this is not the way. What differentiates us from the rest of them if we stoop to such methods? The People are all that matter. We used to agree on this point."

"Everything I do, I do for our nation. Even when sacrifices are required. You can't save everyone, lethallan. You know that. How many times have you tried? How many times have you failed?"

"Don't go there," Mythal warns in a chilling tone, glancing at him over her shoulder.

Elgar'nan slinks closer, unperturbed. "We've only bought ourselves more time. You already know what will happen once we run out of it." He grasps a lock of her white hair as she twists around to face him, holding it between them until she's all but forced to look at it. "Or have you forgotten?"

The All-Mother places her hand atop his and gently pulls it down to his side as a feeling of intimacy pervades the air. "I will not let fear influence my decisions anymore. Perhaps you should not let a festering grudge impact yours."

Great. I always have to arrive in the middle of awkward conversations.

Convinced that she does not have much time before the evanuris sense her presence—and reticent to be regarded as a busybody by her hosts—Evelyn slips through the doors.

The pair immediately distance themselves from each other.

"You have a visitor," the god declares.

He makes for the exit, his stormy eyes trained on the human as he passes her by, and though he doesn't utter a sound, the subtle faltering in his steps gives her the impression he wants to say something. He's usually content to ignore her altogether.

"You must have important things to say," Mythal presumes as soon as he's out of the room. "After all, it is rare for you to deliberately seek an audience with me. One that I did not request."

"There are whispers that you are preparing our departure."

"The rumors are true."

"What about the dwarves?"

"Some of my Sentinels will stay behind and keep an eye on the thaig. They will notify me once they receive word from the Durgen'len. If they ever do. Until then, there is no reason for us to encumber this city more than we already have."

"Will Shiva be among them?"

"Shiva will return with us." The deity tilts her head, scrutinizing her. "Something is troubling you."

Evelyn licks her lips, apprehensive yet keen to put her doubts to rest. "I have a theory. Or a revelation, call it what you will."

"I'm listening."

"The Pillars were disturbed by the Void. They were trying to elude it, which caused the tremors."

"How did you come to this conclusion?"

"Our talk with the Durgen'len made me connect the dots. I was not yet aware of the Void's location, at the time. Unlike you. When Andruil discovered a way to reach it, when her wanderings became a threat to the elvhen kingdom, you stole that knowledge from her. You made her forget. And when Lorthar told us of the circumstances of the breach, of what went down in their thaig, you put two and two together." The goddess does not dispute the accusation, her golden orbs unsettlingly stoic. "When the dwarves realize they have been living in close proximity to a wellspring of destruction for millennia—"

"Panic will ensue. Which is why I opted to keep this fact to myself."

"But they have to know. What if more breaches appear? What if more thaigs fall victim to the Void? How can they avert another disaster by staying blind to the source of the problem?"

"I will not let it reach that point. The earthquakes proved that what affects the Durgen'len affects us all."

Not much of a reassurance, but it's better than nothing.

She threads her fingers through her hair, frustrated. "I don't get it. The Abyss has always been there. Why would it become an issue out of nowhere? Could it be expanding? And how?"

"The same way a beast grows fat. By eating more than it should. Everything it swallows become a part of it."

"Then how was Andruil able to physically explore the Void and come back practically unscathed? Why was her corruption progressive and not instantaneous?"

"We are more resistant to the Taint than most."

"We, meaning the evanuris." Mythal nods in confirmation. "Do you know what else possesses a certain resistance to the Taint? Dragons."

Frederic of Serault and his fellow researchers had dissected the Abyssal High Dragon her and her companions had defeated in the Western Approach and found cysts of hardened flesh harboring the blight within the beast. He'd concluded in his report that dragons can stem the spread of the plague within their own bodies, albeit not indefinitely.

"The remedy given to Elgar'nan's drudges contains dragon blood," she continues. "Is that the correlation between you and the beasts? Have you and your peers consumed enough of it for its properties to become permanent?"

The woman smirks, eyes glinting. "The matter is a bit more complex than that, but your speculations are not ungrounded. Let's leave it at that."

The sentence sounds like a praise and mockery all at once.

She feels like a kid trying to solve a conundrum made for experienced adults.

For an elite she'll never be a part of.

"It's good to know that we have a last recourse," Evelyn says, "even if it's not much. If a similar tragedy befalls the Durgen'len, we might be able to help this time around."

Silence follows her insinuation.

Mythal stares at her for a spell, contemplative. "You love them, these little men and women. You do not know them, but you love them all the same. Your gaze said it all."

"They remind me of things I thought I'd never see again."

"Familiarity," the goddess muses. "Do you feel at home when you look at them?"

"No. That feeling is gone forever."

"Is it really? Your world might be destroyed, but you could rebuild. You could make a home for yourself here. Establish new bonds. A fresh start."

"I do not belong here. I never will."

Her interlocutor raises an eyebrow, overtly amused. "I know a soul or two that would beg to differ."

They wouldn't, if they knew the truth.

"I have other questions," she admits. "A few of them could be deemed... personal."

"I suppose I should not keep the Inquisitor from her interrogations," the evanuris quips, ensconcing herself in a flamboyant couch before waving her hand to signal her to speak.

"Why choose to trust me? With the dwarves? Why take my opinion into account?"

The older woman's eyes drift to the floor. "I have made mistakes a plenty in my youth. Thinking that my way of doing things was infallible was the worst of them. Certitude is a dangerous thing, it can lead to many regrets." She smooths the wrinkles of her dress and snorts, like one does when they remember something foolish. "To top it all, I have been cursed with a poor taste in men."

You and I both.

"You and Elgar'nan were close?"

"We were lovers, if that's what you meant to imply. He was handsome and ambitious. Passionate. Hotheaded too, but his irascibility would quell around me. I thought the discrepancy between our ideologies could be overlooked. That I could change him, tame his temper. Youth and gullibility go hand in hand."

"That's the problem with us women. We see something damaged and persuade ourselves that we can fix it, even when the signs clearly show otherwise. We ought to stop this nonsense."

"And that's why him and I no longer share a room." Mythal offers her a genuine smile. "Anything else?"

"One more thing. You allowed Solas to build his sanctuary and have yet to oppose his sedition... Aren't his actions going to become problematic for you, in the long run? You treat your own slaves well but the same cannot be said of your brethren. I don't think they'll be very happy when their abundance of lackeys starts to dwindle due to Solas' efforts."

"Desperate times call for desperate measures. Slavery served its purpose when it was needed. We seeked the means to rally the People under a single banner while the enemy did all it could to divide us, even after its defeat. But pretty words are not enough to make everyone listen. To force everybody to cooperate."

"And you had to resort to a more forceful approach," Evelyn deduces.

"We somehow managed to make cruel markings pass for a privilege, notwithstanding their predictable failing. We dazzled nobles and commoners alike with power and performed miracles. And it worked. They thought us worthy of admiration. Of devotion. We put ourselves on pedestals and shaped the world as we fancied it. Some of us began to enjoy the charade more than they should've. Solas... Solas came later. Just in time to witness its repercussions. It didn't take long for him to grow tired of it. He called me a hypocrite," the deity recalls, her heartbroken expression reminding her of Flemeth's when Morrigan had implied to her face that she'd been a pitiful mother. "He burned my mark off his face, left a scar that he wouldn't let me heal."

"The one on his forehead."

The evanuris nods. "He said he wanted the reminder. A token for his freedom. I have asked many things of him, things that were sometimes incompatible with his own desires. I have been a selfish friend."

"So this is your way of making amends?"

Mythal's gaze meets hers once more. "Rebellion is a mandatory step of history. If my most trusted confidant felt a need for it, then why would I stop him?"

"You want him to succeed," the human fathoms. "You want change to occur, but are bound by your status and your ties to the other leaders. 'Some things can only be achieved in shadow, without the trappings of power and the attention they bring'."

"A quote of yours?"

"Something an old friend once told me."

"You have wise friends."

"Had. Her name was Leliana."

Sympathy seeps through the goddess' mien, slackening her fair traits.

"You have a good head on your shoulders," the All-Mother commends in a soft voice. "How do you stay sane, despite what you went through?"

"Who said I was?" she counters wryly.

It earns her another smile.

"You have survived my greatest fear," her interlocutor reveals. "You should be proud. I'm not certain I would have the strength to carry on, not as you do."

Evelyn knows for a fact that her assumption is wrong.

"I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss your determination. I think you would endure. Find yourself a goal, eventually. Be it revenge or restoration. You don't peg me as the type to give up so easily."

"A compliment? This must be the first time I hear one from your mouth."

"Depending on how our dealings with the dwarves continue to unfold, perhaps you'll hear more in the future."

"...Child?" Mythal calls, stopping her in her tracks when she turns to leave. "I want you to know that if there is a choice to make between my people and the Children of the Stone... My people will always come first."

"I expected nothing else from you. Another mistake to add to the list, I guess."

"You would pretend not to put your own people above all others, in my shoes?"

I wouldn't be there if I did.

"The only victories I've experienced were brought by unity. My people have warred among themselves, and against other races. Do you know what it brought us? Us and those unlike us? Orphans and widows. Nothing else."


----------


The days succeeding their return to Arlathan wind up refreshingly uneventful. She immerses herself back into her old routine with facility, along with every person included in their expedition to Elgar'nan's lands. The capital's citizens and its galore of tourists are enthused by their leader's comeback, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief when the woman reclaims her vacant throne. Evelyn is happy to rediscover the serenity of her forlorn quarters. She's missed having a whole section of the palace all to herself. Not to mention the numerous distractions the city puts at her disposal. Even the talking statues she formerly deemed off-putting are a plus.

Statues don't speak in Tarasyl'nan. They stare ahead, glorious but stern. Like Elgar'nan. The ambiance couldn't be more antithetical either, especially amid the servants. People don't lose their heads for accidental oversights here, and it shows. Features are not warped by dread and tension, a sharp contrast to the haunted faces of the slaves relentlessly tending to Mythal's counterparts.

Rapidly, her meetings with Abelas on the training grounds resume. She keeps practicing her spells with Idrilla, has pleasant discussions with Solas whenever he visits the All-Mother and spends hours upon hours with her three spectral companions. Compassion has stayed true to its word and hasn't let her sleep unsupervised ever since her strange incident. Whatever Solas and the spirit were looking for in Vir Dirthara, the wolf will have to find it alone. If he hasn't already.

Grief and Justice mention that there is something different about her. The latter defines it as a spark of 'enlightenment'. The nervous glance Compassion and her share must speak volumes, yet luckily, their friends don't pick up on it. The human justifies their intuitive hunch by blaming it on her recent introduction to the magical field. Her response seems to satisfy them.

In reality, her immaterial journey and the wisdom that came with it have been weighing on her mind.

She can't look at the People without thinking of their otherworldly ancestors. She can't forget the uncanny and mesmeric humming she had heard within the Void and she can't stop asking herself why the Titans would feel the need to create the dwarves. Was it an attempt to replicate the elvhen genesis? Or was the incentive behind it entirely unrelated?

All she can do is divert her thoughts to something else.

Something productive.

Today is a good example.

All afternoon, Evelyn and her ghostly trio busy themselves at the sanctuary, where a spirit of Hope has taken residency, lured by the conflicting emotions of its inhabitants. It stares at her from afar, head canted in a quizzical manner. Its volatile silhouette evaporates every two seconds, continually fluctuating from a pale blue to a dusky purple before shifting to total transparency.

"What's wrong with it?" she wonders aloud.

"Hope is a budding feeling," Compassion illustrates. "It blooms in weary hearts and is often consumed by doubt and dejection before it can blossom again. Its appearance is coherent with its nature."

She seeks out Sylvas once they're finished helping the fresh batch of fugitives that had reportedly showed up at the refuge earlier this morning, only to be notified by one of Solas' agents that the girl is currently on a mission with other ex-slaves. She ends up running across Telahn and Adahlena, who invite her and her friends to join their training session.

Adahlena has been studying the Dirth'ena Enasalin, if her summoned sword and shield are any indication. The girl accepts Justice's challenge—the armored spirit got manifestly stimulated by the sight of her glimmering weapons—and Evelyn battles the redheaded archer while Grief and Compassion watch the fights from the side.

Half an hour elapses, both pairs deeply focused on their respective foes. She doesn't get the opportunity to have a gander at the duo next to them, but the human hears Justice complementing his adversary's posture and technique on multiple occasions. Telahn can hold his own against her, though she readily dodges all of his attacks and lands a few playful blows on him here and there. The boy is fast, but her speed is far superior. He calls her a cheater for freezing his hands to his bow at one point, just as he's about to release another hail of arrows upon her.

Idrilla's teachings are coming in handy.

She shrugs teasingly and cloaks herself with shadows in order to reappear behind him and lock him in a chokehold with his own bow, inciting him to surrender. She loosens her grip abruptly and calls for a moment of respite as soon as his tall frame hits the ground.

The man gets back on his feet after a handful of coughs.

"All right, you won."

"Fair and square," the rogue asserts.

"I wouldn't go that far."

"He's a sore loser," Adahlena butts in. "You can't say anything without him accusing you of rubbing it in."

Justice has apparently won their duel, but that doesn't seem to deter the she-elf in the least. The latter goads her comrade into another match by deriding his performance. To raise the stakes, the blonde dares him to use a blade instead of the ranged weapon he's so accustomed to.

He accepts with a dubious scowl, which turns out to be a terrible lapse of judgement.

The lad doesn't even last ten minutes against his opponent.

"I need a break," he wheezes after counteracting a series of hard strikes.

"Wuss," Adahlena retorts.

"I wouldn't run my mouth if I were you, woman. You can't even hold a bow properly."

"Have you seen the way you handle your sword? A drunkard trying to take a piss."

"Your motions are sorely ungraceful," Justice corroborates.

"Who cares? We're not training to be dancers. We're training to do damage. And survive it."

"Ah," the phantom agrees, "but grace is all about the control of the body. Which can prove quite the advantage in combat, when mastered."

"Yeah," the redhead exhales, "I think I'll stick to archery."

"You do that," the girl approves. "Offensive maneuvers are definitely your last hope if you want to keep on living."

"Maybe I could defend myself a little better if you stopped bashing my skull with your stupid shield for a minute!"

Evelyn veers her attention from their bickering to peek at Grief, whose gaze regularly wanders to the west side of a nearby building flanked by grass and trees.

"What is it?" she questions. "You've been staring in that direction for a while."

"Someone's mourning," her friend replies, heading toward that specific area.

Her and Justice trail after it.

Compassion chooses to stay with the elves to ensure that 'nobody gets hurt'.

Their walk halts forthwith as they reach the structure and round its corner.

Ilvin—the bald fugitive from Telahn's group—is sitting cross-legged upon the leaves, flowers and sprigs, painting a segment of the wall by dipping his fingers into various buckets of paint he had most likely borrowed from Solas and running them along the bricks. The sketch depicts a row of elves painfully treading ahead, heads bowed submissively and bodies overrun by red streaks while a yellow sphere hovers above them.

"For our lost brethren," the elf explains. "The sun represents Elgar'nan. I'm sure you can figure out the rest. I tried to keep it elusive enough so the others wouldn't grasp its meaning."

"You know," she comprehends.

"Solas told us everything. He thought we had the right to be clued in, since we were a hair's breadth from sharing the same fate. We knew some of them. It could have been us. To think they were right beneath our feet, all along..."

"I'm sorry they couldn't be saved."

"So am I. I'm glad I listened to Telahn. When he spoke to us of his wish to escape, I called him a madman. Told him he was rushing straight to his death. He said he'd rather be a dead man than a caged dog. That even animals are treated with more dignity than us. We'd be gone too, if he hadn't been there to open our eyes."

"Elgar'nan's deeds were shameful and immoral," Justice opines. "I expected more reprisal from the All-Mother. She should have disciplined him accordingly for his heinous crimes."

"Losing dominion over his temple looked like a humiliating process for him," Evelyn discloses. "Perhaps she thought it was enough."

"I do wish he'd suffered graver consequences," Ilvin admits, "but these matters are rarely so simple. Mythal and him are equal in their authority over the People. Though he can be held accountable for his actions, there are restrictions. You can't just sentence a god to public execution. And even if she had that power, I can't picture her going to such lengths."

"She's always been too clement with him," Grief reproaches.

The human remembers the argument she'd walked in on.

The goddess' torn expression.

"I think she's striving to make him see reason," she surmises. "From what I've seen of their exchanges, he seems persuaded that he was doing the right thing."

"Scumbags usually are," Telahn's voice resonates behind her.

The three individuals they'd previously deserted muster beside them to partake in their debate.

"Mythal is dealing with this issue privately," Compassion defends. "Vengeance accomplishes nothing, anyway."

"But forcing people to forget does?" Grief snaps back.

"I haven't done it in a long time!"

"Because Mythal and Solas taught you otherwise. Your kind always glorifies amnesia as if it is the only suitable solution to pain."

"At least we're trying to fix things! All your kind does is willow in their misery!"

Grief rolls its eyes and glides away, retiring to a quiet spot on the bank of the lake surrounding their islet.

Compassion protests before chasing down its friend.

"Is it like that all day long?" Adahlena asks her.

"More or less."

"Aren't they great?" Justice extols. "We never get bored!"

"You have the most peculiar entourage," the blonde remarks. "Do you prefer the company of spirits over people?"

"Well, I don't really have a plethora of options when it comes to companionship. I'm not extremely popular among the locals, in case you haven't noticed. Things tend to get lonely when you're an outsider."

"Yes, I..." the girl stammers, glancing at her elvhen counterparts with alarm.

Telahn jumps to her rescue. "We've been made aware of your... origins, while you were in Tarasyl'nan. We're sorry for your loss. And for our intrusive questions about your people. It was inappropriate."

The she-elf endorses his words with brisk nods.

"You had no way to know," Evelyn excuses. "And curiosity is natural. I'd never hold it against you."

The redhead smiles for an instant, then frowns thoughtfully. "You must be disgusted by what you've witnessed here. After losing everything you loved, this is the place you land in... Not exactly an upgrade, uh?"

She breathes in and folds her arms indolently, pondering over his implication. "Elvhenan has no more vices than human empires. My people were no better than yours in regard to cruelty and malevolence. Slavery is not exclusive to this realm. It existed in mine too, and I'm willing to bet it does in many others. I've seen many incredible things since I've arrived here, things even my wildest dreams have never dared to conjure. Your world isn't worth any less than mine, be it in merit or beauty, and now, it has the opportunity to improve. Far beyond what we could ever have achieved. Don't let that chance slip like I did."

"We won't," Ilvin vows, still fixated on his artwork. "We wouldn't be here otherwise."

"...On a more positive note," Telahn begins, "this doesn't have to be the end of human culture. You live. You can make sure that your race doesn't go extinct by perpetuating your people's legacy."

"Their legacy?"

"Children. You know, preserve your bloodline via repopulation."

"How would that even work, you dunce?" Adahlena intervenes. "She's the only human left. She can't impregnate herself." The woman marks a pause and peers at her questioningly. "Right?"

"Well, technically, it could work."

Everyone stares at her as though she'd suddenly grown two heads.

Even the bald elf's extremities have stopped moving about.

She chuckles, realizing the ambiguity of her declaration. "Not the 'impregnating myself' part, the other one. Any child conceived from the union of an elf and a human is born human. Our genes have been proven to prevail over any other type."

A fact she'd always considered unbelievably outlandish.

"See?" Telahn grins. "All you have to do is find yourself a nice elvhen gentleman."

"As if those were omnipresent," Adahlena mutters.

"Do you realize how many kids I would have to pop out for your bizarre fantasy to even happen?" Evelyn tells the archer, reeling between sheer amusement and incredulity. "I'm not gonna turn into a breeding machine just for the sake of remembrance."

"Remembrance? What about love?"

She snorts.

"What? Never been infatuated?"

"I have, actually. All it's given me are several near-death experiences and major trust issues."

Cost you an arm too, you lovesick fool.

"We must have shared a few lovers," a familiar voice announces.

Felassan's violet gaze greets her own as she whirls around.

"What?" He blinks with false innocence. "No heartwarming embrace or emotional speech on how much you've missed me?"

"I would rather hug a burning pyre."

"You wound me, little partner. You had the whole afternoon to come and say hello."

"I had more useful things to do."

"Expounding on the singularities of human reproduction, for example?" He turns to address the three fugitives. "Are the capabilities of her womb such a fascinating subject? Youngsters have such bizarre interests these days..."

"This is precisely why you have no friends," she scowls.

"Because of my intimidating attributes?"

"Your insufferable snark, more like."

"Solas appears to appreciate it."

"Solas has acquired tastes."

Felassan cackles, head sloping backward. "Oh, the sweet irony. I will not forget those words," he warns, waggling a finger in the air.

What is he on about this time?

"Speaking of Solas," she says, determined to ignore his antics, "I've seen no sign of him yet. Is he occupied?"

"Oh," Telahn perks up, "the wolf is—"

"Waiting for you in his study," the mage finishes.

The archer squints, perplexed. "Really?"

Evelyn frowns suspiciously. "How does he know I'm here?"

Felassan points to the edifice where the god allegedly dwells. "Windows are a convenient invention, wouldn't you agree?"

"Wh—"

"Run along now," he shooes, pushing her toward her next destination. "Our friend doesn't have all day."

She has half a mind to kick him in the balls for his impertinence.

Instead, Evelyn winds up grudgingly heeding his urgings.

The door leading to Solas' office gives way the instant she knocks on it, permitting her entry. Arched windows filter the light emitted by the setting sun through star-shaped grilles, casting identical patterns upon the ground and furnitures. Books, scrolls, crytals and candles congest every available surface of the room. Most of the floor remains clutter-free, thankfully, and she's able to cross the study without tripping over something.

I remember him being more organized than that.

A collection of half-colored sketches sits upon his desk, catching her attention. Her mouth parts as she recognizes her own face upon all of them, portrayed within diverse settings, yet always with a smile. She touches the first one hesitantly and is immediately overwhelmed by a vision of herself smiling down at somebody.

"Ar lasa mala revas..."

Solas must have witnessed this moment while combing Sylvas' memories, searching for the identity of the woman who had erased her vallaslin.

He memorized it...

The retrospections contained within the other drawings are obviously taken from his own perspective. She watches herself grinning broadly at Abelas from a remote distance, in the second one, then chuckling at a comment spoken by Idrilla in the next. The last reminiscence dates back to the feast, as evidenced by her braided hairstyle and the posh gown she'd been compelled to wear. Solas and her are on a balcony, chatting underneath the night sky and laughing at Disgust and its absurd outburts.

No matter the context of the recollection she selects, its main focus is invariably centered around her.

"Evelyn..."

She gasps, glancing up.

What she'd mistaken for a furry rug covered by multiple layers of blankets turns out to be a wolf, which promptly shapeshifts back to an elf.

The one responsible for these stunning portraits.

His hair is loose, for once, despite the two strands that frame his features being pulled back in a knot. It reinforces his youthfulness. His attire is also more laid-back than what she's used to. He has the haggard look of someone who has just woken up from a nap.

Did he fall asleep while waiting for me?

"I didn't know you were here," he admits.

She scowls, confused.

Realization hits her barely a second later.

Hard.

That bastard!

Solas stares at the papers in her hands, wide-eyed.

She expels her internal fantasies of strangling a smug Felassan to death and hurriedly places the sheets back onto the table. "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry. I knocked but the door was already opened, and this was in plain sight on your desk, so... it drew my eye. Since it's... you know, my face."

She sighs, trying to calm her nerves.

A deathly hush reigns over the room.

"...Why?" she asks, gesturing to his art.

He takes a minute to respond. "Think of it as a commemoration."

"A commemoration of what?"

"All the smiles I was lucky enough to witness," he reveals with disarming sincerity. "It's a work in progress. You weren't supposed to see it before it had reached completion."

She blinks. "Why would you..."

The shy laugh he releases is unbearably endearing.

"I might as well be straightforward, since my negligence has spoiled the surprise." His abashed smile morphs into a solemn countenance. "I wish to woo you."

The breath she's been holding darts out of her mouth as her shoulders slump.

"Oh Solas..."

This is hell.

She did not survive the end of the world.

She did not travel back in time.

She died.

She died, and she is trapped in this nightmarish loop, condemned to relive the same events again and again.

To repeat the same missteps over and over.

"I can't," she murmurs feebly.

"Why not?" he impugns, noticeably prepared to fight each and every argument she might throw his way. Just like she'd been ready to contest his, once upon a time, when he'd revoked their commitment to one another. "Is it about our... differences?"

"Differences?" She frowns, finally deciphering his innuendo when she catches the anxious twitch of his pointed ears. "You think I'm rejecting you because of your race?" she infers, utterly appalled, then huffs. "Solas, I don't care that you're an elf." She pinches the brige of her nose. "You could be a human or a dwarf, or even a spirit, and I wouldn't give any less of a shit."

"Then what is the issue?"

"It's just not a good idea. You don't even know me that well, I don't... I can't imagine why you'd..."

Look at her.

She's been reduced to a stuttering mess.

"I know enough to be intrigued," he states, stepping closer. "And in regards to all the things I have yet to know about you... I'd love to learn them, if you gave me the chance. I'm not asking you to bound yourself to me, Evelyn, I'm speaking of courtship. Learning about each other is part of the process."

"You don't want to do this."

"That's for me to decide," he affirms in an unyielding tone.

She rocks her head from side to side and makes a poor attempt at removing herself from his vicinity, which he aborts by simply seizing her wrist. He tugs, swift but mild. Her environment blurs, and next thing she knows, she's facing the wall, cornered like a prey animal.

He hasn't pinned her against it, at least.

"You said you couldn't keep running forever," he reminds her.

She can feel his breath on her nape with each syllable he pronounces, her hair consequently standing on end.

"And you asked for my friendship. Not this."

"Friendship can evolve into deeper feelings."

She could drown in the low timbre of his voice.

What a gratifying death it would be.

"It can, but ours won't."

"Has it not already?"

Fuck me.

This Solas plainly excels in the arts of seduction, surpassing even his future self, who, in spite of his innate magnetism, was always hindered by the obligation to withhold the endearment he felt for the people around him, whether in matters of love or friendship. This one, on the other hand, is well-versed in all the stratagems of advance and retreat. On how to beguile and disengage himself at the opportune time to leave them wanting more.

If he someday discerns the slightest weak spot in her walls...

I'm screwed.

"I'm not interested, Solas. Let it go."

"I think you're lying," he refutes, the heat of him seeping through her clothes despite the total lack of contact between their bodies. "Granted, I see glimpses of doubt and reluctance in you, but I also see the way you look at me when I get a little too close. How you quiver at the faintest of touches." His fingers leisurely trace the length of her spine before settling upon her shoulder, slowly spinning her around until his wolfish eyes are able to capture her startled gaze. "How your skin flushes whenever your imagination gets the best of you." She feels her traitorous face heat up, just to prove his point. "You're not impervious to my charms, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself of the contrary."

His voice is thick with something she does not want to name.

"Solas, please. You're not being fair."

"Neither are you. I hand you my heart on a platter, and you won't even offer me honesty in return."

He'd hate her, if he knew.

He'd hate her so badly.

He'd hate himself too.

She feels so... dirty.

"I lied," she blurts out. "About the friend that betrayed me. I lied... He wasn't really my friend. Well, he was, at first, but... over time, our relationship developed into something else. Something more intimate."

"You were in love with him."

"Yes."

"Deeply?"

She makes a noise. Something between a snort and a chortle. It sounds bitter.

"What did you see in him?"

"He was a lonely soul. A sad man full of preconceptions. But when he looked at me, when he truly looked at me, he didn't see an empty shell, or something incomplete. He always praised my spirit, my curiosity, my ethics." The man nods absently, as though he could personally relate to the sentimental drivel she's spewing. "And whenever we talked, that deep, crippling sorrow in his eyes? It vanished. Because of me. He saw my flaws and my strengths, and accepted them all. He made me feel like I belonged, something no one had ever done before. There were many things to love about him. And he had faults, yes. Quite a few of them. But he was capable of self-reflection, and he constantly questioned himself and his views. He once confessed that my sole existence had changed a lot of them. I might not have been enough to change his mind on everything, or enough to stop him from destroying our world, but he loved me. For me. Of that I have no doubt."

"And yet he betrayed you," he admonishes. "Despite his grand professions of love, despite his so-called capacity for re-assessment, he still went through with his plans."

"Yes..."

She licks her lips. Tastes her tears.

When did she start crying?

The angry furrow in his brows dissipates. "I'm so sorry for causing you pain. I didn't tell you this to hurt you."

"I can't give myself to someone and have it backfire like that, Solas. Not again."

"I understand." He takes her hand and raises it between them. "Believe me, I do. But I am not your ex-lover."

But you are.

"You can rely on me," he pledges, wiping one of her cheeks with a brush of his knuckle. "I'll prove it to you. Let me prove it to you."

She dislodges her limb from his clutches. "Why does it sound like you're not gonna give me a choice anyway?"

"I'm not one to back down from a challenge. And I certainly won't renounce something that could be beneficial to me, to us both, because of the mistakes of another. If he was foolish enough to let go of something as precious as you... His loss," he shrugs, chin tilted up arrogantly. "Know that I would not insist if my advances were truly unwelcome," he has the gall to add after a moment of silence.

She glowers at him. "Presumptuous, aren't we?"

"Perceptive, I'd say."

Swallowing is painful. Her throat is so goddamn dry.

"You can try as hard as you want Solas, I'm not gonna change my mind."

Good job, Evelyn. He's gonna take that as an invitation.

"We'll see," he smirks knowingly.


----------


She does not meditate before going to bed, that night.

She turns and twists, entangling herself in her sheets, head bursting with exasperating thoughts and unable to rest. Compassion stares at her pleadingly throughout the whole ordeal, quietly imploring her to share the root of her torments with it so it can provide assistance.

It doesn't help.

Nonetheless, the spirit doesn't pester her further.

She can't say the same of her idiotic brain, which won't stop rehashing the events of this afternoon and threatens to jeopardize what little sanity she has left.

How did she not see this coming?

Yes, Solas had been acting more flirtatious as of late, but she had just interpreted it as yet another facet of his character. She'd thought he merely found her reactions to his innuendoes entertaining. He clearly had admirers—as proven by to the swarm of women that had kept a close eye on him during the feast, and he was patently comfortable with the attention he received—as demonstrated by the nonchalance he displayed in response to their undisguised attraction to him. Plus, as Compassion had hinted at the time, the elf didn't sound like the sort to elevate his sparse dalliances into full-fledged relationships too often.

"They dread the day when he'll decide to woo someone properly."

And now he's demanding permission to court her.

Her.

The human.

An outlander from some unknown, unrefined, decimated world.

One that another part of himself had also come to love, in that very same universe.

Just at a different time.

[ * ]

She slips into the Fade, eventually, and roams its maze-like paths without aim or purpose. Her trek comes to an halt once she distinguishes a large mass comprised of white fur and azure eyes being cuddled by a kneeling woman that happens to look exactly like her. Her arms are wrapped around the wolf's neck while its muzzle rests upon her shoulder. Tears are streaming down her cheeks without interruption. None of them make a noise, too absorbed in each other to even notice her. At some point, the animal's pelt gradually switches to black. She sees a flash of red pupils as the beast grows monstrous, its maw opening and stretching to nightmarish proportions. The predator then dives onto its prey and brutally lodges its teeth into her double, puncturing her waist. The revolting sound of crunching bones resounds all around as blood spurts from the woman's flesh.

With one more shift of its jaws, the wolf swallows her whole.

Evelyn stifles a moan of disgust against her palm and averts her eyes.

Sera is standing right beside her, mouth contorted into a big grin. "Fenny's got huge fangs, eh? Ate you all up in one bite! And not in the way you'd've wanted," the blonde giggles, wagging her eyebrows in a lecherous fashion. "That's what happens when you trust a lying pissbag."

The rest of her former inner circle materializes around her, their features creased with disappointment.

"Gonna fall for the same old tricks again?" the elf resumes. "Wouldn't it be like taking advantage of him? Since he doesn't know who you really are? Maybe that's why he never shared his 'elven glory' with you. Not because you're human but because he wasn't the person you thought he was. Guess you're the liar now. Sad, innit?"

"I can't believe I sacrificed myself for this," Dorian gushes. "I mean, sure, the hobo elf is remarkably more dashing now that he's clad in fancy armors, and his head no longer resembles an egg now that there is hair on it, but still. Are you really going to let us rot in here while he sings you ballads and pursues his silly attempts at courship?"

Bull arches an eyebrow, arms crossed. "That's fucked up, Boss."

"I understand," Sera conveys. "Kinda. It's a tough situation for you. Bein' in your place would probably make me lose my head. Then again, I already have."

The blonde's head suddenly bends forward and falls to the floor, rolling onward.

Evelyn shuts her eyes compulsively and turns away from the horrific sight, shivers cascading down her spine.

When she opens them again, she finds Scout Harding's corpse laying at her feet.

The dwarf's back is riddled with arrows.

Like the last time I saw her.

Each beat of her heart—so harsh and sluggish—borders on painful.

The healthy tint of her companions' skins blanches, their eyes clouding over.

"You made me believe in myself," Cullen soughs reprovingly, the raw flesh of his face half-exposed to their environment. "That I was more than some pathetic lyrium addict. You convinced the Qunari and the Imperium to cease their senseless war to help us stop Solas. All our accomplishments, your accomplishments... You'd let it all go to waste? Just for one man?"

"So many people gave their lives for you," Cassandra joins in, practically unblemished, save for the gaping hole in her abdomen. "They built a statue of you where the Temple of Sacred Ashes once stood. Where is the woman I admired, the one I called my sister-in-arms?"

"I had to watch that big lummox die," the Tevinter mage complains, motioning to the ex Tal-Vashoth, who catches on fire without warning. "You're not the only who lost someone important to them. How can you be so weak?"

"The truth will come back to haunt you," Blackwell lectures. "You can't escape from your past. Haven't you learned from me?"

"You told me you despised the formalities of nobility and its unmerited prerogatives," Josephine recalls in that antivan accent of hers, "yet you would start over in a world where slavery runs rampant and the privileged rule over the unfortunate?"

"Oh c'mon Creeper," Varric kindly heartens, "you don't belong with these pampered fairies. You really think Chuckles is gonna put you above his people this time around? He might be younger, and maybe more naive, but he's still a trickster."

Leliana steps forward, clad in her Divine regalia. "I am all for love, Inquisitor, but even I know that this affair was doomed from the start."

"We're all dead now darling," Vivienne tells her, "because you would rather save him than us. Your friends. I hope the beast is worth it."

"You're projecting," Cole ascertains woefully. "Your mind strives to make sense of your losses by putting new things in old places. But Compassion isn't me. Solas is not Solas. And Idrilla is not Myrini. You'll never gain back what you failed to save, Evelyn. Just like I'll never get Maryden back. You have to accept it. I can't help you if you don't help yourself first."

This is your subconscious fucking with you. Just your subconscious. Calm down and everything will be fine.

Something gently grazes her limbs, stirring her from her inward ramblings.

Three iridescent wisps are floating around her, their blithesome chiming tuning out the voices of her dead comrades. Thanks to this timely diversion, the apparitions disappear one after the other. Just as she reaches out to tentatively touch them, the newcomers flinch and tremble, as if frightened, and scatter.

She thinks she's scared them off, at first.

Then a baleful purr rumbles behind her.

The culprit is an average-looking elvhen man. The pronounced dark circles emphasizing his pale eyes are his most unique trait.

"One should be cautious of the amount of despair they secrete. Who knows? It could attract unpleasant things."

Scratch that, the culprit is a deceitful demon impersonating an elvhen man.

"Too late for that," she replies.

"What? Little old me?" he scoffs, a hand over his heart. "Oh nothing to fear from me, little spark. Just a curious soul, passing by... lured by your poignant emotions and..." he glances at her mark, "glowy bits."

"And I'm sure your intentions are nothing but benevolent."

"Of course. I offer help to poor things in distress. Things such as you."

"Help? Bargains, you mean."

"No," he grins mischievously. "Options."

"You're very picky with your words... not uncommon, for a demon."

"Choice! Spirit!" he barks, then clears his throat, visibly embarrassed by his outburst. "Apologies, little spark. I can be quite sensitive, sometimes."

She frowns.

Don't tell me...

"...Imshael?"

He tenses, taken aback by her knowledge of his identity. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall us ever meeting prior to this."

"Everyone knows you," she lies. "You were banished by the evanuris for your cowardice."

He bristles at the term. "Does my name remain so eminent that the whole empire still has it upon its lips? But you see, my curious little spark, none of them would have recognized me under this guise. So how were you able to?"

"None of your concern, demon."

"Cordiality isn't your forte, is it?"

She sighs, already fed up with her old acquaintance. "You like choices, don't you? Then let me give you one. You can get out of my dreams of your own volition, or I can remove you myself. Forcefully."

"Ohhhh," he cooes sarcastically, "is the little spark on the brink of combustion?"

"I'm not interested in your mental games. Begone."

"But I like it here. So cozy and bright..."

"Very well. Forceful it is."

The anchor ignites as she lifts her palm into the air, opening a gateway to another part of the Fade in order to banish the nuisance, as she's done so many times before to the demons that came pouring out of the Breach. Imshael blinks, astounded, and gets sucked into the portal.

[ * ]

The demon expelled, the wisps resurface, impelling her to follow them with soft pokes to her legs and back. The human and her luminous escort navigate the Fade for what feels like hours. She glimpses at upside-down temples and floating cities, far into the distance, yet none of the locations they near or traverse seem to appeal to her peaceful guides. The pace ultimately decreases as a fresh and salted scent saturates the ambient air. Her feet meet sand instead of dirt, and she hears the remote sound of waves crashing onto the shore. The wisps begin circling a sign half-buried in the ground, urging her to take a look at their findings. She sweeps the sand off it and reads the letters etched into the wood.

"Enal Manen."

Beginning waters? No. Emerging sea?

Probably the name of the deserted town that lies beyond this point.

She progresses further into the village, the balls of light at her heels. The majority of the buildings have crumbled and she finds evidence of water damage along the walls and pillars. Despite the wretched state of the ruins, the wind carries laughter and long-forgotten bits of cheerful confabulations. Feelings of contentment and comfort linger everywhere she walks. Spirits of Faith and Purpose drift through the place, muttering enigmatic words to each other.

"Her birthplace," one of them whispers.

"Her cradle," another appends.

"Whose cradle?" she inquires.

"The Hope of the People," Faith off-handedly answers while staring at something past the human.

The latter follows its gaze and sees a lone child idling by the beach.

"She wonders what awaits beyond the horizon," Purpose says.

Evelyn tries to approach the little girl, eyes glued to the ears poking through her raven mane, but a deafeaning roar rends the sky and distracts her from her goal. The ruckus comes from a massive dragon that flits between the clouds without coordination, apparently too enfeebled by the arrows wedged in its wings and the gashes marring its body to fly in a straight line. As expected, the beast tumbles into the sea. Water floods the shoreline, springing up to the child's waist while fishes of all shapes and colors flop onto the sand.

The little one remains undisturbed, and to Evelyn's surprise, proceeds to tread onto the ocean as if it were solid ground, her feet creating ripples across its surface. Thin arms slowly arise and magic energy gathers between her tiny hands while the drowning dragon simultaneously re-emerges from the depths below.

The creature and the girl vanish into thin air, only to remanifest a second later, farther away on the beach. The weather has changed and the dragon's wounds have been healed, indicating that some time has passed. A crowd of villagers has also joined the picture, scrutinizing the strange pair from afar. This new angle allows her to finally catch a glimpse of the child's delicate features and striking golden orbs.

The view drives her to realize that the kid bears a strong resemblance to someone she already knows, though the divergence in hair color is confusing.

Mythal?

The beast leans down to nuzzle the girl's extended palm, palpably grateful.

She's the size of its claws. Even the dragons I've fought weren't that bulky. It has to be one of those Great Ones I've been reading about...

The memory freezes after the creature takes off, presumably to return home.

One of the wisps pokes her again, ready to resume their ventures throughout the Fade. She'd like nothing more than to ask them why they would feel the need to guide her to retrospections that revolve around Mythal, but sadly, she'd never get a response. Wisps are not reputed to be talkative, after all.

Their next stop is an ancient, forsaken battlefield brimming with bones and corroded bits of metal she assumes were once components of various weapons and armors. Smears and speckles of dry blood coat the soil, darkened by time. Her party hovers above a skull that protrudes from the earth, spurring her to touch it. Upon contact, the bygone war she'd envisioned the instant she set foot here comes to life. Noises surge in an overwhelming cacophony that menaces to render her deaf. Clashes of swords, spears and shields. Chaos prevails and death harvests its dues without partiality. Elvhen warriors charge into battle on the backs of imposing harts, while archers and mages ride griffons, attacking from the air. Blazing arrows soar through the sky, piercing the running men and women below.

The screams almost rip her eardrums apart.

Bodies pile up, causing some of the mounts and members of the infantry to trip. One heavily armored warrior stands out from the throng, cutting through entire lines of enemies with great swipes of his sword and rapid salvos of lightning blasts.

"Meteors!" someone barks amid the horde, pointing to the sky.

Evelyn glances up to see a rain of flaming boulders looming over their heads, ten seconds away from annihilating them all.

A black-feathered griffon suddenly shrieks from above, skimming over the battlefield. Its rider—the little girl she'd seen anteriorly, now a teenager on the cusp of womanhood—drops from the eagle-headed lion, donned in an ebony outfit in which golden crescent moons have been embroidered and armed with a staff that she directly plants into the earth. A gigantic barrier washes over the mob, covering an impressive scope of the battleground to protect the mage's allies. The foes ensnared within it are not so lucky and get instantly disintegrated.

The meteors land in a devastating flare, their effect nullified by the magical veil.

"General!" a random soldier exclaims, thrilled by the girl's arrival.

"Out of the way," she orders, tone void of venom.

The elf obeys, dodging the wave of ice hurled past him just in time as it consecutively freezes the rows of fighters located behind him. Mythal stares emphatically at the skilled warrior Evelyn had noticed minutes ago, jutting her chin in their opponents' direction. The man shapeshifts into a giant serpent, leaping onward to crash into the mass of frozen soldiers, which sunders them into pieces. It then bites and chews any survivor unfortunate enough to stand in its path while its long tail periodically swoops onto the ground, crushing anyone in close proximity and imprisoning their inert bodies into the soil.

When the slaughter ends at long last, plate and skin replaces its scarlet scales. The swordsman strides to its partner's side, watching the head of her current adversary convulse and explode under her palm. He divests himself of his helmet, and though his youth marginally alters the memory she has of his facial structure, there's no mistaking his identity.

Elgar'nan.

"Geldauran shouldn't encourage your splenetic tendencies," Mythal chides him.

"Evuneras should show more appreciation for your talents," he retorts gallantly. "They have won her many battles, after all."

At these words, the symbolism of the general's attire immediately dawns on Evelyn.

The lass simpers. "Flattery will get you everywhere."

The war zone and its occupants dissolve, dispersed by the wind. One of the three wisps jabs her shoulder blades and their travels renew. She's led to a fragmented castle that has probably known better days, given its oblique towers and the fissured terrain that barely holds it in place.

The only intact area of the stronghold is its great hall.

She finds Mythal there, sitting on a throne, older yet still incredibly young. Younger than she knows her to be today. Horn-shaped ornaments rest upon her hairline, as gilded as the crown that wafts above them, and gold dust paints her eyelids, accentuating the color of her irises. Her erstwhile emblems are absent from the dark gown that outlines her curves, yet a trace of them lingers in the moon-like pendant dangling from her neck.

People fill and abscond the chamber, the regal woman indifferent to their presence. She stares at the marble floor, eyes dull and introspective. Pride is predominant in the way she carries herself. She exhibits more hubris as whatever she is now than as a deity, something Evelyn finds weirdly illogical.

Spirits of Doubt, Terror and Fear gravitate around Mythal's image, enraptured by her echo.

The human joins them, desirous to listen to the secrets they murmur.

"The queen notices the shift in the Old Gods' methods," Doubt declaims, "gradual yet concerning, and she worries. She watches them shed the blood of the faithful and sacrifice what is not theirs to sacrifice, and she doubts. She wonders what shape this world will take under their influence, and begins to question her choice of allegiance. Her convictions. She searches for guidance as she slumbers, agonizing over her lack of clarity."

"What happens then?" she asks.

"Something answers."

The sovereign fades from her seat to reappear at the center of the room. Her hair has grown longer, but its roots are, oddly enough, white as snow. Elgar'nan is with her, sporting a crown of his own, akin to hers in every aspect save for its silver shade.

"The Dreaming simply showed you what you wanted to see," he tells his lover. "It reflected your misgivings. Your fears. Not reality. You're giving meaning to something without substance."

"Look at me," Mythal stresses, framing his face with her extremities. "Have you ever seen me terrified before? Of anything?"

"...No."

Stillness ensues.

He grasps the back of her head and guides it to his chest, folding her in his arms.

"It was not a nightmare," she refutes, voice muffled by his shoulder. "It was a vision. Perhaps, an eventuality."

"Among many others."

"But one that cannot be allowed to transpire."

"So what do we do?"

"What we've always done." The queen leans back to look him in the eyes. "We fight."

What did she see that traumatized her so?

Evelyn thinks of Leliana, and of the reason that had pushed her to get involved with the Hero of Ferelden and the wardens during the Fifth Blight.

"I had a dream. In it, there was an impenetrable darkness, and it was so dense, so real. And there was a noise, a terrible, ungodly noise. I stood on a peak and watched as the darkness consumed everything. And when the storm swallowed the last of the sun's light, I... I fell, and the darkness drew me in."

But Leliana's hair had not turned ashen afterwards.

"Ignorance is a mercy," Doubt comments. "One that was stolen from her."

"What was her vision about?" she wonders.

"No one knows. She sealed the memory away. Deemed it too dangerous to share."

The wisps brush against her once more, insistent.

"Another echo?" she guesses. "How many are you going to show me?"

Doubt tilts its swirly head, staring at the balls of light. "These wisps are remnants of what was once a spirit of Truth. You must be seeking knowledge of some kind... It wants to help you find it. Perhaps you remind it of its prior nature. Perhaps helping you will restore it to its former glory." It marks a pause, scratching its jaw with willowy fingers. "Or maybe not."

"Truth?" she frowns. "Never heard of those before."

"Some spirits of Learning sometimes manage to mature into a superior version of themselves. But it is a rare achievement. Truth is relative, after all. Or maybe this one has always been as it was. I am unsure..."

Bet it's a recurring problem for you.

"...Very well then," she says, peering at her tinkling scouts. "Where to?"

The castle's courtyard, apparently.

Or whatever's left of it.

She saunters over dead leaves and roots and spots a shattered eluvian beyond a dried up fountain, right underneath a broken arch overrun by shrivelled vines. Shards lie on the ground, once part of the mirror. Her companions prompt her to fetch one of the chips. The decor violently reels as soon as she picks it up. She wobbles, dropping the sliver of glass, and scans her new surroundings.

A sanctum, it would seem. Established in a stony valley, at the heart of towering mountains. Steep walls are overlaid with engravings, their ledges overloaded with crystalline eggs of disparate sizes. A few dragons are coiled around the largest ones. The yawning mouth of the enormous cavern situated on her right reveals more clusters of eggs inside. Some appear to have already hatched.

Is this Eral Lav'ta?

Two great dragons—one emerald, the other turquoise—are perched onto the lowest ledge of the mountain, staring down at a kneeling Mythal.

The white of her hair has spread further.

"Sleepers, I have offered shelter to your kind for many years and have never asked for anything in return. Today, my people need protection. Protection I am sworn to provide, but that I cannot deliver alone."

"Your battles are not ours to fight," the green dragon's voice booms through the chasm they stand in. "We will take no part in your conflict with the Dark Ones." Mythal's eyelids droop down for a moment, and Evelyn can almost feel the frustration brewing under her skin. "Nevertheless, the devotion you have shown us shall not go unrewarded. This will be our last gift to you and your kin. Use it wisely."

The creature and its partner start to shimmer as the woman is lifted off the ground, her splayed body engulfed in a golden blaze that bursts forth like a flame. Ethereal sounds suffuse the air, and for a drawn-out second, the floating elf grows purple wings and scales, her transformation radical. Once back to her original form, the elvhen queen drifts back down to earth while the dragons' radiant gleam dies out.

"Ma serannas," Mythal breathes out, bowing gratefully.

"Do with that as you wish, but know that destruction is not always the answer."

"They leave us no other choice," she maintains obstinately.

The majestic beings cast a skeptical glance at each other.

"Caution little Mother," warns the blue beast. "No path is darker than when your eyes are shut."

Without further ado, the pair flies off.

Mythal and the other dragons recede from view and fresh illustrations materialize upon the walls.

She goes to inspect them, only to get rudely interrupted.

"How unexpected... This reminiscence has not been explored by anything other than my kind in ages."

The airy voice belongs to an umpteenth spirit of Purpose.

"Do you come here often?" she interrogates.

"Occasionally. I like to bathe in the vestiges of Mythal's resolve."

"How... quaint. Could you tell me more about what I just saw?"

Her wisp friends chime in encouragement.

"If you wish."

"What did Mythal do with these new powers?"

"She shared them. Transferred a portion of her newfound abilities to her lover and five other prestigious individuals. Respected mages who had highly contributed to the advancement of elvhen society, and who conveniently happened to despise the Old Gods. Andruil, June, Sylaise, Falon'Din, and Dirthamen are their names."

"The evanuris..."

The spirit nods.

Ghilan'nain and Solas had been late additions to the pantheon, which would explain why they were not implicated in this pact.

She shakes her head, nonplussed. "Why would she take such a risk?"

"To seal an alliance. One that would benefit all parties involved. Their allies would be of no use if they were too weak to defeat their common enemy, thus Mythal offered them the means to fulfill that purpose. She wanted a world free of suffering. The others wanted power. Greater privileges than the ones they already possessed. The authority to rule over Elvhenan, unchallenged. The Dark Ones were the last obstacle on their path to apotheosis. Greed and Envy have the propensity to loiter where the exchange transpired, due to these motivations."

"So everyone got what they wanted," she speculates.

"Yes. The evanuris reached an agreement. Mythal and Elgar'nan would take care of their old mentors while their new allies dealt with the rest."

"Did they succeed?"

Purpose wordlessly points at the murals behind her.

She walks up to the carvings and attempts to interpret their significance, but all she can see are several high dragons clawing and biting one another savagely. Until her fingertips graze the walls' surface and the vicinity switches to yet another site—a temple, this time. And considering the naked, grey-skinned woman positioned at the top of the extensive stairway Evelyn is facing, she'd wager this one is probably dedicated to Evuneras. The human steps backward as a dense cloud of smoke emanates from the tiles below her feet, accidentally marching through a bunch of blurry, hooded devotees.

Mythal emerges from the mist, the low cut of her bodice delimited by a small dragon skull that wasn't there before.

Evelyn has the intuition that anything remotely resembling a moon has been banished from the evanuris' wardrobe.

"The prodigy returns," the Forgotten One announces, though the lady hasn't earned the title yet. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Here to bury the hatchet?"

"The answer to that depends entirely on you."

Time accelerates and everything becomes hazy and distorted as the two women keep deliberating, their words almost indistinct. Evelyn overhears Mythal mumbling things about filth, lies and omissions, and Evuneras speaking of nescience and superstitious presumptions, but none of their phrases sound coherent enough for her to do a decent job at construing them.

The recollection ultimately regains focus, sharpening intensely.

"So be it," Mythal mutters in a somber tone.

Shouts erupt amongst the throng as some of the Old God's followers start murdering other worshipers in cold blood. The gates burst open and soldiers bearing Mythal's vallaslin invade the hall. Evelyn perceives the sound of fighting stemming from outside.

Evuneras observes the massacre with an unsettling aloofness. "You would think such a turn of event would surprise me, and you would be wrong, for betrayal and corruption are inevitable. Make no mistake, little mother, your new allies will turn their back on you. Just as you've done to us this day. If you survive this encounter, that is..."

Flinging her arms over her horned head, the deity mutates into a black, lilac-bellied dragon that launches itself at the bottom of the stairs, landing in front of the evanuris. The latter doesn't waste any time to convert into a purple copy of the animal, and a ruthless struggle initiates between the two. Although Mythal's form is relatively smaller than her counterpart's, the ruler proves to be just as feral as her adversary. The chamber is fortunately vast and sturdy enough to sustain both of their width. Warriors and turncoats alike retreat to the entrance to avoid getting embroiled in the ongoing scuffle.

The memory's pace speeds up drastically and Evelyn's eyes have a hard time keeping up with the streams of magical attacks that the duo constantly chucks at each other, the blasts causing some of the temple's columns to collapse. The battle ends with the All-Mother inserting her teeth in her opponent's throat to wrench it from the rest of her body, beheading her in the process. Both beasts plummet to the ground, retrieving their standard appearances as they collide with the floor, which caves in under their weight.

The whole building quakes.

Albeit triumphant, Mythal has sustained way too many injuries—like the monstrous, bleeding gash across her midsection—to be able to get back up. Grunting and wincing, she attempts to crawl out of the cavity produced by the impact. Her exertions halt when one of the fanatics' corpse begins to fidget. The supposedly dead sack of flesh jerks around, its mouth spewing a disgusting, inky goop from which a fully restored Evuneras sprouts up.

Shocked gasps escape the flock of bystanders.

The Old God's abyssal eyes shine red, and Evelyn can't help but think of Corypheus' impromptu resurrection at Mythal's temple.

Everything clicks into place.

The Forgotten Ones and the Old Gods of Tevinter have to be one and the same.

"Impossible..." the evanuris coughs out, blood trickling down the corners of her gaping mouth.

The Dark One prowls toward her nemesis, graceful and composed. "All these years of teachings, and this is what we get... Geldauran had suggested we cut you down. You and that cranky lover of yours. I had hoped you would come to your senses. I guess it was foolish of me." She grabs her by the hair and obliges her to look at their audience. "I believe most of these partisans have undergone their initiation alongside you, correct? They were your comrades, once."

Evuneras releases the young queen to raise her palm in the air, a dribble of dark liquid flowing out of its center. A jet-black fog leaks out of the onlookers, who start panicking.

The second the deity's hand closes into a fist, everyone blows up.

The world outside the temple also goes silent.

"No..." the All-Mother whines.

"You made them traitors. You only have yourself to blame. I wonder how your associates are faring against my brethren? They must have realized what they are up against by now."

Mythal's eyes widen in sheer terror.

"As a tribute to the good times we've shared, let me teach you one final thing, child." The Forgotten One bends down to speak directly in the ear of her erstwhile disciple. "You can't destroy destruction."

Evuneras becomes an obscure flutter of scales and wings once again and darts through the ceiling while the evanuris curls up on herself amidst her crater, adopting a fetal position before slipping into unconsciousness.

The roof comes crumbling down around the comatose woman.

A draconic shadow glides over the ruins not even a minute later, and Evelyn finds herself sequentially transported through a procession of assorted events, the wisps still at her side. She watches an enraged Elgar'nan unleash his fury upon the world as him and his fellow evanuris multiply their efforts to bring down the Old Gods. The notorious eclipse set in motion by Evuneras and her cultists occurs while the war rages on.

Over time, crops and plants suffocate from the dearth of sunlight, and the decaying vegetation amid fields and forests provokes a considerable decline in animal life. Famine spreads all over the realm. The air grows colder each day and breathing adequately proves more and more difficult. Lakes and rivers freeze over little by little. Magic seems to be an effective recourse in the early stages of the calamity, but not a durable solution. Most of the surviving population ends up fleeing to the borders of Elvhenan, where the eclipse has no reach. The leaders, however, refuse to surrender their lands to their antagonists.

The visions stall.

Her three companions start rotating around her, so quickly that she feels nauseous. Their movements teleport her to a dimly lit chamber. Mythal rests at its core, laid upon an altar encompassed by flowers, candles and people who whisper mournful prayers for the All-Mother. From what Evelyn can hear of their lamentations, the woman has yet to awaken in spite of her complete recovery.

Incentivized by her shiny friends, she nudges the goddess' forehead.

The action propels her into Mythal's dreams. Or at least, she thinks it's where she landed. Her host appears to be trapped in some sort of customized hell, encircled by a pack of ghoulish elves that probe her incessantly. She looks worn out and the spark usually dwelling within her vibrant eyes has been extinguished. The Dreaming sprawls all around them, bleak and quiet as the grave, until the wraiths' dreadful voices fill that hush, taking turns at demeaning their impassive victim.

"This is your fault."

"Rash and foolish."

"Countless lives stolen, all because of you."

"All for some alleged, prophetic nightmare."

"So much for preventive measures."

"Your place is here, with us."

"Forever."

The ghosts are on the verge of smothering the evanuris when a blinding flash flares across the area, reducing the creatures to ashes. A brillant, prismatic spirit wafts up to the deity, its penetrating stare topped by a vertical eye of the same golden hue as the two others.

"Remorse is futile," it tells Mythal. "It will not help the souls who look to you for direction."

"Direction?" the woman snorts tiredly. "Yes, listening to me certainly did them a lot of good."

"There is no time for guilt. Your world has gone dark. Tragedy has befallen the elvhen kingdom. Your people pray for your return and plead for your guidance. Your brethren are too consumed by revenge to be of any assistance. You cannot give up now. You must endure. If not for you, then for them."

Silence stretches between the two as her gilded stare gauges the specter.

"Who are you?"

"A beacon for the lost," it answers, beaming a little bit brighter by merely uttering those words. "The visions you witnessed were given to you by my creator."

She frowns, distrustful. "So it was pure fabrication?"

"No. Everything you saw was real."

"Then you must know what is at stake," she intimates, crossing her arms.

"Indeed. I was sent here to aid you."

"You want to help? Tell me how to wipe out the Old Gods once and for all."

"You can't."

The evanuris takes a second to study the spirit's face, trying to determine if it is feeding her lies, but the latter looks absolutely confident in the validity of its claim.

She scowls, lips set in a grim line. "Why show me these visions if there is no way to preempt them?" she huffs indignantly.

"You did not ask for a way to thwart your people's fate. You asked for annihilation. Even I cannot bestow the unachievable."

She rocks her head left and right and starts pacing around. "It's hopeless. If they can't be slayed, then we're all doomed. You and your maker are wasting my time."

The phantom glides closer, assessing its interlocutor with empathy. "Truth is not the end, but a beginning."

Abruptly, the two protagonists evaporate out of existence and the wisps beside Evelyn start twirling around each other frenetically, converging together a few seconds later to, at long last, morph into a brand new spirit. Though its aspect has been somewhat altered, the human recognizes the newborn entity on the spot. Its opalescent shade has shifted to a silvery white, but the brightness it exudes is perfectly equivalent to its predecessor. The same can be said of the serene sensation that seeps out of it.

She finds its shortage of eyes and facial features a tad discomfiting, however.

"It was you..." she deduces.

"You made me whole again," the spirit—previously known as Truth—nods. "Thank you."

She blinks, still profoundly dumbfounded by everything she'd spectated in the span of one single night. "How did you get fragmented into wisps?"

"I was destroyed."

"...By Mythal?"

"Yes."

"Why would she do that? Weren't you trying to help?"

"My sole purpose was to embolden her. To remind her that the truth is never out of reach. Not to simply hand out the solution she sought. She disagreed. She thought that figuring things out by herself would take too much time. She wanted answers forthwith. When I wouldn't give them, she tried to force them out of me. Her prodding shattered me."

Oh... Nice way to make me regret ever feeling any semblance of compassion for the woman.

"Did she obtain what she wanted?"

"No. Her endeavor was unfruitful."

Serves her right.

"But she did find a way to save her world," Evelyn presses.

"She did. Once she finally understood that the universe, and all that it contains, withstands eternity through metamorphosis, not eradication."

Her viridian gaze skims over the specter's form, ruminative.

"You don't look the same anymore..." she remarks.

"I am myself, but changed. Most of my memories are gone, aside from my final moments. I have learned a truth that I had forgotten. I had to remember my fate in order to accept it. I have made peace with my past. With myself. I am Harmony."

"Why help me in the first place? Why extract me from my nightmares and guide me to these echoes?"

"I sensed your inquiries about Mythal and the Great Ones. About the pantheon's ties to the dragons, and their mutual resistance to the Taint. Something about your desire for revelations resonated with me."

"Well, I liked the trip. I've learned a lot thanks to you."

And it's a better alternative to what my fucked up mind originally had in store for me.

Harmony might be deprived of a mouth, but in that moment, she has the inexplicable impression that it's smiling at her. "I must go now. I bid you good fortune on the journey to come, and hope you will learn to forgive yourself for your failures. Here," it proffers its extremities to her, "as a token of my gratitude, let me offer you the conclusion to the tribulations of an era long gone."

The human places her hands atop the spirit's and suddenly feels like she's being sucked into a whirlwind. The sensation lasts for a spell, making her dizzy, and when the world grows static once more, her prior whereabouts have transitioned to the borders of a desolate village. Night shrouds the landscape, but not enough for her to not distinguish the throng of awestruck elves suffusing the snowy dale that sprawls beyond the hamlet. She follows their gaze and sees Mythal standing at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the town and the lowlands enclosing it. The black tips of her hair have been cut off and a silver foci—evocative of a full moon—looms over her, hovering between her stretched palms. An eruption of arcane energy surges from it, connecting itself to the sky. The rest of the evanuris—bloodied and battered but alive and breathing—are assembled around the All-Mother, staffs buried into the ground as they channel auxiliary power into their counterpart.

Sunlight starts peeking out as the moon is gradually pushed aside. Amazed gasps and gleeful acclamations peal from the droves of spectators, who wind up prostrating themselves before their heroic saviors shortly after the sun's reappearance.

The scenery warps and the memory dissolves, replaced by the revamped, actual rendition of the same location. Or what the Fade has chosen to reflect of it, to be more accurate. Evelyn spots Wisdom a few feet behind her, girdled by the deteriorated remnants of the village and seemingly engrossed in a weathered memorial consecrated to the gods' victory. The monument depicts the evanuris aligned in a row, with dragon wings bulging out of their shoulders. Mythal is at the center, holding up a crimson sun confined amidst a shadowy moon.

"Enjoying the view?" the human asks the ghostly woman.

"You..." Wisdom blinks, canting its head. "It took me so long to find this place. How did you discover it?"

"I was looking for answers on Elvhenan's past history and some wisps guided me here."

"It sounds like the Dreaming favors you."

"That, or I was just lucky," Evelyn shrugs. "What about you? You must be quite the explorer."

"I wanted to see how the leaders came to be remembered as gods. The chain of events that engendered their sanctification. I had heard of it, of course, but I wanted to witness it with my own eyes."

"Looking at the world today, you wouldn't think the eclipse had caused so much damage... It's as if nothing happened at all."

"Time heals all wounds. Physical ones, at least. And all of this occurred aeons ago. Once the evanuris had exiled the Forgotten Ones to the Void and the sun was brought back, its warmth and light mended nature's scars and life flourished anew. The People rebuilt what was lost during the disaster and Mythal founded Arlathan soon after. Elvhenan thrived into a prosper empire."

She reads the plaque at the statues' base, cogitating.

Only the last two lines have survived the ravages of time.

"Glory to the evanuris,
Forever may they reign."

She silently re-evaluates everything she's learned in the last few hours. Recalls all the Dalish legends of her own world. All the myths pertaining to the All-Mother, specifically. The monikers they'd employ to describe her. How all of these things could apply to her recent findings.

'Protector of sun and earth alike'.

The prayers recited in her honor.

“Mythal, All-Mother, Protector of the People, watch over us, for the path we tread is perilous. Save us from the darkness, as you did before, and we will sing your name to the heavens.”

The emblems associated to her.

The moon was Evuneras' symbol before it became Mythal's. The People probably attributed it to her after she'd rid them of the eclipse. The Dalish must have found murals and scriptures recounting this part of history and misinterpreted it. They believed Mythal had created the moon, but she simply pushed it aside so that sunlight could return to their lands. They also believed that the ocean had birthed her, when in reality, she just happened to be born in a modest town situated by the sea. So many parts of their history have been misconstrued...

She wonders if the disembodied being that had conferred her insight on the elves' conception and this 'creator' Truth had mentioned to the goddess might be the same entity. And if so, how often did that thing happen to indirectly meddle with people's destinies?

She also ponders if the powers the evanuris had garnered from the Great Ones could possibly play a bigger role in their partial immunity to the blight than their seldom consumption of dragon blood. Not that Mythal had openly validated that last part of her conjecture in any way, but Evelyn has an inkling she might be on the right track.

"Oh," Wisdom lets out. "I think my friend is looking for m—"

The spirit stops, eyes drawn to something over her shoulder.

"Of course," the newcomer quips, voice awfully familiar. "I should have realized it sooner."

She had not expected to see Solas so soon after their last... encounter. The one that ended with her bolting out of his study like a rabbit attempting to shake a stalking wolf off its rounded tail.

"She asked me not to talk about her," the green spirit explains to its elvhen friend. "To anyone."

"We met shortly after my arrival," Evelyn rationalizes. "I didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to myself."

He nods, comprehensive.

Out of nowhere, a weird sensation develops somewhere around her jugular while an ominous prickling begins roving along her nape. She wraps a hand around her slightly aching neck and frowns in confusion, which seems to worry the elf.

"Evelyn?" he scowls, approaching her with caution.

"I—"

She's jerked from the Fade before she can utter another word.

She wakes up with a dagger to her throat, and the russet eyes of Geldauran's servant staring down at her.

"Sweet dreams?"